Archive for the ‘Biblical History’ Category

The Saturn/Jupiter Conjunction and the Star of Bethlehem

December 30, 2020

One of the interesting pieces of astronomical news this past month was that of a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Conjunctions are when two planets appear next to each other in the sky. This conjunction was particularly interesting, not just because it’s a comparatively rare astronomical event, but also because a similar conjunction 2000 years ago may have been behind the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. In the Bible, the wise men who came to honour Christ at His birth were led to Him by a star. One of the theories that people have devised to explain this is that it may have been another conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred around 3 BC, which many scholars believe is the real date of Christ’s birth. The wise men, magi, were probably mobeds, Zoroastrian priests. Zoroastrianism is the ancient religion of Iran. It’s a dualist faith, holding that the universe was created by two gods, the good god Ahura Mazda or Ormuzd, and Ahriman, the evil god. However, they believe that at the End Time a saviour shall appear, the Saoshyant, who will overcome Ahriman and the forces of evil, Ormuzd will triumph, the Earth will be transformed and new age of eternal peace, justice and goodness will begin. The Zoroastrian priests were also astrologers, and in Babylonian astrology the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn represented the birth of a king. Hence it’s possible that the Persian priests, observing the celestial event, may well have gone westwards seeking the new king it heralded.

That’s one theory. There are others, but this story provided a bit of suitably seasonal material for the media. I don’t know which king’s birth has been announced by this latest conjunction. It certainly isn’t Joe Biden’s, and definitely not Trump, though I don’t doubt that the Orange Generalissimo would have claimed it was had it appeared four years earlier at the start of his term. But Trump is definitely on his way, assuming they can prise him our of the White House. Unfortunately, I see nothing in the stars or anywhere else that suggests we’re going to get a better set of politicians or government in this coming year. Rather the opposite. But still, we live in hope!

A Trlingual Dictionary of an Ancient Arabic Language

December 11, 2020

A.F.L. Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans, Sabaic Dictionary (English-French-Arabic)/ Dictionnaire Sabeen (anglais-francaise-arabe) (Beyrouth: Lbrairie du Liban; Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions Peeters; University of Sanaa, Yemen, 1982).

Sabaic is the ancient Arabic language of Sheba, whose present, Arabic name is, I believe, Marib. It’s located in what is now Yemen, and its Queen famously visited King Solomon. Fabulously wealthy, it flourished in the 10th century BC on the profits of the spice and perfume trades, and conquered Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. The Ethiopian languages Amharic, Tigray and Tigrina are Semitic languages descended from the South Arabic language spoken by these ancient settlers.

The book’s the product of a Colloquium on Yemeni Civilisation, which requested the four authors to compile this dictionary. It appears to be of the terms found on inscriptions in the Yemen, and possibly one or two other places. It is just a dictionary, and doesn’t include any texts or inscriptions although it does give the alphabet in which they were written. I picked it up really as a curiosity in one of the secondhand bookstalls in Bristol through my interest in archaeology and the Ancient Near East. The book’s really of use only to archaeologists, linguists and historians working in Yemen, and it’s another language that I haven’t learned. Nevertheless it’s a reminder of just how ancient and advanced civilisation has been in the Middle East. I don’t know if there are any books specifically on the archaeology of Yemen, but I found a book a few years ago on the archaeology of Arabia, which I think contained a chapter or two on Yemen.

And these nations’ antiquities are seriously threatened by the region’s wars. When I was doing the doctorate at Bristol Uni, one of the speakers at an archaeological seminar said that much of the archaeological heritage of Syria had been trashed by the fighting. We’ve seen ISIS destroy precious mosques, churches and other shrines, as well as an ancient sculptures from the ancient Mesopotamian civilisations like Babylon and Akkad. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Yemen’s archaeological heritage, including that of an Sheba, isn’t also seriously endangered and damaged by the current war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia. And I am afraid that Iran’s similarly ancient and precious archaeological heritage won’t also suffer catastrophic losses if Trump and the Neocons have their way and launch an invasion of that country.

