Margaret Barker wrote an interesting book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, a few years back, in which she argued that prior to the rabbinic Judaism that emerged after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. the Jewish concept of God was not so monolithic as understood today. A bit of serendipitous googling shows that Barker’s research has a certain popularity among Mormons today, but I know of no reason to think that Barker herself is associated with Mormonism or supports the uses they make of her work. I have other reasons to be interested in her work that have more to do with searching for explanations for the development of Christianity, and am finally getting around to editing and posting up here some notes I took from The Great Angel some years back. Will just look at chapter one here: The Son of God chapter. Barker comments on previous discussion about the Son of God:
It is customary to list the occurrences of “son of God” in the Old Testament, and to conclude from that list that the term could be used to mean either a heavenly being of some sort, or the King of Israel, or the people of Israel in their special relationship with God. (p.4)
But Barker remarks that these studies have ignored the distinction between two different words for God in the Jewish Scriptures, and have consequently ignored “a crucial distinction”. According to Barker (and I am taking her word for it here, and her citations as complete and accurate, not having taken the time to date to check the details for myself):
Dr Marlene Winell is running another “Release and Reclaim” workshop for those interested in sharing with others their efforts to recover from the effects of harmful fundamentalist and cultic religious experiences, or are still in the process of coming out of religion. It is to be held August 15-17, 2008, at Berkeley, California.
This post is nothing more than a bit of idle trivia per se. But maybe Kakadu Dreamtime wisdom somewhere says “Clever bower bird can find something among trivia to relocate so it has power to attract a mate.”
The data comes primarily (not exclusively) from two sources:
Both these works discuss some of the following name-meanings within a broader context of what the various gospel authors were attempting to convey through their characters. But for most part here I’m skipping that side of the discussion.
It is an interesting response. I had seen it earlier on a discussion board but dismissed it at the time as not worth the effort of a response. But since then it has appeared in a more stable form as a webpage on his site so I have decided to point out the fallacies and dishonesty in his claims here. Not that I expect Holding to link this response to his page, of course. Continue reading “On J. P. Holding’s response to Vridar critique re authenticity of Paul”
Someone on a discussion list recently drew attention to how the Gospel of Luke changes the position of the call of the disciples to a period later than that found in the Gospel of Mark, so that it appears awkwardly out of place. Mark first describes Jesus calling Peter and others before going into Peter’s house to heal his mother-in-law. Luke, oddly, first has Jesus going into Peter’s house, and only afterwards calling him and others. It looks like Luke or some later redactor has got into a muddle and put the first meeting of Peter and Jesus AFTER Jesus visited Peter’s place.
Well having recently completed some notes and thoughts about canonical Luke being a possible redaction of an earlier gospel that may well have been closer in many respects to the gospel of Mark, I had to take a few minutes to see if there might be any particular redactional agenda for such a switch of order in events. Or was it just a consequence of clumsy editing? (I’m rolling with the general view that the author of Luke’s gospel knew and copied much from Mark’s gospel.)
We can’t know the latter author’s reasons for making the switch, but we can look at how the change functions in the narrative and see if that can suggest some clue about what the author might have been trying to do.
The Gospel of Mark’s sequence
Jesus starts his ministry in Capernaum
Jesus calls disciples
Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads
Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law
Jesus heals many after sabbath
Many look for Jesus but Jesus leaves them behind
Apart from calling his disciples at the beginning of his ministry, there is little obvious narrative structural sequence to the events in Mark. It is episodic in the sense of just one thing after the other. I do think there is a structure that holds these episodes together in Mark, but it is not at the narrative level, and is another topic for another time. The most we can see here is that Jesus, logically, calls Peter for the first time before joining him in his house.
The Gospel of Luke’s sequence
Jesus begins his ministry in Nazareth
Jesus moves to Capernaum
Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads
Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law
Jesus heals many after sabbath
Jesus is hindered by crowds as he teaches throughout Galilee
Crowds press upon Jesus by the lake and Jesus preaches to them
Jesus commissions his first disciples
Is it my imagination or is there really a sequential narrative development that I see here?
Jesus begins his ministry in his home town. Result: he is cast out.
He then moves to Capernaum. Result. a demon is cast out and Jesus’ fame spreads.
