The Ark of the Covenant

What Was Actually Inside The Ark of the Covenant? | uCatholic

The Ark of the Covenant is the most sacred object in Judaism. According to the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament), it houses the original Ten Commandments and the sceptre of Aaron. The power of God is said to live in the Ark, and the Hebrews used it to conquer their Promised Land. Its current location is the stuff of legend.

The Book of Exodus says the Hebrew God instructed Moses to build the Ark during his forty days at Mount Sinai to exact measurements and specifications. Moses had a craftsman named Belazel and his assistant Oholiab build the Ark out of acacia and coat it with gold.
The book of Deuteronomy claimed Moses made the Ark himself. The Hebrews housed the Ark in the portable Tabernacle until the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

The Ark granted the Hebrews divine favour. With it in their control, rivers opened, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. When the Philistines, stole it, disease and famine struck the Hebrews until it was recovered. Only in the presence of the Ark could sinners atone.

Living embodiments of gods were common in the Bronze Age. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Philistines and others housed statues to their gods, which they protected fiercely. If the statue were stolen or destroyed, its people would lose their god’s favour. The statue of Marduk was stolen and recovered five times over a thousand years.

The Ark of the Covenant disappeared in the 530s BC when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Most scholars believe it was lost forever.

The Book of Maccabees – canon to Jews, Catholics and Orthodox Christians – claims Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave near Mount Nebo (modern West Bank). There it would stay “until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy.” As the Biblical stories spread over the following centuries, so did legends about the Ark’s location.

Some believe the Ark resides in a secret tunnel beneath Jerusalem and that the Dead Sea Scrolls are a map to its location.

Replica of the lost ark or African treasure? - Deseret News

The Lemba people of Zimbabwe are descendants of Yemeni Jews. They claim their ancestors brought the Ark south on their migration to Africa until it crumbled. The Lemba priests built a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, allegedly on God’s command. In the 1940s, German scientists carbon-dated the Lemba Ark and found it dated to 1350, around the collapse of the Great Zimbabwe civilization. Today it is housed in the Museum of Harare, Zimbabwe.

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The Ethiopian Tewehado Orthodox Church has a different story. According to the Ethiopian National Epic, King Solomon’s fathered a son by the Queen of Sheba. Their son was Menelik I, who became the first emperor of Ethiopia. He brought the Ark from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. The Ark allegedly resides in the treasury of the Church of Our Lady of Zion in the holy city of Axum to this day, where only the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is allowed to view it.

In a 1992 interview, Professor of Ethiopian Studies Edward Ullendorf claimed he saw the Ark firsthand in 1941 while working for the British army. The priests tried to stop him, but he forced his way into the chamber:

“They have a wooden box, but it’s empty,” Ullendorf claimed. “Middle- to late-medieval construction, when these were fabricated ad hoc.”

Sources: King James Bible, Live Science
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Biography of Moses, Leader of the Abrahamic Religions

Moses is the prophet who wrote the Hebrew code of laws. He is Judaism’s most revered figure and is mentioned in the Quran more than any other person. According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

  • Hebrew: Moshe
  • Arabic: Musa

According to the book of Exodus, which Moses allegedly wrote, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt at the time of his birth. When the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys to quell their population, Moses’s mother hid him in the bullrushes of the Nile. Here the pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court until discovering his true parentage. He murdered an Egyptian slave-driver and fled to Midian, where he met his wife, Zipporah. 

Instructed by a burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt. He promised the Hebrews a ‘land of milk and honey’ if they submitted to Yahweh, the God of Israel and demanded the pharaoh release his people. He refused, and ten plagues then befell his country. Forced to comply, the pharaoh freed the Hebrews but then sent his army against them, trapping them against the Red Sea. Moses parted the sea and allowed the Hebrews to cross. It then closed and drowned the pharaoh and his army.

God spoke to the Hebrews through Moses, who could see and hear him, atop Mount Sinai and dictated his laws – the Ten Commandments, an eye for an eye. Moses slaughtered the 3,000 who worshipped a golden calf instead then led the Hebrews through forty more years in the wilderness. When the Midianites tried to turn the Hebrews from their god, Moses ordered their destruction. He died on Mount Nebo by the banks of the Jordan River.

