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T.B. Joshua: Also Big in Paraguay

Back in June I noted Nigerian “Prophet” T.B. Joshua’s recent visit to Ecuador, where he received a Commendation of Honour from Quito government dignitaries. Joshua has now followed up with a trip to Paraguay, where was similarly honoured. Reports Afriques writes:

Nigerian televangelist, Prophet T.B Joshua has been awarded the National Order of the Communion Merit by the Paraguayan government.

The honour which is the country’s highest national honour was awarded to T.B Joshua earlier this week making him the first non-citizen to be awarded such a prestigious award by the Paraguayan government.

Joshua’s media handlers have produced a video, which starts with a short interview with Del Pilar Medina de Paredes, Secretary General of the Parliament:

I’m very excited and I can see a lot of expectation in the people from Paraguay because they are waiting for a spiritual transformation through the coming of this messenger from Chris. All of us are waiting for that spiritual transformation… We want to receive him very well; we want to be healed and as a member of parliament I appreciate his coming. We are a privileged nation to have him visit our country. His visit will also contribute to the National Police.

The video goes on to show Joshua being personally received by General Commissioner of Police William Gimenez and Commissioner of Police Jose Félix Vega, who were similarly effusive.

The parliamentary award was given by an MP named Bernardo Villalba, despite an objection from Avanza Pais MP that the honour should be reserved for citizens; there was also a note of scepticism from Asunción councillor Pepa Kostianovsky, who noted that “there are lots of prophets everywhere” and pointed out that Paraguay is a secular state.

Some background to the visit is provided by the newspaper HOY (TODAY), which explains that Joshua’s visit – which includes a “Crusade” – has been organised by the Iglesia Catedral Alabanza:

Un grupo de miembros de la denominada “Iglesia Catedral Alabanza”, cuyo líder es el pastor Bernardo Bobadilla, son los precursores de la venida del nigeriano Temitope Balogun Joshua, más conocido como T. B. Joshua, quien visita nuestro país. Serán dos funciones las que protagonizará el “profeta”, en el estadio de los Defensores del Chaco, mañana 11 y el sábado 12 de agosto.

El equipo incluye a otros miembros de la iglesia Jorge Checo, Carlos Miguel Alfaro Duarte, Floria Maricel Mena Cubilla, Santiago Ávalos además de Miriam de Bobadilla, quien según su perfil de Facebook, es “pastora” de Catedral Alabanza.

Sin embargo, los más activos en el comité de bienvenida de T. B. Joshua son el diputado Bernardo “Lalo” Villalba, quien promovió la distinción de la Orden del Mérito Comuneros para el “profeta”, además del autodenominado líder de la Asociación de Defensa al Consumidor (Asucop), Juan Vera, quien está vinculado a organizaciones conocidas por ser “pro familia”.

Another report published by Hoy describes Joshua as “el falso profeta que fascina a políticos” and overviews various controversies, while a third refers to Vera’s claims that Joshua can cure HIV and homosexuality. Vera also rejected claims that Joshua is a “witch”, presumably referring to allegations that he mixes Christianity with African traditional religion (some neo-Pentecostal pastors shun him for allegedly unorthodox teachings, although he was supported by the late Bill Subritzky and by C. S. Upthegrove, an elderly evangelist who was formerly associated with A. A. Allen).

Back in Nigeria, Joshua’s visit was heralded by Timi Frank, Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress party. As quoted in Leadership:

Frank said Paraguay’s honour on TB Joshua was not just for the man of God but “will definitely strengthen bilateral relationship between Nigeria government and Paraguay.”

US Eclipse and September Constellation Alignment Cited as “End Times” Evidence

The once-staid broadsheet newspaper the Daily Telegraph poses an alarming question:

Will the 2017 solar eclipse cause a secret planet called ‘Nibiru’ to destroy Earth next month?

…David Meade, author of ‘Planet X – The 2017 Arrival’, asserts the planet Nibiru (also known as Planet X) will crash into our own on 23 September 2017.

…33 days after the US’ total solar eclipse – on the 23 September – the stars will align just as the book of Revelation says they will before the world ends. This, Meade points out, “is indeed an amazing omen and a frightful sign.”

Revelation’s chapter 12 depicts a “great sign”: that a “woman clothed with the sun, with the Moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” will “give birth”.

On September 23, Meade says, the Moon will appear at the feet of the constellation Virgo (a virgin woman). At the head of Virgo there will be 12 stars, the nine stars of Leo and the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars.

The quotes from Meade are as “Meade told The Daily Star earlier this month”; the Daily Star previously publicised Meade’s views in January, and then again the day before the Telegraph article, with “more evidence… shared exclusively with Daily Star Online”.

