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Final Word on Josephus

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

This week we tackle questions about  the iconic Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the destruction of Jerusalem

HOW RELIABLE ARE THE WRITINGS OF FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS?
Like all history, they are reliable only to  a certain extent. No record of history is truthful through and through. There are accounts in which the bias in his writings are quite blatant. For example, Josephus      (37-100  AD) calls the Zealots in the AD 66 uprising against the Romans as terrorists. They were not terrorists: they were freedom fighters. In some cases,  he lies outrightly, such as when he says he was  a Pharisee. If he were, he would have written precious much about the Pharisees. But he wrote very little about them and instead  dwelt on the Essenes at disproportionate length. Clearly, he was an Essene, at least at some point in time, but he would not openly identify with the Essenes because at the time he was writing (post-70 AD), the Essenes had been outlawed for their centrality in the AD 66 uprising; only the Pharisees were allowed to operate. In general, however, Josephus is fairly reliable and is in fact crucial. Without him, our knowledge of the happenings in first century Palestine would be substantially diminished.

YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT TWO  PERSONS WITH THE NAME FLAVIUS – FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS AND FLAVIUS TITUS. WERE THE TWO RELATED?
They were related yes but in a political rather than a familial way. Flavius was the clan name of a succession of dynastic emperors who ruled the Roman Empire from AD 69 to AD 96. These were Vespasian (69-79 AD); his son Titus (79-81 AD); and his other son Domitian (81-96 AD). Each of the three emperors  carried the name Flavius in his full names after their ancestral patriarch Marcus Flavius who lived in the fourth century BC. The collective reign of the three emperors is therefore in history referred to as the Flavian dynasty.  Josephus was born Joseph ben Matthias. When he sold out to the Romans in AD 69, the year Vespasian became emperor, and became a Roman citizen, he adopted the emperor’s clan name Flavius and became interpreter and advisor to Crown Prince General Flavius Titus.  Since he wrote his books under the name Flavius Josephus, it is by this name that he is best known.

EXACTLY WHAT SPARKED THE  JEWISH REVOLT AGAINST THE ROMANS IN 66 AD? JOSEPHUS OFTEN  IMMERSES YOU IN SUCH IN SUCH A SEA OF UNNECESSARY DETAIL THAT YOU GET LOST.
It was the appearance of Halley’s Comet on January 25 of AD 66.  The Zealots were Essenes and Essenes were astrologers. They believed that  the appearance of certain heavenly phenomena signalled a watershed event. Their inspiration was the Great Revolt of 164 BC, in which the Maccabees  recaptured Jerusalem from Greek-Syrian domination. The Maccabees revolution was inspired by Halley’s Comet, which had appeared in that year too (it is seen every 71-74 years). Josephus actually plainly states that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple was the result of  the Jews misinterpreting “a star resembling a sword which stood over the city, a comet that continued a whole year”. The Zealots thought they could replicate the Maccabees feat since the comet was a sign of good lucky. It turned out it was sometimes a sign of ill luck.

WAS YOUR “LEGENDARY” JOSEPHUS A MAN OF VIRTUE? I ASK BECAUSE EVEN WHEN HE RELOCATED TO ROME, HE WAS ALWAYS UNDER HEAVY GUARD AS EVEN THE JEWS OF THE DIASPORA BAYED FOR HIS BLOOD FOR  DINING AND WINING WITH THE ENEMY IN THE ROMANS.
He had his black marks; at the same time,  he had his plusses. First, he was very cerebral. As a kid he was a child prodigy. This is what he writes in his autobiography in this regard: “I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding. Moreover, when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law.” Second, he was a proficient lawyer and surpassingly eloquent in speech. For instance, in AD 62, at only age 26,   he travelled to Rome to argue before Roman Emperor Nero the release of  priestly men who Felix, the Roman governor of Judea, had imprisoned without trial on trumped up charges. He was successful.  It was his great eloquence,  coupled with his cunning,  that endeared him to the then Roman general Vespasian. Thirdly, he was an illustrious soldier. When the Zealot war against the Romans  broke out in AD 66, he commanded the Galilean forces at only age 29 with no  leadership or military experience  and bravely fought the Romans under General Vespasian  in the battle of Jotapata before he surrendered following  a seven-week siege in June-July AD 67. As much as he is deserving of condemnation for one reason or the other, let us give him credit where it is due.

