torsdag, juli 31, 2008

The Peace Snake

The cult of the talking snake began in the town
of Abonoteichus around the year 150 CE, shortly
after the Bar Kochba revolt. Located on the
Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey,
the town was in fact a Greek settlement
under Roman rule that practiced paganism.

One day workers in the local temple discovered
some strange bronze tablets there proclaiming
the imminent arrival of a divine healer named
Asclepius, supposedly the
son of Apollo. Locals quickly erected a new temple
to honor the guest from heaven.
And just as the temple was being completed, a
strange egg was discovered in its earthworks.
When cracked open, a baby snake emerged. A man
named Alexander then proclaimed that this snake
was the expected "god" and that he himself was its oracle.

Within days, the baby snake transformed itself
miraculously into a giant one, much larger than a python.
It revealed secrets and prophesies to its oracle,
Alexander, spoken conveniently in the local Greek dialect.
People from all over the Roman empire - including
dignitaries from Rome - came to hear the prophecies.

Many brought the oracle Alexander valuable gifts.
A single prediction of the future or message of
advice from the snake would cost the supplicant
the equivalent of a day's wages, and the snake
could provide a hundred of these on any working
day. Husbands, hearing the snake's advice
to turn their wives over to Alexander as
concubines, did so.

As it turned out, the entire snake cult was nothing
more than a pagan predecessor to the movie classic
"The Wizard of Oz."
The snake had been created out of papier maché,
with a speaking tube inside its head constructed
from wind pipes of large birds, connecting
to a room behind the wall.
The snake had levers that could make its head
move and stick out its tongue. Alexander would
operate it all from the next room, much like the
humbug wizard pulling the levers
behind the curtain to fool Dorothy and her friends.

The original bronze tablets with the prophecy
had been placed there by Alexander, who had also
hidden the baby snake inside an ostrich egg glued back

Alexander ran his scam for many years, until he
died at the age of 70 and his tricks were uncovered.
The cult of the snake was strongly denounced
by Greek Epicureans and by some early Christian
writers in the Roman Empire.

But whatever became of the pagan snake itself, the
collection of moving paper maché parts that led astray
tens of thousands of people? After exhaustive research, we
have discovered the answer.

Many centuries after the death of
Alexander of Abonoteichus, his snake reappeared,
but under a new name.
In the late twentieth century the talking snake with
the levers and the speaking tubes made a new
grand appearance.
"My name is Peace," it proclaimed.
"All who desire peace must come and hear my
pronouncements, then follow my commands
and obey my oracles."

With its tongue flicking in and out, the sounds
emerging from its speaking tubes were no longer
Greek, but modern Hebrew. The Peace Snake
from the New Middle East first emerged as a
baby from an ostrich egg discovered in a Norwegian
fjord by left-wing Israeli academics, meeting in
Oslo with representatives of the PLO.

Smuggled back to Israel, the miraculous baby
snake was displayed to Shimon Peres by Peres's
loyal apostle, Yossi Beilin. Then, right before their
eyes, the snake underwent a metamorphosis,
turning into a giant python, several times larger
than any seen before.

"The Peace Messiah has arrived in the form of a giant
talking snake," Peres happily announced to then-
prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. "All we need to do
is follow its instructions."

"And what might those be?" asked a skeptical Rabin.

"Just obey it. One must not argue with such a
divine creature," insisted Peres. "First, it wants
Israel to announce that it accepts the existence
of a 'Palestinian people,' recognizes their right
to their own state, and agrees to recognize the
PLO as its national leadership. Next, Israel must
allow Palestinian terrorists from all over the world
to enter the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, arm
themselves, set up militias in the suburbs of Tel
Aviv and Jerusalem, and impose their sovereignty
upon the Arabs there. Then Israel must evict all
Jews living in the Gaza Strip and promise to do
the same with the Jews living in Judea and Samaria.
Finally, Israel must bankroll the PLO terrorists
and provide them with weapons."

"The public will never accept this," objected Rabin.

"Ah but you are wrong," replied Peres.
"We will simply show them the talking snake head,
proclaiming in Hebrew the emergence of a peaceful
New Middle East. The snake head is charming and
comforting. The people will believe in its pagan magic."

Rabin was finally sold on the idea.

"Behold the magic snake," proclaimed Peres to the
nation. The snake urged listeners to accept Peres
as its prophet and obey its divinations, as whispered
into Peres's ear. No one seemed to notice that whenever
the snake would speak Hebrew, it was in Peres's
Polish accent. Strangely, the snake head spoke no
Arabic at all.

After Rabin was assassinated by a non-believer in
the snake, it became all but impossible to denounce
the serpent as a sham. Snake doubters were rounded
up and indicted for incitement. The media fell into
line and broadcast and published the snake's epistles.
Virtually no time or space was allowed for rebuttals
from anti-snake dissidents.

The demands of the snake kept escalating.
Its message was essentially the same:
"The highest form of courage is cowardice," it hissed.
"Capitulation is the highest for of victory. Weakness is
the highest form of strength. National self-debasement i
s the highest form of patriotism. Terrorism must
be rewarded. The best way to end war is to pretend
it does not exist."

Since then, Peres has been replaced as the snake's
chief oracle by Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.
Audiences stand before it with mouths agape as
it hisses through its speaking tubes:
"There is no military solution to the problems
of terrorism. Erecting a Palestinian state is the
best assurance for the achievement of Zionist goals.
Talk with Hamas. Negotiate with Hizbullah."

And all the while, the Israeli humbugs of defeat
pull the levers that make the serpent writhe
and speak, while the media proclaim the miracle
of the talking snake's peace.