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Fort Desperation: Troubled Voices and Phantoms in Selibe-Phikwe

Teedzani Thapelo

Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner and runner up poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo* arrives in Selibe-Phikwe mining town following the catastrophe at BCL mine where 5000 workers lost their jobs to find the township prostrate, the local economy somnolent, and residents comatose in their bewildered anguish. BDP is talking about impromptu and senseless rescue plans, many residents are bolting to start up again in their villages-even the rats are scuttling out, fast; it is a perfect nightmare, not the town he knew as a student when he first prophesied this impending disaster in his PhD thesis, and dramatized it in his controversial polyphonic novel, Seasons of Thunder, under the lead character Batjibilibili Madandume.


We are sitting round some caricature of a table, a most rickety contraption. Its unsteady posture seems ordered for the illustration of life in this dying township, something that, even within the tumult of events here, might stand as a symbol of existence. The men are talking incessantly, and I listen. No subject is taboo here; fights, work, sex, suicides, murders, theft, divorces, betrayals-even matters of sexual infertility, and infidelity.

Politicians in this country, it seems, lead very sordid lives, and the voters are not at all impressed by this charlatan libertinism. They associate it with moral sickness, and political decay. The root of our national problems, it would appear, stem from sexual pervasion, promiscuity and moral darkness on the one hand, and political profligacy and wanton greed, on the other. The argument is Freudian to the core, but not one of the people I am listening to knows anything about psychology. I am puzzled but decide to keep my counsel.

Studies about politics and psychology are nothing new to me. Not one person has a good word to say about the BDP. Ruling party politicians are derided, ridiculed, and yes, insulted as well. These people seem to even know a great deal about the private lives of these politicians, right from chequered public and political careers to their sexual habits and preferences. It’s like I am being introduced, for the first time here, to some obscure, but extremely tantalising, Botswana encyclopaedia; a macabre world of exotic knowledge and rituals, and all these because of the recent catastrophe in Selibe-Phikwe.


Writers are rarely shocked by public utterances. If anything it is our works that often shock and scandalise public sensibilities. But I must admit I find some of these utterances shocking though I am really, I think, beginning to get used to this sort of thing. Everywhere I go in Botswana I come across similar disclosures. How Batswana know these horrifying things is something I still have to fathom. I just wonder what our foreign visitors say when they hear these salacious stories being thrown about with such reckless abandon.

Four police constables walk by, and they are shooed away like some unruly chickens. There is plenty of beer around. It is as if beer is the food of life here, and gossip, the soul of the nation. Such public utterances are, however, more than just amusements of life. They are life itself. Public anxiety, I begin to recall, is a terrible thing. Talk like this has been known even to originate bloody revolutions in some countries.

 

In their fight against authority, people often start by belittling it. Talk like this is no different from undressing public figures, and exposing their nakedness to brutal violence. That rare thing, the internal gift of simplicity of heart and rectitude of the soul, the very thing that has defined a Motswana public persona for so many years, I note with sadness, is beginning to disappear.


No, Batswana are not becoming sophisticated. Far from it. Sophistication is a mark of civilized conduct. We are just becoming bitter, and vulgar, and unless something is done to trunk this moral decline, from here we can only slide into violence. This I find frightening. I look at these people, and one thing, I discover to my troubled conscience, is that if a government official, a ruling party politician, fell under a bus, right here in the awed presence of this bitter small community, these people would not hesitate to finish the poor fellow off.

Not one of them would call an ambulance. First, they would laugh, and then, in a most casual manner imaginable, finish the person off before quietly disappearing into the gathering darkness. Around the wobbly huge table I notice a lot of rust, dust, grime-soot aloft, and a lot of dirt. But the gathered crowd are mostly well dressed, articulate young folk, and full of so much gossip, I begin to wonder, if they have always lived like this.

But they tell me that is not so. Since the collapse of the mine, and the loss of jobs, people feel a strong affinity to come together, and talk. What about? Anything and everything. Do they intend sticking around? No, what is the point. I venture to murmur something about government help…and a few chaps move away from me. Mentioning such things in Selibe-Phikwe is like farting in public. People just move away from you, especially the youth.


One young lady tells me even the rats are scuttling out! Rats? I am not telling a lie, she vows. Rats are indeed scuttling out. Where to? Simple. Many people are returning to their villages. Do the politicians know this? Oh, yes, she says…and they don’t care. Truth of the matter is madokrag want the land of Selibe-Phikwe for themselves, their children, and their foreign friends. So, re ba tohelela lefatshe la bone. They don’t want us here. Ah, I see. I had not prepared myself for conspiracy theories in this wretched town.

A ba sale ka lefatshe la bone. Oh, I see. But what really happened here? Who knows a chorus of unconcealed indignation shoots back, followed by a peel of brittle laughter, disturbing and frightening. I soon meet something even more strange in this small crowd; an amateur philosopher. The people of Selibe-Phikwe, he says garrulously and impatiently, have always lived with trouble. We have always lived with trouble, or expected to be in trouble. It seems people here can never be happy unless something goes wrong.

Trouble is our name. Now this is deep stuff, profound. Something that some busybody like Freud might want to investigate. So I asked why. He smiles at me uneasily. He looks dismal, but naughty. A real philosopher, perhaps? Then he says something most unexpected, a small whisper just above his breath; I know you, he says. You are Teedzani. As a writer you must be able to figure such things out. I was staggered. But then I noticed something else.