This is typical August “silly season” fodder. Meade is an obscure figure, although according to the bio-blurb for his self-published Kindle book Planet X – The 2017 Arrival, he has “worked at a high level in the Government as well as with several Fortune 1000 Companies in Research”. He also has a website, where he expounds his theory in more detail (dates concerning the modern state of Israel feature) and advertises another book, The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving EMP Attacks, Solar Flares and Grid Failures.

However, while Meade is an outlier and the “Planet X” claims are extravagant, he’s not the only one to see the Great American Eclipse and the astronomical alignment of 23 September as having special spiritual significance. The context here is a nineteenth-century idea that can be summed up in the title of Joseph Seiss’s book The Gospel in the Stars (1882), in which the Greek zodiac was interpreted as a pagan corruption of symbolism in the skies that is more properly understood in relation to the Bible. Perhaps the highest-profile current exponent of this idea is Pastor Mark Biltz, who in 2010 came to the attention of WND with claims about Arcturus for which he cited a different nineteenth-century work, E.W. Bullinger’s The Witness of the Stars (1893), as I blogged at the time.

Two years previously, Biltz had first argued that the blood moon tetrad of 2015 would have spiritual significance, and as the date approached WND Books produced Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs, complete with a foreword by WND editor Joseph Farah. Biltz keeps his “decoding” conveniently vague, telling WND in a new article that “I do not predict the future as much as I like to analyze the past”. The Blood Moons and the astronomical events of this year do not mean that we can predict a calamity for a particular day; they are only supportive evidence that “we are definitely in the times of the Messiah”. Thus (links in the original):

“God declared in the last days Jerusalem would become a cup of trembling for all nations, which is exactly what is happening… Israel becoming a nation in a day was a fulfillment of end-times prophecy. Jerusalem being restored to Jewish hands in 1967 was a fulfillment of end-times prophecy. The Balfour declaration in 1917 and the first Zionist congress in 1897 are all signs the end times are closing in.

“The total lunar eclipses in 2014/2015 on Passover and Sukkot were signs Messiah is at the door. The solar eclipse this August is a sign as well as the sign in the stars at the end of September. So yes, we have been in the last of the last days since 1897…”

The End Times having started 120 years ago provides a bit of leeway for future projections. One of those links takes us to an earlier quote:

“We have had signs involving the four blood moons on the biblical feasts of Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015,” he said. “We have had and will have significant signs with the sun having total solar eclipses on March 20 of 2015, the first day of Nisan beginning the calendar year. Then we will have a solar eclipse this August 21 of 2017 which is at the time of the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of repentance. A month later, there will be additional signs in the stars during the 10 days of awe, with the constellation Virgo being ‘crowned’ with 12 stars from the constellation Leo for the first time.”

1 Elul corresponds with 23 August in 2017, although Hebrew dates begin with sundown the night before, meaning that 1 Elul also corresponds with the evening of 22 August. Thus the evening of 21 August and daytime of 22 August are actually the last day of the month of Av, but this is commemorated as Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the month of Elul.

The “crowning” of Virgo with “12 stars” from Leo (or 9 stars from Leo plus three planets, which is presumably what Biltz meant to say) is not in fact a unique occurrence; I claim no expertise in astronomy, so in this I defer to a professional astronomer, Christopher Graney, who writes that “this basic arrangement happened before — in September 1827, in September 1483, in September 1293, and in September 1056”.

It should also be noted that the link to the Book of Revelation is something of a stretch. According to the text of Revelation 12: 1-6:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.  The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

If the first “great sign” that “appeared in heaven” is the constellation of 23 September (the “birth” supposedly indicated by the position of Jupiter – a point also addressed by Graney), where does that leave the second sign? There’s a whole symbolic drama here, not just an image of a woman giving birth. There is no reason to suppose that the author was referring to astronomical observations at all, although his obscure symbolism allows for all kinds of interpretations. Also, it’s not even clear that the “woman” is supposed to be Mary the mother of Jesus, even though this identification forms an element of the interest in Virgo (2).

Interestingly, the sceptics in this instance include the fundamentalist Creationists of Answers in Genesis.

Footnotes

(1) Biltz’s belief in the importance of the Hebrew calendar for Christians is further expounded in his book God’s Day Timer: The Believer’s Guide to Divine Appointments, published by WND Books last year. It comes with endorsements from Joel Richardson, promoter of the “Islamic Antichrist” theory, and from Carl Gallups, the pro-Trump pastor notorious for mocking bereaved Sandy Hook parents as actors.

(2) Some Catholics have also been drawn into this interpretation; a piece at Life Site News links the phenomenon to the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy and the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima.

