CUFI Speaker: “666” is “In the Name of Allah”

*Text has been amended (June 2009) following input from a reader. The “Very Old Text (Rev. 13:18) in glass display” fragment is from the supplement to the Codex Vaticanus; I had originally doubted this.

When Joe Lieberman gives credibility to the upcoming Christians United for Israel with his attendance, he won’t just be lending his reputation to conspiracy-monger John Hagee. Also on the CUFI line-up is Walid Shoebat, the self-proclaimed former Palestinian Muslim terrorist-turned Christian evangelist. Various sources have challenged Shoebat’s account of his former terrorism, with the Jerusalem Post in particular raising questions about his story that so far have not been answered.

Shoebat also fancies himself as a bit of a Biblical scholar and palaeographer, and in a video clip that I have just been made aware of he expounds his theory that the “number of the Beast” mentioned in the Book of Revelation is in fact a reference to…Allah.

The argument is that the author of Revelation was shown the Mark of the Beast in “video” form from God – obviously following Hal Lindsey’s idea that the visions in Revelation, rather than being symbolic, in fact are John’s interpretations of images from the future he couldn’t understand (“locusts” being helicopters, and so on). With the Mark of the Beast, John saw some strange squiggles, which he incorporated into the text. For centuries, readers thought these squiggles were the Greek letters for either “666” or “616”, but finally Shoebat has cracked the mystery: the squiggles are in fact Arabic, and they spell out “In the Name of Allah”!

Apparently Shoebat has been promoting this “theory” for a few years, and it appears in an obscure book by a certain Simon Altaf, entitled Islam: Peace? or Beast? (Altaf and Shoebat collaborated on an equally obscure book, entitled This is our Eden, This is our End.) Some details are here (and more at sites such as this one), including the supposed evidence, from the Codex Vaticanus

One website adds the unpromising caption:

Very Old Text (Rev. 13:18) in glass display at Bob Jones University Library – Greenville, S.C.

One small problem however, is that the Codex Vaticanus does not include the Book of Revelation. The above is from a much later supplement, and the Greek is in a “miniscule” script which came in only centuries later. Irenaeus in the Second Century discusses the text as consisting of the number “666”, and there are no fragments of Revelation which predate this source: therefore any ancient copies we have must have been written by scribes who certainly intended to write Greek characters.

Shoebat, meanwhile, prefers to give his credulous audiences his own version of what he says he saw in the Codex Vaticanus, which allows him to elaborate further:

It’s worth comparing that with the earliest fragment of the text we have, identified in 2005 from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri:

This follows the “616” variant reading, and so does not include the Greek character which Shoebat finds the most suggestive.

[UPDATE: The Codex Sinaiticus, which Shoebat also assures his audience he has seen, spells out the number in letters:

666 Sinaiticus 

That’s “six hundred and sixty-six”.]

One obvious question is how this strange twist on 666 fits with the wider context of the text, which speaks of a “number of a man” which will be known to he who “has understanding” (most scholars take it to be a reference to the Emperor Nero). Shoebat claims that it can’t be a numerological code, because that would be “Gematria”, which God has nothing to do with. I’ve always found it interesting that fundamentalist Christian Zionists, while appropriating all kinds of things from Judaism, have a horror of Jewish mysticism, which is seen as occultic.

UPDATE: More on Shoebat and Altaf here.

UPDATE 2: Joel Richardson digs the hole deeper.

Charismatic Dominionists Endorse Bentley

A few days ago I wrote a blog entry on Todd Bentley’s faith-healing revival in Florida, noting support for Bentley from Steven Strang, the influential editor of Charisma, and from Paul Cain, the neo-Pentecostal revivalist who is now described as a “restored prophet” following past Ted Haggard-like indiscretions. Bentley’s revival has been going on since the beginning of April, and now after some debate all the “Third Wave” big-hitters have decided to jump on the bandwagon. Peter C Wagner joined Bentley on stage to offer a remarkable endorsement which shows us as much about his own self-importance as his views about Bentley:

“This commissioning represents a powerful spiritual transaction taking place in the invisible world. With this in mind, I take the apostolic authority that God has given me and I decree to Todd Bentley, your power will increase, your authority will increase, your favor will increase, your influence will increase, your revelation will increase.

