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Marduk, Inanna Taste Death

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER    

One is entombed live and kicking; the other is hung on a stake

With the Enkites having refused to surrender Marduk to the Enlilites and having pronounced forth his acquittal, the headstrong Inanna-Ishtar decided to take the law into her own hands. She unilaterally declared war on Marduk, challenging him to emerge from the Giza Pyramid so the two could engage in a military showdown, failure to which she would reduce the great structure to rabble.

In his response, Marduk dismissed her threats with the contempt they deserved. He said he was not in the mood to pit military wits with a trigger-happy amazon. He dug in his heels in the “Ekur”, as the Great Pyramid was otherwise called. Inanna took Marduk’s response as a dare and decided to teach him a lesson. She got into a fighter craft which was loaded with an array of weapons that deployed by the press of a button, set course for the Giza Pyramid, and took indiscriminate aim. She had just instituted the Third Pyramid War, in which she was literally the only belligerent. Both the Enkites and Enlilites urged her to cease fire but she gave them the middle finger, vowing that she was not going to stop till the structure “fell to the ground.”

She “ceased not striking at its corners, even its multitude of stones”, according to the Sumerian records. At some stage, Marduk thought he had had enough of this relentless, one-sided broadside at an iconic structure that was the most prestigious symbol of Enkite power. He radioed a message to Enlil that if Inanna was not tamed, he would resort to the use of a weapon “whose outburst was terrible”. This was a weapon Enki had prevented him from using at the height of the Second Pyramid War.

Fearing the possible ramifications, the Enlilites became frantic. They sent an urgent message to King Anu on Nibiru beseeching him to help ram sense into his intractable great granddaughter who was also his mistress. The response was quick in coming: the king ordered that Inanna withdraw and that Marduk appear for trial before an Enlilite tribunal. The message was accordingly relayed to Marduk who “despite the anger of his heart” and “clear tears into his eyes” consented to the idea of the trial.  The trial was held in a temple that stood by a river bank within the vicinities of the Giza Pyramid. The case was prosecuted by Inanna.  

MARDUK IS SENTENCED TO A SLOW DEATH

Although the tribunal was an all-Enlilite affair, it was far from partial. Inanna prayed for the death penalty but the bench was dead-set against this course of action, insisting there wasn’t a scintilla of evidence that Marduk had a direct role in the death of Dumuzi. But a game Inanna wasn’t yielding either: she countered that if Marduk could not get a direct death penalty, at least he deserved an indirect death penalty as the circumstances in which Dumuzi died arose from Marduk’s scheme to frame him with the concocted rape of Geshtinanna. Indeed, in her testimony, Geshtinanna confessed to having plotted the whole thing with Marduk and said she regretted the abominable deed. She also made it clear to the bench that the scheme did not extend to causing the death of Dumuzi, thus absolving Marduk of premeditated murder.

Having digested Inanna’s petition, the panel asked her what form Marduk’s indirect death sentence should take. Inanna proposed thus: “There is a way to sentence Marduk to death without actually executing him. Let him be buried alive within the Great Pyramid! Let him be sealed there as in a gigantic envelope – a great envelope that is sealed, with no one to offer him nourishment. Alone he should suffer, with the potable water source cut off … Let the encased hiding chamber be Marduk's stone coffin.”

It was game, set, and match: Marduk was sentenced to “entombment” alive in the Great Pyramid of Giza. He was going to be dungeoned right within the innards of the pyramid, in a sealed compartment known as the King’s Chamber. But there would be no luxury to indulge even if it would be staring all around him. For a day or two, he’d have a bit of air to breathe all right but no food or water, meaning he’d be dead within weeks, or at most a month if he was a strong guy. As if that was not harsh enough, he’d be without artificial light of any from – in absolute darkness.

Marduk was accordingly stripped of his regal attire and draped in a shroud to symbolise the fact that the solitary chamber of his confinement was a virtual coffin. But he did not allow himself to be led away meekly, like a sheep to the slaughterhouse: he resisted with every fibre of his being as he angrily and vociferously enunciated his innocence.  The Enlilite police were forced to give him a bloodied nose in a bid to neutralise him. His father Enki and his mother Damkina, who were present at the trial, shed a copious amount of tears as they watched their firstborn son weather the furious assault.