HOW DID JOSEPHUS END UP A CLIENT OF ROME?
When the Romans overran Jotapata in June-July AD 67, Josephus and forty others were  trapped in a cave. General Vespasian, who wanted Josephus alive as commander of the Galilean chapter of the rebellion, called upon them to surrender but they insisted they would rather they took their own lives. They therefore made a suicide pact (Josephus’s cleverly contrived idea) by  which they were to kill  each other by turns through drawing lots, with the last person killing himself. As it was, Josephus was  one of the last two. Since he cherished his life, he convinced the other guy that they simply surrender to Vespasian, which they did.  General Vespasian was taken in by the sharp wit and sweet tongue of Josephus. When he was being interrogated, Josephus told the Roman general that he was actually a prophet of  the Jewish god Yahweh and that Yahweh had made known to him that he had decided to punish the Jews and adopt the Romans as his people, that Vespasian was the messiah the prophets of old had spoken about, and that Vespasian was destined to be emperor. Instead of executing him, a smitten Vespasian simply imprisoned him to see whether his prophecy would bear out. It did,  as  Vespasian was proclaimed emperor in July  AD 69 after a draconian and seemingly deranged Nero committed suicide in AD 68. That’s how Josephus earned his freedom and the esteem of the emperor as a divine prophet.  He first became advisor and interpreter to the new Roman  general Flavius Titus right in Judea before he finally left for Rome with the general in AD 71 after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Roman temple.  There, he was given Roman citizenship and  a very generous pension and lived in the lap of luxury. That’s why he was branded a traitor by the Jews everywhere and became their mortal enemy.   

I DID READ PART OF THE JEWISH ANTIQUITIES BY  FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS AS PER YOUR RECOMMENDATION. I FIND THAT HE WRITES RATHER GLOWINGLY OF ROMAN GENERAL TITUS. IT SOUNDS LIKE PROPAGANDA RATHER THAN OBJECTIVE HISTORY. YOUR TAKE?
You are not the only one to have made such an observation. A number of historians have done so too.  Certainly, Josephus’s claim, for instance, that Titus saved an entire legion of Roman  soldiers by single-handedly fighting back crowds of armed Judeans is laughable to say the very least.  Josephus also says the temple was destroyed by  wayward Roman soldiers contrary to the wishes of  General Titus, who had ordered that it be spared “even if it be used as a fortress because its beauty should be preserved as a possession of Rome”.  However, another historian, Sulpicius Severus, writes that Titus expressly ordered the sacking of the  temple. It must be borne in mind, albeit,  that  the destruction of the temple and the  overall carnage in Jerusalem in  AD 70 arose not because Titus was bloodthirsty. He tried his best, using Josephus as his go-between,  to get the insurgents  to surrender but to no avail.  Moreover, though Titus was reputed as a merciless general who ordered the execution of suspected traitors on the spot and was received by Romans as “another Nero” when he succeeded his deceased father in  June AD 79,  it turned out he was actually a very, very good man. He ruled for just over  two years before his death  in September AD  81 but he turned out to be a very popular emperor. One of the first things he did as emperor was to proclaim an amnesty for traitors on trial. The historian Suetonius writes that if in one single day the emperor did not perform at least one beneficial act for his rein, he ruefully remarked, “Friends, I have a lost a day”. He was  tough and ruthless as a general only because that came with the territory: in those highly tumultuous times, a general had to be a Saddam if  he was to keep his emperor’s domain intact.

