Thursday, 23 October 2014

Of Ecclesiastes, the futility of it all, Carpe Diem and Hey, don't forget to live!

Of Ecclesiastes, the futility of it all, Carpe Diem and Hey, don't forget to live!

Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books in the bible ( Another one is Job, but that's a story for another day )

Ecclesiastes is a Greek word for 'Preacher'.

Why this Preacher may not be most people's favourite person:

-the prominent tone, particularly in the early chapters, is one of alienated cynicism and weary melancholy

-It's theme is: the emptiness of human effort, utter futility. All is vanity- which means it's all for nought. It's like pursuing wind

"I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind" ( Ecc 1:14 NIV )

Ecc 1:2 "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity"

Ecc 8: 10b- 14 He is frustrated with delayed justice and the unfairness of it all. All is vanity

-Each time he tries to make sense of it, his frustration grows.

"And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow". (Ecc 1:17-18 )

9:11 - "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all"

( this popular verse is often quoted out of context ( where is the concept of merit then? ) It is actually a lament of the great injustice of the way things occur in this world. You need to read the preceding verses to understand this )

-So, he concludes that the same fate awaits both the fool and the wise- death Ecc 2:14-17

"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit" (Ecclesiastes 2:17)

9:2-6 The good, the evil, the righteous, the unrighteous: Death is the same fate of all

This is where it gets really interesting:

-Despite all this despair and cynicism, there is a positive note: the writer doesn't recommend nihilism or suicide (despite the lack of purpose or meaning in life). He states that every life does have its moments of meaning and happiness, and these moments should be seized when one can .

Carpe Diem (Seize the moment) -remember Jack in Titanic?

Which is why Ecc 9:7-10 makes sense - particularly relating to how one should live life

verse 7: "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works"


Ecc 5:18 - "Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion"

Ecc 3:13 "And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God"

"In the end it's not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years"-Abraham Lincoln

So, Carpe Diem (seize the moment) and...

Hey, don't forget to live!

-Inspiration from Prof Christine Hayes' Lecture on 'The Hebrew Bible'


Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Assyrian Kings responsible for the fall of Israel

The Assyrian Kings responsible for the fall of Israel

( King Solomon was the last King of a unified Israel.

Despite the awesome temple he built on Mount Zion, he loved women from nations that God had forbidden and he would have succumbed to the worship of their gods. He would have been guilty of syncretism ( religious infidelity)

He built temples for Moabite and Ammonite gods- this may reflect a tolerance for other cults or gods in the 10th & 9th centuries.

Of course there was discontent among the people and a huge class divide ( he was taxing them heavily too)

When he died in 931BCE, the kingdom was divided between King Jeroboam in the North & Rehoboam in the south. The northerners ( 10 tribes of Israel would not recognise Rehoboam as King. The King would not lessen the tax burden on the people either. Hence Jeroboam became King in the North and Rehoboam was King of south- the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) This account is in 1 Kings )

Tiglath-Pileser III ( pix 1 )

Reign 745–727 BCE

He introduced advanced civil, military, and political systems into the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Tiglath-Pileser III seized the Assyrian throne during a civil war and killed the royal family.

He introduced sweeping reforms which made the Assyrian army, already the greatest fighting force in the world since the 14th Century ( 600 years previously), the world's first professional standing army.

Tiglath-Pileser III subjugated much of the known world at the time!!

-In the south west, he subjugated Israel, Judah, Philistia, Samarra, Moab and Edom

Biblical records describe how Tiglath-Pileser III exacted 1000 talents of silver as tribute from King Menahem of the Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 15:19) and later defeated his successor Pekah ( 15:29)

King Pekah of Israel had allied with Rezin, king of the Arameans ( Syria) against Ahaz of the Kingdom of Judah, who responded by appealing for the Assyrian monarch's help with the Temple gold and silver.

Tiglath-Pileser answered swiftly. He first marched his army down the eastern Mediterranean coast, taking coastal cities all the way to Egypt. This cut off his enemies' access to the sea.

Once this was achieved, he returned to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, destroyed their army, and deported the Reubenites, Gadites, and the people of Manasseh to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the Gozan river (1 Chron 5:26).