He had delivered this shocking revelation clandestinely, almost above a whisper, smiling knowingly and mischievously. The revelation was just a secret between us two; he didn’t want to endanger my life, he just wanted me to know that he knew me, he knew what I was up to, but that was not his business. This touched me a great deal. I have written about Selibe-Phikwe before, in both my PhD thesis, and the novel Seasons of Thunder. Yet I had forgotten there were such people in Selibe-Phikwe, smart, considerate, hardworking people. I felt sick.


But I had set myself an assignment and I wanted to see it through. So I thanked him, with a smile and conspiratorial eye. There is always a touch of romance in writing. Once you get your teeth into something, it is never easy to let go. We sat rather silent for a while. Till someone bought some more beer. Then we returned to philosophy again. I was reminded that everything dies; youth, wealth, achievements, human strength, genius…le madomkrag tota, and that in Botswana nothing really ever endures.

So the mess at the mine was expected? No, says the philosopher; we never thought they could go this far, the bloody wretched bastards! This outburst draws a lot of snorting and sniggering. I should admit it was quite an experience to hear a philosopher swear. I was beginning to absorb this new intellectual novelty when all of a sudden everybody started talking excitedly; all at once. Mapolotiki kill everything willy-nilly every day, without mercy, without rest.

It is not an easy thing to live with a politician. Ga e le madomi bone…phooo! Ga ba lapisewe ke go senya. Madomkrag mistrust other Batswana, they mistrust the youth, they mistrust common sense…and they make a point of showing all these things in a thousand little ways. Like closing the mine? Oh, that was a trick. There is more to it than sees the eye. They like to create confusion. They love moments of great confusion…a useful smokescreen for stealing public assets.

Did I notice lately a lot of BDP granddads and grandmamas were retiring? Ba ya go ja eng? Ke batho ba dijo…mo dijong o ka ba bolaa.  Ah. Of course. That rotten habit of colossal greed again. I hear about it everywhere I go.  I was not about to engage this noisy but amicable enough crowd in technical economic arguments. Nobody wants to make an enemy in Selibe-Phikwe right now, and I am not a fool. So I agreed with them that the mouths and bodies of madomi are designed for eating only.


Shit happened in this beastly hole, says a skinny boy inhaling cigarette smoke with such desperate effort I feared he would overdo the whole thing and faint. Miraculously he survives. I notice his fingers, which tremble a little, are dark like a smoked ceiling. He could not have been more than fifteen. I looked at the weary and serious faces of these unlucky people. Selibe-Phikwe is going away from them piecemeal. This has been happening for more than twenty years.

I wonder how many of them noticed. It is not an easy thing to live in a town that is being gutted bit by bit every year, being stupid with fatigue and thinking of nothing but empty existence and survival…without spirit enough to even wish yourself dead. For most of these people there is no longer any real life here, only angry crowds and benumbed political authority, indifferent and reckless. They are exposed to extinction like some sailors on a raft at sea.

They grope in ruins, surrounded by wreckage, jabbering cheerfully to themselves, clinging on to their berth, hoping for miracles, and meantime inexorably drifting to the fag-end of their endurance. Crowded in that carcass of a township, the hungry crowd has to contend with endless official tinkering and mock rescue plans that never come to anything. Is it any wonder even the rats are scuttling out? The young lady confides to me that magodu a fodogetse ko Palapye…go maswe rra.


The smoking kid says mining is a foolish business. He always knew it would end badly. It is not even possible now to buy anything on credit in the town. Every shopkeeper knows us, he says laughing. You just cannot lie to anyone. Ba re itse sentle!  I ask about the miners. What happened to them? O se ka wa bua ka matagwa a le, says the young lady furiously; ba ile…ka bontse…ba re togeletse bana ba ba senang maina …ba ile.

I see I have touched a raw nerve. So I retreat. It is a terrible thing to live the life of youth in ignorance and hope. The youth of that young girl is right where she is and so long as she lives in that wretched town it will always throw her years and her weariness in her face.  She was born in that city, reared in it, has lived all her life in it, and most probably she will never know another town again. And yet people still want to see her only home die. Things like this break my heart. Of course, there is still her youth to make her patient.

But really how many youth in Botswana have any hope about their future lives and happiness? Absurd delusions, like absurd dreams, have long ceased to sit well with the placid ignorance and agitation of our youth. The loneliness and emptiness surrounding their stolid souls are things so deep our officials no longer bother to look too much into them. Sadly even most parents are giving up on them. Generally, our youth are no more than just children of the streets and birds of the night.

They are like people who have been blown up in some miserable ship at sea, and government, it is obvious, is already done with their ridiculous troubles. In fact nobody cares about them at all. They are regarded as profane scallywags with no redeeming points.
Yet in reality these are really frightened children, and this unconcern, is hurting them deeply.

The real people to blame are parents, public professionals, and politicians, all of whom now are very expert at how to shirk, and laze, and dodge when it comes to looking after young people in times of crisis. Selibe-Phikwe is no exception. I never bothered to go into government offices and talk to BDP officers about these things.

I have always found their stupid arrogance and ignorance too annoying to help such situations. I also happen to know our youth have neither time nor respect for government officials, and I know why. It will take more than the racket in that town to unite our youth to the bosom of parents and the care of bureaucrats. The real tragedy is that on the surface of things one is inclined to think these children are actually capable of making merry in the midst of all this violence and disasters.