“I also decree that a new supernatural strength will flow through this ministry. A new life force will penetrate this move of God. Government will be established to set things in their proper order. God will pour out a higher level of discernment to distinguish truth from error. New relationships will surface to open the gates to the future.”

Bentley responded in self-effacing kind:

“I am no church historian, but I do not know of any other time in history, since the book of Acts, have so many different apostles and so many different prophets and movements and leaders [been represented],” Bentley said of the capacity crowd. “This is so much bigger than [anything else] ever before. The devil is shaking in his boots because the apostles are gathering and the prophets are gathering.”

Joining Wagner on stage were the following high-profile ministers:

Ché Ahn, pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, Calif.; John Arnott of Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in Canada; Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, Calif.; and Rick Joyner, founder of MorningStar Ministries in Charlotte, N.C.

Peter Wagner is most famous for his theories about spiritual warfare and the demonic, and he was particularly influential in the 1980s and early 1990s. Wagner sees Christians in battle against demons of particular vices that seek to control aspects of one’s personality at an individual level, and against “territorial demons” that control the politics and society of whole countries. Christian prayer is weapon against Satan, to be deployed strategically: Charisma’s Lee J. Grady compares Wagner’s World Prayer Center to a kind of spiritual Pentagon. Eventually, Christians will take dominion over society, and certain leaders will have their authority confirmed through supernatural abilities. As we can see from Wagner’s rhetoric, the emphasis is on God as a source of power: notions of Christian humility and quiet self-examination do not appear to figure very strongly.

However, despite the crowds flocking to Florida to receive Bentley’s blessing and healing powers, he remains a controversial figure among conservative evangelicals: a bit of Googling quickly reveals dozens of sites which dispute his theology and his claims from a conservative Christian perspective, and even many of the Freepers appear sceptical. Although Wagner waited a while before calculating whether to hitch his wagon to Bentley’s star (or rather, God waited a while before telling Wagner to do it), it’s by no means clear yet that this will result in a general revival of Wagner’s exuberantly supernaturalist “Third Wave” theology.

Tradition, Family and Property Back in the News

An attack on same-sex marriage in California from the Roman Catholic organisation Tradition, Family and Property has brought the organisation back into the public eye. As in the past, TFP has used newspaper advertisements to get its point across. Bill Berkowitz notes:

In the press release announcing the ads, TFP director Preston Noell hit a handful of Christian conservative talking points: “Mainstream America is understandably upset about same-sex ‘marriage,'” it said. “It is a grave offense against God and undermines 2,000 years of Christian morality. Same-sex ‘marriage’ threatens the social stability of our nation and future.”

Noell pointed out that “there’s a battle going on for America’s soul. At the root of this conflict lies a profound divergence of worldviews. The Christian worldview is anchored in reality, whereas secularism does not respect reality’s constraints.”

I’ve blogged on TFP a couple of times before now: as part of the US New Right “RAMBO Coalition” in the 1980s it supported causes such as South Africa, and in the UK it had links with the Conservative Monday Club. In 2006 there was also an association with an Italian conference on the Crusades that had a revisionist agenda. A good general introduction to TFP is provided by Bill Berkowitz on Talk to Action.

Libel Tourism: Then and Now

2004: Lawyer Trevor Asserson denounces Saudi attempts to use British libel law to go after an American writer:

“Some Saudis appear to be using the U.K. as a back door to silence their critics and repress free speech by threatening litigation, persuading publishers to back down rather then face years of expensive litigation — even if what they’re publishing might in fact be true,” said Trevor Asserson, who specializes in defamation in the London law office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius.

