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Was Jesus a Peasant?

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by Fr. Dr. Claude J. Perera, omi

Our common knowledge about Jesus belonging to the rural peasantry in Galilee has been challenged by recent archaeological discoveries done in an ancient town, Sepphoris by name. At the very outset, we got to clarify the term ‘Peasant.’ The Cambridge English Dictionary has two definitions to the word ‘Peasant.’

1. “a person who owns or rents a small piece of land and grows crops, keeps animals etc. on it, especially one who has a low income, very little education, and a low social position. This is usually used of someone who lived in the past or of someone in a poor country”:

2. “a person who is not well educated or is rude and does not behave well.”

Does any of these definitions correctly and adequately describe who Jesus was? In trying to answer this question, one first thing we need to examine is what St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus was by profession. Was he a peasant? There is no evidence to substantiate an argument to that effect.

Jewish historian Josephus (37/38 – 100 CE) presented Jesus of Nazareth as belonging to an artisan class, but his social class is said to be below peasants (contrary to the general understanding that artisans were above peasants) and was likely illiterate. Jesus’ foster-father Joseph’s occupation (tekt?n in Greek, in Mk 6:3) has been variously rendered as ‘carpenter’ (2 Kgs 22:6); ‘craftsman,’ ‘workman’ (Is 44:12); ‘smith’ (1 Sm 13:19); ‘woodworker’ and ‘stonemason’ (2 Sm 5:11); ‘worker in brass’ (1Kgs 7:2) and ‘unskilled day laborer.’ (Cf. LEH Greek- English Lexicon of the Septuagint). His knowledge and the use of vivid imagery related to rich landowners and masters who had slaves and servants seem to suggest that he was no mere rustic frog in a well. These suggest that he would have been aware of a mixed sociological surrounding. Whether or not artisans were above or below peasants may not be too relevant. Jesus’ occupation may not have much to do with his literacy. But what really matters for his literacy is the place where he lived. If he had lived in a backwater area, then probably he would have been illiterate because he did not come from a wealthy merchant or priestly family whose children alone had the patrimony of education at that time. Education being expensive and rare, it was beyond the reach of artisans and peasants. Such high society did not lived in rustic hamlets, but in cities

Scholars debate as to whether Jesus was literate. Chris Keith in “Jesus and Literacy,” in http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/jesus-and-literacy (access 12.11.2020) rules out the possibility of Jesus being literate, whereas Craig A. Evans in Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (SPCK, 2013) pp. 63–88 advances arguments to the contrary. However, there is little evidence to say that Jesus had any formal education. His knowledge of Scripture is most likely resulting from listening regularly to sacred texts and commentaries at the synagogue.  Interestingly, the question of Jesus’ education and mentorship was intriguing to Christians in the late second century.  During his youth at Nazareth, Jesus would have been an artisan like his foster-father Joseph. But during his public life, Jesus was a teacher, a wise person. He was not an academic, but with the kind of the oral education of a God-fearing and good Jewish family as well as his Jewish home-upbringing in the Nazareth region.

He would have been trilingual, namely, Aramaic, Greek, and the liturgical language of Hebrew. Aramaic was an ancient Semitic language, now mostly extinct, was the language of the Aramaeans from about the late 11th century B.C.E. A version of it is still extant in some Chaldean Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. With trade and military expeditions, Aramaic language had spread in that region by the 7th century B.C.E., and it had become the lingua franca in much of the Middle Orient. In the first century CE, it would have been the most common language of ordinary Jewish people. Most religious scholars and historians agree that historical Jesus and his disciples spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Hebrew belongs to the same linguistic family as Aramaic. At the time of Jesus, Hebrew was also the language of religious scholars and of Holy Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible almost in its entirety was written in Hebrew, although it contained some small section in Aramaic. The Bible had been already translated into Greek already by the third century BCE.

Together with Aramaic and Hebrew, the colonial languages of Greek and Latin were also common in Jesus’ time. As Alexander the Great invaded Archaemenid Persian Empire and defeated the Persian Emperor Darius III at the battle of Issus in 333 BCE, Greek replaced other languages as the official language of the region by and large. With the Roman conquest of the Greek Empire in 146 BCE, in its Eastern region to which belonged Judea kept Greek as its lingua franca. The use of Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire) was reserved for legal and military matters. According to Jonathan Katz, a Classics lecturer at Oxford University, Jesus’ would have probably known some Greek, as it was a common language of the people with whom he spoke regularly, although most likely he may not have been too proficient. He further says that his knowledge of Latin probably would have been restricted to a few words. For sure, he would not have spoken Arabic since it began to be used in Palestine only after the first century CE. In conclusion, we can say that Jesus’ most common spoken language was Aramaic, but he was still familiar with three or four different tongues even if not fluent, or even proficient.

The apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas written ca 185 CE says that Jesus was not educated in the strict sense of the word, but he excelled much more than his teachers at the synagogue (Chapters 6 -8). However, certain linguistic and rhetorical heritage found in the synoptics as well as in the Fourth Gospel could be explained by the Redaction Critical Approach (Redaktionsgeschichte- ‘Redaction Criticism’) to the gospels, where such sophistications should be understood as the work of evangelists who reworked the oral forms that were circulating in the Apostolic Community (Formgeschichte – ‘Form Criticism’). The sacred authors left their imprints, (i.e. traces of the instrument (by the Instrumental Authors) on their final products (i.e. gospels) which are attributed the Principal Author, God although His Spirit inspired the sacred authors. The language and rhetorical abilities that come to the fore are not from Jesus, but from the evangelist. But the saving message they convey came from Jesus’ wisdom as the Son of God.

Recent discussions of Jesus’ social class locate him within the social structures of Mediterranean society generally, or particularly in the Galilean society of the first century. There seems to be a debate among many contemporary scholars about Jesus as to whether he was really a peasant or someone higher in the socio-economic strata. We know in general he was from the lower class, by the standards of the Roman imperial aristocracy or even of the ruling class of Palestine, the Herodian client kings. He may have been an artisan, but he does not seem to have been a peasant in the strict sense, someone who was working the land for a living. However, he was close to peasant society. The images used in his parables and aphorisms show that he was firmly rooted in peasant society (Mt 13:4-9, 18-32, 44-50; 18:31ff.; 24:32; 25:14ff; Lk 12:24-32; 15:4-7; 21:29-32). But they also call upon images of landowners and bailiffs (Lk 12:13-21; 20:1-16) and relationships between slaves, masters, (Lk 16:13; 19:11-27; Mt 10:24; Jn 8:33) and servants (Lk 16:1-8, 19-31; 18:18-23). So, Jesus knew the social stratification of the time well. He may well have stood in some relationship to it.

Prescinding from settling into the easy answer of resorting to Jesus’ divine omniscience as the source of his knowledge (while not contesting the same in any manner), were there other natural situations that would have made him more literate and having a higher social standing? Our common knowledge about Jesus belonging to the rural peasant in Galilee has been challenged by recent archaeological discoveries done in an ancient town, Sepphoris by name.

Jesus grew up in the bucolic village of Nazareth in the Lower Galilee which would have had a small population of about 100 -200 people. Was Jesus a backwater from a hinterland, totally cut of from the neighbouring urban life? Some fascinating recent archaeological discoveries prevent us from giving an affirmative answer. This archaeological site containing the ruins of the then active ancient city center of Sepphoris is less than four miles from Nazareth. Sepphoris is said to have been the capitol of the Galilee. The name Sepphoris is from Hebrew sipphoris meaning ‘bird.’ For It was called so because it lay on a mountain like a bird perched on it. It was the first capital of Herod Antipas (20 BCE to 39 CE) who was Herod’s son, who succeeded him as the tetrarch, or governor of Galilee and Perea. He changed the city’s new name to Autocratoris, rebuilt it mingling Jewish and Greco-Roman architecture, calling it ‘the jewel/ornament of the Galilee’ because of its beauty and wealth (Josephus, Ant. 18.27). It was the wealthy trade center for the area. Like the splendid City of Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, it had all the attractions of Greco-Roman urban life and functioned as the center of political activity. That explains the excavations at Sepphoris revealing of humongous buildings, theaters, amphitheaters akin to any contemporary city centre. Sepphoris lay on the major land route between Caesarea on the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. That was the secret of its being a cosmopolitan city. Its inhabitants would have spoken several languages like Aramaic, Greek, Latin, in addition to their liturgical language Hebrew. Market place weights registered in both Aramaic and Greek have been found at the site. Besides, it was possible that they would have managed to communicate with their gentile neighbours in Phoenician and Syrian as various people drew into the cosmopolitan centre for trade and other civic needs. Sepphoris could not have been merely a self-contained city with its administrative institutions, houses, waterworks etc., but it had also satellite settlements around. Nazareth and the cluster villages would have been satellite villages of municipality of Sepphoris, which provided agricultural and other raw materials needed for industries.

However, Jesus has never mentioned the name Sepphoris, although his early life was not far it. He nowhere describes the civic life or archaeological ornamentations of contemporary great cities, except his references to Jerusalem which for Jesus had always a theological significance (Mt 24:1-28; Mk 13:1-23; Lk 21:5-24). The biggest city he seems to have gone during his public life seems to be Jerusalem. According to Luke’s Gospel, his career culminated there, and that with very unfortunate consequences. However, Jesus who inherited a traditional Jewish culture could not have been a stranger to this lively intersection of Greek urban culture at Sepphoris without seeing its sophisticated urban culture. Whether he was influenced by it is a different question and the extent its influence on him is questionable. But surely, he would have been aware of its existence.

