Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It’s no miracle Christmas survives in the post-Christian west


And so this doleful year ends and Christmas is upon us, with an atrocity at a seasonal market in Berlin, with police foiling an ­alleged plan to attack St Paul’s ­Cathedral in Melbourne on Christmas Day, with the Canberra headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby, Eternity House, being car-bombed, even though police say there was no religious motive, and against the background of a continuing religious and ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.
Christianity’s long ability to ­inspire both the love and the hatred of human beings ­continues.
In many parts of the world Christianity is thriving. It is on fire in Africa, expanding through the global south and there are many more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party.
But much of the West, with the partial exception of the US, is heading towards a predominantly post-Christian iden­tity. The main way Christianity is treated in public culture ranges from contempt and ridicule, to ­calumny and vilification, through to just being ignored and whitewashed from the public square, unless, very occasionally, it can be recruited to serve a fashionable cause.
Yet Christmas survives, even in the post-Christian West, as the most popular Christian festival, a symbol truly of universal appeal.
We all have our childhood memories of Christmas. For me it was midnight mass, black-and-white TV, presents at the foot of the bed, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, the roster of movies we seemed to watch every year — It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Going My Way — all long gone now.
It would take a fantastic curmudgeon to deny the happy sentimentality of Christmas, for much that is good is wrapped up in that sentimentality.
But as our society leaves Christianity behind, it is a pitiful fact the content of Christianity, and especially the content of Christmas, has all but passed out of collective consciousness.
Given that for most of the past 2000 years, until about five minutes ago, Christianity shaped Western civilisation, this sheer and wilful ignorance, entirely separate from the question of belief, is an extreme version of a perverse kind of intellectual self-harm. And to deny students especially any real knowledge of their own ­inheritance seems to mount perversity on perversity.
For Christmas, as traditionally understood in Western culture, is the most radical event in human history. The claims of the Christian religion, which centre on Christmas, are the most stupendous that have ever been made.
Consider just four of the most astonishing claims of Jesus, and of Christianity, arising out of Christmas: that Jesus is God and that God for a time was a child, that God alone is the principle of all goodness, that the devil is a real character always about and that Jesus can work miracles.
One common post-Christian way of understanding Jesus is to think of him as a good and kindly man who provided great moral teaching, a kind of early Mahatma Gandhi, and that others, ­especially the historical church, have attributed divinity to him that he never claimed.
The problem is this doesn’t ­accord with the facts at all. Jesus himself, and the Gospels generally, constantly claim that Jesus is God, not a messenger of God, not a teacher inspired by God, not an angel, still less the leader of a social movement, but actually God.
No other historical figure who founded a significant religion has ever made this claim. Therefore, as Christians used to point out, there are only three possibilities for Jesus. Either he was a deluded fantasist, a profoundly brilliant charlatan or indeed he was and is God.
One of the best ways to try to understand the cultural and historical import of Christianity is ­actually to read the Gospels. There are mysteries in them but overall they are abundantly clear on all the big points.
Did Jesus claim divinity? In St John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am.”
John’s Gospel, by the way, is one of the greatest works of literature in human history. Read it just for the literary experience, preferably in an older translation. Modern translators have tried to render the Bible in all the soaring prose of a telephone directory but even they cannot disguise the majesty and drama and sweep of John’s language.
In many passages, John refers to Jesus as “the word” and begins his Gospel thus: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.”
In Mark’s Gospel, when asked if he is the Christ, the son of God, Jesus replies: “I am.” Not much equivocation there.
Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus declares: “I am the resur­rection and the life. Whoever ­believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Later, Jesus returns to the same theme: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
The point of these quotations, and there are many others to the same effect, is not to convince anyone that Christianity is true but just to make clear the uncompromising nature of the claims Jesus made.
Jesus proclaimed that he is God and that, incidentally, God created all the universe.