One of Mr. Asserson’s clients, Rachel Ehrenfeld, had a British deal to distribute her new book, “Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It” (Bonus Books), canceled because of a legal threat by one of the Saudis she wrote about. Mr. Asserson declined to reveal who that person was.

As I blogged here, and as is well-known, this escalated into a Saudi billionaire using the British courts to pursue Ehrenfeld over the few copies that eventually made it into the UK.

2008: Lawyer Trevor Asserson helps an Israeli academic to use British libel law to go after an American-Palestinian writer:

In a discussion of Palestinian Art (Reaktion Books, 2007) by Gannit Ankori, Mr. [Jospeh] Massad alleged that Ms. [Gannit] Ankori had appropriated the work of Kamal Boullata, a Palestinian painter and art historian, without giving him due credit. That allegation has been made elsewhere as well.

Ms. Ankori, who chairs the art-history department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considered the review defamatory. She consulted British lawyers, who contacted the association. The College Art Association reviewed Ms. Ankori’s assertions, consulted its own lawyers, and decided to settle.

…Ankori’s lawyer, Trevor Asserson, is quoted as saying that America’s commitment to the First Amendment is “a very parochial way of looking at things” and that America “is out of step with many, many other countries.”

I blogged on this case here.

New Book on Satanic Abuse

Private Eye (1213 p. 25) draws attention to a forthcoming book, entitled Forensic Aspects of Dissociative Identity Disorder:

The book’s contributors include…Dr Joan Coleman, founder of RAINS (Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support), writing on “Satanist Ritual Abuse and the Problem of Credibility”; Valerie Sinason PhD, a child psychologist and a psychotherapist who practises in Harley Street and has written two chapters, including “When murder moves inside”; and Ellen Lacter PhD, a psychologist from San Diego, California, who writes about “Mind Control: Simple to Complex”.

The Eye also gives us the response of Jean La Fontaine, author of Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England, which (alongside Jeffery Victor’s Satanic Panic) debunked claims of Satanic abuse in the 1990s:

“It fills me with rage”

La Fontaine’s book was written in the wake of the “Satanic Panics” which blighted a lot of innocent people’s lives in both the USA and the UK.

Lacter, meanwhile, tells us that the book’s publication is a sign that “the tide is beginning to turn” after years of sceptical dismissal.

As I noted in 2006, Lacter is a particular fan of Steve Oglevie, who was one of those responsible for causing a Satanic panic in Idaho in 1989 when he declared that a dead baby found on a garbage dump had been sacrificed by Satanists – in fact, the body had been mutilated by wild animals. Sinason and RAINS have also featured in Private Eye’s discussions of Satanism, as I blogged here.

Todd Bentley: Meet the Man Who Met Saint Paul

The Florida Ledger reports on a neo-Pentecostal faith-healing revival known as the “Florida Outpouring”:

The Pentecostal revival, which began April 2 at Ignited Church in Lakeland, draws an average of 30,000 or more people each week, according to its leaders, with about 50 percent of those from outside the state. In fact, it has become an international phenomenon, and almost a third of the crowds come from outside the United States, leaders estimate. At this particular evening service, flags from eight nations waved above the crowd, which numbered at least 4,000.

…The revival may have few precedents for its length coupled with the explosiveness of its popularity, which observers say has been fueled by the Internet, over which the services are streamed live twice a day.

The revival is being led by Canadian Todd Bentley, and apparently it began as a planned five-day session. Bentley has gained an imprimatur from Steven Strang, editor of the influential Charisma magazine (and a close ally of John Hagee):

I’m glad to see “revival” breaking out. It is wonderful to hear the testimonies of healing and even stories about people being raised from the dead. I hope the revival continues because I believe that it is a fresh move of God.

