Archive for March, 2015

Stop the bus….

So its all go for a central bus hub, super stops and express routes as the all new improved solution to the problem of the low patronage of the public transport system in Dunedin in addition to the congestive nuisance and ecological impact of large 12 metre, 12tonne buses cruising up and down the central city corridor.

To clarify:

(1) The central hub will be a $4 million central city bus depot; the $4M does not include the inevitable cost overuns that will be absorbed as unforseeable, nor does it include the loss of parking revenue from removing a number of parking bays.

(2) The “super stops” simply means fewer stops at which they hope more people will gather given fewer bustop options. Which, means more people being forced to walk the extra distance from their present more convenient stop that is now removed.

(3) “Express bus routes” means buses will take the most direct route from point A to point B regardless of where passengers might actually live and start their journey.

To review:

(1)  in order to reduce the environmental impact and inner city congestion created by convoys of mostly empty buses traversing the central city corridor, the Council will create a central city depot where all these buses can congregate for a while for ‘smoko’ along their journey through the central city corridor. Could you repeat that please? it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

and (2) in order to attract more people onto the bus service they are going to be given further to walk from their home to their nearest stop. But, if that happens to be a superstop at the university or Cargills Corner then you may well have the enticement of a toilet while you wait for your bus. Sounds irresistable; is that a public toilet down by the campus? open all hours? Should be popular, although not necessarily the exclusive reserve of bus patrons I would imagine and not exclusively for the purpose intended. Anyway, the super stops should give the local street artists a reasonable bit of a canvas to work on and supporting the arts has to be a good thing.

At this point, I should declare my interest. I did work for Citibus for 16 years from the mid 90’s to the early teens, the last 3 years of that as General Manager. So I am very familiar with the challenges faced by public transport.

But ORC’s latest strategic plan also shows that as a politburo they have little understanding of the dynamics of marketing a public transport network in the 21st century. If the question they asked themselves in starting this Plan was “How do we make public transport more relevant and useful to more people?” then I do not think the answer would be: “We will make the service quicker by offering fewer pick-up points. To that end we will condense the routes down to only main roads. Although this may well mean many potential customers having to walk further, in all weathers, to their nearest stop, the politburo believes that will be more than compensated by actually having a shorter driving time.”

Really??

Imagine if Council restructured the refuse collection and required us to wheel our recycling bins to main roads and ‘super pickup points’ thinking that this would increase the number of people using recycling bins. Yet this is the essence of the Otago Regional Council’s new strategic plan for public transport.

While the ORC goal for the proposal is reducing the reliance on public subsidies for the system, the reality is that if passenger revenue declines faster than reduced operating cost then there is one of two options:

  1. a) Ratepayer subsidy increases to compensate or
  2. b) Services further decline in an ever-increasing downward spiral.

Have the ORC’s previous attempts to reverse the downward patronage trends just been a succession of one-dimensional hit and hope ideas? They have adjusted timetables, introduced a new pre-paid card system and put bike racks on the front of buses, but the fundamental system of an end-to-end, large vehicle, through-route service, designed well over 50 years ago for very different circumstances, has remained sacrosanct.

If the intent of the ORC/DCC is one of making a service more cost efficient, more user-friendly and less reliant on public subsidy, then maybe they should be looking beyond the one dimension of main roads vs. residential streets. They could consider issues such as:

  • Targeting the primary market

Public Transport only represent 3% share of transport usage and with that low figure it is usually not analysed any further although there is a general perception that it is a mode of transport for the elederly and disadvantaged.

The Household Survey shows that actually 13-17 year olds were most likely to have used public transport in the last month (49%), followed by those 18-29 years old (32%). 15% of 13-17 year olds had used public transport on 20 days or more in the last month, implying it was used regularly on weekdays.

Public Transport should be understood as having a primary function of enabling youth to integrate with the community.

The casual users.

 The bus user /non-user is not a black and white issue, it is many shades of grey: The MoT Household survey 2010 showed that:

  1. 22% of Dunedin residents had used the bus in the last year, but not in the last month.
  2. A further 23% had used it for between 1-9 days in the last month.
  3. Another 3% had used it 10+ days in the month.

Casual users are existing customers; they do not require to be introduced to a new transport system, they are already familiar with it; the ORC/DCC need to understand the usage with the goal of developing strategies to increase the frequency of use. But this new ORC proposal risks alienating the all-critical 23% of residents who are reasonably regular, casual users rather than looking for real innovations to increase the frequency of their patronage.

  • The bus size.

The ORC stipulates the need for 39 seat buses on all contracts in a ‘one size fits all’ policy. My own research as GM of Citibus prior to its sale was that, over the day, the average passenger loading per trip leg was between 5 and 6 people. Bus size is an economic issue that has not been addressed by the ORC. While there are 26% of the residents requiring bus transport over the month, that is certainly not all day, every day, across every route.