He then installed an Israelite puppet king, Hoshea, (732-723 BCE) in the place of king Pekah.

He concluded this extensive campaign by marching north and west, ravaging Aramaea, seizing Damascus, executing Rezin, and deporting the survivors to Kir (2 Kings 16:9).

Beyond this, the Assyrian alliance was not beneficial to Ahaz (2 Chron 28:20)

Isaiah & Micah were Judean prophets who talked about the Assyrian crisis

Shalmaneser V (pix 2)

was king of Assyria from 727 to 722 BC.

( Hoshea was King of Israel in this period)

According to 2 Kings, chapters 17-18, Shalmaneser accused Hoshea, King of Israel, of conspiring against him by sending messages to Pharaoh Osorkon IV of Egypt, and captured him.

Indeed, the Egyptians attempted to gain a foothold in Palestine, then held largely by Assyria's vassal kings, by stirring them to revolt against Assyria and lending them some military support.

After three year of siege he took the city of Samaria. The populations he deported to various lands of the empire, (together with ones deported about ten year earlier by Tiglath-Pileser III) are known as the "Ten Lost Tribes" of Israel.

The populations he settled in Samaria instead form, according to the commentary in the Bible, the origin of Samaritans. Shalmaneser died in the same year, 722 BC, and it is possible that the population exchanges were done by his successor Sargon II.

Sargon II ( pix 3 )

reigned 722 – 705 BC

Sargon II became the ruler of the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC after the death of Shalmaneser V.

It is not clear whether he was the son of Tiglath-Pileser III or a usurper unrelated to the -however he took the name Sharru-kinu ("true king"), after Sargon of Akkad — who had founded the first Semitic Empire in the region some 16 centuries earlier. ( we've talked about him)

Under his rule, the Assyrians completed the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel and exiled the inhabitants.

Sargon's name actually appears in the Bible only once, at Isaiah 20:1, which records the Assyrian capture of Ashdod in 711 BC.

He took 27,290 people captive from the city of Samaria resettling some with the Israelites in the Khabur region and the rest in the land of the Medes thus establishing Hebrew communities in Ecbatana and Rages ( these are all in modern day Iran)

Amos and Hosea were the prominent prophets in Israel during this crisis

Fall of the Assyrian Empire:

612BCE- A year after the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Assurbanipal, in 627 BCE, the Assyrian empire spiralled into a series of brutal civil wars. Babylon saw its opportunity and, with the help of allies, it sacked the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh in 612BCE. The Babylonians then became the big boys in the area.

Prophet Nahum celebrated the fall of Nineveh in his book

The Babylonian King responsible for Judah's fall:

Nebuchadnezzar II ( pix 4) 634 – 562 BCE

was king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Jehoiakim was King of Judah in 587BCE. Judah was a vassal state of Babylon. The Judeans had rebelled against Babylonian rule ( Nebuchadnezzar's incursion into Egypt had failed and the Babylonians had been weakened due to the war. Judah saw this as an opportunity)

Nebuchadnezzar soon dealt with these rebellion, capturing Jerusalem in 597 BC and deposing King Jehoiakim, then destroying the city in 587 BC due to rebellion, and deporting many of the prominent citizens along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judea to Babylon.

These events are described in the Prophets (Nevi'im) and Writings (Ketuvim), sections of the Hebrew Bible (in the books 2 Kings and Jeremiah, and 2 Chronicles, respectively).

While boasting about his achievements, Nebuchadnezzar is humbled by God. The king loses his sanity and lives in the wild like an animal for seven years. After this, his sanity and position are restored and he praises and honours God. There are various explanations for this episode by modern scholars

Reason for the fall of Israel & Judah:

All the kings of Israel and almost all the kings of Judah were "bad", which in terms of Biblical narrative means that they failed to enforce worship of Yahweh alone.

Of the "good" kings, Hezekiah (727–698 BCE) is noted for his efforts at stamping out idolatry (in this case, the worship of Baal and Asherah, among other traditional Near Eastern divinities),

but his successors, Manasseh of Judah (698–642 BCE) and Amon (642–640 BCE), revived idolatry, drawing down on the kingdom the anger of Yahweh.