The Florida revival has also inspired spin-off events in other countries, such as the “Dudley Outpouring” in the West Midlands of England (for some reason the Dudley Outpouring official website features a prominent graphic of a nuclear explosion), and a significant role is being played by GOD TV; according to the station’s UK and Ireland Regional Director, Chris Cole (FRSA), Bentley and GOD TV are part of a supernatural plan for the Last Days:

when I took over the role of GOD TV’s UK and Ireland Regional Director I announced from David’s Citadel on October 1st, 2005 that God had given me a word in 1986 by Prophets from Jerusalem about being used to help establish the ‘Tabernacle of David’. These are the spiritual times of a new reformation and a new apostolic age and GOD TV will play a major role in this end time strategy.

…thousands of people at these events are beginning to be healed of terminal illnesses which are being medically authenticated. Also thousands of people are being healed by just watching GOD TV.

Bentley (aged 32) turned from a life of crime to religion, and he has been an evangelist for a few years. He has held similar revivals in Canada, and he has preached in Africa; a book by Bill Nugent mentions “the report of the notable miracles which occurred through the ministry of Todd Bentley as he ministered with Heidi Baker in Mozambique” (1).

Bentley claims all kinds of supernatural encounters, including cosy chats with Biblical figures; Biblical scholars may be interested to learn that Bentley has solved the problem of the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews with some inside knowledge from Saint Paul himself, whom he met while visiting the Third Heaven:

Back to Paul! I discovered while conversing with Paul that it wasn’t only Jesus Christ who taught him in heaven. I say this because Paul told me: “Abraham taught me, in heaven, and that’s how and why I wrote the book of Hebrews. What I heard was from the lips of Abraham himself.”

Bentley has also received guidance from various angels, including one named “Emma”, and helpful assistance from the “angel of finance”:

In this regard, on three occasions over the past couple of years I’ve had a visitation from the Lord in which I’ve seen the angel of finance. Every time this happens (in our meetings) there is an incredible financial breakthrough—something is opened up in heaven, it invades the earth, and people respond by giving generously.

Healings and resurrections also figure prominently, including tales of tumours dropping off the sick (this is a familiar Pentecostal claim; I’ve often wondered what happens to these tumours after the event). And while Bentley’s claims to have raised the dead have been met with some scepticism, he has certainly succeeded in one resurrection: that of the career of Paul Cain, the “Kansas City Prophet” and neo-Pentecostal Dominionist leader whose high-profile ministry ended Haggard-like in a gay sex and alcohol scandal a few years ago. Bentley and Cain have endorsed each other, and Bentley is keen to take on the mantle of “Latter Rain” Pentecostal teachers such as William Branham.

However, despite these connections, some Christians are concerned by Bentley and his teaching: the angelic encounters – particularly with “Emma” – sound more New Age than orthodox Christian, and his healing methods have apparently included kicking people in the face. His heavily-tattooed appearance has also raised suspicions.

(1) Bill Nugent (2006), Lawful or Legalistic, p. 20

UPDATE: C. Peter Wagner gives his endorsement.

Paul Cameron Boasts of Link to Moscow State University

Notorious American anti-gay “psychologist” Paul Cameron (whom I first discussed here) is currently in Russia; Interfax Religion reports:

He urged Russians to back up such politicians as Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov who opposed gay parade in Moscow. Cameron also finds it joyful that representatives of the sociology faculty of the Moscow State University showed interest to his institute’s research and plan to conduct similar independent analysis.

Perhaps Cameron would be less “joyful” if he read a report about that very same department which appeared in the New York Times last year, and which quoted dissatisfied students:

…The students said, for example, that extremist views had become institutionalized and that conspiracy theories had infiltrated the teaching.

“The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students that approvingly quotes the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control U.S. and British policy and the global financial system,” the students wrote in one of their public appeals. “Studying conditions at the department are unbearable.”

I blogged on this situation at some length here, profiling in particular the hard-right authoritarianism of the dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov.

This is not Cameron’s first link with the far right; last autumn he addressed the British National Party’s (apparently now defunct) Christian Council of Britain.