During the first week of Marduk’s incarceration, his supporters ran riot throughout Egypt.  They had pitched stone-pelting battles with those sections of the Egyptian community who revered Enlil and Inanna. It took a heavy-handed response by Ishkur-Adad, coupled with Enki’s repeated appeals for calm, to quell the nation-wide unrest.        

SPARE MARDUK, PLEADS NINMAH

The first to raise a hue and cry about Marduk’s plight was his firstborn son Nabu. Nabu had boycotted the trial, which he had pre-dismissed as a travesty of justice, as a kangaroo court of some sort in that one clan was at once prosecutor and judge. Now upon learning that his father was set to languish in the bowels of the Giza Pyramid, he immediately left Borsippa, his cult city in Sumer, to check on his condition.  By the time he arrived at Giza, however, Marduk was already in confinement and an indefinite prohibition to entry into the pyramid was already in place.  

Equally gutted was Sarpanit II, Nabu’s step mother. Following the death of his Earthling wife Sarpanit in 3800 BC, Marduk had re-married. This time around, he had chosen a half-sister, a daughter Enki had with his step-sister Ninmah. The name Sarpanit was now a title for Marduk’s spouse and so his new wife also went by the same name. Sarpanit II too had boycotted the trial of her husband but when she learnt of his slow-death sentence, she set up a wailing racket.

Then with her step son Nabu in tow, she set course for Enki’s mansion on Abu Island, whereupon she implored him to do something to have his son spared from certain demise.  Enki in his usual diplomatic style first suggested that Sarpanit II approach Inanna’s father Nannar-Sin and her twin-brother Utu-Shamash, who being her closest relations were best-placed to prevail over her to file for a prerogative of mercy. Where that failed, she should approach Ninmah and beseech her to broker a meeting between Enlil and himself.

Sarpanit II paid heed and mobilising priest-astronomers, she went to see Sin and Shamash in the presence of Inanna herself. “Reciting prayers and incantations,” say the Sumerian records, “offerings were made to Ishtar (by the astronomer-priests) that she may show her mercy. The high priest appealed to Sin and to Shamash: ‘Restore Bel (Marduk) to life!’” But Inanna simply wasn’t budging. “For the death of my beloved, the Instigator (Marduk) must die!” she thundered in response, adding that if only she was the one to directly erase him from the face of the Earth.

Having hit a brick wall, Sarpanit II then proceeded, as per Enki’s suggestion, to approach Ninmah, Dumuzi’s grandmother. Ninmah, who was as tender-hearted as Enki, had sympathy for Sarpanit notwithstanding that it was by the machinations of her husband that she lost a treasured grandson. Soon she had arranged a meeting with Enlil, with her own son Ninurta in attendance. Ninmah proposed that Marduk be released and sent into exile under one strong precondition – that he relinquishes his entitlement to supremacy in the forthcoming Age of Aries and that that right be ceded to Ninurta.  “Punishment to Marduk must come, death is not warranted,” she posited. “Let Marduk in exile live, the succession on Earth to Ninurta submit!”

MARDUK SENTENCE COMMUTED

Both Enlil and Ninurta endorsed Ninmah’s proposition, as did Inanna herself.  When the proposition was relayed to Enki, he embraced it not wholeheartedly but with resignation. “If between succession and life the choice is, what can I, a father, say?” Enki muttered. The Enlilite tribunal sat again and announced a new verdict – from death by hunger and suffocation to exile, which was a typical pronouncement for erring members of the Anunnaki pantheon. Ninurta then tasked a certain Nusku to promulgate the news to all the Anunnaki. Ninurta’s own wife Gula, who was also known as Bau, even provided Sarpanit II with a set of new clothing and sandals for Marduk as a gesture of goodwill.  

It was Ningishzidda, the architect of the Giza Pyramid, who was called upon to undertake the arduous task of extricating Marduk from his predicament. Zidda took days to do so as it was like prying open a strong room purely by mechanical rather electronic means. By the time Zidda made the breakthrough, Marduk had already passed out. It was thanks to Zidda’s resuscitative   prowess   that Marduk came to. He was given food and water and although he did not gain his full strength there and then, he was able to talk.