 The Quran affirms the Exodus narrative, adding the following details:

  • The pharaoh’s wife, not his daughter, raised Moses
  • Moses offered salvation to the pharaoh through worship of Allah 
  • Moses spoke to Muhammad in heaven

Was Moses real? The Torah claims Moses lived around 1100 BC, but historians have found no evidence in archaeology or contemporary Egyptian records. Most consider him a mythical figure, believing the Hebrews grew out of Canaan’s indigenous population. If a component of their people came from Egypt, their numbers were small. 

‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) by Sigmund Freud claims the prophet was an Egyptian nobleman who supported the heretic Akhenaten. This pharaoh had tried to replace the Egyptian pantheon with a single deity named Aten, but when he died, the priests of Egypt destroyed his cult and restored the old gods. According to Freud, Moses escaped the purge and brought his Egyptian god to Israel. There Aten became Yahweh. While mythologist Joseph Campbell embraced Freud’s theory, both theologians and Egyptologists reject it.

According to some Islamic traditions, Moses is buried in Nabi Musa in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sources: King James Bible, World History Encyclopedia

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Giraffe Ghosts

All About Giraffes

Giraffe ghosts are a phenomenon alleged by the Humr people of Sudan. They emerge after one consumes umm nyolokh, a drink made from giraffe liver and bone marrow. 

The Humr are a tribe within the Arabic-speaking Messiriya, themselves a part of North Africa’s Baggara (cattle herder) people. Humr inhabit the narrow belt of savannah between Lake Chad and the White Nile. Although many now live in cities, Humr traditionally herded cattle and supplemented their diet by hunting elephants and giraffes. 

Scottish anthropologist Ian Cunnison (1923 – 2013) documented Humr customs in the early 1950s on behalf of Sudan’s government. He described umm nyolokh, a ‘delicious drink’ made from grounded liver and marrow of giraffes. Its consumers, according to Cunnison, experienced dreamlike visions of phantom giraffes walking the horizon. He did not try it himself. Cunnison believed the ‘ghosts’ were hallucinations, though as giraffes do not contain psychedelic properties, he attributed them to placebo.

From ‘Hunting the Giraffes’, Sudan Notes and Records (1958):

“I have already mentioned the drink umm nyolokh of giraffe liver and marrow, which many regard as the supreme moment of the expedition. It is said that a person, once he has drunk umm nyolokh, will return to giraffes again and again. Humr, being Mahdists, are strict abstainers and a Humrawi is never drunk (sakran) on liquor or beer. But he uses the word to describe the effects of umm nyolokh upon him. (It is also used for a man’s condition on drinking large quantities of sour milk, which results in a breakdown of inhibitions.) I can only assume there is no intoxicating substance in the drink and that the effect it produces is simply a matter of convention though it may be brought about subconsciously. Its warmth, its delicious taste, and consistency produce an effect of physical contentment on Humr, and probably do to whoever drank it.

It is followed frequently by dreams of giraffe, and I have heard a man wake shortly after drinking it shouting “giraffe on your left”. This was regarded as a typical effect. In the waking state, also, men swear they see giraffe through the forest or over the plain where there are none at all. In the absence of any physiological explanation, these phenomena may perhaps be regarded as an indication to which the Humrawi’s being is permeated with thoughts of giraffe.”

Richard Rudgley’s ‘Encyclopedia of Psychedelic Substances’ (1998) pulled Cunnison’s observations from obscurity. Rudgley speculated the visions came from Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the umm nyolokh. Both Sudan’s giraffe species – the Kordofan and Nubian – eat an acacia tree containing DMT.

The theory holds that the psychoactive chemicals were stored in the giraffes’ liver and marrow, which in turn was consumed as umm nyolokh. The only known psychedelic animals are species of fish and frog, though mammals can store chemical compounds in their bloodstream after consuming hallucinogens. Siberian shamans used to eat magic mushrooms and produce hallucinogenic urine. 

