Monday, December 22, 2014

From Christ to Christmas – a historical analysis


For many Christians around the globe, Christmas is linked with the birthday of their lord Jesus Christ. They believe that he was born on or around December 25 of 1 C.E. (Common Era). It is inconsequential to them that the story in the Gospels is often utterly divorced from all historical contexts.  There is often no awareness of the geographical and political relation between the places Jesus visits, e.g., Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem, how far they might be from each other, how long a journey from one place to another might take place. As Michael Baigent et al. (authors of the book - The Messianic Legacy) puts it, “For the lay [Christian] congregation, scriptural accounts are regarded as literal history, a self-contained story no less true for being divorced from an historical context. Never having been taught otherwise by his spiritual mentors, many a devout believer has had no need to question the problems posed by such a context.”
In the Gospel accounts of the so-called New Testament (NT), Jesus is depicted as a messiah, which in a strictly literal sense means the ‘anointed one.’ While the term was customarily referred to David (Dawood) and Solomon (Sulayman), every king of Israel since the days of king (and Prophet) David was regarded as a Messiah. Not only that. Around the time of Jesus’s birth, a series of militant, armed oppositions to Rome was organized and led by rebellious Jews - Simon son of Joseph of Peraea (ca. 4 BCE), Athronges (ca. 4-2 BCE) and Judas of Galilee (6 CE) - who all claimed the title of Messiah.[1] They were recognized as such not only by their immediate followers, but also by a segment of the Jewish people. Needless to say that there was nothing intrinsically divine about such Christ figures. Indeed, to assert that any man was God, or even son of God, in a literal sense and/or the idea of a divine Messiah would have been, for Jesus and his contemporaries, extremely blasphemous and absolutely unthinkable.
How did then this myth of divinity of Jesus evolve? To find the answer we have to look at the 3 Ps – the place he lived, the period in which he lived and the people of his period. While much is known about the world in which Jesus the Nazarene lived, sadly, very little is known about him and the events surrounding his life. The Gospels, including the whole of the Bible, are sketchy documents, which no respectable scholar would for a moment consider absolutely reliable as historical testimony. They portray a world, almost fairy-tale story! But Palestine at the time of advent of Christianity was a not a fairy-tale kingdom; it was a real place where people of different religions, sects and cults lived. There were the Palestinian Jews and pagans, and the Greco-Roman pagans and others imported from abroad as a result of Roman occupation of the holy land. And thanks to Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, an overwhelming majority of the latter-day followers of Jesus came not from the monotheist Jews but from the uncircumcised pagans who had hitherto worshipped a multitude of gods to whom Sunday, and not the day of Sabbath, was the big day.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, that none of the canonical gospels was written in the very language in which Jesus had spoken. They were written in Greek. Even his own name - ‘Isa (pronounced Eesa), the son of Maryam - was corrupted to Greek. He even got transformed from Jesus the Nazarene (also spelled Nazarean and Nasara’in) to Jesus of Nazareth.[2] Corruption in the process of translation has obscured more than names. Whether by accident or design, it has also served to conceal historical information of immense importance. For example, we don’t know the term that Jesus had actually used in his own vernacular to describe the purported Greek term - Paraclete or Paracletos. A single word may convey a wealth of historical background; and if the sense of such a word is altered, the revelation it offers is bound to be lost.
As much as the worship of mother goddess – Ishtar, Isis, Astarte, Aphrodite, Cybele – commanded large following amongst the pagans living then in Palestine, the Jews were not immune from such corrosive influences. There were residues of polytheistic goddess worship within the framework of Judaism itself, cults dedicated to the ancient Canaanite goddess Miriam or Rabath. There were also the Samaritan Jews who insisted that their brand was the only true form. There were also a number of Jewish sects, and even sects within sects. The most prominent Jewish groups were the Pharisees, Sadducees (Sadooqis), Essenes, Zealots and Zadokites. Some of the Jews did not believe in the hereafter. Too many were involved in usury and immoral acts near the Jewish Temple.
Before the time of Jesus’s appearance, the messianic expectations were high. The Jews were looking for a deliverer from their misery. They asked: if God were indeed All-powerful, how one makes sense of Israel’s misfortune? If God were indeed All-powerful, how could one expect His permitting His Temple to be defiled by the heathen Romans? How could one explain His letting His own authority be challenged by a secular, heathen ruler in Rome who presumed to arrogate divinity to himself?
It was under such dismal circumstances that Jesus was born. His mother was Maryam (Mary), a pious Jewish woman who was raised in the Temple. She was probably 12 to 14 years old when she gave birth to Jesus. According to Gospel accounts, she was betrothed to Joseph the carpenter. According to Catholic Encyclopedia, the latter was 90 years old then and was the father of six children, two daughters and four sons from a previous marriage. The youngest of his children was James who is mentioned in the NT as "the Lord's brother". According to Christian apocryphal writings, Joseph died around 18 or 19 C.E. at the very advanced age of 111.[3]
The year of Jesus’s birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, abbot of a Roman monastery.[4]  His calculation in ca. 533 C.E. was based on the following information:
a.       In the pre-Christian Roman era years were counted from ab urbe condita (“the founding of the City” [Rome]).  Thus 1 AUC signified the year Rome was founded.
b.     Dionysius received a tradition that the Roman emperor Augustus reigned 43 years, and was followed by the emperor Tiberius.
c.       Luke 3:1 and 3:23 indicate that when Jesus turned 30 years old, it was the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign.
d.      If Jesus was 30 years old in Tiberius’s reign, then he lived 15 years under Augustus (placing Jesus’s birth in Augustus’s 28th year of reign).
e.       Augustus took power in 727 AUC.  Therefore, Dionysius put Jesus’s birth in 754 AUC, which is commonly now equated as 1 C.E.
Unfortunately, for Dionysius, the gospel according to Luke 1:5 places Jesus’s birth in the days of Herod, and Herod died in 750 AUC (4 B.C.E.) – four years before the year in which Dionysius places Jesus birth. Such contradictions within the Gospel accounts about Jesus’s birth year made Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and former president of the Catholic Biblical Association – writing in the Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament, to comment about the date of Jesus’ birth, “Though the year [of Jesus birth] is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1.” According to Fitzmyer, Dionysius was wrong; he had miscalculated. Fitzmyer guesses that Jesus was probably born in 3 BCE.