After healing in Peter’s house, he heals many more after the sabbath.
The crowds are so thick around Jesus he finds it hard to move anywhere.
The crowds press on Jesus so he has to get into a boat to preach to them.
Jesus then commissions his first disciples to “catch men”.
This looks very much like the sort of thing we read in Exodus and Acts. Crowds become too much for the prophet or apostle. Helpers are marshaled in response to the growing need for help given the escalating success of Jesus’ ministry. The author uses the same trope in Acts, such as when Barnabas enlisted Paul’s help because of the mass conversions at Antioch. (Talbert, p.63)
And Luke elsewhere repeats the theme of needing labourers for the spiritual harvest.
Talbert also observes that with Luke’s narrative the disciples are supplied with a reason to believe in Jesus and follow him. This can be seen in the passages below. In Mark, Jesus calls and the disciples mysteriously follow immediately. In Luke, Peter has already seen the power of Jesus’ word when he exorcised a demon with a command and healed Peter’s mother-in-law with a rebuke. (In Mark Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law without a word.) So when Peter is commanded to cast his net in the sea and he replies, “At your word I will do it”, it is plausibly to think that the reader is meant to understand that Peter already knows the power of Jesus’ word.
So despite the incongruity of Jesus appearing to enter Peter’s house before we appear to be told how the two met, there is a discernible narrative logic to the Lukan sequence. It may not feel complete. Where did Peter come from? Why is he mentioned without any explanation when he first appears? And in other areas too: Why does Jesus mention his deeds at Capernaum before he is said to have entered Capernaum? Nonetheless, there is a narrative logic overlaying the incongruities.
The Gospel of Mark’s calling
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
The Gospel of Luke’s commissioning
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Comparing the two
Secondly, the Luke 5 lake scene is not a calling of the disciples as it is in Mark’s gospel. Canonical Luke does not narrate the calling of the disciples but their commissioning.
From now on you will catch men!
with the contingent Markan hope:
Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
The idea in Luke of Jesus commissioning his disciples to help him is supported by the narrative logic already discussed. The crowds make the commissioning of the disciples, more than their calling in the hope they will succeed to the end, the real need.
There is also some ambiguity in the Markan passage about the meaning of being becoming fishers of men. If this is taken from Jeremiah 16:16 it could well be implying judgment, not salvation. But in Luke the theme of the crowds and the miracle of the fish-catch make it clear that the image means the converting of people to Christ.
This is further supported if one embraces the hypothesis that the author of canonical Luke knew John’s gospel and was blending John’s last chapter with the calling in Mark. John’s last chapter also depicts a miracle of an overwhelming catch of fish at the word of Jesus, and in that context it is clearly a metaphor for the conversions that Peter is expected to accomplish.
The theme of commissioning the disciples is elsewhere a prominent one in Luke’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus opens their understanding to the Jewish scriptures that were said to be prophetic of him, and he commands them to remain in Jerusalem until they are given heavenly power. They are confirmed as his witnesses. In Mark’s gospel, there is no certainty about the fate of the disciples at the conclusion, and in Matthew some of the disciples even doubted the resurrected Jesus.
Further, reflecting on the narrative logic above, this commissioning of the disciples arises directly out of the need for them to help with the spiritual harvest. It is the mushrooming crowds that make them a necessity. Calling to follow, with the possibility of failure, is not an option in Luke:
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)
By contrast it is readily possible to read the Gospel of Mark as concluding with the total failure of Jesus’ disciples. There is no resurrection appearance to them, and the narrative development has not encouraged the reader to expect them to follow Jesus at the end when or even if they hear he as gone on (again) before them. Like the seed in rocky soil they end their association with Jesus in fear, denial and betrayal.
Anti-Marcionite / proto-orthodox agenda?
Both these points combined — the need for the disciples on Jesus’ part, and the complementary commissioning of the disciples — are not found in Mark, yet they are consistent with canonical Luke’s interest elsewhere in establishing the authority of the disciples as commissioned witnesses and coworkers with and for Jesus. (See Luke’s resurrection chapter discussion.)
Canonical Luke can therefore be read as making changes to Mark’s gospel that reflect a program to strengthen the foundational place of the disciples in the Church. If so, this may be seen as one more of many other arguably anti-Marcionite agendas in canonical Luke-Acts. (See the Infancy Narratives discussion and the Body of Luke discussion.)