These are the most radical and paradigm-shattering claims ever made in human history. They may be wrong but it is surely worth knowing something about them.
The other claim entailed there is that salvation, eternal life, is available only through Jesus. This leads traditional critics of Christianity to describe a jealous God, as though God were just one person among many but demanding all the attention.
Catholic Cardinal George Pell addressed this in his justly famous debate with the atheist Richard Dawkins. Asked if non-Christians could expect salvation and eternal life, Pell answered yes, anyone who sought the good and moves ­towards God might find salvation. Pell outraged some Christians and surprised some atheists, but this is the official position in the Catholic catechism. It shows that while the basic messages of the Gospel are clear enough, there is still a need for ­interpretation. The ­inclusive view of salvation rests on the sovereignty and authority of Jesus. He alone decides who ­approaches the father so it’s not up to anyone else to judge.
But there is a much deeper point. As Jesus frequently ­declares in his teaching, everything that is good comes from God. It takes only the smallest extrapolation to realise that when being asked to worship God, it is not just to choose one person, God, among others, but to choose the very principle of goodness. Since God is the principle of goodness, the jealous god is jealous that people should choose good over evil.
That is not everything that a Christian believes but it illustrates that the message of Jesus, at least as claimed by Jesus, is universal, it is for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Which leads to another ­piquant question: why do Christians believe in and practise Christianity if they also believe that non-Christians can find salvation? The answer is simple: ­because they believe Christianity is actually true, which is the only reasonable basis for any serious commitment to Christianity at all.
Two smaller but hardly less revolutionary, to modern sensibilities, features of the Gospels are the presence of the devil and the near ubiquity in the Gospels of miracles.
A little over 40 years ago, the devil made a big comeback in Hollywood through The Exorcist. Hollywood has never quite wanted to dispense with him as he’s such an arresting character. But now he’s right out of fashion. The recent Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange movie felt obliged by the zeitgeist to give an entirely materialist explanation of the hero’s powers, which in the original had much to do with the ­occult.
But you cannot really believe anything of Jesus without believing in the real existence of the devil, for Jesus frequently talked about him and the devil is central to key Gospel episodes.
Pope Francis is immensely popular, in part because of his ­social justice messages. He is an Argentinian Pope who seems to ­interpret all economic matters through the very distinctive Argen­tinian experience. But of course, as the Pope himself often acknowledges, the Pope has no special authority on economics.
The media tends, however, to more or less ignore what the Pope says about religion, and he ­frequently talks about the devil.
Miracles are equally unfashionable. But in the Gospels, Jesus performs nearly 40 separate miracles. He spends a great deal of his time performing miracles. Intellectually, it is perfectly sensible to try to interpret the Gospels and not just read them without any ­interpretation at all. But as with all great works of literature, inter­pretation is entirely secondary to actually reading the work in the first place.
It’s pretty clear that unless the Gospels are absolutely full of lies, in which case the only reason for reading them is historical curiosity, miracles are a central part of the deal of the teachings of Jesus.
Of course, logically it’s hard to believe in God at all and not ­believe in miracles. Otherwise the proposition is God cannot do anything that we can’t do ourselves, in which case there is ­almost no meaning in the word God.
This is the quiet position of ­almost all believing Christians. Peter Costello, in his memoirs, ­attributes the recovery of his wife from a grave illness in part to the miraculous. Kevin Rudd, who I think quite nobly disclosed his Christian faith, was once asked point-blank whether he believed in miracles and answered point-blank that he did.
Yet in most circles, to assert a belief in miracles today would be to court instant ridicule.
The neglect of the wellsprings of Western civilisation in our education, and in our culture more generally, is one of the drolly miraculous elements of our own time. To desire not just to reject Christianity but to determine not to know anything much at all about it is weird and would be incomprehensible in any other field.
Though it is available to all cultures, Christianity built Western civilisation which, presumably, we still have some use for. Imagine wanting to continue to use a bridge but being determined to suppress the knowledge of how the bridge was built.
The wonders of Christmas are endless.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