HOW LONG DID THE ROMAN SIEGE OF JERUSALEM LAST AND HOW WERE THE CASUALTIES LIKE?
The war itself is referred to as the first Jewish-Roman War. It lasted from AD 66 to AD 73, although it was practically over in AD 70 when Jerusalem was  destroyed. The siege of Jerusalem by General Flavius Titus lasted  7 months from March to September AD 70.  The Jewish insurgents, led by the Zealots, were a hard nut to crack. Titus used four legions (equivalent to about 40,000 troops inclusive of auxiliaries) in the campaign.  Josephus documents that 1.1 million were killed, the vast majority of whom Jews, and 97,000 were captured. Later, Titus released 40,000 Jews who were non-combatants but the insurrectionists, including their wives and children,  were  taken into slavery. Josephus says the supply of slaves so deluged the market that the slave price plunged precipitately! Josephus lost his parents and his first wife in the war. Josephus himself, whilst imploring his fellow Jews to surrender in his capacity as interpreter and go-between,  was struck in the head with a stone and knocked unconscious but he survived and was soon doing his duty again. The Romans erected a fence of palisades around the city so that it was fully enclosed and there was no means of escape. All trees within fifteen kilometers of the city were hewn down for this purpose and another – mass crucifixions. Captured insurgents were crucified in various mocking positions at a rate of 500 per day, with the result that no single tree was seen throughout Jerusalem!   The Romans used starvation of the fenced-in Jews as a physiological weapon, to the extent where the Jews had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Josephus provides one such example thus: ““One woman slew her son, and then roasted him, and ate  the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this,  the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son.”
 
SINCE YOU SAID THE ANUNNAKI CONTROL THE AFFAIRS OF EARTH FROM BEHIND THE SCENES, TO WHAT EXTENT WERE THEY INVOLVED IN THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM IN 70 AD?

It is they who cleverly orchestrated it.   In LEVITICUS 26: 27-33, Enlil, the Anunnaki God of the Jews who is best known as Jehovah, had served notice to the Jews that he was going to chastise them seven times for “whoring after  other gods” at his expense. The destruction of Jerusalem was the fifth such chastisement. Josephus hinted about this knowledge when  he wrote in War of the Jews that, “The Deity, indeed long since, had sentenced the Temple to the flames  …  And one may well marvel at the exactness of the cycle of Destiny; for, as I said, she waited until the very month and the very day on which in bygone times the Temple had been burnt by the Babylonians,” the Babylonian captivity having been the second chastisement. General Titus also had an idea about Anunnaki involvement in the whole saga. When he was asked to accept the wreath of victory by his lieutenants  for making mince of the Jews, he declined, saying, “There’s no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God”.  He said he was simply the instrument the Jewish god had used to punish them.   On his way back to Rome, he stopped over at Memphis in Egypt to venerate Apis, the bull deity. The bull deity as we now know was a symbol of  Enlil.

DID THE ZEALOTS REGISTER ANY SIGNIFICANT VICTORIES IN THEIR AD 66 WAR AGAINST THE ROMANS?
They were formidable. They solidly held out against the Romans for five years. The fortress of Masada for one did not fall until AD 73, three years after Jerusalem had fallen.  At one stage in AD 70,  General Titus was nearly captured by the Zealots during a sudden attack.  A case could be made that to a degree, the Zealots were the architects of their own demise. They were busy  warring against each other at the same time as they were fighting the Romans. They had four factions waging a mini- civil war. In addition, they were busy looting the temple of its treasures, particularly gold, besides extorting similar personal treasures from fellow Jews.   Jewish deserters to neighbouring Syria, fearing that the gold they had grabbed could be  appropriated by Roman soldiers if they encountered them, began to swallow it for temporary storage in their guts. Big mistake.  When rumour spread that all the Jews who were fleeing Jerusalem were a gold mine walking,  Arabs and Syrians resorted to cutting their stomachs open as a matter of routine. Josephus records that “in one night alone, no less than 2000 Jews were ripped up”. Whether they were stitched up after being ripped up he does not say.  Meanwhile, the haul of gold in the process was such that its market price, like that of slaves,  took a dramatic tumble.

NEXT WEEK: QUESTIONS ON THE BIBLE AS A TEXT

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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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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020
FATED “JIHADI” JOHN

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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