We need to stop these wars, because the cost in human lives and to the nations’ cultural heritage has been immense. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions forced to flee and priceless objects and monuments destroyed. And so our knowledge of the past is diminished.

But books like this help preserve and stimulate an interest in the preservation and exploration of these ancient treasures, if only among those few scholars able to read the ancient languages.

Campaign Against Anti-Semitism orders Video Pulled from Greenstein’s YouTube Channel

January 11, 2020

Long-time anti-racist, anti-Zionist and anti-Fascist – and Rory McGrath lookalike – Tony Greenstein has a very interesting piece up on his blog. One of the inmates of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Philip Glasman, has apparently issued to copyright notice to YouTube ordering them to remove one of his videos from Greenstein’s channel on the platform. Why? Tony comments that the video has no commercial value, asking who would willingly pay to see this nutcase. It must be because Glasman finds it embarrassing.

Oh dear. How sad. Never mind, as Sergeant Major Shut-Up used to say on It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. The video simply consists of Glasman droning on for a minute, giving very effusive praise to his ‘Maccabees’ for bringing down Jeremy Corbyn. This gives sharp insight into Glasman’s weird mindset and that of the other lunatics in the CAA. They really do seem to believe that protecting Israel from criticism and possible international censure for its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people, the Palestinians, is some kind of righteous holy war such as Judas Maccabaeus’ heroic resistance movement against the occupation of Israel by the Greek armies under Antiochus II Epiphanes.

It’s embarrassing for Glasman and his fellow nutters because the CAA is supposedly a charity and in that regard has to be apolitical. There have been several complaints about the CAA for its breach of this regulation already. And as this video shows, Glasman is not politically neutral. He doesn’t talk about protecting Jews from real anti-Semitism, although he probably believes that he is. He just raves and boasts about bringing down Corbyn.

And as Tony says, the embarrassment this video is causing Glasman is clearly cause for viewing and reblogging it. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to reblog it, but you can see it on Tony’s blog at

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-campaign-against-antisemitism.html

If you are able to reblog the video, please feel free to do so. I’m sure Tony won’t mind, so long as you credit him, and it’ll give more people a laugh.

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Oswald Mosley also Hated ‘the Wrong Kind of Jews’, like the Board of Deputies Hates Jewdas

April 13, 2018

Jewdas is an organisation of religious Jews, who put their faith into practice in left-wing politics. Earlier this month, the Jewish establishment of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council went berserk at them and Jeremy Corbyn, because Corbyn had the temerity to attend their Passover Seder. Jewdas themselves were pleased to have the Labour leader’s company, and were pleased that he was taking an interest in their community and its issues.

But they’re left-wing, and that can’t be allowed. Not when Arkush, the President of the Board, and very many of its other leading members, are also paid up Tories. They immediately accused Corbyn of anti-Semitism, yet again, because he was ignoring the mainstream Jewish community. By which they obviously means Tory-voting supporters of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And their venom carried over to Jewdas itself. They were also accused of being a nest of anti-Semitism.

It’s rubbish, of course. Corbyn has been an inveterate enemy of all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. And Jewdas’ real crime is that they’re left-wingers, who have a different conception of the political implications of their faith than the Board and its right-wing members. They’re not the first Jews to think that way either. Jews were very strongly represented in the Russian Communist party at the time of the Russian Revolution, because the party offered to free the Yiddish-speaking working people of the Russian Empire from oppression by the tsar and capitalism. Hence they formed the Bund, one of the constituent groups in the Russian Social Democratic party, the first Marxist party in Russia. They were also strongly represented in other Marxist and Socialist, and radical socialist parties across Europe. Rudolf Rocker, the German anarcho-syndicalist, had a Jewish wife, and was strongly influenced by the Jewish anarcho-syndicalists amongst whom he lived and worked. Way back in the 19th century Moses Hess, before he became a Zionist, was also a socialist. Hess was a Jew from the Rhinelands, whose wife was Roman Catholic. I can remember reading in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s article, ‘The Life and Opinions of Moses Hess’ way back at College that Hess considered ancient Israel to be an ideal socialist state, because it put into law the abstract moral precepts of the Torah. So close has the connection between Jews and radical politics, including Communism, been that it entered Nazi ideology. Communism and the Russian Revolution were plots by the Jewish bankers to bring down gentile civilisation and enslave Whites.

