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Jesus Saves Brother

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

James avoids cross by the skin of his teeth

In order to grasp exactly where Herod Antipas stood in relation to Jesus, it is in order that we revisit the political dynamics at Qumran that we talked about earlier in this series.

When in AD 29 Jesus and John the Baptist parted company, two political parties emerged. The party headed by John the Baptist was called the Hebrews. Call these conservatives or hawks. John was not keen to embrace Gentiles, women, and uncircumcised Jews.

He was a hardcore Judaist. The only Gentile and female in his party was Helena-Salome, the mother of Mary Magdalene, and this because being a woman of substance she greatly assisted John’s movement materially. Ever the opportunist, Herod Agrippa was initially a patron of the Baptist’s party although he later defected to the Jesus party before falling out with Jesus again.  

The breakaway party led by Jesus (in a political sense, that is, as ecclesiastically he was third) was called the Hellenists. Jesus was liberal: he accommodated all and sundry; it didn’t matter whether you were Jew or Greek, man or woman, circumcised or otherwise. 

Herod Antipas was a patron of the Hellenists. He abhorred John the Baptist for relentlessly and vociferously castigating him for marrying Herodias, his cousin Thomas’s wife.  Antipas eventually had John executed for these broadsides and for rallying the people against him.

In the Hellenist party, there were two factions – the Figtree and the Vineyard. The Figtree, also known as the “Thunder Faction”, was headed by Simon Zelotes (called Simon the Zealot on the apostolic list and Lazarus in John’s gospel), whereas the Vineyard, also known as the “Lightning Faction”, was headed by Jonathan Annas (called Nathaniel in the gospel of John and James of Alpheus on the apostolic list of the synoptic gospels). Although Antipas as patron was expected to be impartial, he aligned with the Figtree faction.

The Figtree people were the right wingers in the Hellenist party: they advocated for war against Rome, a stance Antipas tacitly endorsed because he was disgruntled that his rival cousin Agrippa was on more amenable  terms with  the emperor’s circle than he. On the other hand, the Vineyard faction was for peace with Rome. It was in the interests of the Annas dynasty to be on cordial terms with Rome because they enjoyed the perks of the status quo.

So contrary to what the gospels suggest, Antipas and Jesus were not at odds. Antipas in fact was desirous that Jesus be in good health as the Jews had not forgiven him for causing the death of John the Baptist. Antipas was also very favourably disposed toward Simon Zelotes in that Helena-Salome was mentor to his wife Herodias. Furthermore, he greatly revered Theudas Barabbas (Thaddeus in the book of John and the other Judas on the apostolic list of the synoptic gospels) because he was the hero of the watershed AD 6 Zealot uprising against the Romans.

JAMES’S CLOSE SHAVE

Herod Antipas’s trial of Jesus was an impromptu one, as Pilate had decided to involve him on the spur of the moment. Jesus was conducted into the outer hall, where Antipas would preside over the case and Caiaphas would be the lead prosecutor.

Jesus knew that Antipas was on his side and was careful not to give the game away.   So when Antipas lobbed questions at him, Jesus stayed silent, not out of insolence but knowing full well the rescue plan that he (Antipas) and Caiaphas had hatched up, this being to effect only a partial crucifixion and therefore spare his life. The partial crucifixion was necessary to content Pilate and Jesus’s detractors, notably Agrippa.

Now, although Antipas wanted Jesus to be strung up the cross and have Barabbas freed, he didn’t wish to make that plain. If he did so and perchance Jesus happened to die on the cross, the Jewish nation would take him to task for causing the death of yet another of their principal men. He therefore draped Jesus in a white robe and sent him back to Pilate’s quarters. Everybody who saw Jesus enter Pilate’s judgement room could read the tetrarch’s verdict from Jesus’s attire – he had been found blameless as he was clad in the colour of innocence.

This put Pilate in a dilemma. He was supposed to condemn Jesus and free  Barabbas as per the prior agreement with Antipas but now Antipas had signalled that Jesus was innocent and as such did not deserve going to the cross.  What was he to do now? He was determined to have three people crucified to match with the number of the already wanted men: in the event, he could set free only one man out of the four respondents and not two. Then he thought of a way out of the conundrum.

As a politician himself, he knew a bit about Jewish politics. He reckoned that if Jesus had been the Davidic King and now had been stripped of that and reduced to a novice, then somebody else must have succeeded him. So he asked who this was and was told it was James, the immediate younger brother of Jesus.  Pilate wasted no time in asking James to take the stand. Then he dropped a clangour.

The matter at hand presently was not   about Jesus’s involvement in the November 32 AD riots but his claim to being King of the Jews.  In replacing Jesus as the Davidic King, James had effectively indemnified his brother and put himself on the spot.  

It was he, James, who presently was the new King of the Jews and so it was he who therefore had to stand trial for taking occupancy of a position that rivaled that of Caesar.  James and his backers in Agrippa and the others were horrified. They did see Pilate’s logic and were aware legally there was no way out. Jesus was about to be set free and James would seen be headed to the execution site!

It was Jesus who snatched his brother from the Jaws of the lion. He pleaded with Pilate that he would rather die he himself rather than James, that James was a mere claimant to the Davidic title and not the substantive holder. He, Jesus, had not surrendered the title to his brother and was unflinching in his  stance that he was the rightful Davidic King, that when Jews regained their sovereignty, he would rule the nation as Priest-King.