But truth be told, these children are suffering, terribly; and it won’t be long before the weary ghost of their wholesome miserableness bursts into public life like a maddening grace, like a gift of sorrow, to this unfortunate country, further obliterating hope and public security. Feeling frustrated, and already tired, I rise to leave. I take infinite precautions about my movements. People are known to die in the night in this country. We have become a land of incorrigible vultures. My host is a homeboy who styles himself a small businessman. What do you do, I want to know. But he only laughs.


I dare not live in any public place. Bakalanga are generally very upright people. So I really don’t expect my host to be some rotten cannibal. After ten he announces he is going to church. Don’t worry cousin; he says, cheerfully, I will see you in the morning. I am reassured when he brings in the landlady and tells her, I am a trusted relative, and that I won’t cause any trouble. She looks at my luggage, and writing gear, and nods her approval. She is a huge woman, rather sullen.

Left to my devices, I start pondering events of the day, and the preceding few months. I am a little ashamed to see my room is sparkling clean. Obviously my young host went to a lot of trouble to make me feel at home…in this town where nothing can be bought on credit anymore. I feel guilty as hell. A faint breeze through the boarded-up window feels me with breathless delight…till I remember where I am. I pity these people for the unlucky choices they have made.

The town is plainly not much of a home but they have lived here all their lives, and it is now evident the prop they chose to sustain their lives is a rather poor walking stick. There is trouble everywhere, every time. Do they really apprehend the fatal signs? After the present stage of stupor, of incredulity, and of indignation, there must at some point appear the poignant finger of fatal encounters. I doubt even BDP is prepared for this, if they really anticipate this eventuality. All signs, though, are that it will come.

These people must open their eyes to the fundamental changes of the modern world. It is not only the known things and good men of our time who have departed. Departed too are the opportunities which we used to know how to seize. It is no use mincing matters. Words like progress, prospects…are now things we can only murmur with caution. A black night has descended on the fortunes of man and his prized possession; society.


I sat thinking for a very long time. Batswana, I considered, had long thought, and felt, they could depend upon the country to make her courses through any troubled waters. But now her compasses are out, and there is no telling what might happen to you before the week is out. We had always assumed her great age had given her wisdom, knowledge, and steadiness. But we had never really reckoned with those bumbling misfits at Government Enclave. I felt great anger mounting in my breast.

I once thought I knew well the order, the sights, and even the people of this country. Now I am no longer so sure, and this I always find terribly irritating. Even when one is going round many parts of this country, it is becoming well-nigh impossible to hear the same voices in the same places. Certainty and consistency, the hallmarks of all civilizations, are things we still need to nurture.

Unpredictability and personal endangerment are still marks of daily human experience-not a very enterprising life for a small country that once held so much promise for so many. The downfall of Selibe-Phikwe, which has shaken thousands of people like an earthquake, is just one instance of incessant human vulnerability in this country. We should expect more, and if you doubt me, start counting.


Many people are ashamed about the ruin of that town. The really surprising thing, I discovered to my shock, is that many had even believed in the stability of BCL groups of companies and their mining ventures; the result of misinformation by BDP officials. It is natural, I suppose, that people should take genuine pleasure in their possessions, in the dignity of their reputations and their wealth.

But to live a lie; that is worse than a sin. To mistake a town like Selibe-Phikwe for a garlanded perpetual festival with an unfading wreath is nothing more than self-delusion. Don’t even ever feel the same way about Botswana; not unless you wilfully want to set yourself for a horrible disappointment. BDP’s punctuality in failure is a matter of recorded history. It doesn’t really matter where you live. Always expect national failure to visit you there. The people of Selibe-Phikwe must now brace themselves to the derogatory nature of failed human experience.


Unfortunately, many are defenceless before this insidious work of adversity. That much I saw with my own eyes. The more rigorous the open assaults on their fate and fortunes, the poorer the firm front they can present. The more open the battering of the sea of endless problems and troubles, the weaker the cliff gets, and far too many people are tumbling over, astounded and miserable.

Men and women once substantial and dignified now find themselves confronted with the unenviable task of reassessing their fortitude. What to the nation was merely a rushed closure of the mine is to them a momentous event involving a radically new view of life, and many do not like this at all, not a bit of it. The hopes of their youth, the exercise of their abilities, every feeling and achievement that gratified their great expectations, had all been indissolubly connected with that wretched mine. Now they are asking themselves, what next?

The propositions by BDP to do something about the situation are treated with scorn. They are used to this kind of empty talk, it is a creed traced in obsolete words-in a half-forgotten language. To accept this phony political pity is like stripping naked so they can be kicked again to the ground. They are not going to give themselves away for less than nothing. They have no use for anyone’s pity. I sat thinking these things for half a night while the township slept, its sorrows heaving uneasily in the hearts of thousands of disappointed souls, and then, as usual, around three, I started writing.


I wrote for a long time. At daybreak my young friend returned. How was church, I asked. He laughed. He was already dressed for work…another phantom of the dark night. He noted I hadn’t slept and proposed breakfast. I kindly declined. An hour later I was on my way to Gaborone. I figured I had stayed long enough in this heart of darkness. Only five days, and I had gathered enough material for a book. A good writer does not need details. They tend to muffle and stymie the perception of things. Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe is now with a publisher.