Mike, and other great bloggers, pointed out how the Board repeated this anti-Semitic trope when they attacked Jewdas, because they were ‘the wrong kind of Jews’.

And Oswald Mosley shared their attitude towards left-wing, immigrant Jewry. I was talking to a friend of mine a little while ago about a book he’d been reading on the history of Marks and Spencer. Before the firm decided that Maggie Thatcher was the best thing to hit British politics since Disraeli and Winston Churchill, the firm had a strong left-wing ethos. Marks was Jewish and also a socialist. After spending a week on his shop floor, he ordered that his shop assistants should have proper podiatric care with Harley street specialists, and was keen that his managers should actually have experience working on the shop floor. Spencer himself was a British aristo, who was content to invest in the firm but didn’t take much interest in actually running it.

One of the stories in the book is that one evening in the ’30s, Oswald Mosley came to call at a dinner party held by the two entrepreneurs. The wannabe dictator then declared how he was going to promote the British Union of Fascists by attacking the Jews. But, the fan of Mussolini and Hitler went on, they were only going to target the poor immigrants coming over from the continent. They would not touch respectable Jews like Marks.

The founders of the high street store naturally weren’t impressed. According to the tale, Spencer rang a little bell to summon the Butler, and told him, ‘Sir Oswald will be leaving now. Please show him out’, and so politely kicked the Fascist thug out.

It’s actually not clear if the story’s true or not. Spencer apparently denied it had ever happened. As for Mosley, he claimed that he wasn’t originally an anti-Semite, and that it was only Jewish opposition to the BUF that turned him against them. But the membership of the BUF contained very many virulent anti-Semites, who expressed their vile hatred in articles in the party’s newspaper, Action. Mosley himself had also chaired debates about anti-Semitism and the Jews between other Jew haters for right-wing groups, before he officially adopted anti-Semitism. It therefore seems to me that, whatever Mosley later claimed, he was already an anti-Semite.

As a Fascist party, the BUF was anti-socialist and virulently anti-Communist, as well anti-democratic and anti-Semitic. They used to order patrols around their stalking grounds in London to defend Britain from Communists. Fortunately, the Communists, Jews and trade unionists they despised fought back and gave them a good hiding.

But there is absolutely nothing implausible about Mosley having a particular hatred for poor, Jewish immigrants. Someone once said that the British will forgive anything, except poverty. Which is absolutely true of the Tories and the Far Right. And Jewish immigrants at that time would have been particularly suspected of being dangerous, left-wing radicals with in-British, continental ideas.

The wrong kind of Jews, in other words. Just like Arkush claimed Jewdas were. Because they’re also left-wing.

The Board has joined the rest of the Israel lobby in slandering decent, self-respecting anti-racist folk, purely out of a cynical desire to preserve the Tory party and defend Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And they have done so using a trope, which, if used by a gentile, would be rightly condemned as anti-Semitic.

They’re hypocrites. Perhaps the real objective should not be reforming the Labour party to crackdown on anti-Semitism. It should be reforming the Board, to make sure they really represent British Jews of all beliefs and political views. And stopping it from smearing decent people, Jews and gentiles, simply for making entirely just and factually accurate opposition to Israel’s persecution of its indigenous Arabs.

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.

Jodi Magness on the Archaeology of Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine

December 17, 2017

One of the other books in the winter edition of the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue for Winter 2017 is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this says

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

Eisenbrauns, 2003, 9781575060705, Hardback, was £49.99, now £14.95.