Blind Freddy can see that running 39 seat buses all day, every day, on all routes, is poor economics. A quick head-count on the buses running along the main street any time of the day, any day of the week certainly confirms to anyone that this public transport system just doesn’t make any kind of sense; not economic, not environmental, marginally social. Furthermore many residential streets, where the potential customers live, are unsuitable for large vehicles and smaller vehicles would provide better access to the customers. Good economics is a question of ‘cutting your cloth’ but rather than cutting your cloth in terms of a blanket reduction in customer service, as the ORC propose, I would suggest cutting your cloth in terms of vehicle size would be a more logical approach.

  • The driver standard.

 While ORC contracts are highly detailed on the technical specifications of the vehicles to be used, they just make token generalisations about driver service standards. In a highly competitive tendering environment, the bus companies have no option but to exploit this opportunity and keep driver wages as low as possible, which is counter-productive to ensuring all drivers are skills-trained and motivated to provide high standards of service. We need to set much higher standards of customer service for the drivers if we are to attract customers to the service, but in practical terms, that requires appropriate training and consequently reward for that service. If we want motivated bus drivers we have to respect their self-esteem; we cannot pay less to those who drive busloads of people than that which is paid to those who drive truckloads of sheep or logs.

  • The ‘through-route’.

 We need to dispense with the ‘through route’ system from end to end of the city. That is a relic of mid-last century that will always create unnecessary inner city congestion, particularly with buses sitting idling in the centre city to catch up with their timetable. Smaller “neighbourhood” contracts into the city on a loop service would enable a much closer relationship between operator/driver and customers for improved service opportunities; and the lower capital cost would open up the tender system to smaller, local bus operators rather than relying totally on the big north island based operators.

  • The central transfer station.

Instead of the proposed single central city bus transfer station, (how can that reduce inner city congestion?) consider the benefits of two transfer stations, one at either end of the city, with a main-street minibus shuttle service linking them. A peak time five-minibus shuttle, two up, two down, one at a transfer station, would create an inner city shuttle service every few minutes along the CBD between the Exchange and Campus, with much reduced environmental impact compared to the current volume of 15 or more large capacity buses in the same corridor at one time on a through route service. The present pavement protrusions along the main street could be used to quickly hop on/ off then the present bus stops, no longer needed for large buses to load/offload and sit idling to catch up with their through-route schedule, could be converted to short term parking bays. The on-bus advertising revenues from these very high profile buses would subsidise their costs and speed of embarking would be improved with a swipe card entry.

Public Transport is, and will remain, the primary back up to private vehicle transport in most cities. It is an essential service for the younger generation. There is also the opportunity for public transport to be a useful inner-city shuttle service for all residents.

The new proposal of the ORC is no more than illogical tinkering with a system that was designed mid last century for a completely different transport environment. We now need a clean slate review that builds from the statistical facts about our city’s public transport needs in the 21st century. And any planned changeover from ORC management of the contracts to DCC management of the contracts is pointless or, at worst, counter-productive unless the DCC redirects their focus away from a vision of Dunedin as a bicyclists’ paradise, puts their total transport plan into perspective with the actual facts and responds to the regular transport needs of 26% of its residents and occasional use of a further 22%.

Public Transport is a communal mode of transport; bicycles are a very individual mode. Yet in spite of the available research, the current DCC policy planning and budgeting seems to be starting from a vision of thousands of bicyclists peddling along Dunedin roads and then working backwards, committing millions of dollars to build the infrastructure to accommodate that vision. This does not appear to be a Council that has the mindset to resolve the problems causing the declining patronage on our community’s public transport system.

footnote: I have formally presented this proposal both to the DCC and the ORC within the “public consultation’ phase of their Transport Plans, and received responses from both effectively dismissing my contribution. Politburos are required to invite submissions, but these are not reviewed by impartial independents, they are reviewed by those who developed the strategy who then have no obligation to deviate from their mindset as a result of submissions.

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Land of milk and honey

in the bosom of Abraham.

Has there ever, through history, been a more troubled piece of earth than the strip of land on the east coast of the Mediteranean sea between Turkey to the north and and Egypt to the south?

The history of Israel begins with Abraham, the Yahweh-annointed father of the Hebrew nation.

Abraham was born in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) around 2000BCE, or a bit earlier, (4,000+ years ago). Abraham, under God’s instruction (Genesis 12) took his family to Canaan, the coastal strip of land that was originally populated by Ham, son of Noah, and is now the modern Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Abraham had a son Isaac with his wife Sarah (plus many more illegitimates by concubines), Isaac married Rebekah and had two sons Esau and Jacob. Esau moved away to Seir (Gen. 36:6) as the land could not support both his and Jacob’s families.