This post concludes the series outlining key aspects of Levenson’s argument that the Christian narrative of the atoning and saving death and resurrection of the Beloved (Only) Son was borrowed from late Second Temple Jewish midrashic interpretations of their scriptures about Isaac, Joseph and others. While the cosmic significance of this event is attributed to Jewish apocalyptic, the story itself is a natural evolution or mutation of a Jewish idea that had been on the burner for some time.
Levenson concludes by drawing the two Beloved Son narratives together, and then showing the Christian counterpart in a similar Jewish parable. Rather than seeing Christianity as a “child” born of the “parent” of Judaism, Levenson concludes that it is more accurate to see the two religions originating as sibling rivals, each competing for their father’s unique blessing.
The Isaac christology
Among tales of the beloved son in Genesis, the aqedah (“binding of Isaac”) is unique. The father, Abraham, directly and deliberately brings about the symbolic death of his favoured son.
We can refer to the attributes of Jesus that derive from this narrative and its Second Temple era interpretations as an Isaac christology. The action hinges on the pious intention of the father, and later, on the godly willingness to be a sacrifice on the part of the beloved son.
The other beloved son narratives
In other cases (Abel, Ishmael, Jacob and Joseph) these die or nearly die from homicidal intent of their older brothers (or mother). In the cases of Jacob and Joseph the drama concludes with a reconciliation of the beloved son with those who sought to murder him (Esau, the other sons of Jacob). This reconciliation is an implicit or explicit acknowledgment that the plots of the would-be killers, like Abraham’s willingness to kill Isaac, were part of divine plan for good.
The Joseph christology
We can refer to the attributes of Jesus that derive from this narrative as a Joseph christology. That is, the event turns on the malignancy of the slayers. Both father and son are unwitting pawns in a divine drama. But the one difference with early christology is that there was no reconciliation with those who turned against and betrayed the beloved son. One of the earliest examples of this is seen in the parable of the wicked husbandmen.
Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
Even though this parable appears towards the end of the synoptic gospels, it is a central parable to inform the reader about the fate and function of Jesus Christ, and the plan of God. It is tied tothe opening baptismal scene of Jesus, and again to the central episode of his transfiguration, but the focus on “the beloved son“. So when the beloved son appears again in this parable, it is in the context of the baptized and transfigured Jesus about to claim his true inheritance:
Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.
Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.
“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture:
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes?
And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.
Mark 12:1-12; Matt. 21:36-46; Luke 20:9-19
This parable is born out of key narrative themes in the Jewish scriptures and has firmly stamped those themes on the role and function of Jesus Christ. Note the following:
The theme of supersessionism (excluding possibility of reconciliation), as is central to the stories under the heading of the “Joseph christology” outlined above. The chief characteristics of this are:
The hostility of those who have been on the fields for the longer time towards the beloved son,
and their intent to murder him so that they can take his inheritance for themselves,
but the reversal of all they hoped for when they are the ones who are totally removed and replaced by the beloved son.
Complete reliance on the scriptures of the superseded Jewish people for this story; the irony of the claim that the Jewish people have been replaced by the Church jusxtaposed against the founding of this claim on the scriptures of those same Jewish people.under the heading of the “Joseph christology” outlined above.
The parable is clearly a development of the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7
Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
While this Jewish parable found fault with the vineyard itself, the Christian adaptation has found fault instead with the tenants. These refuse the rightful payment to the owner and murder his messengers.
One of the Jewish scriptural themes that has been embraced here by the parable is the traditional tale of the Jews killing the prophets sent to them (Nehemiah 9:26):
But they became disobedient and rebelled against You,
And cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets who had admonished them
So that they might return to You,
And they committed great blasphemies.
Another prominent Jewish scriptural narrative theme is the motive for murder being the coveting of the inheritance. This is found in another parable, in 2 Samuel 14:4-11, as told by the wise woman of Tekoa:
Now when the woman of Tekoa spoke to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and prostrated herself and said, “Help, O king.”
The king said to her, “What is your trouble?”
