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Sumer in Turmoil

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER

   
… as Marduk presses his case for ascendancy to supremacy

Let us now return to the aftermath of what came to be called the War of the Kings,  which  took place  in 2041 BC This is the war  that pitted East vs. West, that is, the pro-Enlil  coalition  of four Sumerian kings against the pro-Marduk alliance of five Canaanite kings. The Sumerian kings had retreated with their tails wedged between their legs after a routing by General Abraham. Since their heads now hung in shame, they had no option but to step down from their monarchical perches. Writes Zechariah Sitchin: “Having failed in their mission and twice humiliated by the hand of Abraham — once at Kadesh-Barnea, then again near Damascus — the invading kings were promptly removed from their thrones.”

However, Amar-Sin, the overall ruler of Sumer-Akkad, was in no hurry to give up the throne: all he did was switch camps from Enlilite to Enkite. Until now, he had been worshipping Nannar-Sin, the reason he was called Amar-Sin, meaning “Adorer of Sin”. Now he set about worshipping, or reverencing, Enki.  In the event, he relocated from Ur, Nannar-Sin’s bastion, to Eridu, Enki’s Sumerian foothold, where he was roped in as one of Enki’s top priests. There, with typical monarchical vainglory, he built himself an eye-popping mansion befitting a king.

Amar-Sin’s change of allegiances was   a sacrillege to Enlil. Needless to say, his days were numbered. In 2039 BC, the Enlilites engineered his death from a snake-bite. It is ironic that he died from the poison of a creature that was the very emblem of Enki – a serpent. The message the Enlilites seemed to put out there was that they eliminated Amar-Sin for the sin of defecting to Enki, who the Enlilites had dubbed “The Serpent”.  Amar-Sin had ruled for about 8 years, from 2047 to 2039 BC.  

SHU-SIN TAKES OVER    

At the time of Amar-Sin’s death, Enlil, the Bible’s principal Jehovah, was away in today’s Peru, where he had gone to check on progress on new space facilities that were being built under the superintendence of his firstborn son Ninurta. At the conclusion of this mission, Enlil left Earth for a unknown destination, in all likelihood Mars or the Moon.

With the two top Enlilites absent from the Sumerian scene, and with Nannar-Sin more preoccupied with the turbulent affairs of Canaan, a virtual power vacuum ensued. The Anunnaki’s enfant terrible, Inanna-Ishtar, was quick to exploit the situation: she prevailed over her father, Nannar-Sin, to install Shu-Sin, her lover and Amar-Sin’s immediate younger brother, as the new King of Sumer-Akkad. An easy-going Nannar-Sin readily obliged her.       

Having taken the reins at a time when the Enkites, led by Marduk and his son Nabu, were in the ascendant geopoliticalwise, Shu-Sin was in a dilemma as to whose side to take between the Enkites and Enlilites. In the first year of his reign,   he took great pleasure in furthering the interests of the Enlilites.   Inanna had supplied him with a “weapon which with radiance strikes down … whose awesome flash reaches the sky” which he was to use on “the the enemy country which is disobedient”. With such a formidable arsenal, Shu-Sin didn’t need to fight to subdue the enemy: he made them “tremble in awe of his weapons”, meaning typically, they surrendered without firing a single shot.

But although Inanna wanted and expected Shu-Sin to be a warrior king, Shu-Sin was not half as keen.   During the 9 years that he reigned, he engaged in only two military campaigns and those were within Sumer itself and not against the “rebel lands” in Canaan. Clearly, he was far from a trigger-happy king.  Shu-Sin’s strategy was to tread cautiously as he was not exactly sure as to who finally would carry the day between Marduk and Enlil.

With Enlil yet to show up as the second year of his reign dawned, Shu-Sin decamped from the Enlilites and closed ranks with the Enkites.   In order to underscore his loyalty to the Enkites, he even built a ship for Enki, which he called the “Ship of the Abzu”. Abzu, meaning the “Lower World”, was the Sumerian term for Africa.

The ship was designed to navigate the seas at a much faster rate than any of the existing fleet. In the third year, Shu-Sin reached out to Marduk and Nabu with a view to present to them his credentials as a bonafide Enkite.  The two gods, sadly, turned him down, dismissing him as a mere opportunist and far from a committed Enkite.