Jacob had twelve sons including Joseph by his second wife Rachel. Through jealousy of Joseph’s favoured status with Jacob, his brothers sold him into slavery and he eventually arrived in Egypt. Some years after the selling of Joseph as a slave, Jacob took his family to Egypt due to famine in Canaan. Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:1 names those who went with Jacob and state their total number. With his eleven sons and their families they totalled 70 people.

Egypt was emerging as a strong civilisation as so many farmers from other parts of Africa had progressively migrated to the very fertile land in the Nile valley. There they met Joseph again. Joseph had prospered in Egypt and was now very influential with the Pharaoh himself as a dream interpreter. Around 1400BC a Hebrew called Moses, under the instruction and with the assistance of the God known to the Israelites as Yahweh, persuaded the Pharaoh to let him lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:41).

The assistance of Yahweh was in the form of temporarily creating a powerful wind to hold back the water of the Sea of Reeds to allow a crossing and to safeguard them from the chasing Egyptians whose Pharaoh had apparently had a change of heart about freeing them. Yahweh guided them through the wilderness by way of a “cloud” hovering over them during the day and that cloud becoming a pillar of light for night travel. (Exodus 13:21). Periodically the “cloud” would land beside the tent of meeting and God would meet with the leaders of the Hebrews. (Exodus 33: 7-11).

Exodus 12:41 said the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years. They would have left Egypt with Moses around 1400BC and, according to Exodus 12:37 there were 600,000 Hebrew men plus their families. 600,000 men would have had a similar number of women in the same age, totalling 1.2 million adults plus children. To get that growth rate the Hebrews had to be breeding at several times their base population, so at a minimum four children per breeding pair, which gives a total population of 6 million people. To cross-check those numbers, even assuming the 70 original Israelites arriving in Egypt were equal breeding pairs, and ignoring for the moment that the children are all first cousins, if each breeding pair produced four breeding pairs, that is eight children, over a fifty-year period, there would still only be 80,640 breeding pairs after 400 years. So with every single person producing 4 children (eight per couple), after 400 years the total population would have grown from 70 to 161,280. That 600,000 men plus wives and families left Egypt 430 years after arriving as 11 men plus families seems implausible, however that is what the Bible states. Perhaps other tribes from the Middle East region also settled with them, also seeking a better life in Egypt.

In the wilderness food was clearly a major concern for such a large population. Yahweh was also responsible for an aerial drop of a bread substance, six days a week for forty years to feed the travelling Israelites in the desert. The bread or dough appears to have arrived frozen: “in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted there was a thing delicate, powdery…that, said Moses is the bread Yahweh gives you to eat.” (Exodus 16: 13-15). “And when the sun grew hot, it dissolved” (Exodus 16:21).

Finally Yahweh led the Israelites in battle to conquer the lands of Canaan Deuteronomy 1:29-30.

Yahweh demanded singularity of recognition as the God of the Israelites. His first commandment of all the rules for conduct he gave to Moses was: “I am Yahweh, your God, you shall worship no other Gods but me. For I, Yahweh am a jealous God. “ (Exodus 20).

However Yahweh never in the Bible said he was the only Deity, his words in the first commandment indicate there are other Gods although Israelites believe He was referring to pagan idols rather than real Gods.

After 40 years in the desert, the twelve tribes finally arrived back in Canaan, although Moses had not lived to reach his destination. It is never explained why Yahweh led them on a 40 year wander around the wilderness when it was actually only an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan by the most direct route? The reason for detouring across the Sea of Reeds and into the wilderness was given as avoiding confrontation with the Philistines, (Exodus 13: 17) which, Yahweh was concerned, would encourage the Israelites to return to Egypt. This longer route explains why it would take more than 11 days for the journey, however 40 years is an extraordinarily long detour. The explanation in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 “Yahweh, your God, led you for forty year in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your innermost heart.” But in Joshua 5:6 it says “The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died,” It continued that the reason they died was because they disobeyed God.

After 40 years in the wilderness, 601,750 fighting-age men (plus families) arrived in Canaan (Numbers 26:51), a similar number to that which departed Egypt 40 years earlier and it would appear a reasonable assumption that Yahweh intended that the generation arriving in Canaan would have been raised from a very young age under the laws, guidance and possibly military training of Yahweh.