This isn’t racist, Islamophobia or cruel. It’s commonsense

Warren Mundine is chair of the Prime Minister’s indigenous Advisory Council and a former ALP national president. (Pic: News Corp)

Donald Trump’s victory demonstrates the media and commentariat are disconnected from voters. Almost without exception they failed to anticipate the presidential election outcome — and had little influence on it. Their message that Trump was unfit for presidency largely ignored.
Australia’s political media and commentariat are also out of touch. Listening to them you’d think Australians are preoccupied with gay marriage, offshore detention, carbon emissions and identity politics. Most are preoccupied with their families, their homes, their jobs, the monthly bills and their kids’ education and job prospects.
They care about the economy and national debt. They want to live in a safe society where Australia’s way of life is valued and respected.
There’s a growing disconnect between the views expressed by the media and commentariat and those of many Australians, with commonsense often dismissed as extreme, ill-informed, even bigoted. Here are some examples.
Our biggest education challenge is performance declining against global benchmarks. Demanding more education funding as the solution is misconceived. It’s been happening despite substantial education funding increases. Something’s wrong. Australian schools should be the best in the world, not 28th behind Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, the education issue dominating political news has been the Safe Schools controversy. It’s understandable why parents are concerned. Some content in Safe Schools and other school programs, frankly, beggars belief.
Teachers shouldn’t be schooling children in gender fluidity or asking them to imagine or role-play different sexual orientations, or teaching them about exotic sex acts, or criticising “heteronormativity”.
Governments should shut this nonsense down and focus on improving academic performance.
That’s not homophobic. It’s commonsense.
The world has more than 60 million refugees, around three times Australia’s population, with many others desperate to move to Western nations for economic opportunity.
Allowing people to stay in Australia if they make it to our shores Hunger-Games style (or acquiescing when they do) is cruel and irresponsible.
During the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era more than 1000 people drowned and detainee numbers skyrocketed from less than 500 to more than 10,000.
Refusing to settle asylum seekers in Australia who arrive by boat is tough and unrelenting but it saves lives.
Nations must uphold their borders to maintain their sovereignty, potentially their survival. My ancestors learned this the hard way. Border security isn’t racist or an embarrassment. It’s commonsense.
Australians have a strong record of embracing immigrants in their communities and in their families, and most immigrants embrace Australia and our way of life.

But at the moment Australians are seeing something we’ve rarely seen before.
A small minority of Muslim migrants and/or their descendants reject our way of life and instead want us to embrace aspects of theirs which go against our laws, customs and culture — women covering their faces, refusing to stand in court, Sharia law regulating divorces, polygamy and even forced child “marriages”.
A smaller minority support terrorist causes and are plotting to kill us. That’s not acceptable to most Australians, including most Arab and Muslim Australians. Yes, it’s only a tiny minority but their attitudes and actions are divisive and dangerous and must be acknowledged and confronted.
Every Australian should treat others with decency, follow our laws and institutions. This isn’t racist or Islamophobic. It’s commonsense.
President-elect Donald Trump. They didn’t think he could do it. Oh, how wrong they were. (Pic: Scott Olson/Getty/AFP)
People of all societies through the ages were expected to contribute. Families and charities supported those who couldn’t. Modern Western governments introduced welfare to help people on hard times get back on their feet, not provide an optional life pathway. Governments shouldn’t pay people who refuse to work. If there are jobs picking fruit, selling hamburgers, labouring or cleaning, unemployed people should do them or lose benefits.
I hope the federal government’s welfare reform plans go beyond tough talk and become tough action. Making people take available work isn’t cruel. Sit-down money is cruel. Welfare reform is commonsense.
Politicians who articulate these kinds of opinions are often branded heartless and bigoted by the progressive/Left, cheered on by prominent members of the political media and commentariat.
It’s rare to hear centrist politicians speak as bluntly as I just have. Centrist Labor tends to pander to the progressive/Left. Centrist Liberals tiptoe. In doing so they leave a vacuum for extremists and populists.
Trump, Brexit and One Nation’s resurgence deliver two key lessons.
First, politicians who speak directly to voters about what voters care about can prevail, regardless of the media and commentariat.
Second, if centrists are unwilling or afraid to embrace commonsense views, voters will turn to extremists and populists, however offensive.
The first centrist politician who embraces commonsense with plain-speaking, ignoring the political class and dealing honestly and firmly with issues Australians care about, will dominate the ballot box.
Warren Mundine is chair of the Prime Minister’s indigenous Advisory Council and a former ALP national president

Taken from: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/this-isnt-racist-islamophobia-or-cruel-its-commonsense/news-story/31f2cf932163b4e90974f459f077462f

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ahab, Lab'ayu and Akhnaton

Image result for sons of king ahab

King Ahab and

his Two Sons 


 Damien F. Mackey



It is gratifying for me to find that King Ahab had, in his two El Amarna [EA] manifestations, also - as Lab’ayu and pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Naphuria) (my revision) - two prominent sons.





King Ahab


He actually had many more than just the two sons, but the others came to grief all at once. “Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria” (2 Kings 10:1). These were all slain during the bloody rampage of Jehu (vv. 1-10).