Threat of UK Libel Tourism Leads to Revision of Book Review

British libel tourism is not just for Saudi billionaires and Ukrainian businessmen: an Israeli academic has now used the threat of the London High Court to have passages removed from a book review published in the USA. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The College Art Association has averted a so-called libel tourism action threatened against it in Britain. The threat came from an Israeli professor of art history angry over a review of her book in Art Journal, one of the association’s scholarly publications. The parties agreed that the association would ask institutional subscribers to the journal to withdraw portions of the disputed article from circulation.

Gannit Ankori, chair of the art-history department at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was reportedly upset by a review of her book Palestinian Art (Reaktion Books, 2006), by Joseph A. Massad, an associate professor…at Columbia University…

Mr. Massad’s review, “Permission to Paint: Palestinian Art and the Colonial Encounter,” is a lengthy treatment of three books on the subject. In it, Mr. Massad describes a controversy concerning Ms. Ankori’s use of the work and theories of Kamal Boullata, a Palestinian painter and art historian. The disputed article does not directly accuse Ms. Ankori of plagiarism, but in her communications with the association, she argued that it was defamatory all the same.

Of course, a UK libel action might not have gone very far, but we’ll never know, since the College Art Association considered (reasonably) that it wasn’t worth the risk:

The group consulted with lawyers here and in Britain, according to its executive director, Linda Downs, and decided that the cost and risk of defending a libel case there looked punishingly high.

“Ninety-eight percent of defendants on libel cases lose there,” [executive director Linda] Downs said.

Had the College Art Association lost in a libel action in London, it might have had protection under New York State’s Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which allows “New York’s courts to declare that a foreign judgment was unenforceable if the courts decided that the libel laws in foreign jurisdictions did not protect freedom of speech and the press to the same extent as the laws in New York and the US”. Despite its silly name, the Act does not just confine itself to libel cases concerning terrorism, but is concerned with freedom of speech in general. Of course, Ankori might have won her case in London and the New York courts might have agreed that the judgement was just – but again, we’ll never know, and if Ankori were confident that her case met the American definition of libel, surely she would have pursued the dispute there?

Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see the conservative response to this story. On the one hand, US conservatives railed against British courts and “libel tourism” over Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz’s use of British libel laws against the American scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld; but on the other hand, Massad is a conservative hate figure because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US involvement in the Middle East. Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch has reproduced the Chronicle article, albeit without comment.

UPDATE: Apparently the Art Journal paid out $75,000 to avoid a libel case. Ankori says that this will pay her legal costs, and the remainder will be donated to charity.

UPDATE 2: Ankori’s lawyer opines  on the “parochial” and “out of step” First Amendment.

Zion Oil & Gas Backs John Hagee

From a press release:

Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. (Amex: ZN) of Dallas, TX and Caesarea, Israel announced today that it will sponsor the “Night to Honor Israel” banquet at the Third Annual Washington-Israel Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI)…It is expected that John Brown, Zion’s Founder and Chairman, will be interviewed by Pastor John Hagee during the Summit and that the interview will be broadcast on the Daystar Television Network during the “Night to Honor Israel.” In addition, CUFI will broadcast a video about Zion at the banquet’s pre-event, and the banquet’s proceedings will be telecast by live-feed over the Daystar Television network.

John Brown, Zion’s Founder and Chairman, commented today, “Zion is proud to be a part of the CUFI Washington-Israel Summit and to support CUFI’s educational and public policy work in support of Israel.”

I’ve been following the fortunes of Zion Oil for some time now – although perhaps “fortunes” is not the right word. This appeared in May:

Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. (AMEX: ZN) of Dallas, Texas and Caesarea, Israel, today reported its results for the quarter ended March 31, 2008. The company reported a net loss of $1,039 thousand or $(0.10) per share for the first quarter of 2008 compared to a net loss of $667 thousand or $(0.07) per share for the same quarter a year earlier. The company has no revenues as it is still an exploration stage company.