Still, the birth-year remains unsettled when we consider the Biblical tradition that Jesus was supposed to be no more than two years old when Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16). Herod died before April 12, 4 BCE. So, if the Biblical story is to be believed, Jesus must have been born before 4 BCE. This has led some Christians to revise the birth year to 6 - 4 BCE. Even then, the problem is not settled when we notice that Jesus was supposed to have been born during the census of (Syrian Governor) Quirinius (Luke 2:2). This census took place after Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed in 6 CE, ten years after Herod's death. So, one way to accommodate competing versions of Jesus’s birth will be to place the year somewhere between 6 BCE and 6 CE or shortly thereafter.
Even the Vatican now admits that Jesus was not born in 1 CE. In the third installment of his trilogy, dedicated to the life of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI revealed in November 2012 that Jesus may have been born earlier than previously thought. He explains in his book that Exiguus, who is considered the inventor of the Christian calendar, “made a mistake in his calculations by several years. The actual date of Jesus’ birth was several years before.”[5]
As can be seen, the gospels are unreliable as historical documents. The first of them, Mark, was composed no earlier than the revolt of 66 CE. They pay scant attention to the historical backdrop, addressing themselves essentially to the figure of Jesus and his teachings. Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles is essentially an account of Paul who had undergone ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion after Jesus’s ascension to heaven. Acts offers a more or less reliable historical account of Paul’s activities.
Around 39 CE, Paul returns to Jerusalem and is officially admitted to the Nazarene party, comprising of the original, true disciples of Jesus that is led by James (Jesus’s brother from Joseph the carpenter). His reception was rather less enthusiastic. Because of his years of persecution of the Nazarenes, most of them did not trust Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus). They put Barnabas, one of the most trusted disciples of Jesus, as his mentor. However, serious differences arise and they part company.[6] James and the Nazarene party send their own missionaries to undo Paul’s teachings. The proof of this can be found in 2 Cor. 11:3-4 where Paul claims that they were promulgating ‘another Jesus.’ To the Nazarenes, it was Paul who had replaced the worship of God with that of Jesus. “In Paul’s hands, Jesus himself becomes an object of religious veneration – which Jesus himself, like his brother James and the other Nazareans in Jerusalem, would have regarded as blasphemous.”[7]
It is from Paul, and Paul alone, that a new religion begins to emerge – not a form of Judaism, but a rival and ultimately an adversary to Judaism. This new religion is fused with Greco-Roman thought, with pagan traditions, with elements from a number of mystical schools. Once Paul’s cult began to crystallize as a religion in itself, it dictated certain priorities which had not obtained in Jesus’s lifetime and which Jesus himself would unquestionably have deplored. In the first place it had to compete with all the other established religions. In order to get a strong footing, thus, Jesus had inescapably to assume a degree of godhood comparable to that of the deities, he was intended to displace. Like many such deities, Tammuz, e.g., the god of the ancient Sumerian and Phoenician mystery teachings, had been born of a virgin, died with a wound in his side and, after three days, rose from his tomb, leaving it vacant with the rock at the entrance rolled aside. If Paul were to challenge successfully the adherents of Tammuz, Jesus would have to be able to match the older god, miracle for miracle. In consequence, certain aspects of Tammuz story were grafted on to Jesus’s biography. It is significant that Bethlehem was not only David’s city, but also the ancient center of a Tammuz cult, with a shrine that remained active well into biblical times.[8]
Anyone interested can find numerous specific elements in the NT to their origin not in history, but in the traditions surrounding Tammuz, Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysus and Mithra. There is a passage in the Mithraic communion that is similar to the sacrament: ‘He who shall not eat of my body nor drink my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”[9]
In order to diffuse itself through the pagan Romanized world, Christianity had to transmute itself. And in that process it rewrote the historical circumstances from which it arose. Jesus himself had to be divorced from his historical context, turned into a non-political figure – an other-worldly, spiritual Messiah who posed no challenge whatever to Caesar. Thus, all trace of Jesus’s political activity was de-emphasized, diluted or excised. And so far as possible, all trace of his Jewishness was deliberately obscured, ignored or rendered irrelevant.[10]
Unlike Paul and the supposed writers of the NT, however, Jesus had no intention of creating a new religion, and neither had James, Peter, Barnabas and the Nazarene party in Jerusalem. Like Jesus, they would have been horrified by the very idea of a different religion. Their distinction came in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, which created problem for them from the authorities. In 36 CE, Stephen was martyred by stoning in Jerusalem, and many Nazarenes had fled the city. Paul was then on the other side. He was a Sadducee, persecuting the Nazarenes. By 44 CE, Peter, and then John, and many others were arrested, flogged, and ordered not to speak the name of Jesus. In the same year, disciple James – the brother of John - was beheaded. By the following year, guerilla activity on the part of the Zealots had intensified to the extent that Rome had to take countermeasures. By 48-49 CE, the Roman governor of Judea was seizing and crucifying both the Zealots and Nazarenes indiscriminately. Still the insurrection intensified. The Sadducee High Priest, appointed by the Romans, was assassinated by the Zealots in the mid-50s, and a major terrorist campaign was launched against the Sadducees who had aligned themselves with Rome.
During 57-8 CE another Messiah appeared from Egypt. Having gained a substantial following in Judea, he undertook to occupy Jerusalem by force of arms and drive the Romans from the holy land. The movement was violently thwarted, but the disturbances continued. In around 62-65 CE, James, the head of the Nazarenes party in Jerusalem, was seized and executed.[11] Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities, beginning with in 64 CE, when Emperor Nero blamed the early Christians for the Great Fire of Rome.