That sealed Jesus’s fate.  By making such a bold assertion, he nullified the innocence that Antipas had ruled of him and Pilate now had the excuse to send him to Golgotha.  James was accordingly asked to leave the dock and Jesus was immediately pronounced guilty and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

BARABBAS WALKS

The venal Pilate now acted on the pact he had made with Herod Antipas. He announced that he was exercising a prerogative of mercy and the beneficiary would be Theudas Barabbas on grounds of his age (he was in his 70s at the time). In the event, only three people would be crucified, namely Jesus, Simon Zelotes, and Judas Iscariot.   

The announcement was greeted with jubilation by the Theraputae and some ranks of the Zealots who were at Qumran at the time. Barabbas had been around for some time and was the most popular  Zealot of the day in that notwithstanding his advancing years, he was implacably  bold, daring, and fearless, attributes which made him a man of renown among the Jewish population.  

He had been head of the Theraputae, the Jewish-Egyptian ascetics who held the most sway over Essene affairs and who were instrumental in persuading Antipas to secure a Barabbas pardon from Pilate, since 9 BC. At around that time, he and Joseph, the father of Jesus, had formed an alliance they called the Star (Joseph, whose family emblem as royal descendents was the Star of David) and the Sceptre (Barabbas). It goes without saying that he came highly recommended to Jesus.

Until AD 4, Barabbas was also the Zealot commander. In that year, he was replaced by Judas of Galilee in a gesture meant to pass the touch to a younger revolutionary and in particular one who was Palestinian born and bred (Barabbas though a Jew was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt). 

But he did not withdraw from the forefront of the struggle: he was ready for service when necessity demanded. Indeed in the AD 6 Zealot uprising against the Romans, it was he who was the master strategist though Judas of Galilee was the battlefield commander.

During the uprising, Barabbas was known as Yeshua (Joshua in English, Jesus in Greek), which meant “deliverer” as the Zealots counted on him to liberate the Jewish people from the Roman yoke.  Sadly, his moniker did not live up to its billing: the upheaval was crushed and Judas of Galilee was hunted and killed by the Romans. Barabbas, however, escaped the dragnet.

Following the death of Judas of Galilee, another Zealot of the same name, Judas Iscariot succeeded him    (it would seem that “Judas” was the pseudonym title of a Zealot leader as could clearly be gleaned from Judas of Galilee, Judas Iscariot, and Judas of James, the latter of which is the name by which Barabbas appears on the apostolic list in Acts and the gospel of Luke).

Judas Iscariot was chosen for his genius. He was highly intelligent and resourceful, mathematically erudite, had mastery of the Greek language – the “English” of the day – and had excellent writing skills. It was he, Simon Zelotes, and Barabbas who were the intellectual titans of  Qumran.

As a Zealot, Judas Iscariot was not a battlefront combatant but trained and supervised the assassination squad known as the Sicari, from which his surname partly derives.  However, although Judas Iscariot was in the Hellenist party of Jesus, he and Antipas, the group patron, were not on very sound terms primarily because as the overseer of the Qumran purse strings, Judas voted substantial sums to the bankrupt Agrippa’s upkeep and very little to the better-off Antipas (all the Herods were entitled to a portion of Qumran funds).  Judas was aware Agrippa was very likely the future substantive King of the Jews, like his grandfather Herod the Great had been, and therefore knew which side of his bread was buttered.

The name Barabbas, by which Theudas is famously known in the gospels, meant “son of the father”. As we have explained before, hierarchically “son of” meant “deputy” or “next in line”. When Simon Zelotes became undisputed Father of the Essene community (Pope) following the death of John the Baptist in September AD 31, Theudas became his deputy and was accordingly addressed as Barabbas.

PILATE “JOINS” THE FOLD

The bribe Herod Antipas offered Pilate for the sake of Theudas Barabbas was a steep one. Antipas therefore did not wish to bear it in person. He wanted it to be paid from Qumran funds under some cleverly concocted pretext. But in order for Pilate to receive the money, he had to be initiated into the Essene fraternity as a nominal, ex-officio member of the Essene community who was entitled to receiving Qumran funds just as the Herods did. That way, a shrewd Antipas laundered the bribe into “clean money”. This required the discharge, publicly, of a simple rite.  

The rite involved a form of ad hoc baptism in which Pilate had to wash his hands in a basin, which Pilate did as the gospels duly record. However, the spin that has been put on this incident by the gospel writers is that Pilate washed his hands to extricate himself from karmic blame for the crucifixion of the innocent man that was Jesus. That is simply not true. Pilate did not have such scruples. To him Jesus was a nobody and therefore easily expendable.

Let us once again recall to mind how  the Jewish historian and philosopher Philo Judaeus describes him – a  man who was given to “ill-treatment of the people” and of a “stubborn and harsh quality” who “could not bring himself to do anything that might cause pleasure to the Jews”.  

True, Pilate might have had a bit of a soft spot for Jesus but a Roman governor would not have showed such overt weakness before  his subjects as washing his hands off responsibility for the fate of a  Jew as if to say, “you guys have won: you have defeated me and I ain’t got anything to say”.  Pilate for one would not have allowed himself to exhibit such boldfaced humiliation and make a laughing stock of the almighty Caesar.   

Having performed the washing-of-hands rite, Pontius Pilate had now been officially admitted into the Essene fraternity and the Antipas bribe had been legitimitised. But that was probably the first and last time Pilate demonstrated his membership credentials.   

NEXT WEEK: THE ROAD TO CALVARY

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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