When Enki spelt out to him the terms and implications of his release, Marduk was furious. He made it clear that whilst he was prepared to go into exile, there was no way he was going to trade his imminent rulership of Earth for anything under the Sun. “I would rather die than my birthright forfeit,” he underscored. The Enlilites were disappointed but half a loaf was better than nothing: Marduk and Sarpanit II were immediately made to embark onto a skyship and flown to the “Land of No Return”, where “horned beasts are hunted”. This was the Amazonian wilds of South America.

Marduk, however, was not destined to live long in exile this time around. According to a Babylonian text titled  The Death and Resurrection of Bel-Marduk (metaphorically speaking), it turned out Dumuzi did not die accidentally as such but was startled into falling below the boulder he stood on behind the Nile cataract by one of his pursuers, an Anunnaki. This pursuer, dubbed “The Evil One”, later confessed. He was ultimately “smitten and slain”. With the real culprit having surfaced, Marduk was exonerated and his exile came to a sweetly quick end.

INANNA BARRED FROM HUBBY’S FUNERAL

With the Marduk saga having concluded, the official funeral of Dumuzi now had to proceed. It was to be held in the “Lower Domain”, that is, southern Africa, which was Nergal’s fiefdom. The venue was Nergal’s palace, where the body of Dumuzi had lain in state since it was retrieved from the banks of the Nile. Every Anunnaki whose name was not Marduk was called upon to attend the funeral except Inanna, who was barred from doing so by Nergal’s wife Ereshkigal, the ceremony  hostess. Why her?

First, let us appreciate that as the widow, Inanna had to be at the funeral as a matter of course. It was she who was to take the remains of her husband to Nibiru for burial. However, Inanna had indicated to Enki, Enlil, and her father Sin that she would not fulfil that obligation if one strong precondition was not met – that of Nergal taking her hand as wife No. 2. Now, that is not as outlandish a stance as it may sound. According to the Anunnaki’s marital and succession laws, a surviving brother was under obligation to marry his late brother’s widow even if he was already married. The idea was to produce a heir so that the deceased’s name “shall not be blotted out”. This law would later apply to Enlil’s chosen people, the Jews,  as crystal-clearly set out  in DEUTERONOMY 25:5-10.

Dumuzi had several brothers but Marduk as firstborn had the prior right to execute the levirate marriage with Inanna. Having been implicated in the death of Dumuzi, however, Marduk had already forfeited this  eligibility, which meant Nergal, who was next in the sibling pecking order, had to step  into the breach. With Marduk and Zidda now out of contention for the rulership of Egypt, Nergal was practically a shoe-in. This prospect, more than anything else, was what Inanna wished to position herself for – as the next Queen of Africa at the expense of Ereshkigal and possibly the next Queen of Earth if Nergal perchance became the new Enlil in the Age of the Ram, a direction in which she would do her utmost to nudge him.

Having gotten wind of the stirrings of what Inanna was indeed up to, Ereshkigal disinvited her from attending the funeral. She didn’t want to afford her a platform to pitch her levirate propaganda and sensitise Nergal up-close on the idea. Ereshkigal feared that if the levirate marriage with her husband took place, Inanna might go to any lengths imaginable to supplant her as Nergal’s Queen given her penchant for bare-knuckle tactics in achieving any end. Furthermore, Inanna’s son with Nergal would in future be the cause of endless succession polemics.

Inanna, however, was not the one to take any obstacle flung her way lying down. Parrying the advice of Enlil, Enki, and her father Sin to keep away from the funeral given Ereshkigal’s veto of her prospective presence there, she vowed she was going to make a showing come rain or shine and that she was going to create one hell of scene right at the palace if her wish to marry Nergal and produce a little Dumuzi was not granted.   And when Inanna made up her mind, nothing would stand in her way.