It is not difficult to surmise that under the weight of such persecution, especially after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE following the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE,[12] much of the true history and teachings of Jesus were lost, and what came to be passed on later as Christian doctrines and festivities, as we shall see later, owes little to Jesus himself, and more to Paul and the Greco-Roman culture in which it thrived in.  
Many of the followers of the early Nazarenes fled to territories where they felt safe and secure from the tyranny of the Romans and hostile Jews who did not recognize Jesus as their Messiah.
During Roman Emperor Constantine’s time, Nazarenes teaching was still thriving and being disseminated in places like Africa and in territories outside the Roman control, e.g., eastern Syria, southern Arabia and Iraq (Mesopotamia). The proof can be seen from the writings of Epiphanius, a Church father, who interchangeably used the terms Ebionite and Nazarenes in the late 4th century in his attack on them for rejecting godhood of Jesus and the Church. Ebionites (meaning the poor) considered Jesus to be a man, and not God. They adhered to Judaic teachings scrupulously and rejected Pauline letters. As such, they were declared heretics by church fathers.
In one Nazarene text, Paul is called the ‘enemy.’ The text maintains that Jesus’s rightful heir was his brother James, and that Simon Peter had never ‘defected’ to Pauline thought. Peter is quoted as issuing a warning against any authority other than Nazarene hierarchy.[13]
Nazarene thoughts survived in Egypt. It was there that the Gospel of Thomas was found, with the wealth of other Nazarene thoughts left in Naag Hamadi scrolls. Arius, an ascetic Christian presbyter of Libyan birth, possibly of Berber extraction, and priest in Alexandria, Egypt, saw Jesus as a man, not God, coming, thus, as opposed to Pauline Christianity.
As the Nazarenes were hunted down throughout the Roman territories, the followers of Paul, who were called ‘Christians’ by others, were able to establish their churches along the Greek-speaking Mediterranean coastline that belonged to the eastern half of the Roman Empire, and then extensively throughout the empire.[14] When Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans around 57 CE, the church in Rome was already flourishing.
With the widening doctrinal gaps between the two branches of Christianity, the Nazarenes - originally the central group in Christianity and still faithful to Jewish law - were excluded and denounced for holding onto their so-called unorthodox beliefs on Christology. By the 4th century CE, they would be called heretics by the more dominant (Pauline) Christians, who were further emboldened with Roman Emperor Constantine’s patronage and acceptance of Christianity. The Gentile Christianity remained the sole strand of orthodoxy and imposed itself on the previously Nazarene sanctuaries, taking full control of those houses of worship by the end of the 5th century. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, became the most important Christian center.[15]
In the 5th century, the Pauline orthodoxy of Rome was still attempting to impose its hegemony over Egypt. The great library of Alexandria was burnt by (Pauline) ‘Christians’ in 411 CE. The last great Neo-Platonic philosopher, a woman, Hypatia, was stoned to death as she returned from a lecture at the library – again by ‘Christians’ – in 415 CE.[16]
In the 1960s, Prof. Schlomo Pines, a medievalist scholar, found a collection of Arabic manuscripts, dating from the 10th century and held in a library in Istanbul, that includes a number of detailed verbatim quotes from an earlier 5th or 6th century text, which the Arab writer ascribes to ‘al-Nasara’ – the Nazarenes. The earlier text is believed to have been written originally in Syriac and to have been found at a Christian monastery in Khuzistan, south-west Iran, near Iraqi border. Commenting on this manuscript, Baigent et al. says, It appears to reflect a tradition dating, without a break, back to the original Nazarean hierarchy which fled Jerusalem immediately prior to the revolt of A.D. 66. Again, Jesus is stated to be a man, not a god, and any suggestion of his divinity is rejected. The importance of Judaic law is again stressed. Paul is castigated and his followers are said to ‘have abandoned the religion of Christ and turned towards the religious doctrines of the Romans’. The Gospels are dismissed as unreliable, second-hand accounts which contain only ‘something – but little – of the sayings, the precepts of Christ and information concerning him’.”[17]
The Johannite sects continued to flourish in the Tigris-Euphrates basin well into the first few centuries. Even to this day, one of their sects exists. Most of them were absorbed into Islam when Prophet Muhammad (S) appeared in Arabia.
No one would dispute that what we call today Christianity – in all its manifold and often irreconcilable forms – is the result of a prolonged, gradual, often haphazard process involving much trial and error, much uncertainty, much schism, much compromise, much improvisation, much a posteriori accretion – and a great deal of historical accident. At every turn in the coalescence of Christianity, there are random factors, arbitrary elements, distortions and modification dictated by chance or by simple social and political expediency.[18]
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Now let’s discuss the date of Jesus’s birth. Interestingly, the DePascha Computus, an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 CE, placed Jesus’s birth on March 28.  Clement, a bishop of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE), thought that Jesus was born on November 18.  Based on historical records, Fitzmyer, however, guessed that Jesus’s birth occurred on September 11, 3 BCE, which is probably closer to the actual than any other Christian claims, especially when we recognize that in Luke 2:8 we are told that when Jesus was born “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night”. December is too cold for such shepherd activities in either Bethlehem or Nazareth of Palestine (places associated with birthplace of Jesus).[19] By mid-October shepherds would bring their flocks from the mountainsides and fields to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed.
As can be seen from the above, none of these dates agrees with December 25. So, how did this date come to be celebrated later on as Jesus’s birth date?
For the answer we have to dig into the Roman history. In ancient Rome, the pagan Romans used to celebrate the Brumalia, a winter solstice festival that lasted almost a month from November 24 until the Saturnalia, a midwinter festival in December 17-24 to mark the sun's new birth from its solstice. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for any evil deed. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.”  Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the Saturnalia festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed that by sacrificing this person they were essentially destroying the forces of darkness. We are told by Lucian, the ancient Greek writer, poet and historian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia), that during this festival, in addition to human sacrifice, other customs included: widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits.