Between a peasant artisan and a peasant farmer, the former who has been deprived of his land is said to be lower in the social ladder in a world there was no middle class but only the two classes of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Anthropologists say that being a peasant-artisan was no compliment. In the ancient world, city was in antithesis to village. In Sepphoris, there were aqueducts that brought in water from rural hills to it. The interaction between the city and village was not a happy one. A city had nothing much to give to poor villagers except imposition of taxes, violence, and oppression. Most of the needs of the simple villagers were met within the villages which were self-sufficient units containing their necessities of life.

Whoever Jesus was or to which social category he belonged, synoptic gospels were written to rural audiences. It could be that in the gospels Jesus appears as a rural man speaking to fellow-rural men. Jesus seems to spend his entire public career interacting with Jews in small townships or villages in the Galilee and Judah. Synoptic materials deal with ordinary, day to day, rural experiences and knowledge related to a rural populace. They presume no profound academic knowledge in the Greek sense of the word. The kind of knowledge Jesus had was true to the Hebrew concept of knowledge. For the Hebrews knowing was not something intellectual but an experiential event. Knowledge was intimacy. Knowledge meant being profoundly related. Jesus’ relationship to the Father was one such. It was never an intellectual contemplation of the Father in the Greek sense of the word.

In ancient times, the sharp contrast and social tension between town and country as we have it in our times, did not exist because the villages were often bordering towns. Yet, there was some sharp contrasts in some areas. For example, it was in the cities or the large towns where the big landowners, tax collectors, public officials and judges lived. It was there that the more ostentatious so called ‘Respectable People’ lived. Their ways of life had sharp contrasts between sophistication and simple rustic living. Jesus and his followers were not townsmen. They felt at ease only in a country surrounding.

During His public life, Jesus seems to have avoided Sepphoris and Tiberius, the two substantial settlements or cities in the Galilee. That was not where interests lay or where he felt welcome. He was more at home with villages and the small towns, where the peasants and artisans inhabited. Young Jesus of Nazareth would not have gone to Sepphoris for the purpose of entertainment and pleasure as their only day off was the Sabbath (Saturday) and the pious Jews spent the Sabbath in a very holy manner with prayers and works of piety pleasing to the Lord without breaking the third commandment (Ex 20:8-11). If at all Jesus ever went to Sepphoris, it may have been for the purpose of artisan work which his profession involved. This city was four kilometers away from Nazareth would have been the place where all teenagers would have flocked together for work. This must have been particularly so when Herod Antipas was building that city in 17 CE and later, for maintenance of the same when many technicians and artisans were needed. At that time, Jesus was a teenager and/or youth. Possibly, Jesus had his dealings related to work with this commercial hub, while being a resident in the hamlet of Nazareth. Her may have walked to work from home.

Another fact that supports Jesus’ literacy is speculations about his connection with Joseph of Arimathea. We have no verifiable details about Joseph except that he was quite wealthy. We may presume that he was an elderly man at the time of the crucifixion who had the courage to bury Jesus. Some claim that although Joseph of Arimathea was not one of the twelve, he had an important role. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He is mentioned in all four gospels (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42). For in Luke and Mark, he was not a disciple of Jesus, but someone who was awaiting the Kingdom of God. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was aware of the opposition Jesus had from the Jews and we surmise that he did not vote to surrender Jesus to Pilate in view of passing death sentence. For John he was a crypto-Christian. But for Matthew he was already a true disciple. Only Matthew mentions that it was Joseph’s own tomb hewn out of the rock himself. “Only in Matthew is Joseph wealthy (cf. Isa 53:9), which coheres with his owning an expensive tomb, but not with his hewing it out himself. ……… Joseph’s wealthy status also places him in solidarity with (some of) the members of the Matthean Church, themselves more wealthy than average.” (Cf. Eugene Boring, (1995) “The Gospel of Matthew,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 494). According to some extra-biblical and legendry claims, Joseph of Arimathea, (known in the later non-biblical tradition as Joseph of Glastonbury) was a paternal uncle of Mary, mother of Jesus as evidenced by the family tree of Jesus traced up to Adam kept in the Herald’s Office at the English College of Arms in London which is also confirmed by the Harley Manuscripts held in the British Museum. A claim is also made that Joseph of Arimathea was a merchant in metals and who eventually took young Jesus with him on his business travels. trips to England, India, and even to South America. Joseph of Arimathea has been called ‘Nobilis Decurio’ or Minister of Mines by the Roman Government. If that were the case, Joseph of Arimathea would be one of the wealthiest of all Judea. It could be that Joseph of Arimathea if he had been a relative of Mary, he would have cared for Mary’s family after St. Joseph’s demise. It may be this kinship that he had to Jesus that would have partially motivated him to bury Jesus.