INANNA IS KILLED

Nergal’s palace in today’s South Africa was its own, gated  estate with oodles of acreage. In order to  reach the  plush edifice itself, one had to negotiate seven gates, where they were thoroughly vetted by heavily armed guards using very sophisticated scanning equipment. Maybe Nergal was paranoid but he didn’t want to let his guard down in the slightest and consequently court harm.  Security was particularly heightened on this occasion with the entire Anunnaki royalty in attendance.  

Inanna arrived at the palace with great pomp and circumstance. Accompanied by a posse of gun-wielding body minders, she was clad in “emblems and regalia of divine status”,  with miniature, high-tech weapons concealed under her clothing. The moment she showed up at the first gate, the gate keepers refused to admit her as per Ereshkigal’s instructions, but she told them in no uncertain terms that if she was barred from entry, she would raze down the palace with incendiary devices that were replete in her plane. “If thou openest not the gate so that I cannot enter,” she went on, “I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt, I will smash the doorpost, I will move the doors.”

Alarmed, the guards made her presence known to Ereshkigal as well as her threats and upon hearing that, Ereshkigal’s face “turned pale, her lips turned dark”.  Ereshkigal then gave orders that Inanna be stripped of her ostentatious royal attire and that she be strip-searched at each gate. Ereshkigal’s aim was to at once humiliate her and ensure that she was completely disarmed. “One by one, the seven gates leading to the abode of Ereshkigal were opened to Ishtar,” the Sumerian records relate.

When at long last Inanna stood stark naked before Ereshkigal, who sat on Nergal’s throne surrounded by seven Anunnaki with a judicial capacity, Ereshkigal “burst at her”. She blitzed her with insults and all manner of vitriol, accusing her of “scheming a heir by my husband Nergal”. Hot-tempered by nature, Inanna lost her cool and charged at Ereshkigal, wounding her badly (she was a decorated martial artist of black belt pedigree) before Ereshkigal’s security detail had time to intercept her. She was there and then arrested, arraigned for attempted murder (probably an exaggeration) and put on trial as the judges were already present.

It  was a hasty trial that was no more than a caricature of justice. Inanna was sentenced to a slow death by induced illness on a stake. The judges there and then ordered Namtar, Ereshkigal’s “vizier”, to “let loose against her the sixty diseases” that would kill her practically overnight. But Namtar was not human: the Sumerian records describe him as armless, feetless, and incapable of eating or drinking water. In other words, he was an android. His name actually meant “Terminator”. The Babylonian texts refer to him as “Memittu”, meaning “Angel of Death”. He was a cyborg who was deployed to cause death in all sorts of ways – the Anunnaki’s version of a Tokoloshe.   

Once Namtar was done with her, Ninmah was loaded onto a chopper, taken deep into the African wilds, strapped high on a tree trunk, and left to die. All this was taking place without the knowledge of the rest of the Anunnaki pantheon, including Nergal, who were busy with the week-long funeral ceremony in the palace hall.

NEXT WEEK:  INANNA’S SEXUAL SHENANIGANS  

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Parricide at Herod’s Court

25th January 2021
SAILI

A wife, uncle, and two in-laws fall at the hands of Judah’s despot

The pre-eminent Jewish chronicler, Flavius Josephus, said of Herod the Great that he was “blessed with every gift of looks, body, and mind” but he was a “slave to his passions”. This was in the context of a gloating bloodlust.

His sword knew no sacred cows: neither his own kids, wives, in-laws, next of kin, nor bosom friends were immune from it. He is on record as pestering Caesar Augustus with a barrage of letters seeking permission to execute his own flesh and blood, prompting the Roman emperor to at one time quip that, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”, which was apt: as a “Jew”, Herod did not eat pork and therefore in the event that he kept any pigs, they would never have to be killed.

You are by now well-apprised of the death of Hyrcanus II by the same Herod, General Atiku, in 30 BC. Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean ruler of Judah twice over, was actually the grandfather of Mariamne I, Herod’s most beloved wife and his second of up to 10 wives. It was Mariamne’s own mother Salome, who dreading Herod’s pathological savagery, pitched Mariamne to Herod in the hope that that would insure her family from Herod’s murderous caprices.