Magness is an Israeli archaeologist, who has written some brilliant, very accessible, popular books on the archaeology of the Holy Land. I recognise that my own religious views mean that I have a bias towards Biblical archaeology and the Ancient Near East, as opposed to the later, Muslim periods. However, western concerns with these periods have meant that precious later evidence of Muslim culture and towns have been destroyed as archaeologists have dug through them to get to ancient Egypt, for example. The British archaeologist John Romer was particular critical about this in one edition of his series on the history of archaeology for Channel 4, broadcast in the 1990s, Great Excavations. In one sequence, he sifted through the sand around one excavated ancient Egyptian monument, picking out pieces of Islamic period pottery, and sadly remarked, ‘There was a whole town here once.’ And explained that it had been either destroyed, or at least its remains had, by archaeologists determined to get at what was underneath from antiquity.

Which of course, may partly explain – but does not justify – the Islamist rage against pre-Islamic Egypt and its monuments. Like the pyramids, which they’d love to destroy.

Magness’ conclusions don’t really surprise me. There’s an argument about the demographic and economic conditions of the late Roman Empire at the time of the Muslim conquests. Part of the reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire was economic stagnation, as I’ve pointed out before to combat the rubbish spouted by right-wing politicos and classicists like Boris Johnson. During the late Byzantine Empire, towns shrank, and many disappeared completely as they were abandoned. Those that survived tended to consist of a castle or fortification and a church around which was a much smaller settlement.

The nascent Islamic Empire put the region in touch with an expanding state that grew to cover the Near East and spread into parts of India. It gave merchants the opportunity to establish trade networks across a vast area. Furthermore, even when the Byzantines and Muslim emperors were still at work, Christians in the early caliphate were not prevented from contact with their spiritual superiors and coreligionists in Byzantium. Also, the official Byzantine ‘Melkite’ church, as it was known in Egypt, had persecuted the various ‘Jacobite’ or ‘Nestorian’ sects, which they considered heretical, often with horrific tortures. The result was that when the Muslims conquered the region, the persecuted masses opened the gates to them and welcomed them as liberators.

At the moment, however, Netanyahu, the Likudniks and the other members of the Israeli religious right in his coalition seem to be determined to erase any history of Palestine, that challenges its exclusive Jewish character. There are any number of books and articles by western historians attacking this and comparing it with militant nationalist movements elsewhere. Such as by Philip Rahtz, a very respected British archaeologist from my part of the West Country in his book, Invitation to Archaeology. This is not anti-Semitic, and Rahtz himself has always been anti- or at least, non-racist. He describes in the above book how shocked he was when an apparently liberal Australian student he was teaching was deeply surprised by his interest in the archaeology of Aboriginal Australians. ‘But they’re just apes!’ she exclaimed.

Netanyahu and his thugs are determined to close mosques and churches, or at least keep them very tightly controlled, just as the illegal settlers they support seize Palestinian land and homes in the Occupied Territories. So I really don’t know how long a genuinely open archaeological investigation of the Islamic period will last.

Trump Brings Armageddon Closer by Moving American Embassy to Jerusalem

December 8, 2017

And this is exactly what Christian Zionist millennialists like Tim Lahaie want.

Yesterday, Trump announced that he was going to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is what the Israelis have been demanding for years, but previous administrations have not given into them, because they were very much aware that this would set off a powder keg of rage and hostility across the Middle East. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians, and still contains a sizable Arab population. The Israeli nationalist right would love it to be the capital of their nation, but it is also claimed by the Palestinians.

There have been mass protests and riots against Trump’s decision all over the Middle East. RT yesterday put up this footage of Israeli squaddies or the police trying to put down protesters or rioters in Bethlehem yesterday.