DMT elicits amorphous visions which differ according to the person seeing them. Of all hallucinogenic compounds, it is the most powerful and least understood. Shamans and the esoterically inclined believe its visions are not the product of one’s mind but glimpses of phenomena ‘out there’, independent of the viewer and imperceptible in regular, waking consciousness. Such thought aligns with the claim of giraffe ghosts though is near impossible to prove by scientific methods. In either case, it is likely cultural presuppositions which inform the specific vision of giraffes rather than the fact that animal filters the DMT.

Cunnison was the only person to write about umm nyolokh first hand; no one else reported it since. While the Humr are far from an obscure hunter-gatherer band, their way of life has changed since the 1950s, as savannah turns to desert. Today both Nubian and Kordofan giraffes teeter on the verge of extinction. Whether their ghosts still walk, or if they ever did, we simply do not know. 

Sources: Giraffe Conservation, The Guardian, Ian Cunnison – Sudan Notes and Records (1958), Richard Rudgley – Encyclopedia of Psychadelic Substabces (1998)

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The Sudan Crisis

Sudanese protesters maintain pressure on military regime ...Since toppling its dictator in April, Sudan stands torn between a nonviolent protest movement and an intransigent military regime. On June 3rd authorities fired on pro-democracy activists in capital Khartoum. Government militias ran rampant, accused of murder, theft and rape. At least 138 have died so far. The UN warns that Sudan risks slipping into a ‘human rights abyss’.

Key Figures:

  • Omar al-Bashir, ‘butcher of Darfur’ and dictator of 30 years, was overthrown by the military on April 11th after months of civilian protest. In 2008 the International Criminal Court convicted him of crimes against humanity for his role in the Darfur Genocide (2003 -).  Imprisoned in Khartoum, he stands trial for embezzlement, war crimes and terrorism.
  • Sudan military chief: We'll hand over power when there's ...Abdel Fattah al-Burhan rules Sudan as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Transitional Military Council. He visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in May, receiving support from their governments.Sudan's military to resume civil talks as barricades ...
  • Mohamed Hamadan ‘Hemeti’ Dangalo is commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the junta’s number two. Hemeti earned a brutal reputation as leader of the Janjaweed militias against rebels in Darfur. Allegedly the true power behind the throne.

  • Mohamed Mattar, a martyr of the June 3rd massacre who flew from London to take part.  ‘#blueforsudan’ spread in his honour.

Viral ‘Nubian queen’ rally leader says women key to Sudan ...

  • Aala Saleh, nicknamed ‘Kandaka’ (Nubian queen)became the uprising’s Marianne after a video of her singing went viral.

The people rose in December 2018 after the government tripled the price of bread. Civil war, international sanctions and mismanagement had stifled Sudan’s economy, with inflation reaching 70%.  Led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, thousands of protesters occupied the streets outside the Ministry of Defense in April demanding regime change.

The ten-member ‘Transitional Military Council’ (TMC) replaced al-Bashir. Power now rests with the military, the RSF and the ‘Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces’ (DFCF)– a coalition of trade unions, opposition parties, activists and rebel groups.  A tentative agreement promised elections in three years’ time. Demanding the military cede power to a civilian-led transition government, protesters continued their nonviolent sit-in with numbers swelling.

The Khartoum Massacre: On June 3rd RSF gunmen dispersed the protesters with live bullets and pickup trucks.  They killed over 100 and dumped 40 bodies in the Nile, according to Sudanese doctors. At least 70 people were raped by the RSF, who prowled the streets, dismantling barricades, beating and torturing those who resisted and blockading hospitals.  The military put Khartoum in lockdown and arrested DFCF leaders. The African Union promptly suspended Sudan’s membership. 

A health worker commented on the protesters’ camp:

“Everything was destroyed – it’s the same thing when you pass by villages in Darfur where they have shot and killed people and looted property, it’s the same picture.”