Despite Yahweh’s original desire to avoid confrontation with the Philistines, there was a great deal of military action, bloodshed, looting and slavery of young women undertaken under Yahweh’s instruction before the Israelites eventually re-established themselves in the land of Canaan forty years after the escape from Egypt. Clearly the new generation of Hebrews had been trained for war during their decades in the wilderness. Perhaps Yahweh had not felt the original enslaved Israelites had the necessary military skill and strength of character to conquer Canaan, which is why He avoided initial military conflict with the Philistines when they first escaped Egypt.

But with an army of 600,000 men, the Hebrews began attacking the inhabitants of Canaan beginning with the Midian people. Numbers 31: 1 “Yahweh spoke to Moses and said ‘exact full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites.’

The God Yahweh was certainly a God of war, not peace. He brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but it was a violent intrusion into a land that had been legitimately populated by other tribes, understood to be descendants of Ham, son of Noah, and the Hebrews have not known peace since they arrived there.The Israelites continued their battles against the residents throughout Canaan until they had established themselves in this Promised Land.

The tribes of Israel were allocated their areas of land according to Yahweh’s instruction and continued to live tribal life over the next 3-400 years with neither central government nor central place of worship to Yahweh. The governance was by the tribal Judges (Holy Men) and the military leaders. But it was a life both of integration into Canaanite cities and intermarriage with Canaanites and also constant tribal wars. Many who integrated with the Canaanites abandoned Yahweh and gave their loyalty to the God of the Canaanites, Baal.

Yahweh communicated through the prophets. In one battle with the Philistines, who had become the most powerful race in the region, the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant with the Lord Yahweh. The Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israelites and claimed the Ark, which they brought back to the temple of their god Dagon, in Ashdod, which was on the coast of the West Bank. However the Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites seven months later when their people had become afflicted with boils and ulcers and other calamities that they attributed to possessing the Ark. The return of the Ark sparked a renewed interest among the Jews in the heritage of Yahweh and the journey from Egypt.

Samuel, who had ‘heard the voice of God’ since a young person was the acknowledged senior Prophet and Judge of Israel. Samuel preached the return to the laws of the Bible, and, under the instruction of Yahweh, anointed a man named Saul as the first King of Israel under whose rule the twelve tribes could be united. This was 1046 BCE, just over 3,000 years ago. It was the same time that Rome was established as a settlement of farmers and shepherds. There was a level of dissatisfaction with Saul during his reign and conversely much support for David, a military hero and leader following his slaying of Goliath. There was much conflict between Saul and David, although David did marry Saul’s daughter. Saul died in the battle of Gilboa against the Philistines when he fell on his sword rather than be captured. David at the time had led a successful battle against the Amalekites.

At this time Saul’s army commander appointed Saul’s son, Ishbaal as king of Israel. The nation became divided between the House of Saul, which was based in northern Israel, and the House of David, which was based in Judea. They met in battle at Gibeon and David was victorious. As the House of Saul became weaker, Ishbaal’s own men eventually murdered him and delivered his head to David. They were put to death for their treachery.

Under King David, Israel was united and the Israelites conquered their old enemy, the Philistines and established Jerusalem as David’s city. David was succeeded by his son, Solomon. After Solomon’s death in 925 BC Israel again became divided between Israel and Judea.

The Kings of Israel ruled until 721 BC when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel; the Kingdom of Judea lasted until 605 BC when the Babylonians conquered them and the temple was destroyed and over subsequent periods to 582 BC the Jews were deported into captivity in Babylon.

In 538 BC the Persians conquered the Babylonians and ruled Judea; then in 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and brought Judea under the Greek Empire. Judea was temporarily independent again when the Jewish tribe of the Maccadees staged a successful revolt in 164 BC but then in 63 BC the Romans acquired the state when they conquered the Greek empire.

The Romans eventually tired of the regular Jewish insurrections and in 135 AD, they brutally crushed the Jewish state with hundreds of thousands of Jews killed, deported or sold into slavery. The Romans renamed Judea as Palestine (Palaestina) derived from “Philistine”.

It was not until 1948 AD, after the Second World War, that the victorious gentile nations re-created the state of Israel, a state that remains in a state of war with the Palestinians as they had from their arrival out of Egypt 3,500 years earlier.

Today, in the 21st century, this region still presents a volatility that threatens the peace of the entire earth. According to their Bible, a very small tribe of descendants of Abraham, 70 people, left the region of milk and honey during very serious famine, when milk and honey was nowhere to be found, and went to live in Egypt; they returned 400+ years later as an army of 600,000 men plus families and brutally waged war on the tribes that lived there. They established their own nation of Israel with bloodshed and they have never known peace since.

footnote: I could not find any record of what became of Essau and his family. Esau was of course Abraham’s grandson but did not travel to Egypt with Jacob’s family. Presumably they joined up after Isaac’s tribe returned from Egypt.

