New Book Explores What Makes Humans Unique

Posted on Thu, Nov 09, 2017 @ 02:11 PM

Charles Pasternak’s book, What Makes us Human? was just published in the UK by Oneworld and will be available in the US in December. It’s a collection of essays to which I contributed from the Hebrew scriptural perspective.

The Bishop of Oxford looked at the same question from the Greek point of view. They are of course rather different angles. My chapter will also appear in the next issue of Vision.

Tags: Charles Pasternak, What Makes us Human

False Messiahs: A Message from Mussolini

Posted on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 @ 01:05 PM

 

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The BBC News website recently reported on an unusual document that eulogizes Benito Mussolini and the rise of his fascist movement. It’s unusual—not only because it is in Latin—but also because it is still buried, unreachable, at the base of an intact obelisk in Rome that was erected in 1932 as part of a new sports complex, the Foro Mussolini. Two contemporary scholars, Han Lamers and Bettina Reitz-Joosse, reconstructed the parchment’s 1,200-word message using little-known documentary sources. 

I was not surprised to learn of the document’s contents because after several years of studying and writing about the fascist dictator, I find it consistent with the man’s view of himself—as God’s early 20th-century gift to the Italian people. A few years ago, I toured the Foro with the eminent historian Emilio Gentile, and heard all about Mussolini’s delusions of grandeur. Professor Gentile confirmed what I had written in a series about the role that religion and its symbols have played in establishing false messiahs like Mussolini, even legitimizing them in the public’s eyes.

In describing the buried Latin document, one of the classical scholars who reconstructed it notes, “The text presents Mussolini as a kind of new Roman emperor, but also, by using biblical language, as the saviour of the Italian people.” In their book about the document, the two scholars detail how the regime usurped scriptures about Christ and applied them to Mussolini, casting him as a messiah [albeit false] in a very direct way. The document asserts that Il Duce had given back “to the Italians that Italy which the ancient Romans had made the light of the entire world.” Lamers and Reitz-Joosse point to themes that connect Mussolini to the “bringer of light,” and assign him what amounts to the role of Christ as the “light of the world” (see Luke 2:32; John 8:12). 

The idea for the false messiahs’ series grew from a realization that Christ had mentioned that such people would come after his departure. The buried Latin text as interpreted by the scholars is an astonishing piece of evidence that Mussolini is, in fact, one figure who fulfilled Jesus’ warning about imposters coming in His name. When Jesus told his disciples that “many will come in My name saying ‘I am the Christ’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5), He did not mean that they would say that He, Jesus, is the Christ. The punctuation in the verse conveys that they would put themselves in the role of Christ and claim to be saviors, specially ordained for the role. There have been many such politically motivated imposters across the centuries who have used elements of religion to popularize themselves, deceiving whole populations—even currying favor outside their own regimes.

In Mussolini’s case, the United States government supported his regime for many years because it was thought that fascism was a better bet for Italy’s future than the radical left. In a bid to encourage post-WWI economic order to their advantage, U.S. bankers and even two presidents (according to history professor Adam Tooze), favored the dictator—at least until Mussolini decided that he needed an empire and attacked Abyssinia. When Il Duce tied himself to another false messiah, Adolf Hitler, he ultimately sealed his fate, and his economic friends quickly became his enemies. 

Though actors and settings have varied, the role of false messiah has changed little: imposters recite the same script over and over again, only to fail in ignominious and very destructive ways, ruining nations, families and lands including their own. This is exactly what Christ warned His followers about. Such men will continue to be an intermittent feature of human society until the day the true Christ returns to take up His permanent role in the Kingdom of God that will be established on earth.

David Hulme

 

RELATED CONTENT:
Series: Messiahs! Rulers and the Role of Religion
Hearts of Darkness
Dictators' Downfall 
Vision Video: Caesars, Old and New

 

 

Tags: false messiahs, religion and politics, mussolini, David Hulme

When Did Jesus Die? And Why Does It Matter?