“So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his close acquaintances and his priests, until he left him none remaining” (v. 11).

Prior to this, Ahab had been succeeded on the throne by his two prominent sons. We read about them, for instance, at: https://bible.org/seriespage/7-my-way-story-ahab-and-jezebel


Yet their influence lived on in their children. And this is often the saddest side effect of lives like Ahab’s and Jezebel’s. Two sons of Ahab and Jezebel later ruled in Israel. The first was Ahaziah. Of him God says, “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. So he served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger according to all that his father had done” (1 Kgs. 22:52, 53). The second son to reign was Jehoram. As Jehu rode to execute vengeance on the house of Ahab, Jehoram cried, “Is it peace, Jehu?” Jehu summed up Jehoram’s reign with his reply: “What peace, so long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” (2 Kgs. 9:22).

[End of quote]


Queen Jezebel provides a link from the Bible to the EA letters in the person of Baalat Neše:


Is El Amarna’s “Baalat Neše” Biblically Identifiable?



I have identified the literate woman, Baalat Neše, with Queen Jezebel, the wife of Ahab. Moreover, I have suggested that Baalat Neše, “Mistress of Lions”, was married to EA’s Lab’ayu, “the Lion Man”.

Logically, then, Lab’ayu must be the biblical Ahab:


Is El Amarna’s Lab’ayu Biblically Identifiable?



EA’s Lab’ayu


He, likewise, had two prominent sons, as is apparent from the multiple references by the correspondent Addu-qarrad to “the two sons of Lab'aya [Lab’ayu]” in EA Letter 250


EA 250: Addu-qarrad (of Gitti-padalla) ….


To the king my lord, say: message from Addu-qarrad your servant. At the feet of the king my lord, seven and seven times I throw myself. Let the king my lord know that the two sons of the traitor of the king my lord, the two sons of Lab'aya, have directed their intentions to sending the land of the king into ruin, in addition to that which their father had sent into ruin. Let the king my lord know that the two sons of Lab'aya continually seek me: "Why did you give into the hand of the king your lord Gitti-padalla, a city that Lab'aya our father had taken?" Thus the two sons of Lab'aya said to me: "Make war against the men of Qina, because they killed our father! And if you don't make way we will be your enemies!" But I responded to those two: "The god of the king my lord will save me from making war with the men of Qina, servants of the king my lord!" If it seems opportune to the king my lord to send one of his Grandees to Biryawaza, who tells him: "Go against the two sons of Lab'aya, (otherwise) you are a traitor to the king!" And beyond that the king my lord writes to me: "D[o] the work of the king your lord against the two sons of Lab'aya!" [..]. Milki-Ilu concerning those two, has become [..] amongst those two. So the life of Milki-Ilu is lit up at the introduction of the two sons of Lab'aya into the city of Pi(hi)li to send the rest of the land of the king my lord into ruin, by means of those two, in addition to that which was sent into ruin by Milki-Ilu and Lab'aya! Thus say the two sons of Lab'aya: "Make war against the king your lord, as our father, when he was against Shunamu and against Burquna and against Harabu, deport the bad and exalt the faithful! He took Gitti-rimunima and opened the camps of the king your lord!" But I responded to those two: "The god of the king my lord is my salvation from making war against the king my lord! I serve the king my lord and my brothers who obey me!" But the messenger of Milki-Ilu doesn't distance himself from the two sons of Lab'aya. Who today looks to send the land of the king my lord into ruin is Milki-Ilu, while I have no other intention than to serve the king my lord. The words that the king my lord says I hear!


EA correspondences pertaining to Lab’ayu, such as this one, are generally presumed by historians to have been addressed to pharaoh Akhnaton (= Amenhotep IV, EA’s Naphuria). That this could seem to be a problem for my revision has been picked up by a reader who wrote: “I've wondered for a long time how all these letters referring to Lab'ayu could be written to … Akhenaten. Was Ahab writing to himself?”

No pharaoh, however, is actually referred to in these letters, as I observed in my:


Is El Amarna's Lab'ayu Biblically Identifiable? Part One (b): Was Lab'ayu even writing to a Pharaoh?