For the cult of Sol Invictus, as noted above, the most celebrated day of the year was December 25, when the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or "Birthday of Sol Invictus", the birth (or rebirth) of the sun, when the days began to grow perceptibly longer was observed. The cult of Sol Invictus also meshed well with that of Mithras, a survival of the old Zoroastrian religion imported from Persia.
In the interest of unity in his empire, Roman Emperor Constantine deliberately blurred the distinctions between Christianity, Mithraism and Sol Invictus. Although he was baptized in his deathbed, to him, Jesus was a human being and not God. So great was Constantine’s favor to Christianity that Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, one of the leading theological figures of his day and a close personal associate of the Emperor, considered Constantine as the reincarnation of Logos, a Messiah-like figure.[20]
Christian doctrine, as promulgated in Rome at the time, had much in common with the cult of Sol Invictus anyway; and thus it was able to flourish unmolested under the sun cult’s umbrella of tolerance.[21] There is no record of early Christians observing Sunday as the day of the rest until 321 CE when Constantine promulgated a law ordering the law courts closed on the ‘venerable day of the sun.’ Now, in accordance with Constantine’s edict, it adopted Sunday as its sacred day. Until the 4th century, moreover, Jesus’s birthday had been celebrated on January 6.
It must be remembered that no complete version of the New Testament (NT) survives which pre-dates the reign of Constantine. The NT, as we know it today, is largely a product of the Nicaea and other Church councils of the same epoch.
In the 4th century when Roman emperors adopted Christianity as the state religion, the pagan festivals of Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. Since no particular date was mentioned in the gospel accounts, the date of Jesus’s birth was set by the Church under Roman Emperor Justinian in 354 CE to coincide with the last day of the pagan midwinter festival (i.e., December 25). This was a clever move by the Church that allowed pagans to accept the new faith without making too much compromise. By then, Emperor Constantine had already recognized Sunday, which had been the day of pagan sun worship. The influence of the pagan Manichaeism, which identified the “Son of God” with the physical Sun, gave these pagans of the 4th century, now turning over wholesale to Christianity, their excuse for calling their pagan festival date of December 25 (birthday of the Sun-god) - the birthday of the “Son of God.”
From the above brief analysis, it is clear that today’s Christians got their Christmas from the Roman Catholics who got it from the pagan Romans. The pagan Romans in turn got it from ancient Egypt where the cult of Osiris was vibrant. The Egyptian mythology tells us that Osiris, the king of ancient Egypt, was married to Queen Isis. The myth described Osiris as having been killed by his brother Set who wanted Osiris's throne. Isis briefly brought Osiris back to life by use of a spell that she learned from her father. This spell gave her time to become pregnant by Osiris before he again died. (In another version of the story, Isis is impregnated by divine fire.) Isis later gave birth to Horus. As such, since Horus was born after Osiris's resurrection, Horus came to be known as a representation of new beginnings and the vanquisher of the evil Set. This combination, Osiris-Horus, was therefore a life-death-rebirth deity, and thus associated with the new harvest each year. Afterward, Osiris became known as the Egyptian god of the dead, Isis became known as the Egyptian goddess of the children, and Horus became known as the Egyptian god of the sky or the “divine son of the heaven”.
There is a remarkable similarity between the myths of Osiris and Jesus. Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was reborn as Horus, the son of Isis. Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge finds possible parallels in Osiris's resurrection story with those found in Christianity: “In Osiris the Christian Egyptians found the prototype of Christ, and in the pictures and statues of Isis suckling her son Horus, they perceived the prototypes of the Virgin Mary and her child."[22] Biblical scholar Professor George Albert Wells asserts that Osiris dies and is mourned on the first day and that his resurrection is celebrated on the third day with the joyful cry "Osiris has been found". [23] In his book – Human Sacrifices, anthropologist and historian Nigel Davies asserts that "the agony of Osiris was a sacrifice with a universal message. As the one who died to save the many, and who rose from the dead, he was the first of a long line that has deeply affected man's view of this world and the next." He further argues that the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is linked conceptually to Osirian and other traditions in the Ancient world. [24]
After the death of Osiris, Isis propagated the doctrine of the survival of Osiris as a sprit being. She claimed that a full-grown evergreen tree had sprung from a dead tree stump, thus symbolizing the springing forth of the dead Osiris unto new life. She claimed that on each anniversary of his birth, Osiris would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25 was the birthday of Osiris, reborn as the son Horus. That explains how Christmas got its origin. Over the generations Osiris came to be known as Baal, the Sun-god, amongst the Phoenicians, and as Jupiter in ancient Rome. The names varied in different countries and languages, but the worship of this false god continued.
According to Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.”  The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc. Since Jews were identified as Christ-killers, for amusement of the public, Jews were forced by the Catholic Church to race naked through the streets of Rome.
An eyewitness account from Pope Paul II’s reign in 1466 reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators.  They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”[25]
As part of the Christmas carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When in1836 the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.[26]  On December 25, 1881, Christian leaders whipped the Polish masses into Anti-Jewish frenzies that led to riots across the country.  In Warsaw twelve Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed, and many Jewish women were raped.  Two million rubles worth of property was destroyed by frenzied Christians.[27]
Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. But nowadays the festivity is widely celebrated wherever Christian community lives. In Egypt, the Coptic Christians celebrate the Christmas day on the 7th of January, corresponding to the 29th of "Kiahk" - a Coptic month.[28]
December 25 – Christmas Day – has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to come. Christmas around the world has become more of a cultural and commercial phenomenon than a sacred religious one.
In spite of its pagan origin and associated make-beliefs and customs, Christmas is observed by faithful Christians around the world as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Jesus, the son of Mary, surely was one of the greatest teachers of all time. In Islam, he is revered as a Prophet and mighty Messenger of God.[29]