King Josiah (640–609 BCE ) returned to the worship of Yahweh alone and carried out reforms ( as documented in Deuteronomy) but his efforts were too late and Israel's unfaithfulness caused God to permit the kingdom's destruction by the Babylonians in c.587/586 BCE.

Ezekiel was the prominent prophet during the Babylonian crisis. He was actually sent into exile with his compatriots.

Jeremiah was another prominent prophet who talked about the impending Babylonian crisis and the reason for it. He was actually imprisoned for a while when Judah fell.

Fall of Babylon

539BCE - eventually , Babylon itself would fall. King Cyrus of Persia ( Iran) ensured this.

Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and Judah became a province of Persia.

520-515BCE - the destroyed temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt

Some of the post-exilic prophets were Haggai, Zechariah & Job



Friday, 10 October 2014

The Sunni-Shia Schism in Islam, Iran, Iraq and the origins of ISIL

The Sunni-Shia Schism in Islam, Iran, Iraq and the origins of ISIL

ISIL- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Sometimes called ISIS - Islamic State of Iraq & Syria-

have been in the news for sometime now. Ever wondered about the origin?

After Muhammed 's death in 632BCE ( at the age of 62) , there were disputes over religious and political leadership .

These would give rise to schism in the Muslim community.

The majority accepted the legitimacy of the three rulers after Muhammed ( Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab and Uthman ibn al-Affan) but won't accept the 4th Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib

They became known as Sunnis.

A minority disagreed, and believed that Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, as his successor and only certain descendants of Ali could be Imams.

As a result, they believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn al-Affan and Umar ibn al-Khattab.

-they became known as the Shiites


Remember this dude, Sheikh Ismail I (pix 1):

Iran’s population was mostly Sunni of the Shafi`i and Hanafi legal rites until the triumph of the Safavids

The Safavids were one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Persia (modern Iran)

(From 1500–2 Sheikh Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, conquered Tabriz in Iran, as well as Azerbaijan.

He would take most of the next decade to consolidate his control over Iran, where most of the Persian population was still Sunni.

His hatred of the Sunnis knew no bounds: he was the most intolerant Shia ruler since the fall of the Fatimids and his persecution of Sunnis was ruthless.

He aimed at no less than the complete destruction of Sunnism.

The Safavid conversion of Iran from Sunnism to Shiism made Iran the spiritual bastion of Shia Islam against the onslaughts of Sunni Islam, and the repository of Persian cultural traditions and self-awareness of Iranianhood, acting as a bridge to modern Iran

Earlier on in history, the Muslims had taken over Persia:

The Persian ( Sassanid) Empire ( Iran) used to be the major player in the region and Iraq used to be it's capital state

This changed at the battle of Al-Qadissiyah fought in 636BCE:

It was the decisive engagement between the Arab Muslim army and the Sassanid Persian army ( supported by the Byzantines )during the first period of Muslim expansion.

It resulted in the Islamic conquest of Persia and was key to the conquest of Iraq.

As documented above, both Iran and Iraq ended up having Shia majorities. Sunni Muslims were in the minority

Then Saddam Hussein- pix 2 ( became President in 1979) and his Ba'ath party ( took power via a coup in 1968) happened to Iraq. He was a Sunni

This led to the persecution of Shiites in Iraq and frequent turf wars with Shia-dominated Iran

-In 1979, the Revolution happened in Iran

-The Ayatollah ( Ruhollah Khomeini, pix 3 ) encouraged repressed Shiites to revolt in Iraq

-this was one of the reasons ( including centuries of animosity and perceived wrongs) for the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq wars. It ended in a stalemate

-Saddam was deposed in 2003, following the Gulf war. He was executed in 2006 having been found guilty of many atrocities-including killing 148 Shiite Iraqis

- the Shia majority now took over Government and started persecuting the Sunni minority

-this is the genesis of the current terrorist group, ISIS or ISIL

-the group has grown significantly under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ( pix 4), gaining support in Iraq as a result of alleged economic and political discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis. They have also incorporated the Sunni insurgents in the Syrian Civil war



The Fertile Crescent

The Fertile Crescent

ONE OF THE central facts of human history is the early importance of the part of the Near East known as the Fertile Crescent

If you draw a line from the Nile River through the lower border of the Mediterranean and through the Tigris and Euphrates rivers , you'll get a crescent-shaped region around this line

This crescent-shaped region contains the comparatively moist and fertile land of an otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia

That area appears to have been the earliest site for a whole string of developments, including cities, writing, empires, and what we term (for better or worse) civilization

So civilization started here.