Teedzani Thapelo* is former Distinguished Africa Guest Researcher at Nordic Africa Institute, Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Policy in Southern Africa, Economic History Lecturer at the University of Botswana, and author of Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe: abandonment and revolt, forthcoming in 2018.

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Columns

Hell Up in Judea

24th August 2021

A case can be made, General Atiku, that history’s most infamous Roman is Pontius Pilate. It was Pilate who condemned Jesus, the  “Son of God”, to the most cruel, most barbaric,  and most excruciating of deaths – crucifixion –  and cowardly at that as the gospels attest for us.  

Yet the exact circumstances under which the crucifixion took place and what followed thereafter far from jells with what is familiarly known. The fact of the matter was that there was a lot of political wheeling and dealing and boldfaced corruption on the part both of the Jewish authorities and the Roman establishment in the person of Pontius Pilate.  In this piece, we attempt, General, to present a fuller photo of Pilate as the centre of the whole machination.

Pilate’s historicity, General, is not in doubt. In 1961, an Italian archeologist unearthed a limestone block at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, which as of 6 AD was the Roman seat of government as well as the military headquarters.  The block bore the inscription, “Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated this Temple to the divine Augusti” (that is, then Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar and his wife Livia).

Pilate also gets varying degrees of mention in the works of Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus (56-117 AD); the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and chronicler Philo of Alexandria (25 BC to 50 AD); and the legendary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD).

Although his year of death (37 AD) is documented, his year of birth is a matter of conjecture, General. He came from the Pontii tribe (hence the name Pontius), a tough, warlike people. The Pontii tribe was of the equestrian class, the second-tier in the Roman caste system. Originally, the equestrians were those Romans with ample pocket power to bribe their way to knightly ranks in the Roman army. Pilate was born to Marcus Pontius, who had distinguished himself as a general in Rome’s military campaigns.

Following one of his particularly sterling military exploits, Marcus was awarded with the Pilum (javelin), a Roman decoration of honour for heroic military service.  To commemorate this medal of valour, the family took the name Pilati, rendered Pilate in English and Pilatus in Latin.

The son, Lucius Pontius Pilate, also distinguished himself as a soldier in the German campaigns of Germanicus, a prominent general of the early Roman Empire. Thanks to his scintillating military profile coupled with   strategic connections in the hierarchies of the Roman government, Pilate was able to wend his way into the heart of Claudia, the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire and ruler from 27 BC to 14 AD.

Claudia’s mother was Julia the Elder, who was also the biological mother of the apostles John and James. When Claudia was about 13 years of age, Julia sent her to Rome to be reared in the courts of Emperor Tiberius Caesar, to whom Julia was once married from 11 BC to 6 BC.

Although Tiberius was not the biological father of Claudius, General, he gladly acquiesced to being her foster father in deference to the memory of her late grandfather Caesar Augustus.
Pilate arrived in Rome when Claudia was sixteen years of age. In AD 26, the two tied the knot. Needless to say, it was a marriage based not on love as such but on political opportunism.

ASSIGNMENT JUDEA

The high-placed connection who facilitated Pontius Pilate’s smooth landing into the inner sanctums of Rome’s royalty and put him on a pedestal that saw him take pride of place in the cosmic gallery of rogues was Aelius Sejanus. Like Pilate, Sejanus came from the subordinate equestrian class, who would never be eligible for a seat in the Senate, the legislative council of ancient Rome.

Sejanus, however, had over time become Emperor Tiberius’ most trusted lieutenant and to the point where he was the de facto prime minister.  He had been commander of the Praetorian Guard, the elite Special Forces unit created by Augustus Caesar as a personal security force, which developed under Sejanus’ command into the most significant presence in Rome.

In AD 26, the emperor was not even based in Rome: he had confined himself to the 10.4 km2 island of Capri, about 264 km from Rome, and left control of Rome and the government of the Roman Empire to Sejanus. It was Sejanus who recommended the appointment of Pilate as prefect, or governor/procurator of Judea. The appointment was pronounced right on the occasion of Pilate’s nuptials with Claudius.

Philo records that when the bridal party emerged from the temple where the marriage ceremony was celebrated and Pilate started to follow the bride into the imperial litter, Tiberius, who was one of the twelve witnesses required to attend the ceremony, held him back and handed him a document. It was the wedding present – the governorship of far-flung Judea – with orders to proceed at once to Caesarea Maritima to take over the office made vacant by the recall of Valerius Gratus.

Pilate was notified by Sejanus that a ship was in fact waiting upon him to transport him to Palestine right away. The only disadvantageous aspect about the assignment was that Pilate was to leave the shores of Rome alone, without the pleasure of spending a first night in the arms of his newly wedded wife: by imperial decree, the wives of governors were not allowed to accompany them in their jurisdictions. Pilate, however, was a royal by marriage and so this prohibition was waived. By special permission granted by His Imperial Majesty Tiberius Caesar, Claudia soon joined her husband in Judea. The wily Pilate had calculated well when he married into royalty.

A SADISTIC ADMINISTRATOR

The Judean perch was not prestigious though, General. The prefects of Judea were not of high social status. At least one – Felix, referenced by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles – was an ex-slave, which says a great deal on the low regard in which the province was held by Rome.

Pilate was only secondarily sent to Judea on account of having married into royalty: his posting to the volatile province stemmed, primarily, from his being of a inferior social pedigree. Be that as it may, Pilate relished the posting in that it gave him the chance to exercise power, absolute power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and in Pilate was the archetypal example, General.

