Call me Ishmael: The Biblical Origins of the Persian Gulf Conflict
Oct 25, 2004
Author: Tracy R. Twyman
The following was written at the very start of the Iraq war.
As “Operation Iraqi Freedom” continues, Americans who oppose action in Iraq continue to repeat the same questions. “Why is this happening? They didn’t do anything to us”, they ask. Some have even accused President George W. Bush of making it personal, and have insinuated that the entire action is happening because Bush wants to settle a score with Saddam for attempting to have his father, George Bush Sr., assassinated after the first Persian Gulf War. Indeed, they may be half right. There does indeed seem to be a personal conflict between Bush and Saddam even deeper than the diplomatic conflict between their two nations. The nature of this conflict is that of a family feud, and it is one that has divided Eastern and Western civilization for thousands of years. It all goes back to the Bible, and to a legacy of bad blood that began with the rivalry of two siblings: Ishmael and his half-brother Isaac, both sons of the biblical patriarch Abraham.
Ishmael was Abraham’s first-born son, conceived when he was almost already past his fertile years. His wife, Sarah, had remained barren throughout their entire marriage, and now she was almost 80. Therefore, according to the custom of the time, she encouraged Abraham to conceive a son with their handmaiden, an Egyptian slave named Hagar. Sarah would then raise the child as if he were her own son. But as soon as the child was conceived, Sarah became consumed with jealousy, and began to treat Hagar very badly. When Ishmael was born, he also received poor treatment.
Some years later, when Ishmael was about 13, and his father almost 100, Abraham had a conversation with God (not his first) in which a covenant between them was established. Abraham and all of his descendants, from that point on, would walk in the ways of God and dedicate their lives to the worship of him alone. In exchange, the Lord would make Abraham the father of many nations, and his descendants would be the kings of the Earth. As a sign of this covenant, Abraham and his children would forevermore mark themselves by the rite of circumcision. That day, 99-year-old Abraham was circumcised, along with his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael.(1) The covenant, at least for Abraham, was sealed.
As if getting circumcised as a prepubescent wasn’t bad enough, for Ishmael, things soon went from bad too worse. His adoptive mother, Sarah, became miraculously pregnant, and bore unto Abraham a boy named Isaac. Unbeknownst to him, this was also part of the covenant between Abraham and God. Even though Ishmael was the first-born, Isaac was the first one born to Abraham after the covenant of circumcision had been established. Furthermore, Isaac was the son of Abraham’s lawful wife, while Ishmael was merely the son of a slave. Therefore, the Lord instructed Abraham to leave his inheritance to the younger child, upon whom God would then bestow the blessing that he had promised to give to Abraham’s first-born son. Then, only a short time after the birth of Isaac, Sarah accused Ishmael of mocking the newborn, and insisted that her husband “cast out this bondwoman and her son.” With the encouragement of the Lord, Abraham reluctantly followed through, sending them off into the desert with nothing but a goatskin full of water to sustain them.
The water did not last long, though, and soon Hagar was sure that Ishmael would die from thirst. She was just about to leave him under a bush so that she would not have to watch him die, when God intervened. He showed them a well of water from which to drink, and promised him that, although deprived of his birthright, Ishmael would still beget a nation because of his biological descent from Abraham. Hagar and Ishmael ended up in Egypt, and today many Arab-Islamic peoples claim him as their forefather. In fact, President George W. Bush himself acknowledged this when he first announced the beginning of the War on Terror, taking time to make clear that this was not a war against the “descendants of Ishmael” as a whole.
However, as anyone with even just a cursory understanding of the last 2000 years of history realizes, what we now know as the “Western world” has been at odds with the Islamic world since before Muhammad’s body was even laid in the grave. The wars have been countless, epitomized by the numerous Crusades on the part of the West battling for control of the Holy Land, Israel, and especially Jerusalem. This obsession with the Holy Land on the part of the West is perhaps based on more than just the prevalence of the Christian faith in medieval Europe. As I have repeatedly explained within the pages of Dagobert’s Revenge, many of the crown heads of Europe, from medieval times until present, have been direct descendants of the kings of Judah - in other words, descendants of Isaac. So, too, were the founders of the Order of Knights Templar, who maintained the most elite fighting force in the conflict, and who may have been partially responsible for inspiring the Crusades in the first place. Their desire to control the Holy Land was really based on their desire to recapture what they believed to be their rightful inheritance, and the true seat of their royal power. This they achieved, at least for a time, and one of them, Godfroi de Bouillon, made the kingship of Jerusalem a part of his family inheritance. The Knights Templar were given unprecedented access to the Temple Mount during Europe’s occupation of the Holy Land, and rumor has it that they used that time to explore and loot the stables beneath the Mount of the treasures of Solomon’s Temple, including, perhaps, the Ark of the Covenant. To them, this article alone was worth fighting off thousands of Ishmaelites, and for their part, the Ishmaelites may have very well felt the same way.
