Sunday, February 12, 2006

Behind the Muslim Cartoon Protests

For about a month now, the US media has been following an international story about angry Muslim reactions in many countries to the publishing of some cartoons in Denmark that occurred months ago. There have been comments made by bloggers in the 'biblioblog sphere' too.

I disagree with the mainstream opinion on this. I am cynical and suspicious of the media coverage, which seems have the fingerprints of the Bush administration all over it. It's like a big overblown circus provoked and egged-on by western interests.
Why do I think this? For several reasons.

1) Everything we in the West see of current events must be passed through the filters of Western media conglomerates. Our knowledge and opinions are thereby controlled through a process of careful selection and manipulation. They decide what is newsworthy, what details will be provided (true or not), and how the stories are presented emotionally — as in the subtle interpretive 'spin' placed on the chosen events. [For example: If there are ten trouble-making hoodlums on a single street burning tires and waving burning American flags while the rest of the street (and even city), is filled with peaceful Muslims going about their usual business, the TV cameras will ONLY record the troublemakers, not the others on the same street who watch them disapprovingly. Likewise, the report will focus on the crackpot concerns of the troublemakers with little or no balancing weight given to the opinions of the hundreds, thousands or even millions of other Muslims who chose not to participate or disagree with the hoodlums. ]

2) The Western media conglomerates have proved themselves to be conciliatory, often unquestioning, and even sycophantic towards the Bush administration and its policies. All big US conglomerates are guilty of this, and even the majority of the British. A good proportion of mainstream Europeans, so I gather, disagrees with the Bush policies, but the European media is still, on the whole, surprisingly uncritical of the Bush government.

3) The Bush administration promotes the political paradigm of a 'War on Terror' which is simplified into an 'Us-vs-them' worldview, and it is further simplified and understood as being 'Christendom vs Islam'. The main target to be infected with this paradigm is the American public because they are the people who must accept the vast expenditure of their wealth on the war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on Israeli 'security', and on ever more expensive and proliferating military and 'security-related' activities.

4) The more the Muslim world can be portrayed to the American taxpayer as 'dangerous', 'crazy', 'non-sensical', or just 'anti-American', the more support the Bush administration can expect to get for its policies. The more negative light that can be cast upon these 'enemies' and the more 'evil' the Muslim world looks to the people of America, then the more justified and necessary Bush's policies will appear.

We just need to "follow the money". Who would want to divide the world into "friendlies and bad-guys" and who benefits the most as it grows ever more violent and dangerous? Who would want to foment anger, and who would want to broadcast images of the most radical elements of an "enemy" society as they 'take-the-bait' in order to cast that entire society in a bad light?

Well, it sure seems a good possibility that the answer is: The guys who make the weapons, and their paid-for politician-goons who promote the use of them. They are who benefit from endless, escalating tensions, deepening divisions, and outright war.

The Globe and Mail has an interesting take on things.

The circulation of other images, not the 12 published in Denmark, was "the beginning of the whole catastrophe. The booklet of cartoons that the Danish imams took to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt contained images of the Prophet as a pig, a dog, a woman and a sodomizer — none of which had ever been published in a Danish paper (or any paper anywhere). Mr. Akkari, the leader of the delegation, showed these to me and told me that he'd included them because they'd been included in hate mail that he and his colleagues had been sent by right-wing extremists. He told me that he'd made it clear that the two sets of images were separate. But that was lost on the people who received the images, and on the larger population who heard fast-growing urban myths about them. Mr. Akkari told me that he had no idea of the reaction this would cause. I suspect he was partly naïve, but also somewhat disingenuous — obviously, the package was intended as a provocation of some sort, even if they couldn't have anticipated exactly what it would provoke."

I wonder who "Mr. Akkari" really is... ?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Historicity of Julius Caesar

In a recent exchange of emails on the biblical-studies mailing list (webpage here) Philip Davies says:

But is there primary evidence for Caesar. A bust or two (but I'm not
sure if they are contemporary). I read a book of the Gallic Wars when
at school. But they could be pseudonymous; someone else might have
conquered Gaul, I suppose. Anyway, I have yet to read anything that
Jesus wrote.

He was responding to another posting that attempted to equate the doubtful historicity of Jesus Christ with a supposed doubtful historicity of Julius Caesar. To compare the two is indeed an interesting exercise in discerning apples from oranges.
I cannot devote as much time to this as I'd like, (perhaps in another post). But the quick point I want to make right now is: A world of difference exists between the evidence for a historical Julius Caesar and that for "Jesus Christ".

The evidence (primary? we can't speak of much "primary evidence" for anything in the range of 2 thousand years old. Even the manuscripts are not the manuscripts but copies...), of a historical Julius Caesar consists of several extensive mentions by the historian Sallust, (86-34BC); a biography by another historian, Suetonius (c75-120AD) as well as one by Plutarch (46-127AD). Chapter after chapter by the historian Appian (c95-165AD) relate complex chains of events in which Julius Caesar was intimately involved. There are the many other critically important mentions too, for example in the works of Cicero, Dio Cassius, Livy, Lucan, Valerius Maximus, Vitruvius, Catullus...
What is the epic story of Pompey the Great without Julius Caesar? What gaping holes would there be in the stories of Cleopatra or Mark Antony without Julius Caesar? Or for that matter of Octavian, Cicero and Cato? So much of Roman history depends upon this one man he is like the centerpiece of its history...
In addition, we can find numerous inscriptions and monuments, statues and coins. There is not enough material to satisfy my appetite, (I am still hoping for textual material to be rescued from Herculaneum) but there is, undeniably, quite a bit of historical evidence that a man named Julius Caesar did indeed exist.

On the other hand, with the case of this Jesus fellow, we have a few obviously mythicized accounts that are, frankly, an astonishing mess. These gospels, if taken as a body of work to be used as a 'historical source', are full of factual errors and embarrassing contradictions, with some awed descriptions of petty street charlatan tricks thrown in, worshipful remembrances of "miracles" that smack of already extant and ancient mythical accounts of other gods, and so many intricate and twisted allusions to Jewish legend and prophecy that one begins to think that it is a bit overdone.

However, are there any accounts by men who might be considered historians? None are contemporary except one: Josephus. All except Josephus do not talk directly of Jesus but of "Chrestians" or followers of Chrestos, or just Christians, and the descriptions of these people are vague and undistinguished.
We are left with only Josephus, the turncoat Jewish general. There are two mentions in his works that read more as if they were written by medieval Christian monks than by a Jew living in the Roman empire of the first century. I am not impressed in the least by the Testimonium Flavianum. I cannot help but strongly suspect it is a wonderful example of an interpolation, and if it is the best historical evidence for this "Jesus Christ" that can be found, then there simply isn't any at all.
Sure: we've got tons of accumulated and venerated flotsam and jetsam piled neck-deep for us to wade through, but nearly all of it dates to centuries after the fact.

So I find it disappointing that any serious historical scholar or educated person interested in history would think for a moment that the historical existence of Julius Caesar is as questionable as is the historical existence of Jesus Christ. There really is no comparison in these two cases. On the one hand we have a living apple tree. On the other hand we have a thousand old, faded, grainy photographs of paintings and drawings (never the actual paintings or drawings, mind you) of a sliced orange.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Christian Gang in Guatemala

As reported in Canada. I wonder if they often asked themselves: 'What Would Jesus Do?'...?

"Their work started with delivering notes containing biblical quotations and threats."

see CBC News report here.