It took nearly two millennia for the official church to admit that Jesus was not born on 1 C.E., I wonder how long we have to wait before the same church also admits that December 25 is not the date when Jesus was born!



[1] Simon of Peraea or Simon son of Joseph was a former slave of Herod the Great who rebelled and was killed by the Romans in 4 BCE. He has been identified as the messiah of Gabriel's Revelation. He is mentioned by Flavius Josephus. Judas of Galilee or Judas of Gamala was a Jewish leader who led an armed resistance to the census imposed for Roman tax purposes by Quirinius in Iudaea Province around 6 CE. The revolt was crushed brutally by the Romans. These events are discussed by Josephus in Jewish Wars and in Antiquities of the Jews. Athronges was a leader of the Jews during the insurrection under Herod Archelaus. He was a shepherd. After proclaiming himself the messiah, Athronges led the rebellion against Archelaus and the Romans. After a protracted struggle Athronges and his brothers were defeated.
[2] Notice the similarity of the word Nazarene with the Arabic word in the Qur’an – Nasara – to describe the followers of ‘Isa (Jesus) – alayhis salam. Nazarenes are described as a member of a group of Jews who (during the early history of the Christian Church) accepted Jesus as the Messiah; they accepted the Gospel According to Matthew but rejected the Epistles of St. Paul and continued to follow Jewish law and celebrate Jewish holidays; they were later declared heretic by the Church of Rome.
[4] For discussion around Jesus’s birth, see, e.g., Addison G. Wright, Roland E. Murphy, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A History of Israel” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, (Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990), p. 1247; http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm
[5] Pope Benedict Disputes Jesus’ Date of Birth, Time magazine, November 22, 2012, http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/22/pope-benedict-disputes-jesus-date-of-birth/
[6] Act 15:39. As to Paul’s conflict with Peter and others see, Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11-14. See also: The Messianic Legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Delta Trade Paperbacks, Bentam Dell, Random House, NY (1986), p. 75.
[7] Baigent et al., op. cit., p. 78
[8] Ibid., pp. 78-9
[9] Ibid., p. 79
[10] Ibid., p. 80
[11] Ibid., pp. 72-3
[12] The defeat of the Jewish revolt altered the demography severely, as many of the Jewish rebels were scattered or sold into slavery. Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, a sizeable portion of these were at Jewish hands and due to illnesses brought about by hunger during the seize of the holy land.
[13] Baigent et al., op. cit., p. 106
[14] The name "Christian" (Greek Χριστιανός) was first applied to the disciples of Paul in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 11:26.
[15] Rome was rivalled by Constantinople (Istanbul in today’s Turkey) after emperor Constantine had moved his capital there. The latter city became the center of Orthodox Christianity, while Rome came to be associated with Catholic branch of Christianity.
[16] Baigent et al., op. cit., p. 111
[17] Ibid., p. 107
[18] Ibid., p. 126
[19] See the article by John F. Loftus, “Was Jesus born in Bethlehem?” that discusses controversies surrounding Jesus’s birthplace http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/12/was-jesus-born-in-bethlehem.html . See also: http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm; http://www.archaeology.org/0511/abstracts/jesus.html;
[20] The Messianic Legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Delta Trade Paperbacks, Bentam Dell, Random House, NY (1986), pp. 45-7.
[21] Op. cit., p. 46.
[22] "Egyptian Religion" by E.A Wallis Budge, Ch. 2.
[23] "Can we trust the New Testament?: thoughts on the reliability of early Christian testimony", George Albert Wells, p. 18, Open Court Publishing, 2004.
[24] "Human Sacrifice” by Nigel Davies. William Morrow & Sons, p. 37 & p. 66-67, 1981.
[25] The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, David I. Kertzer, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, p. 74.
[26] Ibid., pp. 33, 74-5.
[28] See, an explanation for the difference: http://www.christmasarchives.com/christmas_in_egypt.html
[29] For an elaboration on Islamic understanding of Jesus, see, e.g., this author’s article: ‘Isa – His life and mission, Media Monitors Network, Dec. 31, 2005: http://asiapacific.mediamonitors.net/layout/set/print/content/view/full/24656

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Rohingyas of Myanmar – When will their tragedy end?

The Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the most oppressed people in our planet. They face elimination in the Buddhist majority country, which is rightly called the ‘den of hatred and intolerance’ in our time. Not a single day goes by when their community members don’t face repeated persecution and harassment from not only the Gestapo-like members of the government but also from the fellow Buddhists who have swallowed Hitler’s poisonous pills of xenophobia and bigotry. Not surprisingly, in today’s Myanmar Nazi swastika and similar insignia are in great demand! 
The two-year long pogrom against the Rohingya has resulted in the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of their fellow men, women and children. Many have been slaughtered by blood-thirsty Buddhists. Others have been forced to live inside squalid camps that are described by independent fact-finding observers as worse than prison camps. Many of the desperate Rohingyas have braved the stormy seas and oceans to find shelter elsewhere, and in so doing many of them continue to be preyed upon by the criminal human traffickers who engage them as slave labors.  So hopeless is their condition inside Myanmar that they think such life-threatening risks are worth-taking and better than what awaits them inside Myanmar. 
Aung San Suu Kyi – once touted as the democracy icon has shown her real ugly image. She has proven to be morally bankrupt. Being too keen in becoming the next president by any means possible, she feigns ignorance and is criminally silent on the plight of the Rohingya people.
As to the Buddhist monks – the so-called followers of Gautama Buddha – the least said the better. They ignore all the non-violent teachings of their founder showing their hideous selves. Guilty of participating in genocidal campaigns and inciting extermination campaigns against the Muslim minorities, esp. the Rohingya people, they appear spiritually more connected to Hitler’s dreaded SS than anyone else.
Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Myanmar authorities do not recognize Rohingya, classing them as Bengali and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite hard evidences proving that their family roots are in Myanmar. The R-word (i.e., Rohingya) is unacceptable to the genocidal regime epitomizing Myanmarism which is a toxic cocktail of ultra-nationalism, fascism and religious fanaticism. As such, those Rohingyas who have chosen to live either inside or have no wherewithal to leave the killing fields of Buddhist Myanmar are forced to register as “Bengalis”, denying their root and ancestral ties to the soil of their birth. If they refuse to register as such, they face lengthy prison terms. On December 2, eight Muslims, who identify themselves as Rohingya, were jailed in the Maungdaw Township Court in Arakan (Rakhine state of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh) for two years for their refusal to register as “Bengali” during the March-April countrywide census. During the trial, no lawyers were provided for the accused and family members were not allowed to attend as observers.
Many Rohingyas are dying of starvation and lack of healthcare services, which are denied to them by the Myanmar government and their partners-in-crime within the broader Buddhist community. Many of the Rakhine Buddhist doctors are proving to be monsters killing Rohingya patients. A two year old Rohingya boy died at Sittwe General Hospital in Arakan State’s capital, Sittwe on December 6, 2014 after he was given an injection by the doctor. Alqama, mother of Twariq Zia, took her son to the hospital on December 5th at 2:30 pm. At that time he was treated well and recovered quite well. Alqama thought her son could be discharged from the hospital on the following day. However, on the second day, December 6th at 8:00 am, a different doctor came and gave an injection. Immediately after the injection the boy lost breathing and died.
The government of nearby Muslim majority Bangladesh, seemingly more mindful of not jeopardizing its precarious relationship with Myanmar than ensuring the human rights of the Rohingya people, is, sadly, setting a new low standard in witch-hunting and harassment. Not only are the Rohingyas refused entry in this country but also their refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are put as off-limits to Muslim NGOs. Worse yet, they are imprisoned for trying to get out of Bangladesh to a third country. Last week, five Rohingya women were arrested in Pabna for just attempting to do so.
Without valid passports people risk being put behind the bar for traveling to a foreign land. The Rohingyas, being declared stateless by the Myanmar government, obviously don’t have valid passports. No matter how those refugees entered Bangladesh, they can’t travel to a third country without such passports. The arrest of those Rohingya women raises the vital question: how should the international community, especially Bangladesh, deal with such matters? What is   better and morally right – they be allowed to travel to a third country where they are welcome and prosper or restrict such travels on legal grounds while denying them the very means necessary to better their lives, thereby forcing them to a life of an unwanted refugee inside Bangladesh where the government is utterly hostile to them?  I am sure the verdict of the conscientious human beings is for the former option.
Will the tragedy of the Rohingya people ever end? The answer lies in the attitude and sincerity of the Myanmar government and her people who for decades have been fed the toxic pill ethnocentrism and bigotry to hate and eliminate the Rohingya and other Muslims in this Buddhist majority country. Thus far I haven’t found anything to believe in Thein Sein government’s sincerity to resolve the matter peacefully. What we have noticed, instead, is simply sinister. Rather than reining in the ultra-racist and bigoted monks of the fascist 969 movement it has been promoting their incendiary activities. In recent days, it has passed bigotry-ridden laws in the parliament which violates several international laws.
Through a calculated policy of starvation, forced poverty, denial of all the basic rights (enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) of the Rohingya people and inaccessibility of humanitarian aids reaching them, the Myanmar government is guilty of scripting the Rohingya genocide. It is creating forced exodus and bringing in slow death of the Rohingya people. Thus, what this pariah regime is doing is an international crime of the highest proportion which must be stopped by the UN and its member nations failing which the Rohingya people face extinction inside Myanmar.
While the violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims is mushrooming out of control, almost completing their ethnic cleansing, the international community is sending mixed messages. Sanctions by the powerful USA and the EU have long been lifted against the murderous regime. What is shocking is the mere fact, as reported in the BBC, that the last of the EU sanctions were lifted six hours after they reported this on the Burma riots: “In the sequence where policemen look on as a man rolls on the ground having been set on fire, someone in the watching crowd is heard to say: "No water for him - let him die”—a video goes on to show the police standing by as Monks participate in dragging a man from a nearby brush, and beating him to death (BBC, “Burma Riots”).
The consequences of enmification (a term coined by Professor Alan Tidwell of Georgetown University) for the Rohingya are reaching the stage of genocide. They are called kular (a derogatory term similar to niggers) as well as dogs, thieves, terrorists and various expletives. Spiteful Buddhist commentators urge the government to ‘make them disappear’ and seem particularly enraged that the international NGOs, human rights groups and the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees are highlighting their plight.
As we all know, one of the more troubling aspects of enmification is that when it is seeded deeply enough as it was in Rwanda, nominal differences between groups can be relatively perceived as existential threats. Cockroaches (inyenzi, during the Rwandan genocide), dogs, and thieves are dehumanizing epithets that make the effective parties easier to eliminate psychologically. Sadly, this is already well under way in the case of the Rohingya.
If the Rohingya people are not considered human, are enmified, and persecuted with tacit recognition from the state and the Buddhist Sangha, it is high time that the international community comes to their rescue. Through their stern actions and biting sanctions, they must play a crucial role in reversing some of the attitudes and actions of the regime—preventing further violence against the Rohingya people. They simply cannot kowtow with the murderous regime and send mixed messages that show that the political and psychological backlash from the violence against the Rohingya is not severe enough.
As noted by Samuel Feigenbaum in his thesis work – the Oppressed of the Oppressed (Georgetown University, 2013), if there is not a dramatic paradigm shift, which looks unlikely, the Rohingya will be systematically cleansed from Myanmar under the guise of communal violence, states of emergency, and national unity. This is the preemption of a genocide, which simply cannot be allowed to happen in our time. We can surely avoid this tragedy if our generation is serious.
The lessons from Rwanda and South Africa are sufficient to guide us all.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Minority Report