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of bread and wine……

On thinking about it, here is another thing I would have liked to ask that young missionary who knocked on my door offering to explain the Bible to me.

All the way through my Roman Catholic upbringing, the core of our faith was based on the dogma, ‘that Jesus, son of God, died on the cross for man’s sins;  so that man could now become righteous in God’s eyes’ 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”

This dogma referenced back to the last supper when Jesus metaphorically said that the wine represented his blood and the bread represented his body, and that he would sacrifice his body and his blood as the new covenant between God and man. This then came to pass the next day with his crucifixion.

So, what was that all about? If I had to think about this, I would have to dismiss it. Why would an all-loving God require his Son to suffer and die a cruel death as a means of atoning for the evils of man. There seemed no co-relation. How would having his Son rejected, tortured and killed by humans actually thereby make humans acceptable to God as a righteous species?

While I had been studying the Babylonian texts published  in 1965 by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, texts that had been written around 1650 BCE, (approximately 250 years before Moses is believed to have received the teachings of Genesis from Yahweh), I noticed that the translated epic actually contains an account of the sacrifice of a God. The Atrahasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.

Let her create, then, a human, a man,

Let him bear the yoke!

Let him bear the yoke!”

Let man assume the drudgery of the god.

They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.

Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.

That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of the time they would hear the drum.

From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.

It would make the living know its sign.

Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.

After she had mixed the clay,

she summoned the Anunna, the great gods.

The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.

Mami made ready to speak,

and said to the great gods:

“You ordered me the task and I have completed it!

You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.

I have done away with your heavy forced labor”

For this purpose of creating a man to make him useful to the Gods, one of the lesser gods was sacrificed, and his flesh and blood was mixed with clay from which process man was made. This reference to mixing with clay to create man in both the Greek and Biblical texts: “Prometheus shaped man out of clay, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure. Genesis 2:7,” Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life”.

But these Akkadian texts describe the sacrifice of a God so that his flesh and blood could be mixed with man to make the man useful to the Gods developing from primitive beasts to intelligent farmers and workers.

The similarity to the account of the sacrifice of body and blood of Jesus as the new covenant between God and man in the New Testament is quite astounding. It requires some further research on how this more  modern Christian dogma actually came to us.

If any of Jesus’ followers believed that God was promising to finally deliver them from the yoke of Rome and give them peaceful sovereignty over the Holy land, they were disappointed. After two more failed Jewish rebellions in 70 AD and 135 AD, the Romans brutally crushed the Jewish state with hundreds of thousands of Jews killed, deported or sold into slavery. The Romans renamed Judea as Palaestina, derived from “Philistine”.

The development of Christianity in the first 100 years AD therefore evolved as one of saving the eternal souls of believers rather than saving the Jews from the military rule of Rome. Unlike other messianic claimants at the same time, who generally met the same fate of Jesus, the Christian movement was not ended with the death of Jesus; indeed it flourished after his death.  That the disciples of Jesus continued openly to preach the beliefs of Christianity, knowing this would lead to their own execution, is the strongest proof that they now believed in the afterlife that could be gained through belief that Jesus, the man born as a result of a visit by angels to the virgin Mary, was and is a God.

Despite the destruction of the Jewish state, continuous Roman persecution failed to destroy Christianity and eventually the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great ended the Roman persecution of Christians in 313 AD and allowed freedom of religion within the Roman Empire.

Constantine later convened and took part in the first meeting of Christian churches, the Council of Nicea, held in 325 AD in what is today Iznik, Turkey. He hoped to help church leaders find common ground on some contentious aspects of Christian doctrine. Chief among these issues was the relationship and relative divinity of God the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Arianism was popular during this period. This Christian belief championed by Arius, a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, held that Jesus, though the Son of God, was inferior to God the Father.

The Council of Nicea established the equality of Father and Son and documented this in a creed, or universal statement of faith, to which all but two attending bishops agreed. The dissenting bishops were exiled, as was Arius himself. The Romans were not known for their tolerance towards those who did not toe the party line.

After this council, orthodox Christians agreed on the critical point that Jesus and God were equally divine and created of the same substance.

The Holy Spirit was declared a divinity in 360AD at the First Council of Constantinople and so the Roman Catholic Church officially established the Holy Trinity, God the Father, in the Heavens, God the Son, on Earth and God the Holy Spirit. This Trinity of Gods then aligned Christianity with Greek beliefs in three primary Gods of Zeus, in Heaven, Hades in the underworld, and Poseidon in the water and the Sumerian beliefs of Anu in heaven, Enlil on Earth and Enki in the water.