Sudan to Deploy Troops in Darfur After Tribal ClashesThe Rapid Support Forces is the new name for the Janjaweed – Arab militias responsible for atrocities in Darfur. Led by Hemeti, the Janjaweed draw from provincial Sudanese nomads, and, though loyal to the government, are notoriously undisciplined and violent. At least 9,000 currently occupy Khartoum.

The DFCF responded with a three-day general strike from the 9th to 11th of June which paralysed Sudan’s economy.  They demand the TMC step down and an independent investigation of the June 3rd Massacre.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is mediating talks with the TMC and the protesters, who have since suspended their strikes.  With the internet cut, defiant activists now stage night rallies spread by text and word of mouth. The government claims to regret the massacre but denies culpability.

Massacre in Sudan: Revolutionaries vow to fight on despite ...

Sources: The Africa Report, Al Jazeera, BBC, Crisis Group, Foreign Policy, Liberation News, Middle East Eye

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Update 3/7/19: Associated Press confirms 128 killed June 3rd.

Update 4/7/19: The military and protest leaders announce a joint government, with the promise of elections. in three years’ time. 

Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible

7244The Poisonwood Bible (1998) is a novel by American author Barbara Kingsolver.  Spanning thirty years, it follows the trials and tribulations of a Baptist missionary family who relocate from small town Georgia to the heart of the Belgian Congo.

The Price Family are woefully ignorant. Their Betty Crocker cake mixes fail in the tropical climate and, after dismissing the housekeeper’s advice to make mounds of earth around their vegetable patch, they find it flooded the next day.

Reverend Nathan Price, the fanatical family patriarch, only alienates his new home when he insists on baptising her people in the Kwilu river.  For the neighbours it is madness; everyone knows the river is infested with crocodiles. When Reverend Price attempts to preach in the local tongue he proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala! Bangala means lord, but in the tonal Kikongo language, slight inflection is the difference between lord and poisonwood.

The story is told in first person, from the perspective of the Price women:

  • Rachel, 15 at the start is a typical 1950s American teenager and the most out of place in their new home. Most concerned with sleepovers, a pleasant sweet 16, and getting a boyfriend, she hates life in the Congo and is the least sympathetic to the plight of those around her.
  • Leah, 14 years old is an intelligent and outspoken tomboy who walks in her father’s shadow like a loyal dog. Playing the story’s most central role, Leah gets the most chapters. She was my favorite character.
  • Adah, Leah’s younger twin. A mishap in the womb left her paralysed on the right side of her body, for which she blames Leah. Adah, although not much of a talker, is fiercely introspective. She enjoys reading backwards and writing palindromes.
  • Ruth May, at 5 years old in the beginning of the story, is far younger than her sisters. Her narration offers a more innocent and open minded perspective on life in the Congo. Typical of younger children, she is the most adept at picking up new languages.
  • Orleana Price, the mother of the girls, narrates the start of each chapter from the future, reflecting on past events with an air of guilt. Conversely the girls’ narration is current, and often speaks in the present tense.

Kingsolver’s style goes against conventional creative writing wisdom. The girls show and don’t tell, simply recounting events as one would to a friend without vividly painting the scene. Their narration is highly subjective, emotive and distinct. By the end of the book all five of the girls are living lives as  different from one another’s as their personalities.

The Poisonwood Bible was intended as an allegory. Beginning in 1959, it is set in a turbulent time in the country that suffered the most from colonialism. Figures like Patrice Lamumba, Eisenhower and Mobutu all play their role. Though they never meet the story’s characters, their actions shape their world all the same.

The Poisonwood Bible may be just another ‘white person in Africa novel’, but is anything but a white savior narrative. It is a little too bleak and realistic, if anything.

As a girl Kingsolver lived a year in Kinshasa, Congo, though  her parents were doctors, not missionaries. As someone who writes about places she has lived, Kingsolver could only paint the Congo from the eyes of outsiders.

For research, Kingsolver drew on African literature, history books, 1950s American magazines, the King James Bible and her own experiences. Being a critic of Mobutu, the Congo’s then dictator, she was limited to visiting neighbouring countries for research.