And politicians from across the political spectrum have condemned Trump’s decision, from Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon to Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

May’s condemnation is far less full than one would wish. As you can see, she doesn’t condemn it because it’s a rubbish decision. She only condemns it because it hasn’t been made according to the proper decision making process. As for Boris, he optimistically says that it’s good that the Americans are committed to the two-state solution. In fact, the Palestinians aren’t happy with the two state solution, for the simple reason that the Israelis will keep stringing them and the rest of the world along with it, while taking whatever remains of Palestinian land. The aim now is to demand an end to Israeli apartheid and the full rights of Palestinians as equal Israeli citizens. But as this would threaten Israel’s existence as a racial ethno-state, there’s going to be profound opposition to this.

The Young Turks have also weighed in on this issue. In the video below, Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola explain just why it’s a bad idea. They point out that it’s been mooted before, and there were a series of resolutions passed in both houses of Congress in the 1990s. But then somebody pointed out what would happen if they did. They state that it’s an incendiary situation, because Jerusalem is a holy city to Christians, Jews and Muslims, and that many of them will not want to see all of the city and its shrines placed under Israeli rule. Uygur also points out that for some Christian Zionists, an apocalyptic war is exactly what they want. They believe that there will be a final battle between the forces of good and evil when one of the mosques in Jerusalem is destroyed. This will lead to a nuclear holocaust, following which Christ will return.

Uygur follows this with an atheist rant, which I don’t agree with. But he states that even though he doesn’t believe in the prophecy, it has to be taken seriously because others do, and they are willing to fight and kill for it. He concludes by making the point that it’s just Islam that’s the problem. It’s also Christian fundamentalism. To which Iadarola adds that ‘Fundamentalism is the problem’.

I know a number of people, who hold a very literal view of the Creation story in Genesis, and who could be fairly described as ‘Fundamentalist’. They’re good people. But Uygur is absolutely right about the dangerous, apocalyptic views of the Christian Zionist right. Christian Zionism began in the 19th century, because it was believed that if ancient Israel was restored, Our Lord would return to Earth to usher in the Millennium. In the 1980s this morphed into a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Now it’s become a war between Israel and Christendom versus Islam.

One of the leaders of American Christian Zionism is Tim LaHaie. LaHaie is one of the authors of the Left Behind series of novels, in which the Rapture has occurred and all the righteous have been taken to heaven in preparation for the rise of the Antichrist and the Tribulation, before Christ’s return and the overthrow of Satan. The novels were a massive hit amongst the American Christian readership, and were turned into a film/TV series.

But not only are these views extremely dangerous, they’re also abysmally bad theology. The Church Fathers in the Early Church were acutely aware of the temptation of some Christians to try to force events, and were very much against it. Furthermore, the Millennialists predictions depend on a very specific reading of the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is not easy to interpret as very much of it is in symbolism and imagery that was probably well-known to Mediterranean Jewish Christians, but has been lost to us over time. The mainstream view is that the book is part prophecy, part commentary on contemporary events. The ‘Beast 666’ is believed to have been Nero, the Greek version of whose name, Neron, has that value in the Gematria numerological system. Not only did Nero persecute Christians, as a young man he also used to dress up as a beast and go around with his fellow aristocratic yahoos attacking ordinary Roman citizens. So this is partly a commentary on the contemporary persecution of the Church in ancient Rome under Nero. However, the Book is also prophetic, in that it looks forward to the general resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return. But this will happen without there being a tribulation or apocalyptic battle beforehand.

If you’re a Christian, and wish to read more, then I heartily recommend you go over to Tekton Apologetics and look at J.P. Holding’s writings on this issue. Holiding’s a theologically Conservative, Protestant Christian with a literal view of Genesis. I don’t know what his political views are. For all I know, he might be a man of the right. But this doesn’t matter, because he has written very detailed, informed critiques of this dangerous, Millennialist nonsense, and is a very, very fierce critic of the Left Behind books, and the way they have dumbed down American Christianity.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro Explains Why Zionists Do Not Speak for World Jewry

November 14, 2017

And the good rabbi does not mince his words, as you’ll see later.