Posted on Mon, May 16, 2016 @ 11:21 AM

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Puzzlingly for some, Easter and Passover were about four weeks apart this year. When we look at the biblical account of Jesus’ last few days, more questions abound if we take current commemorations as “gospel.” Questions such as, “How can we fit the passage of three days and three nights into Friday afternoon through Sunday morning?” and “Why did Jesus instruct His disciples to prepare the Passover and eat it that same evening when the Jews were preparing to recall the Exodus event the following evening?”

Let’s look at the Friday-Sunday tradition first. For centuries Christians have celebrated Christ’s resurrection on Sunday in response, no doubt, to the claim that He came back to life early that morning. But did He? The biblical account shows that He was already alive by dawn—“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him’” (John 20:1–2). Matthew’s Gospel records an angel saying to the women who came to the tomb that Jesus was already risen (Matthew 28:6). If traditional Christianity is correct in claiming that Jesus was crucified on Friday, dying at about 3 p.m., and was resurrected on Sunday morning, then He was in the grave Friday night, the day part of Saturday and Saturday night—that’s two nights and one day. Yet Jesus said the only sign He would give of His messiahship was that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights and then be raised from the dead (Matthew 12:40; 16:21).

Now let’s think about what Jesus did with His disciples on the evening before His death. Notice the following: “Then came the Day [or season] of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat’” (Luke 22:7–8). That evening they ate the Passover lamb. Peter and John neither objected nor found the instruction to prepare the Passover strange. And that despite the fact that the temple authorities would be killing Passover lambs and goats the following afternoon. At that time, Jews did not have a single approach to the Passover as they do today. Some, like Jesus and His disciples, observed it at the beginning of the 14th of Nisan according to the Torah—in this case on Tuesday evening. Others, such as the Pharisees, observed it at the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th. This explains the apparent contradiction in the Gospel accounts between the actions of Jesus and His disciples and those of the Pharisees.

Some Christian scholars have grasped the importance of understanding these issues and have reconstructed Jesus’ final days from the biblical account rather than simply accepting tradition. Protestant minister R.A. Torrey was the successor to Dwight Moody at the Moody Bible Institute. In 1907 he wrote about the chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “To sum it all up, Jesus died about sunset on Wednesday. Seventy-two hours later, exactly three days and three nights, at the beginning of the first day of the week (Saturday at sunset), He arose again from the grave. When the women visited the tomb just before dawn the next morning, they found the grave already empty. . . .

“There is absolutely nothing in favor of Friday crucifixion, but everything in the Scripture is perfectly harmonized by Wednesday crucifixion. It is remarkable how many prophetical and typical passages of the Old Testament are fulfilled and how many seeming discrepancies in the gospel narratives are straightened out when we once come to understand that Jesus died on Wednesday and not on Friday” (Difficulties in the Bible, 1907, 1964).

Torrey was not alone in his conclusions. Anglican minister Leonard Pearson wrote: “Was Christ three days and three nights in the grave? Good Friday is the day usually kept to commemorate His precious death and burial, but if He was really buried on a Friday and arose on Sunday morning then at the longest His Body was not more than thirty-seven hours in the grave. The Bible nowhere says that Christ died on a Friday, but that He suffered as the true Passover and therefore on the 14th of the month Nisan. In the year of our Lord’s sacrifice the 14th of Nisan fell on a Wednesday [beginning the previous evening at sunset]. In the East time is reckoned from sunset to sunset. Sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday—one day; sunset Thursday to sunset Friday—one day; sunset Friday to sunset Saturday—one day. So we get the full period of three days and three nights and early, before sun-rising, the tomb was empty and our Lord was risen. Hallelujah!

“In the Gospel story there is the mention of the Sabbath and this has been taken as the weekly Sabbath, whereas it is the Passover Sabbath. In other words, there are two Sabbaths in the Passover week” (Through the Land of Babylonia, 1939, 1951).