What can we conclude from this Joseph of Arimathea episode? The idea that Jesus traveled about with him, a fact which may have contributed to his literacy and the knowledge of languages is of legendry origin. If Jesus had sojourned in Europe and in the Orient, with His maternal uncle Joseph of Arimathea, he would have picked up something of the European languages and would have made references to Europe and the Orient in his teachings. Through the trade routes, ideas spread to the Mid-Orient. Those things never entered to his theology and spirituality and so there is absolutely no evidence for a claim that Jesus’ alleged travels influenced him. Furthermore, even if Jesus had associated the upper-class business in Palestine as well abroad, and thereby had become an upper middle-class citizen, all because of Joseph of Arimathea, why did he not own his belonging to that middle class? On the contrary, he only referred to their empty ways of life and those of the rich and spoke of their attachment to wealth which he named ‘the mammon’ (Mt 6:19-21, 24; Lk 16:13). Mammon was a Syrian deity that enslaved people to wealth. Jesus had no allegiance to such wealth or wealthy. Jesus lived an extremely simple life (Mt 8:20-21). In the Lukan Infancy Narrative, the protagonists were all the riff raff of the society (Lk 2:7ff.). He was found fault by the high society of this day for associating the marginalized like the poor, sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes (Lk 4:18; 15:1-2; Mt 21:31-32). Mary’s Magnificat speaks of a reversal of the socio-political order (Lk 1:51-53). It is a non-violent revolution of the change of hearts. When Jesus did not want to count equality with God as something to be held on to but totally emptied himself, would he have ever held on to an upper class? No, not at all. The best way to describe Jesus is that he would have been an artisan of some sort of the lower middle class. But He stood above all such social distinctions. Jesus as the Son of God was classless. For His Kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36). His struggle was a spiritual transformation of the humanity to make them heaven-ward. But in that heaven-bound journey, basic earthly needs were not ignored. He accepted that people needed to eat and drink etc. (Mt 13:52). Where there were people deprived of life’s necessities, the covenant community was expected to share their resources and provide for the needy (Mt 25:31-46; Act 2:44-45).

 

Bibliography:

Frontline, “Jesus’ Social Class: Recent Archaeological Findings Challenge the Image of Jesus as a Peasant Preaching in a Pastoral Backwater,” See Harold Attridge, “Now what do you think we can know about Jesus’ social class based on recent evidence and discussions?” L. Michael White, “The Galilee and Sepphoris”; Holland Lee Hendrix, “Not a Humble Carpenter”; John Dominic Crossan, “A Peasant Boy in a Peasant Village”; Shaye I. D. Cohen, “Jesus Avoids Cities”; Paula Fredriksen, “Sepphoris Didn’t Make Much Difference,” and Eric Meyers, “Jesus Probably Trilingual,” Cf. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/socialclass.html (access 05.12.2020).

Aubin, Melissa M. (2000). The Challenging Landscape of Byzantine Sepphoris. ASOR Publications.

Barzilai, Omry; et al. (19 August 2013). “Nahal Zippori, the Eshkol Reservoir – Somekh Reservoir Pipeline,” Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel. (No. 125).

Chancey, Mark A. (2005). Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee Jesus. Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, S. J. D. (2002). Josephus and Rome: His Vita and Developments as a Historian. Brill: Leiden.

Evans, Craig A. Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence. SPCK, 2013, 63–88

Keith, Chris. in “Jesus and Literacy.” in http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/jesus-and-literacy (access 12.11.2020).

Miller, Stuart S. (1984). Studies in the History and Traditions of Sepphoris. Brill: Leiden

Rowan, Yorke M.; Baram U. (2004). Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past Rowman Altamira.



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Features

S L – a cauldron of casualties and trouble

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Cassandra has stopped watching news at night for the sake of her wellbeing and peace of mind. Watching English news at 9.00 p m on a local channel caused her to toss and turn or wake up at the ungodly hour of 2.00 am to again toss and turn, but this time mentally with suppressed anger, frustration, and fear for the future surfacing and consequently inundating the mind with unease. Why all this? Because Sri Lankan news is always of protests, ministerial pontificating with next to nothing done to lift the country from rock bottom it has been thrust to; and violence, murders and drug hauls. All worrying issues. The present worry is spending 200 m on a celebration that most Ordinaries, the public Cass means, DO NOT Want.

What are the issues of the week just past? Hamlet’s disturbed and disturbing ‘To be or not to be’ twisted to ‘Will happen or will not.’ That specifically relates to the LG elections scheduled for March 9. The government has tried every trick of delay just because they face sure defeat – the combined Elephant and Bud that rules us as of now. Everyone else shouts for elections and follows up with the threat to come out on the streets. That seems to be Sri Lankans most resorted to pastime. And we dread the melees; the water cannon, police brutality and the disgrace of saffron robed, bearded and hair grown men in the vanguard of slogan lofting shouters. All a useless and worthless expense of energy achieving nothing but tear gas and water shooting, and remand jail for some. Some of these protests call for the release of one such IUSF protester deemed to be a terrorist by a draconian law and confined in solitary imprisonment for far too long.