Ben Garrison and Mike Cernovich Step Back from “Rothschild Puppet-Master” Image

A detail from an Atlantic article about Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster:

The provocative right-wing blogger and activist Mike Cernovich has launched a sustained attack on McMaster, including setting up a website called McMasterLeaks.com. When it launched, the main page displayed a large cartoon of the Rothschilds controlling a George Soros puppet, which in turn controlled puppets representing McMaster and former CIA director David Petraeus. (The hand labeled “Rothschilds” has since been relabeled “Saudis.” Cernovich told me he changed it because complaints about the cartoon’s anti-Semitism are “not a hill to die on,” and “if everybody wants to complain, then fine—I’ll just put the Saudis at the top.”)

The cartoon was drawn by alt-right favourite Ben Garrison, and it looks like Garrison himself provided the amended version – a nice example of the cynical flexibility and insincerity of those for whom promoting conspiracy theories is primarily a means to public influence rather than an end in itself (also previously seen in Cernovich’s “Pizzagate” claims).

Cernovich’s conspiracy theory that “Rothschilds” improperly wield secret power has previously focused on Hilary Clinton’s association with Lynn Forester de Rothschild. The two women have been friends for a long time, and some old informal email exchanges were published by Wikileaks last year. Cernovich was among those who suggested (here and here) that these innocuous messages were a revelation that showed how Clinton is personally subservient to Lynn Forester de Rothschild, and by extension to the Rothschild banking family.

Of course, it could be argued that to say that the Rothschilds control American politics does not mean that Jews in general have improper influence. But this doesn’t wash. Unsurprisingly, Hilary Clinton has personal and professional links with many powerful establishment figures – why focus on the one whose surname is Rothschild, other than that the name is already associated with conspiracy theories that have an explicit anti-Semitic provenance?

Further, there zero evidence that “Rothschilds” have played any part in decisions made by either McMaster or Petraeus, and there is no explanatory value in proposing such a suggestion. The aim is purely to make us resent a particular Jewish banking family as an exemplar of hidden forces that supposedly explain unfairness in the world.

I made similar observations a few months ago, when I discussed the use of the phrase “Rothschild Zionism” on the conspiracy-theorist left.

(H/T @YAppelbaum)

A Late Note on Chris Atkins and Tax Fraud

An HM Revenue and Customs press release from early last month:

An accountant, two film producers and an independent financial advisor, who were jailed with three others for more than 36 years for committing a £2.2 million tax fraud, have been ordered to pay back more than £2 million of their criminal profits.

…Film producers Christopher Walsh Atkins, 41, from London, and Christina Slater, 38, from Leamington Spa, have been ordered to pay back more than £201,000 or face another two years in prison…

[Terence Sefton] Potter set up two partnerships that were sold to the wealthy investors. One produced a film called ‘Starsuckers’, the other was a project to develop a package to be made into a film by others called ‘Mercedes the Movie’. The partnership declared the losses in its tax return and so did the investors, which would have allowed them to recoup up to £40,000 in tax relief from HMRC, for every £20,000 they had invested. However, as the scheme was illegal their claim for tax relief was false. The claims were supported by false documents produced by Potter.

There was glee among tabloid journalists when the convictions were announced in July 2016 – the 2009 documentary Starsuckers had shown how easy it is to hoax the media with fake stories (a subject this blog has looked at a number of times), and revealed how the Press Complaints Commission was held in private contempt by journalists whose editors affected respect for the body in public. Atkins had subsequently given evidence about press ethics at the Leveson Inquiry. (1)

Atkins was sentenced to five years, while Slater received four. The judge found that Slater had been “drawn in” by Atkins, and he took account of the fact that she was a new mother. The child will leave her prison’s mother-and-baby unit in September, and a further court decision from just a few weeks ago has confirmed that there will be a period of separation from then until February 2018 at the earliest – an outcome that ought to weigh particularly heavily on Atkins’s conscience.

I have seen one defence of Atkins on social media, along the lines that he simply followed what he believed to have been legitimate financial advice by his accountants. Certainly, in recent years many wealthy individuals have followed bad financial advice about investing in film-financing schemes for tax purposes, which HMRC has successfully argued in civil court amount to tax avoidance rather than legitimate tax planning. (2)

However, Atkins’s case is not comparable. It is one thing to attempt to arrange one’s financial affairs to minimise tax liability, whether or not the attempt ultimately withstands legal scrutiny, and it is quite another to fabricate evidence. A business that produces “false documents” is engaging in dishonesty, and it is difficult to see how a sensible adult could be persuaded by an accountant that creating inflated and fake invoices does not cross the line. It should be as obvious a no-no as using false addresses or non-existent names on official documentation.