JEHOVAH SPURNS SHU-SIN

The rejection rankled. As such, Shu-Sin embarked on a project to reinforce the Wall of the West, the Great-Wall-of-China-like defense fortress which Amar-Sin had built in Sumer as a bulwark against incursions by the Amaru (Amorites), the Western followers of Marduk. The strengthening of the Wall, which was meant to reinstate him in the good graces of the Enlilites,   lasted two years.

The gesture was a futile one as Nannar-Sin was far from impressed: he too looked askance at a seemingly two-faced, flip-flop Shu-Sin. In order to endear himself to Enlil, Shu-Sin “undertook massive reconstruction works at Nippur's sacred precinct (the Ekur), on a scale unknown since the days of Ur-Nammu”. He went on raise “a stela honouring Enlil and Ninlil, a stela as no king had built before". But Shu-Sin was not done yet: he also   built a new town for Enlil and Ninli as an appendage to Nippur, the couple’s cult city.

This, according to the Sumerian records, was “the first time since the days when fates were decreed that a king had established a town for Enlil and Ninlil”. Enlil himself still was away but his spouse Ninli, who was around, had sympathy for Shu-Sin. Ninlil suggested that Shu-Sin build a love-nest yacht for Enlil and Ninli, which he did. Shu-Sin dubbed the yacht “The Great Ship”. It was “a great touring boat, fit for the largest rivers” which he “decorated perfectly with precious stones”.

Then having gone on to appoint Shu-Sin as High Priest of the temple at Nippur, whose devotional tempo he raised by several bars, Ninli contacted Enlil and asked him to come and see the wonders Shu-Sin had wrought for the couple.   Enlil, who practically worshipped his wife, made haste and was back to Earth in no time: he never said no to his beloved wife, who he never cheated once.

Like his spouse, Enlil was impressed with what Shu-Sin had done but it simply was not enough: at the time, the Elamites were on the loose in Sumer and were committing sacrilege after sacrilege.  Sumer was far from secure at all, which meant Shu-Sin had failed dismally. “Instead of greater security, there were greater dangers, and concern about the loyalty of distant provinces gave way to worry about Sumer's own territory,” the Sumerian records say. So when he pleaded with Enlil to accept and confirm him as “the king whom Enlil, in his heart, had chosen”, Enlil gave him the middle finger.

A distraught and desperate Shu-Sin then decided to revert to Inanna in the hope that she could positively influence the powers-that-be and get them to give him the nod. Shu-Sin even built a shrine to Shara, Inanna’s eldest son, a demigod to further incentivize Inanna. But it was too late. In that very year, his ninth on his shaky throne, there was a total lunar eclipse in February 2031, which the oracle priests partly interpreted as a metaphorical eclipse of Shu-Sin. The following year, in 2030 BC, Shu-Sin was removed from the throne.  

IBBI-SIN REELS FROM AMARU MENACE

Shu-Sin was succeeded by his son Ibbi-Sin in 2030 BC. During the portentous six years he reigned, Ibbi-Sin was no more or less beleaguered as his deposed father was. Leading the relentless offensive against the hapless king were the Amaru, the white-skinned Westerners from Europe who were fiercely pro-Marduk.

The blitz on Sumer was actually two-pronged.  First, there was the Amaru from the west: then there was the Elamites from the eastern fringes of Sumer. The Elamites, if you recall, were the so-called “Foreign Legion”, crack mercenary warriors who had come from Africa but were stationed in Sumer. When the Amaru pounced, Ibbi-Sin unleashed the Elamites on them. This time around, the Elamites were not as effective in standing up to the enemy as they had always been. One reason was that the Elamites used both economic and military means to emasculate Ibbi-Sin.

In the economic war, the Amaru attacked the agricultural and irrigation systems of Sumer, thereby triggering famine and consequently economic collapse of the confederacy.   The ensuing economic doldrums were such that at some stage the price of grain spiked to 60 times the price that obtained in peace time.