A shot or more of arrack or kasippu was resorted to by men and excused by other men as necessary mental trouble relievers. A woman would imbibe a bit of brandy if not a sleeping pill to ease her troubled mind and thus queasy gut. Not any longer if one takes advice that comes pouring in via social media.

Canada’s new move on Alcohol Guidance

As questioned by Holly Honderich in Washington BBC January 18: “What’s behind Canada’s drastic new Alcohol Guidance?” She says a report funded by Health Canada warns that “any amount of alcohol is not good for your health and if you drink, less is better.” This is contained in a 90 page report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Health issues result from the intake of more than standard drinks and these include breast and colon cancer. Honderich says it may be a rude awakening for the roughly 80% of Canadian adults who drink. The ratio is higher, Cass presumes, in this resplendent isle with its arrack, illicit brews and toddy both kitul and palmyrah. So the comforting statement that was earlier in vogue, that a daily tot of alcoholic drink is good for health, is sent overboard by the Canadian advice. Of course now with money so short except in the hands of the corrupt, the latter advice will have to be taken, voluntarily or otherwise, by most Lankans.

Prez Gotabaya and his advisors’ ruling

We have all seen at least on TV, farmers mourning their yellowing crops of paddy and heard their heart-rending cries of hopelessness at the loss of a third harvest due to the utter crime of overnight stoppage of chemical fertilisers and pest control. Cass wonders how the ex-Prez who decreed this and his advisors sleep at night having blighted long term the entire agriculture of this predominantly agricultural country. Farmers cry out they are in debt, have no money to feed nor school their children; added to which hospitals are bare of medicines.

A highly-educated and experienced agriculturist sent Cass an email the gist of which is that rice farmers all over the island report a ‘yellowing’ of paddy, stunted growth and dead plants in patches. They had all used ‘compost’ issued by the govt. There is a hint this could be due to a nematode infestation. If correct, this has grave implications. It has occurred in tea with no easy cure. Only costly fumigation was effective, eventually. Once rice paddies are infected it would be very difficult to control – almost impossible; already impoverished farmers can bear no further expense.

A three wheeler driver told Cass that river bed soil had been mixed with thrown away household garbage (both obtained free, obviously) and sold as organic fertiliser. I hasten to add this is hearsay, but the obvious truth staring all Sri Lankans in the face and sending shivers of apprehension down all spines is that this Maha season crop is kaput; gone down the drain with farmers cheated and someone or some persons having made money from the deal.

Pointless it is to curse those who were in the racket; useless to commiserate farmers and their families; impossible to compensate them. Will those responsible for giving out dangerous fertiliser for distribution be traced and brought to justice? Never! However, that word ‘never’ is now pronounced with a mite of doubt after M Sirisena and others were dealt justly by judges of the Supreme Court. There are glimmers of hope that wrong doers, actually criminals who bankrupted the country and damaged its agriculture, will be dealt with suitably.

There will be no Aluth Avuruddha for the backbone of the country in April since celebrations centre around a good harvest and R&R after a Maha season of toil and filling bins and storehouses with bountiful paddy. This was pre-Gota days. Now it is all round misery since urban dwellers sorrow, and also suffer, with the farmers who supplied them with food.

Clear stats given to prove inefficiency of the state sector

A video clip came to Cassandra with Advocata CEO Dananath Fernando speaking on the inefficiency of the public service due to being too many in number. Dananath is much admired and spoke clearly and convincingly. He said more conversing with Faraz Shauketaly on Newsline presented by TVI channel on Tuesday 24 January at 8.30 p m.

Dananath said our bureaucracy is inefficient and ineffectual. Main reason being there are too many to do the work. His fact check went like this. In India for every 177 members of the general public there is one (01) government officer or as named earlier ‘government servant’. In Pakistan the figures are 117 to one. Bangladesh is almost the same. In Sri Lanka (hold your breath!) to every sixteen (16) citizens there sits one government officer, mainly twiddling his/her thumbs. It would be interesting to know the ratios in developed countries. But the very relevant to us countries have been named by the Advocata finding. Cass does not need to spell what the result is; she has already indicated it with the image of the thumb twiddler.

We knew the bureaucracy was over staffed, bloated and bulging big like the leaders we have: 225 in parliament, then local councils and pradeshiya sabhas. And in each of them, law makers, decision takers and those who carry them out are far too excessive in number and cost the government excessively in salaries, infrastructure, travel modes; etc. etc. So Advocata asks how development, or even mere running of the country can be achieved efficiently and effectively. A further shock, at least to Cass, was dealt by Dananath in proving the point by revealing statistics for the police service. 50% of the entire police force is deployed on security duty to 225 MPs, Ministers and state VIPs while the balance half is expected to provide safety and security to 22 million people! Lop sided and thus the country slants to sink or disintegrate. It has already slanted to bankruptcy and begging as never before and selling the meager money making ventures we possess.