I found this on a YouTube channel entitled ‘Jewish Bund’. I don’t know who they are, but my guess is they’re probably politically left-wing. The Jewish Bund was the Jewish Socialist organisation in the countries of the Russian Empire. Along with the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, it was one of the constituent organisations of the Russian Social Democratic Party, before it fragmented completely into competing factions, which were then overtaken and suppressed during the Bolshevik coup of 1917.

It’s a video from an organisation, True Torah Jews against Zionism. I don’t know anything about the organisation, but it is obvious that they are another organisation of Torah-observant Jews, who reject Zionism as incompatible with the principles of Judaism.

The video was posted in 2015, and was prompted by Netanyahu’s visit to America. Netanyahu, with his usual lack of any kind of modesty or self-effacement, declared that he was not only Israel’s emissary, but also that of world Jewry. The rabbi and his interviewer, who is also clearly an observant Jew, soon set about demolishing that claim.

The rabbi points out, again and again in this video, that Netanyahu’s claim is ridiculous. He makes the point that Jews are and have been resident in very many countries. It’s a religion that comprises people of different nationalities. The rabbi’s own ancestors lived in Poland for 500 hundred years. Netanyahu doesn’t speak for him. He also rejects Netanyahu’s claim to represent him on religious principles, as well as simple nationality. Netanyahu is secular. He doesn’t observe the Torah, the Mosaic code. So he clearly doesn’t speak for the rabbi and other, Torah-observant Jewish people like him. The rabbi states that it’s as if the King of Bulgaria turned up in America, claiming that he represented and spoke for the Jewish people. Not only would the claim be demonstrably wrong, but people would laugh and ask, jokingly, what right the Balkan monarch had to claim that they do. Netanyahu doesn’t represent world Jewry, just Israel.

He and his interviewer state that the majority of rabbis have condemned Zionism down the ages. How then can Netanyahu make this claim? Rabbi Shapiro states that they’ve been doing it since the foundation of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He states that one of the great pioneers of the Zionist movement used an obscure point of Roman law, which allows someone to deputise for another as their proxy, to argue that he and the Zionist movement therefore represented the world’s Jews. The rabbi then goes on to argue that they had to adopt this tactic, as otherwise, without a country of their own, no-one would listen to them.

He then attacks this piece of rhetoric not only for its obvious falsehood, but because of the danger it presents to diaspora Jews. Rabbi Shapiro states that there is a threat implicit in it. It’s to show foreign politicians that there are people in their countries, who have outside loyalties that can be mobilised against them, if Israel’s desires are not complied with. This the rabbi understandably considers a vile slur against diaspora Jews living in their countries outside Israel. The ideals of the Torah determinate that Jews should live and work for the benefit of the nations in which they are resident. But this claim, and its hidden threat, are actively harmful to Jews by making it appear that they are quite ready to work against the best interests of their home countries and their fellow citizens for the good of Israel, a foreign power.

He is also scathing about another piece of rhetoric that is used along with the claim: that of the Holocaust. He is understandably offended with the cynical way Zionists use the horrific suffering of Jews during the Shoah in order to gain sympathy.

The video also puts up that notorious statement from one of the founders of Zionism, that anti-Semites will be more useful as allies to Zionists than decent people, with no prejudices, because they share the Zionists’ goals of getting Jews to emigrate.

The interviewer then asks the rabbi what can be done about this situation, when the media seems determined to marginalise and ignore voices like theirs. The rabbi is not downhearted. He states ‘We’re Jews. We have God on our side!’ He states that the Lord, who protected Mordechai and Esther during the Persian Empire, will protect them, just as He protected Jews from extinction over the last two thousand years. He advises his viewers that they can help combat Netanyahu’s pernicious claim by talking to their gentile fellows, and telling them that the Torah does not support what Netanyahu says, and that Jews are loyal fellow Americans.