Minority problem is a recurrent issue in almost all parts of the world, including the more inclusive USA. On Thursday (Dec. 4) evening a 15-year-old Muslim boy of Somali descent - Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein - was struck by a SUV intentionally as he was leaving the Somali Center of Kansas City after leading a prayer service there. He was a Hafiz (one who memorized the entire Qur’an by heart). The impact of collision pinned him down and killed him. Another Muslim teenager also sustained severe but not life-threatening injuries.
Somali Center officials have said that a man has threatened the local Muslim community for months. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the driver threatened the teen's family and other area Somali Muslims for months, even writing the anti-Islamic message "the Quran is worse than Ebola" on his own Chevrolet SUV. The driver was seen wielding a machete as he tried to flee the crash scene threatening other Somali-Americans.
As to the motive behind the crash, Sgt. Bill Mahoney of the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) said, "There's a considerable amount of evidence that leads us to believe this was an intentional act." The FBI is working jointly with KCPD on the case and is investigating it as a potential hate crime.
Interestingly, as usual, the popular media failed to mention that the victim was a Muslim and that he had come out of a mosque.
Two days earlier, on December 2, in nearby St. Louis (Missouri) 32-year-old Zemir Begic, a Bosnian-American Muslim was attacked in front of his wife and killed by youths wielding hammers. His wife Mujkanovic said, "The last thing he did before he actually died was pull me out of the way and put himself in front of me, basically giving up his life for me."
St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population in the United States. They came to the Bevo Mill neighborhood in the 1990s, escaping the Bosnian war. The St. Louis area has been the center of protests since late August over the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. These turned violent in August, and again in late November after a grand jury decided not to press charges against the police officer.
The minority problem is simply much worse in many parts of South Asia and Myanmar (formerly Burma), which at one time belonged to the British Raj. To solidify its hold on the colonial territories, the Raj played its Divide and Rule policy very tactfully tearing apart indigenous societies that had not hitherto witnessed such tensions along religious and ethnic lines. In its conquered territories, while the former dominant (and hence defeated) religious and ethnic groups were shunned other local groups were preferentially treated in all aspects creating tensions between various groups.
To fatten its coffers the Raj encouraged internal migration of cheap labor creating tensions along the ethnic lines. Similarly, to facilitate its administrative hold on its colonies, the Raj also induced migration of mammoth populations of English-educated Hindus who were more adept in the colonial system than others.  Such relocations of cheap and educated labors for the economic and administrative purposes, respectively, extended all the way to the external migrations from one part of its domain to another. For instance, Indians were brought into South Africa, the Malay Peninsula and the West Indies for assisting mostly in the administrative jobs, while the Chinese were brought into Malaysia to work in its rubber plantations.
As some of those migrants settled down in their adopted homes and were later abandoned once the Raj vacated its conquered territories they were mostly treated as remnants of the colonial past and faced discrimination under the hands of the new rulers, which came from the majority religious groups, in the post-colonial era. In South Asia and Burma, the minority problem was further exacerbated by the tit-for-tat religious riots which took place at some irregular frequency since independence of the multiple states from the belly of the so-called British India. Hindus became a majority in India and Nepal, while Muslims became a majority in Pakistan (and what is now Bangladesh) and Buddhists became a majority in Burma, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
The post-colonial experience of the minorities in South Asia and Burma has mostly been a sad story with little progress made in securing their human rights in the last sixty plus years. Nothing fares worse than the fate of the Muslim minorities in the Buddhist-majority Burma or Myanmar.  Rightly so, this country has been depicted as the den of intolerance and hatred.
Truly, in today’s Myanmar, Muslims have no rights. Most Hindus have left this den of hatred long time ago. Her indigenous Rohingya people, rightly called by the UN the most persecuted people in our planet, who mostly live in the Arakan (now called Rakhine) state are treated as stateless or unwanted people as if they are a British era implantation from the nearby Chittagong (in today’s Bangladesh). When it comes to the human rights of this unfortunate people not a single of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is honored by the Myanmar government. They are forced to a life of exodus. The incessant genocidal campaigns against them since the early 1940s have already ensured less than half the Rohingya population living in this country; the vast majority now live as unwanted refugees elsewhere. Sadly, the government of neighboring Bangladesh is also unkind to them and treats them very harshly. Even the visit of foreign NGOs to Rohingya refugee camps living in southern Cox’s Bazar is not tolerated by the Bangladesh government. On November 21, 2014, three volunteers of the Netherland-based Global Rohingya Center (GRC), a humanitarian assistance branch of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), an organization which is sponsored by the OIC, were detained by the government agencies for unknown reasons. They were on a fact-finding mission to assess the plight of the refugees. They have not been released yet.
In so-called secular India, considered the largest illiberal democracy in the world, the share in government jobs for the minority Muslims who comprise roughly one-seventh of the population is only around 2 percent. They face unfathomable discrimination at every sector. In recent months, since the election win of Narendra Modi of the BJP, a Hindutvadi fundamentalist and fascist group, in the central government, the lives of minority Christians and Muslims have worsened. Many mosques and churches have been attacked and set on fire.
On November 24, 2014 the Centre for Society and Secularism (CSSS), Mumbai organized a session on the ‘Rights of Minorities’ in South Asia during the Peoples’ SAARC Regional Convergence. The primarily objectives of this session were to understand the nature of violation of rights of minorities in South Asia and create a strong network of organizations across South Asia to consolidate existing or establish new mechanisms to address such violations. While I was not able to participate, I had the privilege of reading a report, published by the Center.
Regarding Bangladesh, the report prepared by Ms. Neha Dabhade read: "Outlining the situation in Bangladesh, Mr. Moinuddin stated that there are many minorities in Bangladesh based on religion, ethnicity and sexuality. Hijra community is an important community in Bangladesh. Yet minorities are facing problems. It’s unfortunate that the Hindu population in Bangladesh has reduced from 27% in 1947 to 10% now. There are instances of forced migration. There are 45 ethnicities which form 1% of the population like Marma and Chakma communities. However some of these ethnicities are becoming extinct due to the threat of Islamization. This is starkly reflected in the case of Chittagong where 97% of the population was of other religions and nationality. Today the percentage stands at a reduced 50%. This is very unfortunate for democracy."