How did the public service get so bloated? Again the guilty are, or were, those in power. They kept sending persons with chits and they had to be employed. Reason? Sympathy for the jobless? Not at all. Pure unadulterated self-interest so votes are assured them.

Rise up and show thy face, thou olde pensioner

That’s a government order to be observed by the old; most finding walking difficult and many finding the necessity to gather some money for three wheeler hire denting their January budget. But present yourself to the Grama Sevaka of your area is a must if you want to continue receiving your pension, now totally inadequate; but still very grateful for. Hence the procession of the old and weak leaning on walking sticks, even crutches or on willing supporting arms offered them.

Some years ago, questioned by Cassandra, an obliging woman Grama Sevaka said that those unable to present themselves are visited in their homes by officers. We do hope this is done since there must be plenty thumb twiddlers in this government department too.

Bravo Hirunika!

Cass most definitely is an admirer of beautiful Hirunika. She’s garnered another kudos by her latest action, OK, gimmick if you like that word to express the way she has shown displeasure, censure, disagreement of the general public on holding an elaborate National Day event to celebrate 75 years of’ democratic self-rule’ at the exorbitant cost of Rs 200m.. That expression itself calls for comment. Termed National Day it is far from being thus with so many protesting various issues. Celebration is a blatant falsehood. Feb 4 should really be a day of mourning, since the Nation is in the dregs of corruption, misrule and bankruptcy. Self-rule here equates to selfish rule by the leaders for themselves and misrule for us the public. Democracy is dead, actually it was totally dead during previous regimes but has revived somewhat lately,

And how did Hirunika express censure? By having black bows knotted on the posts erected to prop covered spaces for the march past, etc. Black connotes death, mourning, displeasure, bad times. Of course at expense, the bows will be removed before the posse of horses and motor riders and security cars conducts the Prez to the s venue. Cass entertains a jaundiced wish that the entire DPL Corps will, non-diplomatically, ignore invitation and not be present at the celebratory event. Rows and rows of empty chairs might convey the message of non grata, rather disdain for the powers that be. Ranil may be respected still, but those backing him and even guiding his hands are NOT.

Cheers till we meet next Friday!

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Gandhianv Ethics

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By JAYDEV JANA

The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’, which means ‘way of living’. The judgement of right and wrong, what to do and what not to do, and how one ought to act, form ethics. It is a branch of philosophy that involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour.

Morality is the body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture. It can also derive from a standard that a person believes in. The word morals is derived from the Latin word ‘mos’, which means custom.

Many people use the words Ethics and Morality interchangeably. However, there is a difference between Ethics and Morals. To put it in simple terms, Ethics = Moral + reasoning.For example, one might feel that it is morally wrong to steal, but if he/ she has an ethical viewpoint on it, it should be based on some sets of arguments and analysis about why it would be wrong to steal. Mahatma Gandhi is considered as one of the greatest moral philosophers of India. The highest form of morality in Gandhi’s ethical system is the practice of altruism/self-sacrifice.

For Gandhi, it was never enough that an individual merely avoided causing evil; they had to actively promote good and actively prevent evils. The ideas and ideals of Gandhi emanated mainly from: (1) his inner religious convictions including ethical principles embedded in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity; (2) the exigencies of his struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the mass political movements during India’s freedom struggle; and (3) the influence of Tolstoy, Carlyle and Thoreau etc. He was a moralist through and through and yet it is difficult to write philosophically about his ethics.

This is because Gandhi is fundamentally concerned with practice rather than with theory or abstract thought, and such philosophy as he used was meant to reveal its ‘truth’ in the crucible of experience. Hence, the subtitle of his Autobiography ~ ‘the story of my experiments in truth.’ The experiments refer to the fact that the truth of concept, values, and ideals is fulfilled only in practice.

Gandhi’s ethics are inextricably tied up with religion, which itself is unconventional. Though an avowed Hindu, he was a Hindu in philosophical rather than a sectarian sense; there was much Hindu ritual and practice that he subjected to critique.

In his Ethical Religion, published in 1912 based on lectures delivered by him, Gandhi had stated simply that he alone cannot be called truly religious or moral whose mind is not tainted with hatred and selfishness, and who leads a life of absolute purity and of disinterested services. Without mental purity or purification of motive, external action cannot be performed in selfless spirit. Goodness does not consist in abstention from wrong but from the wish to do wrong; evil is to be avoided not from fear but from the sense of obligation. Consistency was less important to Gandhi than moral earnestness, and rules were less useful than specific norms of human excellence and the appreciation of values. Politics is a comprehensive term which is associated with composition and operation of state structure as well as its interrelationship with other states. It is activity centred around power and very often deprived of morals. With its power-mongering, amoral Machiavellianism, and its valorisation of expediency over principle, and of successful outcomes over scrupulous means, politics is an uncompromising avenue for saintliness. Inclusion of ethics in politics seemed to be a contradiction to many contemporary political philosophers.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others warned Gandhi before he embarked on a political career in India, “Politics is a game of worldly people and not of sadhus.” Introducing spirituality into the political arena would seem to betoken ineffectiveness in an area driven by worldly passions and cunning. It is perhaps for these reasons that Christ himself appeared to be in favour of a dualism: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In this interpretation, the standards and norms that apply to religion are different from those relevant to politics.