Now, Mariamne, General, was as much a stunning beauty as her younger brother Aristobulus III was breathtakingly good-looking. Having tied the knot with Herod in 37 BC, Mariamne had prevailed over her husband to install Aristobulus as High Priest. The post had fallen vacant on the death of Antigonus in 37 BC and Herod had appointed one Ananel, who had no ties whatsoever to the Hasmoneans, the first such in more than a century, in his place. Unable to resist the spirited entreaties of his beloved wife, who had also lobbied Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her beau Mark Anthony, Herod gave in and replaced Ananel with Aristobulus, who was only 16 years old, in 36 BC.

Because of his enormous charisma and overall affability, Aristobulus was a hit with the masses despite his tender age and Herod was envious of the young man’s rock star-like popularity. To make doubly sure the young man did not harbour a seditious ace up his sleeve, the morbidly paranoid Herod had his spooks watch on both Aristobulus and his mother round the clock. Sensing imminent danger, Aristobulus contacted Cleopatra, asking for a pre-emptive safe passage to Egypt and there enjoy absolute freedom. When Herod got wind of this, he decided to get rid of Aristobulus as he did not wish him to be a perennial thorn in his flesh from the utter safety of self-imposed exile.

The opportunity came at a banquet in Jericho which was organised by Aristobulus’ mother. There, Herod had one of his henchmen cause Aristobulus to drown during a dusk time horseplay in a swimming pool. Of course Herod would forever maintain the drowning was accidental when everybody knew it was in truth a tactical elimination. Poor Aristobulus was only 17 years old having been born in 56 BC. He was the last Hasmonean High Priest and was replaced by the previously deposed Ananel, who was to remain in that position till 29 BC.

HEROD ACQUITTED OVER THE ARISTOBULUS DEATH

It need not be over-emphasised, General, that Mariamne and her mother Alexandra did not take Herod’s line over the all too untimely demise of Aristobulus lying down. If he had reckoned that with the death of Aristobulus he had gotten rid of potentially the most potent threat to his omnipotence, he was totally mistaken. Herod had actually simply fanned the flames of intrigue against him, for mother and daughter confronted him and accused him of murdering their boy in cold blood.

Nor did the two Iron Ladies end matters there: Alexandra wrote a lachrymal letter to Cleopatra to get her to bring her influence to bear on Mark Anthony so that Herod paid dearly and likewise for his nefarious act. Anthony, who at the time was the Roman colossus in charge of the whole of the Middle East, was persuaded and during a visit to Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey, though some accounts say it was Rhodes in Cyprus), he commanded Herod to report to him forthwith and exculpate himself over the affair.

Although Herod put a brave face on the matter, General, he was rather unsure of his eventual fate after the trial. He also suspected rightly or wrongly that Anthony had a thing for the voluptuously beautiful Mariamne and the last thing Herod wanted was for any other man to bed his beloved Mariamne even in death. So before he set off for Laodicea, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph, who was married to his sister Salome, to make sure that in the event that Anthony sentenced him to death, he should immediately put her to the sword. He also detailed a certain Sohemus, a most trusted aide, to stand sentry over the entire womenfolk at the palace.

Herod, however, had the nine lives of a cat, General. Using his immense rhetorical skills and the time-honoured palm greasing, he won himself an acquittal. Meanwhile, the Judean rumourville was abuzz with chatter that Herod had been summarily executed by Anthony, as a result of which people became spendthrifts of their tongues.

Both Joseph and Sohemus disclosed to Mariamne the instructions Herod had left them with in relation to her fate once he was no more. Mariamne was both livid and distraught that her husband regarded her as so easily expendable when outwardly he cherished her beyond words. To her mind, his arrangements with Joseph had nothing to do with love but sprang from sheer monstrosity. She probably thanked God that he was dead, but the fact of the matter was that he was not and when he at long last turned up, she did not want to have anything to do with him, including the conjugation which he so eagerly pined for after such an extended absence.

HEROD KILLS HIS WIFE AND HIS UNCLE

Now, if Herod had a kind of Svengali, General, it was his youngest sister Salome. Salome (65 BC-10 AD) was the most powerful woman at Herod’s court. A sly, scheming, and manipulating vixen, she arguably more than any other living being had the most sway in a negative sense on her brother, who took practically whatever she said as gospel truth.