And she answered, “Truly I am a widow, for my husband is dead. Your maidservant hadtwo sons, but the two of them struggled together in the field, and there was no one to separate them, so one struck the other and killed him. Now behold, the whole family has risen against your maidservant, and they say, `Hand over the one who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed, and destroy the heir also.’ Thus they will extinguish my coal which is left, so as to leave my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”
Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.”
The woman of Tekoa said to the king, “O my lord, the king, the iniquity is on me and my father’s house, but the king and his throne are guiltless.”
So the king said, “Whoever speaks to you, bring him to me, and he will not touch you anymore.”
Then she said, “Please let the king remember the LORD your God, so that the avenger of blood will not continue to destroy, otherwise they will destroy my son.”
And he said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”
It is the clan or family who wishes to kill the surviving son, so the reader can assume that their motive is not entirely one of disinterested justice. They are the ones who will assume the inheritance by acting so heartlessly against the mother.
This parable also cannot help but remind one of the struggle in the field between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:8):
Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they werein the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
But in particular the parable of the wise woman of Tekoa’s parable reverberates with the sounds of Sarah’s insistence that the elder step-brother of her son be expelled (even into the face of death in the desert) so that her son alone could be secured the inheritance:
Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” (Genesis 21:10)
The same themes of
are at the heart of the well known story ofJacob and Esau. The extended narrative of Genesis 25-32 is told to justify the lateborn son, Jacob, assuming the privileges of the older, Esau. The whole narrative turns on the love that the mother, and God, have towards Jacob, the younger, and the conflict this generates with the older brother, Esau, who is loved by Isaac (Gen.25:28; Mal. 1:3). The consequence is, again, the intent by the older son, Esau, to murder the younger, Jacob, for the inheritance.
Paul’s contribution again
This parabolic midrashic slant of the old Jewish narratives was not the unique intellectual property of synoptic authors. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians contains a passage in the same midrashic tradition of the very same narrative cluster.:
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (Galatians 4:28-31)
Just as the Hebrew scripture’s narrative functioned to justify the inheritance going to the younger son over the older son of Abraham, so the midrashic play on the same narrative validated the claim of the Church over the Jews as the rightful heirs of God.
The author of that passage in Galatians had the same objective as the author of the original narrative of Isaac and Ishmael.
And the Christians are brought into this drama because of the earlier identification of the promise to Abraham with Jesus:
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Gal.3:16)
Christian anti-semitism witnesses to midrashic character of Christian message
The early Church claimed to be the chosen of God in place of the Jews, and asserted that God had dispossessed the Jews in favour of the devotees of Jesus Christ. If the Christians portrayed the Jews as their persecutors, the same Christians also saw it as their God-given right to cast out and dispossess the Jews. And the same Church concocted the written testimony to their claim out of their own midrashic interpretation of the Jewish scriptures.
The very efforts of the Church to dispossess the Jews of the Torah witnesses to the midrashic character of the most basic elements of the Christian message.
Paul’s and the Gospel’s message compared
According to Levenson, Paul never blames the Jews for death of Jesus. For Paul, the death of Jesus is always the consequence of the sacrifice of a loving God.
The parable of WIcked Husbandmen, though, has no trace of any notion of child sacrifice. Rather, it resembles the story of Joseph, whose father has no intention that his son be killed. Note also that the gospels have Judas as the wicked betrayer of Jesus, the beloved son and true heir, just as Judah was the betrayer of Joseph, the beloved son. That Judas might stand in for the Jews cannot be far from any reader’s mind. Levenson comments:
The father’s gift has been recast as the brothers’ crime. (p.230)
A Rabbinic analogy to Christian supersessionism: both replace Isaac
Levenson continues, p.230: “If doubt remains about the midrashic character of the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen or its pronounced participation in the intertextuality of the Jewish Scriptures, the following rabbinic midrash should help dispel the doubt and shed light on the Jewish-Christian debate to which the parable bears witness:”