You can find these quotes and others that clarify the questions I’ve raised in our review titled “Another Jesus. It’s instructive to think through the differences between tradition and truth; they are not necessarily the same.

DAVID HULME

 

RELATED CONTENT:

Special Report: The History of Easter

Tags: teachings of jesus, what did jesus do, when did jesus die, easter and passover

Passover and Easter: Why the Conflict?

Posted on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 @ 11:49 AM

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Conflict between identities and ideologies shows up in many places—some of them unexpected. Have you noticed that this week Judaism is celebrating Passover, in contrast to Christianity’s Easter memorial about a month ago? That’s to say, at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the site that many view as the burial place of Jesus), the commemoration of His death and resurrection has already taken place, but a month out of sync with the Hebrew calendar. Why the difference?

The New Testament account of Jesus’ crucifixion clearly shows that it happened as the priests were killing the Passover lambs. The night before His death, at the beginning of Nisan 14, Jesus ate a commanded meal with His disciples. He had instructed some of them earlier that day to “go and prepare the Passover for us” (Luke 22:8), in accord with the Hebrew Scriptures governing the commemoration of ancient Israel’s deliverance from the 10th plague on Egypt (Exodus 12:1–13).

Yet traditional Christianity observes a different festival, named after the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess Ishtar (Easter). It was not always so. The early New Testament church observed the memorial of Jesus’ death on Nisan 14, as He had commanded them on His last Passover with them: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19–20). But within the church a movement arose to demand celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, something He Himself never endorsed. That celebration was tied to a Sunday sunrise (though He was already alive again by early Saturday evening). A long-lasting debate over this became known as the Quartodeciman Controversy from the Latin word for “14th” (of the month Nisan). Eventually the emperor Constantine ruled that Jesus’ resurrection would be celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon that falls on or right after the vernal equinox, inveighing against the “Jewishness” of observing the Passover death of Jesus.

The reason that Judaism and Christianity today do not usually coincide in their respective celebrations has to do in part with the basis of their calendrical systems. The Jews calculate their years on a lunar calendar, based on the monthly cycle of the moon. Passover generally falls on the first full moon after the March equinox—that’s to say, on the 14th day of the month, as months of the Hebrew calendar always begin with a new moon. Every few years an adjustment is needed, however, to bring the Hebrew calendar into line with the annual revolution of the earth around the sun, and an extra month is added to the year (2016 is such a year). Christianity has followed a solar calendar and dates Easter based solely on the March equinox. Easter was therefore one month earlier than Passover this year.

In all of this, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that to be in line with Jesus’ command and with the original Passover dating, His followers will want to recall His death according to His practice on Nisan 14 and avoid resurrection celebrations on a day and at a time (sunrise) He never sanctioned.

On which day of the week was Nisan 14 in the year of Jesus’ death? Both the Bible and a number of scholars point to Tuesday/Wednesday 31 CE. There’s much to say about that, of course, but in a subsequent post.

DAVID HULME


RELATED CONTENT:

Special Report: The Pass Over to Easter

 

Tags: christian holidays, ideological conflict, jewish holidays

Egypt's Crisis the Result of Pressing Global Issues

Posted on Thu, Jul 04, 2013 @ 11:07 AM

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The current dramatic situation in Egypt, with the overturn of the democratically-elected Morsi government by the army, will perhaps have further repercussions in the Arab world. It was, after all, in response to popular discontent over Morsi's troubled year in office that the military made its move, supported by Islamic, Coptic and secular leaders. It demonstrates, if nothing else, that the search for good government will continue to motivate humanity. Historian Hugh Brogan has said, "If human beings, as political animals, are to progress further, they cannot yet rest from seeking new forms of government to meet the ever-new needs of their times."

Global Problems, Global Solutions,
Part 4: Failed Government

Coincidentally, we've been working on a new video series to examine solutions to some of these "ever-new needs"—our most pressing global problemsincluding the failure of government systems.

The series, titled Global Problems, Global Solutions, delves into various aspects of the human condition and makes the case that at the root of every difficulty people face, there is a spiritual cause and a spiritual solution. 