On release of the first quarter results, Zion’s Chief Executive Officer, Richard Rinberg, commented: “Zion’s most recent financials show that we are implementing our business plan. We have in secure storage, in Israel, the pipe and other equipment necessary for our planned next well, the Ma’anit-Rehoboth #2, on the Ma’anit structure in the Joseph License area. Also, Zion’s follow-on offering has just been declared effective and we have started to raise funds for our planned multi-well drilling program.”

The latest “public offering” of shares was announced just the day before, and the CUFI summit is doubtless the perfect environment for raising further funds. Back in 2004 the company was tipped on WorldNetDaily by Hal Lindsey, whose cousin, Ralph DeVore, at that time had a major stake in it (he later fell out with Brown).

Zion’s chairman John Brown believes that the Bible not only gives clues to the location of oil in Israel, but also prophesizes that he will be the man to find it. The Zion Oil website gives the exegesis:

…ONE … The Prayer

“Moreover concerning a stranger [John Brown], that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country [U.S.A.] for thy name’s sake: (for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm); when he shall come and pray towards this house; hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to ALL that the stranger calleth to thee for [Oil for Israel]: that all the people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.” (I Kings 8:41-43).

I have more background on Brown here. However, while this kind of thing will go down well with the likes of Hagee and CUFI, Zion Oil is also mindful of being taken seriously by the wider world, and the company has brought on board a number of respected industry professionals who are happy to explore Israel as a “wildcat” operation. Rinberg in particular is good at following-up Brown’s fund-raising prophecy spiels with legalese caveats about the company not making “forward-looking statements” about actually finding any oil.

But is it really possible to have it both ways like this? Brown’s eccentric Biblical exegesis is bad enough, but Zion Oil is now making an alliance with a man who warns that the anti-Christ will be Jewish and gay, who believes that Satan was able to use Marx and Hitler because both were (supposedly) partly Jewish, and who believes that “the Rothchilds” are part of a Satanic conspiracy running the world economy.

(Christian attempts to find oil in Israel were recently the subject of an article by Mariah Blake for Mother Jones.)

Russian Church Threatens Split with Constantinople

From (inevitably) Interfax:

The Constantinople Church’s actions in church politics is one of the main challenges to Orthodox unity, the Moscow Patriarchate believes.

According to Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, the Patriarch of Constantinople is trying to set himself up as an “Eastern Pope”, so obviously it would be better if Russia just took charge:

“One of the main threats is Constantinople’s aggressive policy as it may lead to the schism of Orthodox world…Main opponent of Constantinople and the only Church capable to contest its claims for hegemony in Orthodox world is the Russian Church. For this reason, Constantinople seeks to weaken, divide and deplete it in all fields.”

This is just the latest volley against the Greek Orthodox Church from the Russians; last month the Russian theologian Andrey Kurayev sneered at Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as the “Turkish Patriarch”, and he dismissed the historic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem as the “local Greek Patriarch”.

Driving this rhetoric is power politics of the worldliest kind. Russian Orthodoxy is completely intertwined with Russian nationalism, and the Church, as Time has noted, is “a vital foreign policy instrument” for the Russian government. To this end, the Patriarch of Moscow seeks to maximise his church’s foreign influence, and he has been irritated to find Constantinople supporting Orthodox churches in the former Soviet Union that are not affiliated with Russia: last month Patriarch Bartholomew had a friendly meeting with President Yushchenko of Ukraine, and a few days ago he consecrated some bishops in Estonia. 

UPDATE: Moves in the UK have also provoked Moscow’s ire:

“It seems to me that here (in relations with the Moscow Patriarchate – IF) Constantinople leads a kind of fight that is unhealthy and contradicts the spirit of Orthodoxy. They discredit Orthodoxy before non-Orthodox world. No one profits from it. They do it for their own reasons,” Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany said in his interview published by the NG-Religii paper.

…He also called it “an outrage upon justice” that Constantinople decided to welcome under its jurisdiction former head of the Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain Bishop Basil (Osborne).