Tentatively, I, in my postgraduate thesis:


A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background



suggested that the one son of Lab’ayu actually named in the EA correspondence, Mut-Baal, may have been Ahab’s older son, Ahaziah (Volume One, pp. 87-88):  


Like Lab’ayu, the biblical Ahab could indeed be an outspoken person, bold in speech to both fellow kings and prophets (cf. 1 Kings 18:17; 20:11). But Lab’ayu, like all the other duplicitous Syro-Palestinian kings, instinctively knew when, and how, to grovel to pharaoh [as I had still accepted at this time: Mackey’s comment]. Thus, when having to protest his loyalty and readiness to pay tribute to the crown, Lab’ayu really excelled himself: … “Further: In case the king should write for my wife, would I refuse her? In case the king should write to me: “Run a dagger of bronze into thy heart and die”, would I not, indeed, execute the command of the king?”

Lab’ayu moreover may have - like Ahab - used Hebrew speech. The language of the EA letters is Akkadian, but one letter by Lab’ayu, EA 252, proved to be very difficult to translate. ….

Albright … in 1943, published a more satisfactory translation than had hitherto been

possible by discerning that its author had used a good many so-called ‘Canaanite’ words plus two Hebrew proverbs! EA 252 has a stylised introduction in the typical EA formula and in the first 15 lines utilises only two ‘Canaanite’ words. Thereafter, in the main body of the text, Albright noted (and later scholars have concurred) that Lab’ayu used only about 20% pure Akkadian, “with 40% mixed or ambiguous, and no less than 40% pure Canaanite”. Albright further identified the word nam-lu in line 16 as the Hebrew word for ‘ant’ (nemalah), נְמָלָה, the Akkadian word being zirbabu. Lab’ayu had written: “If ants are smitten, they do not accept (the smiting) quietly, but they bite the hand of the man who smites them”. Albright recognised here a parallel with the two biblical Proverbs mentioning ants (6:6 and 30:25).

Ahab likewise was inclined to use a proverbial saying as an aggressive counterpoint to a potentate. When the belligerent Ben-Hadad I sent him messengers threatening: ‘May the gods do this to me and more if there are enough handfuls of rubble in Samaria for all the people in my following [i.e. my massive army]’ (1 Kings 20:10), Ahab answered: ‘The proverb says: The man who puts on his armour is not the one who can boast, but the man who takes it off’ (v.11).

“It is a pity”, wrote Rohl and Newgrosh … “that Albright was unable to take his reasoning process just one step further because, in almost every instance where he detected the use of what he called ‘Canaanite’ one could legitimately substitute the term ‘Hebrew’.”

Lab’ayu’s son too, Mut-Baal - my tentative choice for Ahaziah of Israel (c. 853 BC) …. also displayed in one of his letters (EA 256) some so-called ‘Canaanite’ and mixed origin words. Albright noted of line 13: … “As already recognized by the interpreters, this idiom is pure Hebrew”. Albright even went very close to admitting that the local speech was Hebrew: ….


... phonetically, morphologically, and syntactically the people then living in the

district ... spoke a dialect of Hebrew (Canaanite) which was very closely akin to that of Ugarit. The differences which some scholars have listed between Biblical Hebrew and Ugaritic are, in fact, nearly all chronological distinctions.


But even these ‘chronological distinctions’ cease to be a real issue in the Velikovskian context, according to which both the EA letters and the Ugaritic tablets are re-located to the time of the Divided Monarchy.



My identification of the biblical Queen Jezebel (= EA’s Baalat Neše) with Queen Nefertiti, wife of pharaoh Akhnaton, enables for a streamlining of my thesis view that Nefertiti/Jezebel had first been with Ahab, and then with Akhnaton.

Far preferable now to regard Ahab as Akhnaton.  


Pharaoh Akhnaton (Naphuria)  


Following on from this equation, Ahab = (pharaoh) Akhnaton, then Ahab’s two regal sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram, would most likely be, respectively, Smenkhkare and Tutankhamun. Though opinions can differ as to whether one or these latter was a true son of Akhnaton, according to http://ib205.tripod.com/akhenaten.html : there is “a good possibility that the two successors of Akhenaten [Akhnaton] - Smenkhkare and his brother Tutankhamun are both Akhenaten's own sons”.

With this father-to-son relationship in mind, I have written:


The Fall and the Fall of Pharaoh Smenkhkare



I have also written articles on Jehoram as Tutankhamun – these many need some fine tuning.