Despite the above, though, Atkins and Slater did some good work – and I hope to see more of it when they have paid their debts to society (quite literally, in this case).

Footnotes

(1) Atkins apparently referred to his appearing at Leveson as mitigating evidence of good character. The judge gave that short shift, noting that “I rather doubt had it been known what you had been up to in the previous 4 years you would have been asked to do so.” The judge also added “and I know that what you did say was at the time not accepted by some parties as accurate”, although he did not explain what he meant by this or who these “parties” were.

(2) It should be noted that civil cases around tax avoidance concern conflicting interpretations of evidence that both sides accept as truthful – unlike tax evasion, a crime in which someone lies to HMRC. The term “tax dodging” is sometimes preferred by tabloid newspapers, in order to elide this distinction. Some tabloids have in particular focused on Gary Lineker’s tax liability following an avoidance case; this appears to be revenge for Lineker expressing politically progressive views and criticising the press on social media.

UK Headlines Claim Study “Disproves” the Bible

A bit of silly season Biblical fare from some British newspapers:

Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people (Mail Online)

Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out (Daily Telegraph)*

Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon (The Independent)

The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking (Daily Express)

(*since amended)

Such stories are rarer than “X Proves the Bible” articles (such as recent coverage of the Schøyen Collection’s supposed “Tower of Babel” stele, as blogged here), but they are the flip-side of the same thing – the purpose is sensationalism rather than understanding, and a connection to the Hebrew Bible is allowed eclipse broader issues in the study of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Near East. The British newspapers appear to have picked up the story from reports in the US, although the American articles managed to avoid the crass “village atheist” tone adopted in the British headlines.

The reports all refer to an academic paper entitled “Continuity and Admixture in the Last Five Millennia of Levantine History from Ancient Canaanite and Present-Day Lebanese Genome Sequences“, recently published on open access by the The American Journal of Human Genetics. The article has 16 authors, led by Marc Haber (who has become “Marc Harber” in the Mail). The Bible is mentioned briefly twice:

…most of [the Canaanites’] history known today has been reconstructed from ancient Egyptian and Greek records, the Hebrew Bible, and archaeological excavations… Uncertainties also surround the fate of the Canaanites: the Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations. However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day.

The findings suggest that

 …people from the highly differentiated urban culture on the Levant coast and inland people with different modes of subsistence were nevertheless genetically similar, supporting previous reports that the different cultural groups who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites, and Phoenicians, each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with Canaanites.

The paper thus supports previous research about how ancient populations in the Near East – including the Israelites – were closely related, and it notes that archaeology has already identified a problem with the Biblical accounts of the destruction of Canaanite cities.

Where the authors erred was in their interpretation of “annihilation”. Presumably, this has come from Deuteronomy 20:

…in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

However, this is presented as an ideal instruction rather than an account of what actually happened. The concept does not preclude Canaanites surviving in territory beyond the Israelites’ control, and despite the “do not leave alive anything that breathes” command, one can imagine women and children being taken as booty rather than killed, and conflicts ending with negotiated settlements rather than fights to the death.

But this is all beside the point anyway: Deuteronomy is a late work composed for ideological reasons in the seventh century BCE, whereas earlier parts of the Bible refer to Canaanites living among the Israelites, albeit in a subordinate position. Why refer to “annihilation” while ignoring these texts, which actually support the authors’ finding of genetic continuity? The problem for Biblical literalists is the continuing existence of the Canaanite cities – not Canaanite DNA in modern populations.

Religious websites have expressed irritation with the UK reports – here’s the Christian Institute:

Media challenged over “fake news” stories claiming Bible is untrue

… A spokesman for The Christian Institute said: “These reports prove nothing except the biblical illiteracy of UK journalists and American academics.

“The Bible does not claim that the Israelites wiped out the Canaanites entirely. In fact, the Canaanites lived among the Israelite people for generations after the initial conquest of the Promised Land.

“It is disappointing that media outlets as well established as The Telegraph, The Independent and the Mail Online would publish such blatant fake news.

“Instead of this, the media should be reporting how time and time again history and science demonstrate the reliability of God’s Word.”

The Bible is probably always going to be the hook by which journalists seek to interest readers in stories that shed new light on the ancient Near East, but making everything about whether the Bible has been “disproved” (as suggested by the newspaper headlines above) or proven reliable is to put things round the wrong way. There are archaeologists who are motivated by a wish to “prove” the Bible (mostly American evangelicals or Israeli nationalists), but this an outdated approach. (1) Instead, it is more sensible to see the Bible as one source among many that – if used critically – can help us to interpret and understand other evidence that comes to light.

Footnote

(1) There are also of course outright pseudo-archaeologists, such as the late Vendyl Jones.