It is debatable whether Constantine was a true convert to Christianity (it is said he converted on his deathbed in 337AD), or whether he established the Roman Catholic Church as a political strategy to bring the growing number of Christians under the control of a Roman institution, which was under his control. The celebration of the birth of Jesus was decided around 340AD by Pope Julius 1 to be December 25. The selection of this date had no biblical basis, but the Roman pagans already celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’, on December 25th (when the Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place) and was the ‘birthday’ of the Pagan Sun god Mishra. In the pagan religion of Mithraism, the holy day was Sunday. Easter was originally timed for the Jewish Passover festival which was based on lunar activity which is why the date changed. It was separated from the strict Hebrew calendar during early Christian debates over the accuracy of that calendar, but remains today as reliant on lunar movement, a pagan observation, rather than setting a specific crucifixion date.

Given these decisions made by the Romans under the influence of Constantine we are entitled to wonder whether the account of the sacrifice of body and blood in the new testament was a borrowing of the Accadian sacrifice of the flesh and blood of a God  so that intelligent man would be created that was recorded on tablets 1650 years BC? Why do this? Possibly because of the words that accompanied the metaphorical references to the drinking of wine and eating of bread at the last supper was referred to as a new covenant between God and man. That statement effectively created a new starting point for a new belief system. It confined the covenants of Abraham and Moses to history and established a new covenant, a new base from which Rome could control the followers of this Jewish-based religious sect.

Intriguing. More questions than answers. But the big question we need to ask is: “do the texts that Roman Emperor Constantine approved as the new testament, the new dogma for the movement established by Jesus of Nazareth 300 years before, really give us a true and accurate account of the beliefs of the original Jews who formed the movement with Jesus of Nazareth. Or were they edited and sanitised to suit the  political requirements of Rome?” 

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of angels and devils and mortal men

Who’s that knock, knock, knocking on my door this time?

I open to a smiling young man with his equally smiling young wife and delightful child. Armed only with their Bible they want to know if there is anything they can do to help me share in their joy of life gained through their understanding the good news in the Bible. Actually I quite like these particular young people. “Bible bashers” get a bad rap as a general observation, but I applaud that this young family has dedicated precious time to try to bring good news even to the many closed-minded, self-opinionated people like me who answer door bells (or more often don’t bother).

And I am also very open to understanding the Bible which, at the very least, is a very important set of texts on the history of the Hebrew nation that has played a significant role in the civilisation that has emerged some 4,000 years after the birth of Abraham.

Like most, I have been exposed to the Bible during the younger schooling years of my life and I found parts to be a balance between scarcely believable and quite intellectually challenging. Intellectual challenge is of course the consequence of the original transgression against divine law when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. So when this pleasant young man offered his services in interpreting the Bible, I thought it was a great opportunity. I asked him if he could explain Genesis 6 to me?

His eyes brightened with joy at the challenge and, being unable to recall Genesis 6 off the top of his head, he thumbed vigorously through his Bible to the appropriate page and began speed reading to refresh his memory. To help I said, “it refers to the sons of God taking as many of the daughters of man as they wished for their wives and having children by them; and these children being the heroes of ancient times.” His now frozen smile agreed that this was what it said and he paused quite a while to compose his thoughts.

To focus on exactly what my question was, I asked; “so exactly who were these sons of God”? As he scanned the chapter he quickly, albeit a little hesitantly referred me to the line regarding “nephilim who were on the earth at that time” and he also suggested that angels might be involved. I  said that I understood the Hebrew translation of nephilim to mean ‘the cast-down ones’. There is also an interpretation that the term was associated with giants. And the cast down ones referred to the angels defeated by Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the other archangels who fought on the side of Yahweh.

So, is identifying the nephilim, the cast down ones and/ or the giants and/ or angels, the key to understanding Genesis 6?  At this point the young chap decided he needed to go back to his Church elder and seek advice so that he did not mislead me. I said I would look forward to hearing from him again. I do not even know which Church he represented. I can understand his dilemma; if they were angels, immortal servants of God, either fallen or not, then their interbreeding with hominids and creating a hybrid species was something of a religious challenge.

That was quite a while back. The missionary has not returned. I still did not quite know what Genesis 6 means but, being fairly early on in the first book of the Bible, I cannot have been the first person to have sought clarification on these sons of God, the nephilim and what role they and their heroic offspring played in the creation of modern man. It was not as if it was an obscure notation in the midst of the Bible. This is Genesis. So I thought I would search available texts to see what I could find out.

ancient bronze angel. The face oddly similar to Maori carved images of their Gods.

ancient bronze angel

Starting with the Bible itself, Genesis makes first mention of Satan, the devil, responsible for giving the fruit of intelligence to Adam and Eve, which meant, as Yahweh, God stated “the man has become like one of us with his knowledge of good and evil” Gen. 3:22. Yahweh then interceded to prevent further development of man before he also gained immortality. Gen 4: 22 : he must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever.