Gandhi by contrast, without denying the distinction between the domain of Caesar and that of God, repudiates any rigid separation between the two. As early as 1915, Gandhi declared his aim “to spiritualise” political life and political institutions.

Politics is as essential as religion, but if it is divorced from religion, it is like a corpse, fit only for burning. In the preface to his autobiography, Gandhi declared that his devotion of truth had drawn him into politics, that his power in the political field was derived from his spiritual experiments with himself, and those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means. Human life being an undivided whole, no line could be drawn between ethics and politics. It was impossible to separate the everyday life of man, he emphasised, from his spiritual being. He said, “I feel that political work must be looked upon in terms of social and moral progress.” Gandhi is often called a saint among politicians. In an epoch of ‘globalisation of selfcentredness’ there is a pressing necessity to comprehend and emulate the moralistic dimension of Gandhian thought and re-evaluate the concept of politics. The correlation between ends and means is the essence of Gandhi’s interpretation of society in terms of ethical value rather than empirical relations. For Gandhi, means and ends are intricately connected.

His contention was, “For me it is enough to know the means. Means and ends are convertible terms in my philosophy.” Gandhi countered the assertion that ends vindicate means. If the means engaged are unjust there is no possibility of achieving satisfactory outcomes. He compared the means to a seed and the end to a tree. Gandhi stuck to this golden ideal through thick and thin, without worrying about the immediate results. He was convinced that our ultimate progress towards the goal would be in exact proportion to the purity of our means.

Gandhi believed that “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” His seven social sins refer to behaviours that go against ethical code and thereby weaken society. When values are not strongly held, people respond weakly to crisis and difficulty. The seven sins are: (1) Wealth without work; (2) Pleasure without conscience; (3) Knowledge without character; (4) Commerce without morality; (5) Science without humanity; (6) Religion without sacrifice; and (7) politics without principle. Gandhi’s Seven Sins are an integral part of Gandhian ethics.

The Satyagraha (Sanskrit and Hindi: ‘Holding into truth’) as enunciated by Gandhi seeks to integrate spiritual values, community organisation and selfreliance with a view to empower individuals, families, groups, villages, towns and cities. It became a major tool in the Indian struggle against British Imperialism and has since been adopted by protest groups in other countries.

According to the philosophy of Satyagraha, Satyagrahis (Practitioners of Satyagraha) achieve correct insight into the real nature of an evil situation by observing a non-violence of the mind, by seeking truth in a spirit of peace and love, and by undergoing a rigorous process of self-scrutiny. In so doing, the satyagrahi encounters truth in the absolute. By refusing to submit to the wrong or to cooperate with it, the satyagrahi must adhere to non-violence. They always warn their opponents of their intentions and forbid any tactic suggesting the use of secrecy to one’s advantage. Satyagraha seeks to conquer through conversion: in the end, there is neither defeat nor victory but rather a new harmony. Gandhi’s Satyagraha always highlighted moral principles. By giving the concept of Satyagraha, Gandhi showed mankind how to win over greed and fear by love.

There was no pretension or hypocrisy about Gandhi. His ethics do not stem from the intellectual deductive formula. ‘Do unto others as you would have them unto you.’ He never asked others to do anything which he did not do. It is history how he conducted his affairs. He never treated even his own children in any special manner from other children, sharing the same kind of food and other facilities and attending the same school. When a scholarship was offered for one of his sons to be sent to England for higher education, Gandhi gave it to some other boy. Of course, he invited strong resentment from two of his sons and there are many critics who believe that Gandhi neglected his own children, and he was not the ideal father. His profound conviction of equality of all men and women shows the essential Gandhi who grew into a Mahatma.

The question of why one should act in a moral way has occupied much time in the history of philosophical inquiry. Gandhi’s answer to this is that happiness, religion and wealth depend upon sincerity to the self, an absence of malice towards others, exploitation of others, and always acting ‘with a pure mind.’ The ethical and moral standard Gandhi set for himself reveals his commitment and devotion to eternal principles and only someone like him who regulated his life and action in conformity with the universal vision of human brotherhood could say “My Life is My Message.” (The Statesman/ANN)

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Vibrant ties with M-E, a foreign policy priority for SL

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Head table dignitaries with copies of ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’.