In the prevailing economic dislocation, account keeping at the tax collection hub around Nippur,   where shipments of goods and cattle and the collection of taxes thereon were recorded throughout the Third Dynasty of Ur, came to a halt in the third year of Ibbi-Sin’s reign.  Then one by one, the city states of Sumer declared that they would no longer recognize central authority in Ur but would instead rally to the forces of Marduk.

With that declaration came the end of messages of allegiance dispatched to Ur each year as well as the submission of trade documents to verify the income declared by city states. The flow of sacrificial animals to Nannar-Sin temple in Ur slowed to a trickle and in the fourth year ceased altogether.

Meanwhile, a frantic Ibbi-Sin approached the oracle priests on more than one occasion to provide a scenario of what would actually befall Sumer.  The oracles were consistent in their prognosis: in 2026, in the fourth year of his reign, Ibbi-Sin was told that “he who calls himself Supreme, like one whose chest has been anointed, shall come from the west”. This was Marduk. He was patiently waiting in Harran for the recapture of Babylon, his cult city, as his son Nabu directed and prompted the Amaru onslaught.

MARDUK PITCHES IN BABYLON
    
Why did the Amaru meet very little resistance when  they marched on Sumer? Why didn’t the Elamites not fight them to the death? Why did the oracle priests keep dinning rather dispiriting news into  Ibbi-Sin’s mind? Each of the above states of affairs were not typical. They were in  overdrive largely on account of the fact that a new epoch had dawned. This was the Age of the Aries, in which Marduk, according to the lordly  say-so of the enigmatic Galzu, was supposed to take over from Enlil as Earth’s new Chief Executive.

If you remember, the Age of Aries had mathematically commenced in 2220 BC. However,  the night time starry backdrop still was dominated by Taurus, which is so vast it lingers for an extra 200 years (in addition to its mathematically allotted 2160 years). As such, Marduk was prevailed upon to wait until the Aries backdrop took pride of place. At the time Ibbi-Sin became king, in 2030 BC, Aries was becoming prominent with each passing year, as a result of which  everywhere the topic of the day was Marduk’s ascendancy to power.   As such, even his sworn enemies now were favourably predisposed toward him, except, of course, for  the diehard Enlilite top brass, as his hour had come.   

In the sixth year of Ibbi-Sin’s reign, the rampaging Amaru broke through the defence Wall and invaded eastern Sumer. “The Westerners had entered the plain, had entered the interior of the country, taking one by one all the great fortresses”, say  the Sumerian records.  With the Amaru poised to take the very heartland of Sumer, Ibbi-Sin devoted all his energies to erecting walls and fortifications around the enclave of Ur and Nippur, leaving the rest of the country to its own devices.

Once again, Ibbi-Sin turned to the oracle priests with the hope that this time around a promising forecast would be forthcoming. Instead, the omens of destruction and ruin continued to ring forth. The priests reiterated that, “The Son of the West (Marduk) will arise … It is an omen for Ibbi-Sin: Ur shall be judged.” The nail-in-the-coffin news was delivered in the sixth year of Ibbi-Sin’s reign, when the oracle priests chillingly announced to him that, “The enemy of Ur, the One who calls himself Supreme, has reached the heart of Sumer.” Marduk had finally departed Harran after 24 years of being quarantined there and was now in Babylon!  The year was 2024 BC.

When the Elamites heard that Marduk was in the Sumerian heartland, they had Elam secede from the rest of Sumer-Akkad and declared independence.  But that was not all: they descended on Ur, set fire to it, captured their very principal Ibbi-Sin, and took him back to Elam, where he died whilst a prisoner of war. The Sumerian civilisation had collapsed.

MARDUK’S TEARY LORDSHIP MANIFESTO

In 2048 BC, the Enlilites had tactfully lured Marduk to Harran and then restricted him  there  whilst they counter-penetrated Egypt. The tact had now boomeranged. For Marduk had turned Harran from a place of remand to a command post. “From Harran, on the threshold of Shumer, his final thrust he planned: from Harran, at the edge of Ishkur's domains situated, the raising of armies he directed,” say the Sumerian records.