Pilate’s brief was simple: to collect taxes, maintain law and order, maintain infrastructure, and keep the population subdued. Although he was born lowly, he positively had the power of life and death over his Jewish subjects. Let us, General, listen to Josephus in his allusion to Coponius, Judea’s first Roman governor and who like Pilate was from the same subservient social class: “And now Archelaus’ part of Judea was reduced into a province and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as procurator, having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar.”

Pilate, General, was callous to a point of being sadistic. He was scarcely the scrupling judge with the rare soft spot that we encounter in the gospels. Philo charges him with “corruptibility, violence, robberies, ill-treatment of the people, grievances, continuous executions without even the form of a trial, endless and intolerable cruelties”.

He further declares him to be a “savage, inflexible, and arbitrary ruler” who was of a “stubborn and harsh quality” and “could not bring himself to do anything that might cause pleasure to the Jews”. The essentially humane character of the Pilate who presided over the trial of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels may not be wholly fictitious but is highly embellished, General.

Why did Pilate have such a pathological hatred of the Jews, General? Sejanus had more to do with it than the spontaneous leanings of his own nature. According to Philo, Sejanus hated the Jews like the plague and wished “to do away with the nation” – to exterminate it. In AD 19, for instance, he forced the Jews in Rome to burn their religious vestments and expelled them from the city without much ado.

For as long as Sejanus was in power, General, Pilate could do pretty much as he pleased. He didn’t have to worry about compromising reportage reaching the emperor as everything went through the implacably anti-Jewish Sejanus. Sejanus was unrivalled in power: golden statues of the general were being put up in Rome, the Senate had voted his birthday a public holiday, public prayers were offered on behalf of Tiberius and Sejanus, and in AD 31 Sejanus was named as Consul jointly with Tiberius.

The Judea posting also gave Pilate a golden opportunity to make money – lots of it. The governors of the Roman provinces were invariably rapacious, greedy, and incompetent: this we learn not only from Jewish historians of the day but from contemporary Roman writers as well such as Tacitus and Juvenal.

As long as the money skimmed from the provinces was not overly excessive, governors were allowed a free hand. It is said of Emperor Tiberius that, “Once he ordered a governor to reverse a steep rise in taxes saying, ‘I want my sheep shorn, not skinned’!” For those governors, such as Pilate, who had support from the very acmes of Roman power, General, they were practically a law unto themselves.

PILATE’S WINGS ARE CLIPPED

Pontius Pilate, General, was untrained in political office. Furthermore, he was a sycophant to the core who was prepared to go to any length in a bid to curry favour with and prove his loyalty to the powers that be in Rome.    Both these attributes gave rise to a series of blunders that brought him the intense hatred of the Jews.

The first abomination he committed in the eyes of the Jews, General, was to set up a temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius, which he called the Tiberieum, making him the only known Roman official to have built a temple to a living emperor.  True, Roman emperors were worshipped, but Tiberius was the one exception. According to the Roman scholar and historian Suetonius, Tiberius did not allow the consecration of temples to himself. Pilate’s act therefore, General, was an overkill: it was not appreciated at all.

Throughout his tenure, General, Pilate had a series of run-ins with the Jews, some of which entailed a lot of bloodshed and one of which sparked an insurrection that paved the way to Calvary. Then it all began to unravel, General. On October 18 AD 31, his patron Sejanus was summoned to the office of Emperor Tiberius and an angry denunciation was read out to him. It is not clear, General, what caused Sejanus’ fall from the emperor’s good graces but circumstantial evidence points to the perceived threat to the emperor’s power.

As the ancient historian Cassius Dio puts it, “Sejanus was so great a person by reason both of his excessive haughtiness and of his vast power that to put it briefly, he himself seemed to be the emperor and Tiberius a kind of island potentate, inasmuch as the latter spent his time on the island of Capri.”  Sejanus, hitherto the most powerful man in Rome, General, was thrown into a dungeon.

That same evening, he was summarily condemned to death, extracted from his cell, hung, and had his body given over to a crowd that tore it to pieces in a frenzy of manic excitement. His three children were all executed over the following months and his wife, Tiberius’ own daughter, committed suicide.  The people further celebrated his downfall by pulling his statues over.  Meanwhile, General, Tiberius began pursuing all those who could have been involved in the “plots” of Sejanus.

In Judea, Pilate, a Sejanus appointee, must have been badly shaken, General. Were his friends and family under suspicion? Would he be purged like others? Imperial attitudes to the Jewish race seemed to have changed now with the riddance of Sejanus. Tiberius made sure this was the case by appointing a new governor for Syria (who went by the title Legate and to whom Pilate was obligated to report).

The governor, Lucius Pomponius Flaccus, arrived in Rome in AD 32. Philo records that Tiberius now “charged his procurators in every place to which they were appointed to speak comfortably to the members of our nation in the different cities, assuring them that the penal measures did not extend to all but only to the guilty who were few, and to disturb none of the established customs but even to regard them as a trust committed to their care, the people as naturally peaceable and the institution as an influence promoting orderly conduct.”