For the LORD’S portion is his people” [Deut 32:9]. A parable: A king had a field which he leased to tenants. When the tenants began to steal from it, he took it away from them and leased it to their children. When the children began to act worse than their fathers, he took it away from them and gave it to (the original tenants’) grandchildren. When these too became worse than their predecessors, a son was born to him. He then said to the grandchildren, “Leave my property. You may not remain therein. Give me back my portion, so that I may repossess it.” Thus also, When our father Abraham came into the world, unworthy (descendants) issued from him, Ishmael and all of Keturah’s children. When Isaac came into the world, unworthy (descendants) issued from him, Esau and all the princes of Edom, and they became worse than their predecessors. When Jacob came into the world, he did not produce unworthy (descendants), rather all his children were worthy, as it is said, “Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp” [Gen 25:27]. When did God repossess His portion? Beginning with Jacob, as it is said, “For the LORD’S portion is His people / Jacob His own allotment” [Deut 32:9], and, “For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself [Ps 135 :4] (Sifre Deut. 312)
According to Levenson, in both the gospel parable and in this rabbinic midrash,
the climactic act of election is the final one, the one occasioned by the arrival of the son. In both passages, the point is to justify the preference for the latecomers at the expense of those whom they dispossess, the non-Israelite descendants of Abraham in the case of the midrash, the Jews in the Christian parable as we have interpreted it.” (p.231)
That rabbinic culture transmitted a parable on these matters so similar to the Synoptic text and its alloforms in Thomassuggests that the prominence of the “beloved son” in the canonical Gospels — or at least of the concept underlying it — is not incidental to the meaning of the Gospel passage. Rather, both texts would seem to have had their origins in the dispute of Jews and early Christians over the identity of the beloved son and the community that harks back to him.The only way in which a dispute of this sort could be carried on was through the exegesis of the only scripture either community knew — the Hebrew Bible.
Paul had replaced Isaac as the beloved son with Jesus and the Church, and this rabbinic midrash replaces Isaac with Jacob and the Jews as the beloved son.
The biblical texts on which the two contending groups focused are, in each case, those that speak of the origins of the faithful community and the legitimation of its separation from its unworthy competitor, and, in each case, the legitimation derives from God’s new and definitive act of election. (p.231)
This rabbinic midrash testifies to the “deeply Jewish character of the parallel New Testament exegetical moves and for the similarity of the ways in which the two communities laid a midrashic claim to the patrimony of Abraham.”
Both Jewish and Christian communities rely on Genesis; both use Genesis to compose texts that completely dispossess their rivals. In both the Jewish and Christian parables the former tenants are totally uprooted and repudiated — there is no compromise, no longer any room for any blessing at all for the former tenants.
The break is total: contrary to what biblical archetype might have suggested, the Jews and the Church are not even related . . . .
The Jewish-Christian relationship is thus not one of parent-child as often portrayed, but one of two rival siblings competing for their father’s unique blessing.
I’ve done nothing more in these posts than present some key parts of Levenson’s argument. I have not discussed it in relation to other studies or possible implications for certain other hypotheses for Christian origins. In future posts, however, I do expect to refer back to significant points made by Levenson in this book, bringing them to throw additional light on other interpretations of the origins of Christianity.
The primary purpose of this series in the meantime is to do my little bit towards making more widely accessible some of the biblical scholarship that rarely gets read beyond the study rooms of academia.
There’s much more in the book — especially in relation to early Canaanite sacrifice and the notion of human sacrifice (both literal and symbolic) in what are sometimes thought of as “early bible times”.
It’s surely a curious thing why certain issues, and not others, become the main media focus at this or that time. I recently commented on what I saw as the total lack of perspective, and even some fabricated reports, over the attention given to the Tibetan protests in relation to the Olympics. Very few reports that I saw gave any serious presentation of the history beyond the era of European colonialism or the strength of the independence claims in international law. In amazing Big Brother scenes on TV reporting one often found oneself watching one thing on the video film and listening to a voice-over description of what was happening that simply did not relate at all to what one was seeing. We were being told to think that there was a mass uprising of the people when all we could see were either some monks who were often themselves violent, or race riots where some civilians were clearly turning on their neighbours of the”wrong” ethnicity. The real human rights issues of China — the legal system and corruption, and almost promiscuous use of the death penalty, the imprisonments and punishments against those attempting to speak out for rights and justice — did not seem to exist at that time.
Mugabe, a bad man responsible for uncontrolled violence and a bad economy
But now the big international news media topic is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One has to question what lies behind the choice and slant of news topics that come our way — all with one voice. Mugabe is a villain. No doubt. He has fallen from his liberation hero status to murderous criminal. But the media is completely silent about other murderous criminal rulers. Or worse, when they do have cause to refer to them they give the impression they are normal respectable members of the international community of national leaders.