Throughout his 24 years in Harran, Marduk had kept asking his fellow gods this question: "Until When?”  This was in relation to his scheduled and rightful supplanting of Enlil as Earth’s supremo. Sadly, he received no answered in the affirmative. But at the very outset of the year 2024 BC, he stood at a public square in Harran and gave the following speech, which was at once humble and defiant:

“Oh gods of Harran (Ishkur-Adad in particular), oh great gods who judge (Enlil and Utu-Shamash mainly) … As I girdle my belt, my memories I remember: I am the divine Marduk, a great god, in my domains as Ra am I known. For my sins to exile I went, to the mountains have I gone, in many lands I wandered.  From where the sun rises (the Americas)  to where the sun sets (Antarctica) I went, to the land of Ishkur I came. Twenty-four years in the midst of Harran I nested, an omen in its temple I sought.

Until when? about my lordship an omen in the temple I asked. Your days of exile are completed! to me the oracle in the temple said. Oh great gods who the fates determine, let me to my city set my course, my temple Esagil as an everlasting abode establish, a king in Babili (Babylon) install.” The year 2024 BC marked exactly 72 years, equivalent to I degree of the celestial zodiacal arc, since  Marduk was made to depart Babylon and go elsewhere to await the  right time of accession to the Enlilship.

Having done so, the oracle priests now had told him in no uncertain in terms that  his time had arrived, that he should set off from Harran and head for Babylon, from whence he should rule Earth. He could already see a spectacular and prosperous Earth, an Earthly  king of his choice installed in Babylon, an Earth filled with joy, a world blessed by Anu. He referred to his dawning era as “The Messianic Times” in which he would  “chase away evil and bad luck, bring motherly love to Mankind”.

ENLIL CALLS MEETING OF ANUNNAKI PANTHEON

But although the Age of Aries was visually emerging and indeed was more than apparent on the night time horizon, it yet had to dominate: there were still lingering vestiges of the Taurus constellation. Hence Marduk’s own brothers, Ningishzidda, who was presently at the Lagash astronomical observatory in Sumer, and Nergal, who was based  at the scientific station  at Cape Agulhas  in South Africa, told him his celestial argument simply did not wash: he still had another four to five years of waiting.  An irate Marduk countered that he was having none of that hogwash and now proceeded to make two major announcements.

The first was that he had declared the spaceport in the Sinai Peninsula as a Marduk-and-Nabu domain. It was no longer neutral, a least theoretically as it had always been wilily,  if not blatantly, controlled by the Enlilites. The second was that he was setting off from Harran and heading for Babylon: there, all the Anunnaki kingpins should assemble in his temple, the Esagil,  and declare that they all henceforth were subject to him. 

Having so said,  he indeed set course for Babylon, “at the head of a horde of Western supporters organized by Nabu”. "I called on the gods, all of them, to heed me," Marduk writes in his memoirs. "I called on the people along my march, 'bring your tribute to Babylon’.”
Meanwhile, the euphoria in Egypt, Marduk’s own fiefdom, bordered on the delirious.

The Ram, the emblem of the Age of Aries,  began to dominate celestial and monumental art and Marduk, who was known as Ra in Egypt, was given the epithet "Ram of the Four Winds," and was so depicted to indicate that he was master of the “four corners”, or four regions,  of the Earth – Sumer, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and the Sinai Peninsula.  Hitherto, celestial depictions showed the Sun rising over the Bull of Heaven, the symbol of the Enlilite-controlled Age of Taurus, but the Bull of Heaven was depicted tethered and held back. Now the Bull of Heaven was depicted pierced and deflated. The message was that Marduk had now taken over from Enlil as the Lord of the Earthly realm.

In their onward march to Babylon, Marduk’s followers were wreaking havoc along  the way, desecrating the temples of Enliite  gods, including the holiest in the land – that of Enlil at Nippur. When Enlil heard from wherever he was of the defiling of his temple, that even “in the holy of holies the veil was torn away”, he made a madcap dash for Nippur. He "set off a brilliance like lightning as he came down from the skies. Riding in front of him were gods clothed with radiance." The moment he touched down on Earth, he called an urgent assembly  of the council of the gods. Were headset to roll?
 
NEXT WEEK:  HELL UP IN CANAAN

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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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