Economics primarily drive politics and this principle applies to Sri Lanka’s relations with almost the entirety of the world’s regions. The fact that economic interdependence is compelling this country to break new ground in its ties with the Middle East bears this out fully.

Over the decades, Sri Lanka has prioritized the need to sustain vibrant ties with the Arab countries of the Middle East and this is quite in order when Sri Lanka’s overwhelming dependence on the region for its oil supplies and for increasing employment opportunities for its labour force are taken into consideration. However, the need is great, owing primarily to growing local economic compulsions, for Sri Lanka to adopt a more studied approach to strengthening its relations with the Middle East.

The latter exercise needs to be research-based if it is to bear ample fruit and it is for this reason that the re-launch of a study titled, ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’ by a Sri Lankan diplomat with considerable work experience in the Middle East in general and Oman in particular, O.L. Ameer Ajwad, should be welcomed. The book was re-launched on January 12 under the aegis of the The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, at the latter’s auditorium in the presence of an audience that consisted of, among others, ambassadors from a number of West Asian countries, including those of Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The book was initially published on February 17, 2021, to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Sri Lanka-Oman diplomatic relations and its re-launch served to emphasize the importance that Sri Lanka should attach to its wide-ranging ties with Oman. The author, a one-time ambassador of Sri Lanka to Oman, is currently the Director General of the Performance Review and Implementation Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The re-launch of the book was a collaboration among the LKI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka and the embassy of the Sultanate of Oman in Sri Lanka.

The book was formally launched by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya, Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardena, Ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to Sri Lanka Ahmed Ali Saeed Al Rashdi and the author.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry who addressed the audience as Chief Guest at the re-launch, following a welcome address by the LKI’s Actg. Executive Director Ms. E.A.S.W. Edirisinghe, said, among other things, that the book needed to be welcomed as a literary endeavor on the part of the author ‘to preserve the institutional memory of the Sri Lankan mission in Oman.’ It also needed to be valued in view of the fact that it ‘proposed a road map through an envoy’s personal experience, for future cooperation between Sri Lanka and the Sultanate of Oman.’ Minister Ali Sabry mentioned the elevating of relations with the countries of the Middle East as a policy priority for Sri Lanka.

State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya, while focusing on Sri Lanka’s centuries-long ties with the Arab world, highlighted the importance of connecting the ports of Colombo and Sohar of Oman by a direct feeder service. The aim should be to create a trans-shipment hub for the respective regions, as proposed by the author.

It was left to Ambassador Ameer Ajwad to present to the audience a comprehensive overview of the contents of the publication. He said chapter five was especially important because it outlined in considerable detail the future course economic relations in particular between the countries could take.

The author does right by focusing on economic diplomacy in his publication. This holds the key to cementing cordial bonds among countries in contemporary times, given that antagonistic relations among states have the effect of perpetuating economic stagnation within countries. The latter condition is a sure recipe for intra-country social discontent and violence, besides acting as a stimulant for continued inter-state friction.

One of the chief strengths of ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’, is the stress it lays on the need for the countries concerned to exploit economic complementarities that exist between them in a number of areas, for the furtherance of shared development. There is tremendous potential here that is going untapped, the author points out. If utilized judiciously these complementarities could prove a vital factor in the economic betterment of the countries.

Some of these areas offering ‘synergies of growth’ or the potential for mutual cooperation are: trade and investment, agriculture and fisheries, tourism, education and maritime cooperation, to name a few. In this connection the author stresses that: ‘It is the lack of awareness of each other’s potentials and opportunities available in many areas of mutual interest’, that is getting in the way of the countries dynamically cooperating further for shared material improvement.

It is hoped that in the days ahead the Sri Lankan authorities would not only act on the insights thrown-up by Ambassador Ameer Ajwad but take into consideration the need to cooperate with the countries of the Middle East over existing divides, one of which is described as the ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict.

Fortunately, economic compulsions have been compelling Lankan governments to recognize Israel as an important state actor in the Middle East. Likewise, some Arab states have today ‘broken the ice’, so to speak, with Israel, and are interacting with it in the economic field. In the case of Sri Lanka, it is quite some time since Israel has been opening up employment opportunities for Sri Lankans in multiple areas, such as agriculture and care-giving.

Accordingly, economics dictate politics. Old, adversarial mindsets needs to change for the ushering of the common good. There is a need for the international community to enlist the support of the Arab world and all other sections that have been having strained ties with Israel, to work towards the realization of the ‘two state solution’ in the Middle East. This presents itself as an equitable mechanism.

Looking for economic complementarities among countries presents itself as a wise course to take in inter-state relations, considering these complementarities’ peace-building potential, and it is hoped that the international community would put this item high on its list of priorities in the days to come. From this viewpoint, ‘Sri Lanka-Oman Relations: Past, Present and Future’ needs to be seen as a model study in the field of international relations.

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