For Islam, Israel is a Holy Land also, although there are conflicting explanations as to why this is so. One of the most commonly cited stories tells that the archangel Gabriel took the Prophet Muhammad on a tour of heaven, by climbing a “ladder of light” that stood on the exact location of the Temple Mount - an obvious refurbishing of the story of Jacob’s “stairway to Heaven.” But it seems to me that there is a much more simple reason as to why Islam covets the Holy Land. The Jews (and their European brethren) believe that Israel is “the center of the world”, given to them, God’s chosen people, by the Lord himself, as part of a covenant that began with Abraham and Isaac. But the descendants of Ishmael, the first born son of Abraham, believe that this birthright actually belongs to them. Thus a 4000 year-old blood feud is continued unto the present day, with disastrous consequences for the entire world. Today, the “Middle East crisis” is at the center of a bloody struggle between two entirely different cultures that stem from the same forefather: the Islamic East and the Judeo-Christian West. Without the conflict over Israel, there would be no Islamic terrorism, and therefore, no need for a “War on Terror.”
Of course, it is not Israel alone for which the battle is waged. The Islamic Middle East covers the most important historical and archeological sites known in the world. It was in these lands that most of the Biblical stories were played out and in these lands that mankind’s origins can be found. Among these, the most important lands, perhaps are those formerly known as “Mesopotamia”, covering, among other places, the modern nation of Iraq. Known as “the cradle of civilization”, this land is just that: the place where civilization was born, nurtured, and cultivated. Home to writing, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, and the invention of items such as bread and the wheel, Mesopotamia was the start of everything we call “civilized.” Virtually all of the most basic societal customs which we now observe began in this land. It is the birthplace of religion, morality, law and government - specifically, kingship. The first kings of Mesopotamia were very mighty indeed. In fact, they were remembered as gods in the legends of their people, and these same “gods” made their way into the mythologies of the entire civilized world. It is the contention of Dagobert’s Revenge that the Judaic kings are ultimately descended from these gods, and that some of the Bible’s patriarchs were in fact Mesopotamian god-kings. The word “Iraq” is itself derived from “Erech”, one of the ancient Mesopotamian cities built by the Biblical patriarch Cain. With a heritage like this, and the archeological treasures that attest to it, it is no wonder that the West has fought many wars over the years for control of this region. This most recently occurred during the World Wars.
From the thirteenth century until the twentieth, much of the Islamic world was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, administered by Turkish settlers in Anatolia known as Osmanlis. When this empire began to falter around the turn of the last century, Britain and Germany both vied for control of the vital, oil-rich territory. When World War I began and Turkey sided with Germany, the British quickly moved into Iraq to prevent it from coming under the same influence. They funded and supported the local Arab nationals, and led them in a fight against the German-allied Ottoman Turks, with the understanding that after the revolt, Iraq would return to independent rule for the first time in 600 years. In fact, after the success of the revolt, and the defeat of the Germans, Iraq was made a “Class A mandate” of Britain at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (along with Palestine). The British installed the family of Husayn ibu Ali, Sharif of Mecca and former vassal of the Ottomans, as “King of the Arab peoples.” His son, Prince Faisal, was later to become the first king of modern Iraq.
The Husayn family, soon to be the most powerful dynasty in the Middle East, were known as the “Hashemites”, named after their forefather, Hashem, a descendant of Ishmael, according to them, and great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad. The name “Hashemite” is reminiscent of “Hashashim”, a.k.a. the Order of Assassins, a radical and mystical secret society of Manichean Muslims who are rumored to have had much contact with and influence upon the Knights Templar during the Crusades. Although the word “Hashashim” is usually said to be derived from the fact that they smoked hashish in their rituals, this has never been definitively proven, and it is interesting to note that one of their most celebrated Grand Masters, presiding between 1070 and 1000, was known as “Hasan-i-Sabah.” Also interesting is that the Assassins originated from a sect of Islam known as “Ismaili”, who believe that there have been seven prophets sent by God to enlighten us throughout history, one of which was the Biblical Ishmael. Although we do not know if there is a definitive link between the Hashemites and the Hashashim, we do know that it is the Husayn family from which we get the monarchy of Jordan (featuring the late King Hussein), and that they, in turn, are cousins of Saddam Hussein.
In 1932, Iraq became an independent monarchy. But unrest continued, largely because the government was heavily staffed by the Sunni racial minority, who had performed the same function during Ottoman rule. Discontent also fomented because of the Assyrians, who had been resettled into Iraq by the British, but were hated by the Iraqi government and population, as well as the Kurds, who were pushing for an autonomous state in the region they controlled. Anger brewed against the British for haphazardly carving up the region and forcing natural-born enemies to live in the same country. Towards the beginning of the Second World War, the Germans attempted to capitalize on this unrest by becoming friendly with the Iraqi government.