So Pilate, General, had lost his supporters at the top, his new boss was on his doorstep, and there had been a change of policy regarding the very people he was in charge of. Surely, he would have to watch his step. The fact of the matter, however, General, was that he hardly did so.  In November 32 AD, for instance, he provoked a mini-uprising by the Zealots led by Judas Iscariot, Theudas Barabbas, and Simon Zelotes. It was this revolt, General, that culminated in those three “crosses” of Calvary that are indelibly etched on the mind of every Christian.

NEXT WEEK: ZEALOT REVOLT AGAINST PILATE

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Columns

Hustle & Muscle

24th August 2021

Until as recently as the 1980s a career often meant a job for life within a single company or organisation. Phrases such as ‘climbing the corporate ladder’, ‘the glass ceiling’, ‘wage slave’ & ‘the rat race’ were thrown about, the analogies making clear that a career path was a toxic mix of a war of attrition, indentured drudgery and a Sisyphean treadmill.

In all cases you fought, grafted or plodded on till you reached retirement age, at which point you could expect a small leaving party, the promise of a pension and, oddly, a gift of either a clock or watch. The irony of being rewarded with a timepiece on the very day you could expect to no longer be a workday prisoner was apparently lost on management – the hands of time were destined to follow you to the grave!

Retirement was the goal at the end of the long, corporate journey, time on your hands – verifiable by your gifted time keeping device – to spend time working in the garden, playing with the grandchildren, enjoying a holiday or two and generally killing time till time killed you.

For some, retirement could be literally short-lived. The retirement age, and accompanying pension, was predicated on the old adage of three scores years and ten being the average life expectancy of man. As the twentieth century progressed and healthcare became more sophisticated, that former mean average was extended but that in itself then brought with it the double-edged sword of dementia. The longer people lived, the more widespread dementia became – one more life lottery which some won, some lost and doctors were seemingly unable to predict who would succumb and who would survive.

However, much research has been carried out on the causes of this crippling and cruel disease and the latest findings indicate that one of its root causes may lie in the former workplace – what your job entailed and how stimulating or otherwise it was. It transpires that having an interesting job in your forties could lessen the risk of getting dementia in old age, the mental stimulation possibly staving off the onslaught of the condition by around 18 months.

Academics examined more than 100,000 participants and tracked them for nearly two decades. They spotted a third fewer cases of dementia among people who had engaging jobs which involved demanding tasks and more control — such as government officers, directors, physicians, dentists and solicitors, compared to adults in ‘passive’ roles — such as supermarket cashiers, vehicle drivers and machine operators. And those who found their own work interesting also had lower levels of proteins in their blood that have been linked with dementia.

The study was carried out by researchers from University College London, the University of Helsinki and Johns Hopkins University studying the cognitive stimulation and dementia risk in 107,896 volunteers, who were regularly quizzed about their job.  The volunteers — who had an average age of around 45 — were tracked for between 14 and 40 years.  Jobs were classed as cognitively stimulating if they included demanding tasks and came with high job control. Non-stimulating ‘passive’ occupations included those with low demands and little decision-making power.

4.8 cases of dementia per 10,000 person years occurred among those with interesting careers, equating to 0.8 per cent of the group. In contrast, there were 7.3 cases per 10,000 person years among those with repetitive jobs (1.2 per cent). Among people with jobs that were in the middle of these two categories, there were 6.8 cases per 10,000 person years (1.12 per cent).

The link between how interesting a person’s work was and rates of dementia did not change for different genders or ages.Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimaki, from UCL, said: ‘Our findings support the hypothesis that mental stimulation in adulthood may postpone the onset of dementia. The levels of dementia at age 80 seen in people who experienced high levels of mental stimulation was observed at age 78.3 in those who had experienced low mental stimulation. This suggests the average delay in disease onset is about one and half years, but there is probably considerable variation in the effect between people.’

The study, published this week in the British Medical Journal, also looked at protein levels in the blood among another group of volunteers. These proteins are thought to stop the brain forming new connections, increasing the risk of dementia. People with interesting jobs had lower levels of three proteins considered to be tell-tale signs of the condition.

Scientists said it provided ‘possible clues’ for the underlying biological mechanisms at play. The researchers noted the study was only observational, meaning it cannot establish cause and that other factors could be at play. However, they insisted it was large and well-designed, so the findings can be applied to different populations.

To me, there is a further implication in that it might be fair to expect that those in professions such as law, medicine and science might reasonably be expected to have a higher IQ than those in blue collar roles. This could indicate that mental capacity also plays a part in dementia onset but that’s a personal conclusion and not one reached by the study.

And for those stuck in dull jobs through force of circumstance, all is not lost since in today’s work culture, the stimulating side-hustle is fast becoming the norm as work becomes not just a means of financial survival but a life-enhancing opportunity , just as in the old adage of ‘Find a job you enjoy and you’ll never work another day in your life’!

Dementia is a global concern but ironically it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age and is the second biggest killer in the UK behind heart disease, according to the UK Office for National Statistics. So here’s a serious suggestion to save you from an early grave and loss of competencies – work hard, play hard and where possible, combine the two!

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The Lord Ties The Knot

18th August 2021
JUDAS

… as Judas Iscariot takes strong exception

The gospels which were excluded from the official canon, the New Testament, at the Council of Nicaea are known as the Apocrypha. One of these Apocryphal works, General Atiku, is the gospel of Phillip.  In this gospel, the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is openly discussed thus:

“And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth.  The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said unto him, why do you love her more than all of us? The Saviour answered and said to them, why do   I not love you like her? … Great is the mystery of marriage, for without it the world would never have existed. Now, the existence of the world depends on man, and the existence of man on marriage.”