All those developments mentioned above sprang, in turn, from the dense human populations, stored food surpluses, and feeding of nonfarming specialists made possible by the rise of food production in the form of crop cultivation and animal husbandry

The Mediterranean climate was just suitable for crop cultivation and animal rearing, sedentary lifestyle and community development. Crucially, while some were engaged in these activities of daily living, it allowed other people to concentrate on the things associated with development and civilisation such as writing, carvings, arts and the building of empires

Note Canaan in that area in the maps ( thus a land 'flowing with milk and honey' makes more sense )

While my ancestors were still nomadic hunter-gatherers-moving from place to place, these dudes were settled and becoming civilised

Thus, with the coming of the Early Bronze Age (3200–2200 BCE) the first great civilizations emerged in proximity to the great rivers of the region, the Nile in Egypt, and the Tigris and Euphrates that define Mesopotamia (literally, the land between the two rivers) in modern Iraq.

In southern Mesopotamia, around the junction and mouth of the two rivers, the Sumerians are credited with the earliest known writing system, around 3200 B.C.E.

Egyptian civilization is almost as old as that of Sumer. A form of writing known as hieroglyphics first appears around 3100 B.C.E

Note that Canaan lies between these 2 great civilisations

Around 1400 B.c.E, the Kingdom of the Ugarit arose in Canaan

Israel emerged in the highlands of Canaan between 1250-1000 BCE (

Why is this bit of history important?

Israel didn't exist until about 1500 years after the great civilisations of Egypt, and more importantly, Mesopotamia ( as the latter spoke a language similar to the Semitic language of the Israelites )

This earlier civilisations had to have an influence on the history and the culture of the Israelites

This narrative is important for my future posts

In current usage, all definitions of the Fertile Crescent include Mesopotamia, the land in and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The modern-day countries with significant territory within the Fertile Crescent are Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt, besides the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran.

Any body who's met an educated Egyptian or Iraqi or Iranian knows how proud these people can be. Their people were the first ones to be civilised. Even Caucasians ( Europeans) were still hunter gatherers when these people were forming communities

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Of motivation quotes, errors and Coca Cola

Of motivation quotes, errors and Coca Cola

Saw this quote on social media today

( one of the interminable ones you see on your Wall -posted by your FB friends who love channelling their inner Zig Ziglar :D )

This quote even has a Facebook fan page!

Great motivational quote, major error in the figures quoted

During the first year ( 1886) , sales averaged a modest nine drinks per day. You do the maths! :-)

It did make me read about the resourcefulness of the inventor, Colonel John Pemberton - who was wounded in the Civil War, became addicted to morphine, and began a quest to find a substitute for the dangerous opiate

The business-savvy of Asa Candler- who got the sole ownership ( in 1891 for $2300 ) by buying the interests of Pemberton & other rivals ( both by legal and crooked means! :-) )

The vision and even greater entrepreneurial spirit of Ernest Woodruff- who, in 1919, bought the Candler interests in The Coca-Cola Company for $25 million. With 1.8 billion servings per day worldwide, you can't argue that his vision of ' a Coke on every table' hasn't been achieved

Motivational quotes are good, error-free or not, but I hope people realise that Will is more important ( passion, vision, focus, absolute commitment)

Hallan Goerger wrote:

" as we look at "Motivation" and the ideas of goal setting, self-talk, being positive, keeping the right attitude and such, hopefully we see how "Will" needs to be the foundation and that motivation is the tool to assist. If we depend only on the motivational factor we have short term gain and we are constantly putting more wood on the fire. With "Will" we find people put their own wood on!"

I co-sign this