I’ve no doubt that the rabbi is correct. Historians and critics of Israel have described over and over again how Zionism was a minority viewpoint amongst the world’s Jews. For many Torah-observant Jews, the state of Israel was a blasphemy, as they believed that Israel could only be restored by the Messiah. Tony Greenstein a few weeks ago put up a piece about a book and interview by a Canadian rabbi on Jewish opposition to Zionism. He also described in a piece about one of the non-Zionist leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, Marek Edelman, how the majority of the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Poland voted solidly for the Bund and its campaign for Jews to take their place as fellow, equal citizens of their home countries.

And the rabbi’s fear that Netanyahu’s claim to represent Jews the world over casts suspicion on diaspora Jews by implication as agents of a foreign power was shared by the majority of British Jews at the time of the Balfour Declaration. The leaders of Britain’s Jewish community were very highly integrated into British culture and society. When Balfour was devising the Declaration, they – and the only Jewish member of his cabinet – objected for the same reason the rabbi above did. They wanted to be seen as loyal fellow Englishmen and women. You can see it in the oath of the Jewish equivalent of the Boys’ Brigade, in which boys swore ‘to be a good Englishman and good Jew’. And no doubt in very many other ways, in which they expressed their pride in being British and their loyalty as equal fellow Brits.

This is the video that Netanyahu very definitely would not want anyone to see, and neither would the Neocons, who have been guiding American imperial policy in the Middle East since Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or the Christian religious right, who are more fervent in their Zionism than America’s Jews. These are the people the media is determined to exclude. I’ve put up videos from YouTube from other Jewish organisations showing vast demonstrations in New York, with a crowd of about ten thousand or more, which the makers have claimed have not been covered by the American media.

And it’s clear why they don’t want videos like this to be seen: it destroys the right-wing claim that Israel is synonymous with Jewry, and that those, who don’t back Israel are anti-Semites. Even if, like these guys, they are religious observant men and women guided by the Torah, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud.

Rabbis Hold Protest Against Trump’s Immigration Policies Outside Trump Tower

October 10, 2017

I found this very short video documenting a protest by America’s Jewish community on RT America on YouTube. Yesterday was the Jewish feast of Succot, which I think is the Feast of Tabernacles. During the feast in ancient Israel, Jews built a booth on the roof of their homes and lived in it. Today, dozens of rabbis in New York put up a tent as their contemporary equivalent of a scriptural tabernacle, and carried it around with them as part of their demonstration against Trump’s travel ban on people coming to America from certain, largely Muslim majority countries. The protestors hold signs reading ‘My father was a Syrian refugee too’ and ‘Resisting tyrants since Pharoah’.

Against them, there were a couple of Orthodox Jewish guys waving placards proclaiming that Orthodox Jews voted for Trump, and they’re going to vote for him again in 2020.

Muslims have received a great deal of support over this issue from the Jewish community, including, I believe, the Anti-Defamation League. It’s not hard to see why. Jews have been persecuted immigrants, fleeing from one country to another in order to find tolerance and sanctuary for much of their history. I’ve read pieces by left-wing Jews, who’ve said that Jews should always side with the oppressed because of their history, never with the oppressor. Jews have also historically been political liberal in America. The Civil Rights movement when it emerged in the 1960s was also strongly supported by Jewish Americans, because quite often Jews were active as teachers and other professional working with Black communities, and so understood and shared their concerns, fears and aspirations for justice and improvement.

I don’t know if this protest was covered by the mainstream media. If it wasn’t, it should have been. Trump, the Republicans and the corporate Democrats are desperately trying to close RT America down, because it’s own by the Russians and therefore constitutes Russian interference in American politics. This deliberately obscures the real reason: RT America, and the other alternative news networks are reaching an increasing audience because they’re showing the true, rotten state of corporate America under late capitalism, instead of the trite propaganda put out by the mainstream broadcasters.

It doesn’t matter whether RT America is owned by the Russians or not. They and the other alternative news outlets are doing proper journalism, and showing what the mainstream networks both in America and in Britain are trying to hide.