As I have noted elsewhere, in recent years, since the resurrection of the Hindutvadi forces in India, much hoopla has been made about the so-called decline of Hindu percentage in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). For an objective study on the subject, I wish Mr. Moinuddin had read some of my well-researched articles on the demography of our region (see, e.g., All those fuss about ‘endangered demography’, New Age, March 2, 2014; Minorities in the Indian Sub-continent, Eurasia Review, March 15, 2014; Why not claim the entire Bangladesh, Mr. Swamy? New Age, Dhaka, April 23, 2014; The Question of Minorities in India and Bangladesh, Eurasia Review, March 31, 2014). The real cause of decline in Hindu percentage in Bangladesh has very little to do with so-called forced migration or persecution. For religious and other family ties, many Hindus, esp. the well-offs, prefer to retire and die in India than in the soil of Bangladesh. In a global economy we live in today, as a more educated group than the majority Muslims, many Hindus have also found better paid jobs outside Bangladesh where they have settled down.

Far from discrimination, the Hindus in Bangladesh are comparatively better placed than the fellow Muslims. Their share in government jobs is at least 3 times their proportionate ratio in Bangladesh. [See, e.g., the partial list in the bottom of the article in the link here for a list of top Hindu government officials.] In what can arguably be called a case of ‘reverse harassment’ or ‘perceived persecution’, in today’s Bangladesh, many of the majority Muslims, especially younger ones, are genuinely afraid to keep beard fearing that they will be targets of nasty harassment from government law enforcement agencies and the ruling party cadre (see e.g., Nimai Bhattacharya’s article ‘Amar Naam Nimai Bhattacharya’ in the BD Today).

Mr. Moinuddin’s claim that ethnic minorities like the Chakma and Marma once comprised 97% of the population in Chittagong is simply ludicrous. Their major influx in Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) district, and not Chittagong district, dates back to 1784 after the nearby Arakan (an independent state then bordering Bengal) was invaded by Burman king Boddawpaya, an extremely racist and bigot king. Many of the Rohingyas of Arakan were killed in that invasion while some managed to settle in southern Chittagong, who are called Rohis by the local Chittagonians. Prof. Abid Bahar’s article “Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the rise of non-Bengali settlements in Bangladesh” sheds valuable information on the ethnic minorities of CHT.

To its credit, in spite of its many shortcomings, Bangladesh government has maintained a disproportionately high quota system for the ethnic religious minorities in every government-run institutions and job sectors, which has allowed many of them to relocate to other parts of Bangladesh for higher education and/or better jobs. Some ethnic Bengalis have likewise moved to CHT for a plethora of reasons, including farming.

Such internal migrations in a densely populated and developing country like Bangladesh are nothing new and have been going on for centuries changing the demography continually. A demographic survey of many of the major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong would suffice to reveal that original locals have now become a minority in those cities. That is, there are more non-Chittagonians living today in the port city of Chittagong than the Chittagonians (Chatgaiyas), and the same holds true for the capital city of Dhaka where non-locals form a vast majority over original Dhakaiyas (or locals of Dhaka).

It would be simply irresponsible of anyone to claim that such changes in demography had anything to do with forced migration of one group over another, let alone Islamization. Economics has much to do with internal migration within many of the South Asian countries where millions of people are still very poor. When it comes to proselytization in Bangladesh, no restriction has ever been put on any given religion to practice and propagate its beliefs. As such, many people have changed their faiths, including Muslims converting Christianity or other faiths.

While Bangladesh has her share of minority problems, its record on such matters is far superior to any of the South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, let alone bigotry-ridden Myanmar of SE Asia.

To put succinctly: Mr. Mainuddin’s claims about Bangladesh are factually wrong and simply irresponsible, bordering on emotive outburst. I wish before presenting his paper on the Rights of Minorities in South Asia in the (CSSS) conference in Mumbai (Nov. 2014), he had done the necessary homework to prepare well and shared facts and not myths. Such silly presentations belittle the very noble objectives of a conference on the minorities.

As I have repeatedly mentioned elsewhere minorities face major problems across the globe. Many are forced to assimilate and others alienate themselves succumbing to the dominant pressure. None of these are healthy alternatives for integration within a society. What our increasingly diverse world needs is pluralism where the minorities feel welcome to maintain their way of life and live safely and securely without feeling any fear on their life and property.

Surely, the SAARC countries have a long way to march to achieve such lofty objectives. Modi’s ascension to power in India shows that the polarizing forces are winning in India. Who knows Bangladesh may show the way for the rest to follow!