Let us nevertheless, General, take stock of the fact that the bulk of what we learn about Salome comes from Flavius Josephus, who himself relied on the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicolaus of Damascus. For one reason or the other, Nicolaus did not see eye to eye with Salome and it is therefore possible that much of what Nicolaus relates of her is embellished to smear her before the court of history.
Upon his return, Herod was told of the rumours of his death and so was surprised to find Mariamne alive when Joseph and Sohemus should in the circumstances have had her killed if indeed they were loyal to him. In fact, Joseph had even put Mariamne and Alexandra into the safe custody of Roman legions stationed in Judea just in case Jewish malcontents who abhorred Herod turned their wrath on them.

But there was more. Salome reported to Herod that Mariamne, who she hated like the plague, had had sexual relations with both Joseph and Sohemus, this being Mariamne’s reward to them for dishing out to her the dirt on Herod, and that she had on several occasions before attempted to poison him. Now, no one would hump Herod’s most beloved wife and get away scotfree. It is therefore small wonder that Herod straightaway ordered the execution of Joseph and Sohemus. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of his death in 34 BC, having been born in 95 BC. In the case of Mariamne herself though, he had her subjected to a formal court trial not on charges of adultery but of attempted regicide.

Herod had hoped that the court would acquit her, whereupon he would make bygones be bygones so great was his love for the woman, but sadly for him, General, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Even then, Herod tactfully dilly-dallied on signing the writ of execution and simply had his wife detained at a fortress for some time until Salome prevailed over him to execute her at long last. Writes Josephus: “Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean High Priest Mattathias and his descendants.”

For a long time to come though, General, Herod was haunted by the death of his wife to the point of even sometimes coming across as if he had lost his mind. “When Herod realised what this meant (the death sentence passed on Mariamne), he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out,” Josephus informs us. “Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife.

For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living … He was so far conquered by his passion, that he would order his servants to call for Mariamne, as if she were still alive, and could still hear them … He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped. Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honour of Mariamne.”

HEROD SLAYS SISTER’S EX-HUBBY

Mariamne’s death was not the only one which Herod perpetrated through the instrumentality of Salome. There were actually several and included those of her own husband Costobarus. Salome was married four times, to her uncle Joseph (45 BC); Costobarus (34 BC); Sylleus (circa 27 BC); and Alexas (20 BC).

Like the Herod clan, Costobarus was of Idumean stock. It was Costobarus Herod had made governor of Idumea and Gaza and upon Joseph’s death had him tie the knot with Salome, with the couple eventually siring two children, Berenice and Antipater III. Costobarus, though, soon began to harbour monarchical ambitions of his own and wrote to Cleopatra beseeching her to persuade Mark Anthony to make Idumea independent of Herod and install him (Costobarus) as Rome’s client King of the territory.

Of course upon learning of this, Herod was not amused. It was Salome who pleaded with him not to put her husband to the sword. Next time, however, a dumped Costobarus was not so lucky. Seven years after their marriage, Salome and Costobarus parted ways and a possibly hurt Salome decided to exact vengeance. She informed her brother that he had been harbouring two fugitives from Herodian justice for a full 12 years at his own farm.

The two were simply known as the Sons of Baba. Baba ben Babuta, their father and clan patriarch, was related to the Hasmonean ruler Antigonus, who Herod had replaced and killed in 37 BC with the help of Roman legions. Baba and his sons had resisted Herod at the time, with his sons henceforth persisted in insurrectionist activity against Herod. Baba himself had been captured and blinded by Herod but spared anyway as he no longer posed any threat. Writes Josephus: “Now the Sons of Babas were of great dignity, and had power among the multitude, and were faithful to Antigonus, and were always raising calumnies against Herod, and encouraged the people to preserve the government to that royal family (the Hasmoneans) which held it by inheritance.”

Costobarus had provided the Sons of Baba an indefinite lair “supposing that their preservation might be of great advantage to him in the changes of government afterward”. Following the Salome tip, Herod had Costobarus and the Sons of Baba summarily executed “so that none was left alive of the family of Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean), and the kingdom was wholly in Herod’s power, there being no one of high rank to stand in the way of his unlawful acts” per Josephus.