It is clear from the above statement, General, that Jesus held marriage in high regard because he himself was part and parcel of it.  The disciples (that is, most of them) were offended not because he and Mary were an item but because they simply did not approve of her as she was a Gentile and a commoner.

Otherwise, the kissing was not offensive at all: it was a customary expression of mutual affection between the sacred bride and groom. This we gather from the prototypically romantic Old Testament text known as The Song of Solomon, which opens with the words, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.”  As the Davidic groom, Jesus was therefore entitled to kiss Mary Magdalene as his bride.

THE FIRST MARRIAGE

In September AD 30, General Atiku, Jesus and Mary Magdalene had their First Marriage ceremony. Jesus had turned 36 in that year, the appropriate marriage age for a Davidic heir, and September was the holiest month in the Jewish calendar.  Having been born irregularly himself (in the wrong month of the year because of his father Joseph’s intransigence), Jesus was determined that he himself follow the law to the letter so that his child would not suffer the same indignities as he did. The First Marriage is captured in LUKE 7:35-50.

The marriage took place at the home of Simon the Pharisee. This, General, was another name for Simon Zelotes, the stepfather of Mary Magdalene. Although Mary Magdalene is not directly named, she is described as a “sinner”. This was another term for Gentiles, as in the eyes of the Jewish God, they were unregenerate and therefore hopeless sinners.  Mary Magdalene, whose mother Helena-Salome was of Syrian origin (Syro-Phoenicia to be specific), was a Gentile.

On the occasion, Mary Magdalene performed three acts on Jesus as set out in LUKE 7:38. She wept; kissed his feet; and anointed him with ointment. This is what a bride was supposed to do to her groom as clearly evinced in The Song of Solomon, a series of love poems concerning a spouse and her husband the King.

Of the three rites, perhaps it is the weeping that require elucidation, General. This was at once symbolic and sentimental.  The First Marriage was simply a ceremony: the moment the ceremony was over, the husband and wife separated, that is, they lived apart until the month of December, when they came together under one roof.  This was in accord with Essene stipulations for dynastic marriages, that is, those of the Davidic Messiah and the priestly Messiah.

Prior to the First Marriage, the bride was known as an Almah, meaning a betrothed Virgin. After the First Marriage ceremony, the Almah was demoted to a Sister. This was because the ensuing three-month separation meant husband and wife would not indulge in sexual activity and so the wife was as good as a sister to her husband. The imagery of Sister also being a wife is seen in 1 CORINTHIANS 9:5, where the apostle Paul refers to his wife as Sister. In ACTS 23:16, Paul’s wife is again referred to as his Sister.

Now, when the Almah became a Sister, General, she was metaphorically called a Widow, because she was being separated  from her newly wedded husband. As such, she was expected to symbolically weep on account of this separation. That explains why Mary Magdalene had to weep at her first wedding. It is a pity, General, that most Christians and their clergy miss the real story so wrongly indoctrinated are they.

In December AD 30, Jesus moved in with Mary Magdalene to consummate the marriage. It was hoped that Mary would fall pregnant so that in March the following year, a Second (and final) Marriage ceremony would be held.  Sadly, conception did not take place. According to Essene dynastic procreational rules, the couple had to separate again. They would reunite in December AD 31 for another try at conception.

The reason they separated was because for a dynastic heir, marriage was purely for procreation and not for recreational sex. But even that year, General, Mary did not fall pregnant, necessitating another year-long separation. What that meant was that Mary would be given one more last chance – in December AD 32, by which time Jesus would have been 38.  If she did not conceive this time around, the marriage would come to an end through a legal divorce and Jesus would be free to seek a new spouse.

THE FINAL MARRIAGE

In December 32, Mary Magdalene, General, finally conceived. When Jesus was crucified therefore in April 33 AD, his wife was three months pregnant. By this time, the Second Marriage ceremony, the final one, had already taken place, this being in March. The Second Marriage is cursorily related in MATTHEW 26:6-13; MARK 14:3-9; and JOHN 12:1-8.The John version reads as follows:

“Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where was Lazarus, who had died, whom he raised out of the dead; they made, therefore, to him a supper there, and Martha was ministering, and Lazarus was one of those reclining together (at meat) with him; Mary, therefore, having taken a pound of ointment of spikenard, of great price, anointed the feet of Jesus and did wipe with her hair his feet, and the house was filled from the fragrance of the ointment.

Therefore said one of his disciples – Judas Iscariot, of Simon, who was about to deliver him up – ‘Therefore was not this ointment sold for three hundred denaries, and given to the poor?’ and he said this, not because he was caring for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and what things were put in he was carrying. Jesus, therefore, said, ‘Suffer her; for the day of my embalming she has kept it, for the poor you have always with yourselves, and me you have not always.’”

This story (also see JOHN 11:1-44) centres on four people primarily, General. They are Jesus; Lazarus; Mary; and Martha. “Mary” was actually Mary Magdalene.  “Martha” was a titular name for her mother, Helena-Salome.  In the Lazarus story, the two ladies are referred to as “sisters”. This denotes conventual sisters, like the Catholics refer to conventual nuns, and not sisters by blood. Helena-Salome actually headed a nunnery. By the same token, the reference to Lazarus as “brother” has a connotation akin to what Pentecostals refer to as “Brother in Christ”.