Is it Mugabe’s lack of democratic credentials that are really the issue? Of course his last election, which he won with 85% of the vote, was a sham.
Mubarak, a good man responsible for controlled violence and a good economy
But President Mubarak of Egypt has won his last x number of elections by a more than 90% of the vote. (SMH article.) Mubarak also runs a criminal regime that keeps control through political bans and torture. Mubarak has banned the largest political party in Egypt. He offers an accommodating extra-judicial resort for western nations like the U.S. and Australia when even non-Egyptians are deemed in need of a bit of “softening up”. And he is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, a respectable leader who can talk with Israel and help keep those rambunctious Palestinians in line.
So he is a good leader worthy of $US21.3 billion aid for the 2007 fiscal year. There was, admittedly, a dutiful passing reference to “unease” about Mubarak’s “human rights record”, but it was decided that it would be “unfair” for a gentleman nation to notice such things when the culprit was “an important ally”. (See the America.Gov website article.)
So what is the difference between the sins of Mubarak and the sins of Mugabe that should qualify the latter for such flamboyant media coverage?
Mubarak wins election after election by more than 90% of the vote, the biggest political party is banned, and his government is notorious for torture, disappearances and dubious legal procedures to maintain power and keep control.
Mugabe, on the other hand, wins an election by a mere 85% of the vote, at least says the opposition if free to run against him, and winks and shrugs his shoulders when hooligan supporters do his dirty work for him, openly, in the streets and fields and private homes of citizens.
Methinks there are two differences of significance:
One: Mugabe’s violence is much less efficient than Mubarak’s. And the reason it is less efficient is that it is uncontrolled. It has no state police doing the dirty work of hooligans in an organized and “responsible” manner, dragging people off secretly in the night. All this broad daylight savagery is too exposed to cameras, for god’s sake! It makes good tv viewing and guaranteed audiences and therefore attracts lucrative advertizer funds to the media coffers.
Two: Mugabe has made an economic mess of his country! Now that is really unspeakable. Controlled and efficient violence is jolly good for business. That’s why countries like Egypt attract $1.3 billion of annual U.S. taxes for military aid. And why countries like China are great investment opportunities right now. (I’m not suggesting that Zimbabwe’s economic woes can be cured by organized state violence, but a bit of organized state-controlled violence would go a long way to opening up his country, if Mugabe were willing, to economic investment and advisers. He would have nothing to lose from allowing those in to his country if he had the greater personal security state controlled violence could bring.)
Zimbabwe, with its uncontrolled violence, is an opportunity lost:
Properly managed, Zimbabwe’s wide range of resources should enable it to support sustained economic growth. The country has an important percentage of the world’s known reserves of metallurgical-grade chromite. Other commercial mineral deposits include coal, platinum, asbestos, copper, nickel, gold, and iron ore. However, for the country to benefit from these mineral deposits, it must attract foreign direct investment. (U.S. Dept of State report)
Don’t think I’m opposing public outrage over Mugabe and the outrages against so many Zimbabweans. What pings me off is the media’s complicity in expressing their seeming political masters’ outraged comments without further digging and enquiry, and without due regard for evenly applied standards.
The media, and the political powers under whom they operate, know well the common decency and humanity of most people towards others. But the inconsistency of their targets smacks of self-interested manipulation.
And given the simple comparison of the cases of Mugabe and Mubarak, how can one escape the conclusion that if Mugabe was a lot more efficient with how he applied violence, and learned from Mubarak how to secure his power without such a public and economic mess, Mugabe would still be feted as the liberation hero he was in the beginning.
Where have I been all my life to have missed out on comedian Eddie Izzard till now! Loved his take on St Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Some of his lines really cohere with some points of higher criticism, too, which I found all the more delicious. But don’t view if offended by crude language or alternate genders.
As an atheist and social-political activist I’ve long had a soft spot for Catholics when it comes to social justice causes, so it was a flattering surprise to see a nice commendation of my recent series on Luke-Acts in relation to Marcionism in the Patristic Carnival XIII section of The God Fearin’ Forum [scroll over the blog page to restore colour settings for a readable page], a blog for Catholic theology, philosophy and apologetics etc.