NEXT WEEK: HEROD’S WRATH ON HIS OWN SONS

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WHAT’S UP WITH WHATSAPP?

25th January 2021

In early January, WhatsApp, part of Facebook Inc., began alerting its 2 billion users to an update of its privacy policy which, should they want to keep using the popular messaging app, they have to accept. Much of the policy, which is about commercialising WhatsApp, states ‘WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies.

We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate and market services’. WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there, claiming it needs it to help operate and improve its offerings. More broadly, almost all of the $21.5 billion in revenues which Facebook generated in the third quarter of 2020 came from advertising and there is currently none in WhatsApp.

The company now wants to be able to serve more targeted ads to people on Facebook and Instagram by also garnering their usage habits on WhatsApp and enabling businesses take payments via WhatsApp for items that were selected on other Facebook sites. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. It was now to become mandatory for everybody from Feb. 8 but owing to a massive backlash, the company has delayed that to May 15 to try and persuade users to sign up to the new Ts and Cs.

WhatsApp on Monday attempted to address the uproar over privacy concerns with a post on its website, explaining that the update was designed to aid businesses on its platform, as it reiterated in Friday’s post.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

These new terms have caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates, billionaire entrepreneurs and government organisations and triggered a wave of defections to rival services. Elon Musk has urged his followers to switch to Signal and the governments of Turkey and India have threatened to block the app if it insists on proceeding.

‘WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy verges on user surveillance and threatens India’s security’, a petition filed in an Indian court said on Thursday, presenting another legal challenge for the Facebook Inc. -owned messenger. “It virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person’s online activity,” lawyer Chaitanya Rohilla told the Delhi High Court. Many Indian users have began installing rival apps like Signal and Telegram, pushing WhatsApp to begin a costly advertising campaign to calm its 400 million customer-base, the largest of any country. The change has also met with a challenge in Turkey with the country’s Competition Board this week launching an investigation into the messaging service and its parent company.

Elsewhere too, in spite of Whatsapp protestations, millions of its users are already migrating to alternative platforms. Signal saw 7.5 million downloads last week,  a 4,200% spike since the previous week and large swaths of users also jumped to Telegram, as the platform gained 9 million new users last week, up 91% from the previous week. Both apps are now topping Google and Apple’s app stores,

Facebook could possibly learn a lesson from history here. Every past empire – Aztec, Mayan, Greco-Roman, Sumerian, Mongol, Chinese, Ottoman and more recently British, all saw their star rise, their glory swell, their boundaries grow and yet each eventually fell, often the instigators of their own downfall.

They expanded too far too fast and could not control what they had initially conquered. And now it looks like the same fate might await this large tech giant. Parent company Facebook has also come under fire recently for overt and covert censorship policies with questions raised as to partisanship and curtailment of freedom of speech. Thus one would have to question the wisdom of the timing of this new Whatsapp privacy policy, if nothing else.

To understand its influence and control one only has to check out the un-smart sector of the mobile phone industry which for some time has offered handsets a small step up from the basic starter sets with Facebook and Whatsapp as default screen app settings. These limited internet access options have allowed millions of users to connect with affordable data bundle packages.

And for Google smartphone subscribers, the search engine automatically connects its base to Whatsapp and Facebook – one big, happy family. Facebook is also seamlessly linked to Paypal offering contact-less charges for its boosted post advertising, a somewhat sinister partnership which accesses their Paypal log-in and authorisation details without the need to inform the payee – the transaction is simply deducted automatically from the registered credit card. This is Big Brother with a blue logo.

The bottom line here is that if you have any privacy issues at all – and you probably should – you might as well make the switch now before you are forced to sign away your rights in May. And the plus part is that both Signal and Telegram have the technological edge over Whatsapp anyway, the latter even being accessible on multiple platforms simultaneously, not just on your phone.
Empires take time to crumble and Facebook is not in imminent danger but information is a weapon that can be used in any war, even a virtual conflict, so don’t give this giant any more ammunition than it already has.

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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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