In the four-part series we look at some macro-issues facing the entire human race. These include the global arms race and the business of war, the threat on global food and water supplies, injustice and genocide, and failed government. In each episode, we talk about why these issues are the most threatening to global stability and security and identify the thinking that must be at the forefront of any solution.

Over the past couple of years we have seen many challenges to governments around the world. Most recently the world has witnessed turmoil sweeping Arab nations, and there has been much violence and bloodshed as the reaction against existing governments has continued to spread. In one sense this is nothing new; human beings have been trying to find the best form of governance for thousands of years.

Today the vast majority want to live under liberal democracy. But even in the more stable democracies such as those in Europe and the United States, people have lost faith in their governments to solve the big problems society faces. In this latest nine-minute video, we offer some thoughts about the spiritual mindset it will take to bring about better government.

 

Tags: middle east politics, egypt current events, failed government, global issues, Middle East Conflict

No Pride in This Memorial: April 9th in Middle East History

Posted on Mon, Apr 08, 2013 @ 10:55 PM
DeirYassinMap
 Map courtesy Wikipedia

An event the Palestinians recall every year is the massacre of 100110 Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin on the city's western edge on April 9, 1948. It became the most significant aspect of Operation Nachshon, the Jewish campaign to open up the corridor between the Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem.

The attack on the village was carried out by two Jewish underground organizations, Irgun Z'vai Leumi (IZL) and Lohamei Herut Israel (Lehi; also known as the Stern Gang), with the apparent agreement of the Haganah in Jerusalem. The villagers had been friendly toward the Jews, refusing to allow Palestinian resistance fighters to stay there, but they had armed themselves against possible attack. The fighting went so badly for the Jewish attackers that they resorted to dynamiting houses, killing men, women and children. Though many younger male Palestinians escaped, others (women, children and old men) were humiliated by being trucked through Jerusalem in a kind of victory parade and then dumped in Arab East Jerusalem.

Along with many other sources, Benny Morris's 1999 book, Righteous Victimsdetails this confrontation. Deir Yassin's website contains much helpful information as does the associated documentary.

The immediate result of the massacre was such that a Palestinian refugee exodus began. This turning point in the Middle East conflict opened the way for Jewish successes in the days ahead. It also set the stage for fierce reprisal. Four days later, the Palestinians attacked a 10-vehicle convoy traveling to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. During the six-hour fight, two armored buses were torched and more than 70 mostly unarmed Jewish doctors, nurses and lecturers died.

The State of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, later apologized for the events at Deir Yassin.

Tags: palestinians, Ben-Gurion, 1948 war, Deir Yassin, Middle East Conflict

Matters of Identity: The Wall, Women and a Cause for Wailing

Posted on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

 

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For some time now challenges have been directed at the ultra-Orthodox way of life especially when it comes to the role of women.

Last Monday's arrest of 10 members of Women of the Wall, including two female American rabbis, was not the first time the group has met opposition at the Western or Wailing Wall. They have been protesting their exclusion from worshipping there in the traditional prayer shawl for 24 years.

Back in 1989, they were attacked by ultra-Orthodox men wielding metal chairs. The then Director General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs said nothing could be done to help the women hold prayer servicesthe prohibition against them doing so, he said, "is tradition in Israel, and this tradition is law and can't be changed."

This time, the group of about 200 were supported by Israeli paratrooper veterans from the 67 War. The Jewish Agency's Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet Jewish dissident, is trying to resolve the conflict at P.M. Netanyahu's request. He admits it will not be easy"we Jews chose to be not-easy people, and to live in a not-easy place, and to do not-easy religion.”

This is one more example of clashes over matters of identity with religious and ideological roots. The Western Wall has long been the center of such struggles. In the past, it was the entire Jewish community in Palestine that wanted access and only slowly over the years did that come about, most notably as a result of the '67 War. Now that the State of Israel has possession, contention over the Wall comes from a group within its own tradition.