The term ‘ Sons of God’ is clarified in the Bible’s Book of Job. In fact Satan was specifically referred to as a ‘Son of God’. Job: 1: 6-12. “One the sons of God (explained in a footnote as the angels who make up God’s Council) came to attend on Yahweh and among them was Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, ‘where have you been?’ ‘Round the world’ he answered, ‘roaming about’. So Yahweh asked hin ‘Did you notice my servant Job?‘ It is clear from this that Satan interacted with humans and was on speaking terms with Yahweh as one of his Council advisors, and this was after the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. 

The book of Revelation, written by John the beloved, a very close disciple of Jesus, wrote of a conflict within the population of angels and that Satan and his angels rebelled against God and the seven archangels, named in the Book of Enoch as: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Remiel, Reguel and Zadkiel.  Rev. 12: 7-10 “And now war broke out in heaven when Michael and his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.”

If the nephilim were indeed the cast down ones, and Satan was once an angel within Yahweh’s council, then we may very well interpret from the Hebrews’ texts that it was Satan and his angels who married human women and sired heroic children by them. Perhaps this explains the need for the great flood? But that is another story for another time.

But the Bible is in its essence the Hebrews’ text of their ancient history and passed-down knowledge of Creation there were other nations in these times and earlier who have their own historical texts and Creation legends so perhaps I should seek other ancient historical texts for further clarification.

I do not have to look far to start getting other accounts of the battle between the Gods.

The accepted authoritative texts upon which modern Bible is based date back to the reigns of King David and his son Solomon, the ninth century BC, (although some Biblical scholars believe parts were not written until several centuries later during the period of Babylonian exile for the Israelites, 600-400 BC.) and Revelation was written by John after the death of Jesus. The lessons in first five books of the Bible, the Torah, may well have been given to Moses by Yahweh around 1400 BC during the 40 years in the desert, however the recorded texts themselves can only be traced back to the 9th century BC,

At this same time, 900 BC the Iliad and the Odyssey were being written in Greece, similar to the Hebrew texts they recounted tales of ancient Greece, creation of man and the war of the gods.  The Greeks are an old and respected civilisation particularly from an intellectual, political and philosophical viewpoint and these books of the Iliad and the Odyssey therefore deserve a level of respect.

The Greek epic told of three groups of gods: the primordial gods were Gaia (earth) and Uranus (heaven).

The second group of gods were called the Titans, referred to as giants, and the first generation of Titans consisted of the twelve children of the primordial gods.

The third group of gods, the younger gods which included many of the children of the Titans gods were called the Olympians. Among the Olympians there was a hierarchy of  twelve senior Olympians and a number of minor deities. The leader of the Olympians, Zeus, was a son of the Titan ruler, Cronus.

There was, according to the Greek texts, a war between the Titans and Olympians; the Biblical battle between Satan and Yahweh is paralleled in Greek mythology as the battle between Zeus and Cronus.  In the Greek epic, the battle was won by the Olympians who then ruled the earth and created men. It was the Titans (the giants) who lost this battle.

As for the creation of men, the Greek account is that Prometheus and Epimetheus, even though they were members of the defeated Titans, were given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of clay, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure. This account resonates with the first book of the Bible, Genesis 2:7,” Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life“.

Prometheus is associated with ‘intelligence’ and was a protector and benefactor of humans he created. Prometheus decided to make man stand upright just like the gods did and to give them fire. As in Genesis, God created man in his own image. He may be paralleled with Satan who enabled Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge and become like Gods. Prometheus fell out of favour with Zeus because he gave favours to man at the expense of Zeus.

As for sons of Gods breeding with daughters of men, Greek history does not treat this as unusual, but rather as a very normal practice; demigods were quite common throughout the population and long lists were handed down in history. Achilles certainly fits the description of a demigod, his mother a nymph goddess and father a mortal king, and he most certainly was one of Greece’s great heroes of in the Trojan war.

But there has been an even earlier accounts of the battle of the gods and creation of man in ancient Babylonian texts.

A large number of clay tablets have been discovered in what was ancient Mesopotamia and were subsequently translated. Mesopotamia is the land where Abraham was born and lived most of his life before migrating to Canaan.

Atra-Hasis (exceptionally wise) is a character of an Akkadian epic that is recorded in various versions on clay tablets. The Atra-Hasis tablets include both an account of the creation of mankind and of the great deluge. This is one of three known Babylonian stories of the great deluge. Atra-Hasis also appears on one of the Sumerian kings lists as king of  Shurrupak in the times before a flood. The oldest known copy of the epic tradition concerning Atra Hasis can be dated to the reign of Ammi Saduka (1646–1626 BCE), 200 years before Moses, during the time that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.