The Poisonwood Bible took Kingsolver ten years to write.  It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1999, showcased on Oprah’s book club and and won the Boueke Prize in 2000.

“Don’t try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you’re good, bad things can still happen. And if you’re bad, you can still be lucky.”

Robert Mugabe

MugabeRobert Gabriel Mugabe (1924-) is the founding father of Zimbabwe and a dictator of 37 years. At age 93, he was, until very recently, the world’s oldest serving head of state.  A champion of Black Nationalism against white minority rule Mugabe was once a glimmering hope for post-colonial Africa. Nearly four decades later and he has left a nation plagued by corruption and tyranny.

mugabe young.jpgThe former schoolteacher was a hero in 1980, fiercely popular within Zimbabwe and without. He had led the insurrection against Rhodesia’s white minority government and won the following election in a landslide. Like Nelson Mandela, he was a Marxist, a revolutionary, an intellectual, a political prisoner for over a decade and a relentless crusader against minority government and Apartheid. At the official independence ceremony, Bob Marley played his ‘Zimbabwe’ to a jubilant crowd in Mugabe’s honour. Mugabe was lauded by both his Communist backers and the western left. The US gave 25 million dollars in aid to his nascent regime.

Mugabe had been born in 1924 in Southern Rhodesia, a British settler colony named for Cecil Rhodes, the famed British imperialist, diamond magnate and De Beers founder. Three ethnic groups called Rhodesia home: the majority Shona, a Bantu speaking people, the Ndebele, a Zulu offshoot comprising 20% of the population, and a minority of white British settlers.  The latter ruled the greater black population as a ‘subject race’, exploiting the nation’s rich mineral reserves and owning the vast majority of its arable land.  In 1964 Rhodesia gained independence but under a white ruled government. Mugabe was Shona and Catholic.

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Two parties led the liberation movement. Fighting alongside his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party, who were largely Shona and backed by China, were the Ndebele led, Soviet backed ZAPU party of Joshua Nkomo. Mistrusting his former ally and fearing a power grab from ZAPU, Mugabe dispatched the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade into the Ndebele homeland of Matabeleland. Suspected Ndebele malcontents and ZAPU members were summarily executed in the ‘Gukurahundi’, ‘the rain that washes away the chaf before spring’. Ndebele men of fighting age were forced to dig their own graves before execution. Others were herded into their houses and burned alive. Genocide watch estimates Mugabe’s government killed 20,000 Ndebele from 1983-1987.

Though the 80s saw substantial improvements in Zimbabwe’s literacy and standard of living, Mugabe’s rule became increasingly tyrannical and corrupt. By the 90s the economy was faltering. The now president’s dubious human rights record and electoral fraud soured western opinion. In 1997 Tony Blair rescinded on Britain’s pledge to compensate the new government and froze Zimbabwean assets.

zimbabwe gdp

In 2000 Mugabe violently appropriated white-owned farms, parcelling out the vast estates to landless blacks and political favourites. The new owners, however, had no experience as commercial farmers and the resulting mismanagement, white exodus and foreign sanctions drove Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy to ruin.

By now Mugabe’s dictatorship was entrenched in mismanagement and cronyism. Zimbabwe’s vast mineral wealth found itself in the pockets of Mugabe and his followers while the common people starved. In 2016 Reuters estimated over a billion USD a year had been lost to corruption.  To afford foreign imports after the 2000 land reforms Mugabe’s Central Bank printed extra money. Incredible hyperinflation resulted: when Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in 2015 the exchange rate was 35,000,000,000,000 ZWD to 1 USD. Unemployment reached 95%.

zimbabwe inflation.jpg

On November 14th, 2017, a 93 year old President Mugabe was arrested and expelled from his own party in a bloodless coup. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s right hand man, orchestrated the takeover to ensure his succession on Mugabe’s death. He had been fired from the vice presidency eight days earlier. On the 22nd of November the president officially resigned. The leadership has reshuffled, but Mugabe’s party remains in control, and Zimbabwe must  now face the dismal legacy he has left behind.

Update 7/09/19: Robert Mugabe dies age 95.