Thus, the story revolves around Jesus the groom; his bride Mary Magdalene; his father-in-law Simon Zelotes; and his mother-in-law Helena-Salome. This is a family affair folks, which provides strong hints as to the exact relationship between Jesus and Mary. The raising from the dead of a man called Lazarus, sadly, was not a miracle at all:  it was a ceremonial restoration from excommunication back to the Essene governing council, which comprised of Jesus and his so-called 12 disciples.

The “Lazarus” who was thus restored was actually Simon Zelotes, at the time the most “beloved” by Jesus of the entire apostolic band, who had been demoted under circumstances relating to a Zealot uprising against Pontius Pilate.  More will be said on the subject at a later stage.

The anointing of Jesus by Mary with “spikenard”, General, harps back to ancient married rituals as patently demonstrated in The Song of Solomon. This was the second time Mary had anointed Jesus, first at the First Marriage in September AD 30 AD and now at the Second Marriage in March 32 AD. On both occasions, Mary anointed Jesus whilst he sat at table.

In SONG OF SOLOMON 1:12, the bride says, “While the King sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof”.  The anointing in the gospels was therefore an allusion to the ancient rite whereby a royal bride prepared her groom’s table. Only as the wife of Jesus and as a priestess in her own right could Mary Magdalene have anointed both the feet and head of Jesus.

The anointing in effect had two purposes: first, to seal the marriage, and second, to officially announce to the Jewish nation that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah (and not his younger brother James, who had been so promoted by John the Baptist).  It all harped back to the tradition in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, where Kings or Pharaohs were anointed for office (in their case with crocodile fat) by their half-sister brides.

The King’s bride actually kept the anointment substance for use for one more time – when the King died. You can now understand, General, why Jesus said “the day of my embalming she has kept it” in reference to his anointing by Mary Magdalene and why the first person to feature at the tomb of Jesus was none other than Mary Magdalene!

Three passages in the Lazarus story     (in JOHN11: 1-44) are particularly telling.  They are Verses 20, 28, and 29. They read as follows: “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house … After Martha said this, she went back and called her sister Mary privately. ‘The Master is here,’ she told her, ‘and is asking for you.’ When Mary heard this, she got up and hurried out to meet him.”  The reason Mary (Magdalene) first kept her place before proceeding to meet Jesus, General, is not supplied in the Johannine gospel.

However, the Apocryphal document which has come to be known as The Secret Gospel of Mark sheds more light, General.  It explains that on the first occasion, Mary did come out to meet Jesus along with her mother Martha (Helena-Salome) but upon being rebuked by the disciples of Jesus, she repaired back to the house. Why was she lashed out at, General? Because according to the Essene matrimonial code, she was not permitted to come out of her own accord and greet her husband: she was to wait until he had given her express permission to emerge.

There is yet another element in the conduct of Mary Magdalene that has parallels with Solomon’s queen, General. In the back-and-forth romantic dialogue between the couple, the queen is referred to as a “Shulamite” (SONG OF SOLOMON 6:13). The Shulamites were from the Syrian border town of  Solam and we have already seen that Mary’s first foster father, Syro the Jairus, was a Syrian, as was her mother Helena-Salome.

JUDAS DENOUNCES THE MARRIAGE

The marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene was vehemently opposed by most of his so-called disciples. The most vociferous on this position, General, was Judas Iscariot. The writer of the John gospel characterises Judas as a “thief” who used to pilfer alms money but that is a smear.  The gospels were written post-eventual and therefore Judas’ name was already in ignominy.

His detractors therefore had a field day at sullying his character. Yet prior to the betrayal, Judas Iscariot, General, was one of the most respected figures among the Essene community. At the time of Jesus’ marriage, Judas was the second-highest ranking Essene after Simon Zelotes (that is the meaning of “Judas of Simon” in the passage quoted above, meaning “Judas the deputy of Simon”): Jesus was third, although politically he was the seniormost.

Judas opposed the marriage on grounds, primarily, that Mary Magdalene was not only a Gentile but a commoner. Judas had the right to pronounce on Jesus’ marriage because it was he who was in charge of the Essene’s order of Dan, to which Mary Magdalene belonged prior to her marriage to Jesus and therefore had the right whether to release her for marriage or retain her in the convent. Judas would rather the spikenard (the most expensive fragrance of the day, the reason it was only used by queens) was sold and the money generated donated to the Essene kitty (“the poor” was another name for Essenes: when Jesus in the Beatitudes said “blessed are the poor”, he was not referring to you and me: he meant the Essenes).

Sadly General, as high-standing as he was, Judas had no right of veto over the marriage of a Davidic heir: only Simon Zelotes had by virtue of his position as the Essene’s Pope. Simon Zelotes was Mary Magdalene’s step-father and there was no way he was going to stand in the way of the marriage of his own daughter. Moreover, Jesus had already begun to fancy himself as Priest-King.

As far as he was concerned therefore, he was at once the Davidic Messiah and the Priestly Messiah – the Melchizedek. Thus even if Simon Zelotes had perchance objected to the marriage, Jesus would have gone ahead with it anyway. It was Jesus’ highly unpopular appropriated role as the Melchizedek, General, that set him on the path to Calvary.

NEXT WEEK: A NEW GOVERNOR COMES TO TOWN

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