These texts greatly increased knowledge of the epic and were the basis for Lambert and Millard’s first English translation of the Atra Hasis epic in something approaching entirety. A further fragment has been recovered in  Ugarit. In its most complete surviving version, the Atra Hasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.

Tablet I contains a creation myth about the Sumerian gods Anu, Enlil, and Enki, gods of sky, wind, and water, when gods were in the ways of men. Following a casting of lots, sky is ruled by Anu, earth by Enlil, and the freshwater sea by Enki. (This account from Atra-Hasis has a corresponding passage in the Greek poem the Iliad, i.e. the division by lots of the air, underworld and sea among the Gods Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.) Enlil then assigned junior divinities to do farm labor and maintain the rivers and canals,

In this ancient set of tablets, the authors also write of a war between two groups of the gods, the lesser gods against the greater gods. But they give the reason for the war; it was that the lesser gods were required to do all the manual labour on earth and they simply rebelled after forty years.

When the gods were man

they did forced labor, they bore drudgery.

Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,

the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much:

The seven great Anunna-gods were burdening

the Igigi-gods with forced labor.

 The Igigi-gods were digging watercourses

canals they opened, the life of the land.

The Igigi-gods dug the Tigris river

and the Euphrates thereafter.

Springs they opened from the depths,

wells … they established.”

Intriguingly the area between the Tigris and Euphrates is where Biblical scholars are convinced that Genesis’ garden of Eden was located. And the 7 greater Gods aligns in number with the Bibles reference to seven Archangels.

But after 40 years of hard labour, these lesser gods simply rebelled as described in this tablet:

“Everyone of us gods has declared war;

…We have set … the excavation,

Excessive drudgery has killed us,

our forced labor was heavy, the misery too much!

Now, every one of us gods

has resolved on a reckoning with Enlil.”

Sumerian pottery cylinders provide the earliest depiction, 5000 years old, of 'flying beings' commonly referred to as angels.

Sumerian pottery cylinders provide the earliest depiction, 5000 years old, of ‘flying beings’ commonly referred to as angels.

The outcome of the rebellion in the Akkadian texts was that the seven senior gods agreed to create an intelligent species and humans to take over the manual farm labour (in the Garden of Eden?) from the lesser gods.

 In the Greek epic, Zeus’ anger against Prometheus for giving man the knowledge of fire caused him to unleash evils on mankind through Pandora’s box.

In Genesis, Yahweh’s anger against Satan for persuading Eve and Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge (gain intelligence) resulted in mankind being banished from the garden of Eden to suffer the harshness of the wilderness.

Were the angels simply the winners of the war between the Gods and the devils the losers? Is it good and evil that really divides them or just winners and losers of some internal disagreement? In the human conflicts we tend to say one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist; the victor writes the history.

Do these all texts describe how the evolutionary leap from the Hominid ape-man to Homo Sapiens (intelligent man) came about? So now I have referred to the modern study of archeology and the mapping of the development of modern man through analysing skeletal remains.

The brain of the earliest hominid species was about the same size as that of a chimpanzee, although it is speculated that this was the time in which the human SRGAP2 gene doubled, producing a more rapid wiring of the frontal cortex. During the next few hundred thousand years the Homo erectus species (upright walking) became evident with earliest findings dating between 1.5 and 1.9 million years ago. This species began migrating from central Africa through northern Africa into Asia and Europe. The brain of the Homo erectus had doubled from the chimpanzee size to now being 850 cubic centimetres. Archeologists believe that Homo erectus was the first species to use fire and complex tools. The last recorded fossil of Homo erectus is dated about 140,000 years ago. The emergence of the modern species of man, the classic Neanderthal, was relatively recent, between 200-250,000 years ago. The Neanderthal recorded the largest brain of the hominid species at 1500-1600 cm3. A variation of Neanderthal, Homo sapiens (intelligent man, man of knowledge), dates back 200,000 years. So for a period of over 100,000 years, Homo erectus and Neanderthal were both present on earth and for 60,000 years all three: Homo erectus, Neanderthal and Homo sapiens, co-habited on earth. There is evidence of inter-breeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens but the Neanderthal became effectively extinct about 30-40,000 years ago in Western Europe. Interestingly our Homo sapiens’ brain size has been decreasing over the past 28,000 years to now averaging 1200-1300 cm3. So has the size of my computer over the last 28,000 hours.

Maybe that young missionary who never returned was doing me a favour by forcing me to seek so that I should find? or at least find a whole lot more questions; but very interesting questions. I think the quest will go on.

 

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