Tags: jerusalem, 1967 Six Day War, identity, ultra-orthodox, peace, israel, western wall

Identity, Ideology and Israel's Latest Election

Posted on Wed, Jan 30, 2013 @ 09:45 AM
Yair Lapid   portraitSm
 Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's new Yesh Atid party.

The secular mainstream in Israel scored in the recent elections with the success of the new party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by talk-show host Yair Lapid. Though Benjamin Netanyahu’s party won, Lapid emerged as a power broker. One of the planks in his platform is the demand that ultra-Orthodox students serve in the military or suffer sanctions. The Supreme Court has already nixed a law giving exemption to such students, but the government has not followed through on bringing them into the military.

This is only part of the battle that has been developing in Israel over the role of ultra-Orthodox religion in civil society. Other related issues include  gender equality, taxes and government aid. Though its adherents (Haredim) represent only about 10% of the Jewish population in Israel, they wield disproportionate political influence. The polity is split into many fragments such that no single party can gain a clear majority, but the ultra-orthodox parties have been present in most coalitions since 1977. This time around two Haredi parties have a combined seat total of 18 to Lapid’s 19. This suggests that if Lapid pursues an aggressive secular agenda at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox, he will face a lot of opposition and deepen a growing rift in Israeli society

His position on Jerusalem could also become an issue. In the campaign he took up the traditional Israeli election rhetoric of “undivided Jerusalem.” This wins votes. Yet his record shows a different side. In 2008 he gave an interview to Der Spiegel indicating support for the division of the city with the Palestinians. This past week one of his security advisors, Jacob Perry, answered a question about Lapid’s inviolability of Jerusalem stance indicating that it may be the starting point for negotiations. In other words, compromise may be necessary. 

There is much to be said on either side of the debate over Jerusalem. Both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims have staked a claim. Identity and ideology play vital roles for all concerned. Can ideologies be modified and identities change? Yes. But only with new perspectives on the human condition.


Tags: jerusalem, palestinians, identity, israel, Palestine

Middle East Peace off the Map over Disputed Land E1

Posted on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 @ 04:53 PM

middle east conflictAbout 12 years ago I interviewed the mayor of the Israeli West Bank settlement, Maale Adumim. Benny Kashriel told me then that his city would eventually become part of Jerusalem, being linked to it by annexed contiguous land. Indeed he regarded Maale Adumim as part of the Jerusalem metroplis even then and had publicity brochures that proclaimed as much. The still open and barren land separating the two cities is known as Development Area EI (East 1).

Now it is back in the headlines following the upgrading of Palestine to non-member observer state by an overwhelming UN vote. Seemingly in retaliation, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu revived Israeli planning activity in the E1 sector making way for construction of up to 3400 housing units there and in other parts of Jerusalem. As tensions rise in this tit-for-tat scrapping, attempts at Middle East peace are once again on hold. The reality is that if E1 becomes a developed area between Israeli-held East Jerusalem and the 40,000 Israeli residents of Maale Adumim, the possibility of a Palestinian State with meaningful access between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank and with East Jerusalem as its capital, becomes a much more complicated prospect and perhaps moot if compromises over road connections fail.

It was the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin that created the E1 area in 1994 in support of Maale Adumim (which Rabin had authorized in 1976). The city is regarded as a gateway to Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley. As a result, it seems unlikely that any Israeli government will give up the strategically positioned enclave, preferring rather to enhance its security by connecting it materially to Jerusalem. 

Tags: jerusalem, Middle East Peace, Israeli-Palestian conflict, middle east politics, israel, Palestine

European Envoy to Mid-East Comments on Annapolis Prospects

Posted on Sat, Nov 13, 2010 @ 01:53 PM

The Reuters section of our main website at Vision has a timely update on the Annapolis talks from European Union High Representative Javier Solana's perspective. 

His itinerary for his current visit to the Middle East is here:

Tags: middle east, Annapolis talks, Javier Solana