It was, perhaps, natural for the Germans to approach Iraq, not only for strategic reasons, but because Nazi ideology traced the origins of the white “Aryan” race back to the region of Mesopotamia. Indeed, the historical group known as “Aryans” did arise here, thus the name “Iran” for Iraq’s neighboring nation. The Aryans were, as I have previously stated in the pages of Dagobert’s Revenge, a race of conquerors descended from the antediluvian god-kings who civilized the ancient world. Hitler was fascinated with ancient Mesopotamia, and is even said to have regarded himself as a reincarnation of the Sumerian king Sargon the Great. Nazi scholars also seemed to have an attraction to the Islamic faith, and many Nazis converted during the 30s and 40s. The two causes, Nazism and Islam, also shared one fundamental trait: an obsessive hatred of Jews. Many Iraqis, especially in the armed forces, were quite sympathetic to the Nazis, including Khairallah Talfah, an Iraqi officer and the beloved uncle of the young Saddam Hussein. According to some, Saddam’s uncle was one of the major influences on him during his youth, and probably instilled him with pro-Nazi sentiments. But in 1941, the British recaptured Iraq and ended the Nazi flirtation once and for all. Saddam’s uncle was thrown in prison, and from that moment on, Saddam’s hatred for the West, particularly the United States and Britain, has completely consumed him.
It was perhaps Saddam’s early exposure to Nazi ideology and military training that influenced the harsh and dictatorial way in which he runs his country. In fact, personality-wise, there are many similarities between Hitler and Saddam. Saddam, like Hitler, believes he is the reincarnation of an ancient Mesopotamian king. Also like Hitler, Saddam consciously utilizes the religious symbolism of the ancient world to subconsciously create the illusion that he is an all-powerful being. For his part, Saddam believes that he is the rebirth of the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar II. This was one of Mesopotamia’s greatest monarchs. He was a master architect, and during his reign the Babylonian empire over which he ruled enjoyed its greatest period of architectural building in history. Magnificent palaces and temples were built, including the famous Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it is said that he had his name inscribed onto every brick. During his reign, Babylon also experienced its most fruitful period of study in astrology and mathematics, and some of Babylon’s best literature was produced during this time. It was a time when Marduk, the god of writing, was considered the patron deity.
Like Saddam, Nebuchadnezzar was also a megalomaniacal tyrant, believing himself to be an incarnation of Marduk, who, in addition to writing, was also the god of war (like Mars, his Roman counterpart). Nebuchadnezzar had statues of Marduk erected in his own likeness, and demanded the same sacrifice as Marduk: babies thrown into a furnace en masse.(2) But most of all, Nebuchadnezzar showed his affinity with Marduk by making war. While he was on the throne, the empire expanded to the areas now encompassing Syria, Jordan, Israel and Kuwait. The most well-remembered conquest was that of Israel.
Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 568 B.C., looting the Temple of Solomon and taking the Israelite aristocracy into Babylon as prisoners, initiating the “Babylonian captivity” recorded in the Bible. During this time, some of the most famous biblical stories about this are found in The Book of Daniel. According to the story, Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream which Daniel was called upon to interpret. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a gigantic statue, the head of which was made of gold, the breasts and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet part-iron and part-clay. Then all of the sudden, a stone came along and broke the statue:
“Then was the iron, the clay and the brass, the silver and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel told the king that the head of gold represented his own kingdom, and the various lower parts of the statue represented successive empires that would rule over his lands in the future. The feet, made of both iron and clay, showed that the kingdom would eventually be divided in two. The breaking up of the image showed that the entire kingdom would “break in pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” This appears to be a reference to the kingdom of God prophesized to rule the Earth after the Apocalypse. The successive kingdoms that precede this have been interpreted by students of Bible prophecy as those of the Medio-Persian, Greco-Macedonian, and Roman empires which have ruled Mesopotamian lands throughout history, culminating in the “divided” state of the region today.
In The Book of Daniel, it is written that Nebuchadnezzar so appreciated Daniel’s dream interpretation that he pledged his loyalty to the God of Israel, and made Daniel a powerful vizier of his government.(3) But shortly thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar set up a gigantic statue of himself made of gold, and compelled the populace to worship it. In the next chapter, Daniel was called upon to interpret another one of the king’s dreams. In it, he saw a vision of a huge tree set in the center of the Earth, the top of which reachesd to Heaven. A “Watcher” appeared to him, and ordered him to chop the tree down, leaving, “the stump of is roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass... and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the Earth: let his heart be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him.... This matter is by the decree of the Watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones... ” Daniel told the king that the tree represented himself, grown great and powerful, but also arrogant, and that he, like the tree would be brought down for his impiety, “That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen... ” About a year later, the prophecy was fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar was driven into exile by his own subjects, and “did eat grass as oxen... till his hairs were grown like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.”
Needless to say, the figure of Nebuchadnezzar is one which conjures up fear in the hearts of both Jews and Christians throughout the world. But to the people of Iraq, he is beloved, the last great symbol of the once-great Babylonian empire. It is this image that Saddam Hussein has intentionally tried to conjure up with everything that he has done.(4) In is no coincidence that Saddam’s regime has brought about the greatest period of architectural renewal since the time of Nebuchadnezzar himself. Saddam has even rebuilt many of the temples, palaces and statues that were built during Nebuchadnezzar’s time. Just as Nebuchadnezzar had his name inscribed on every brick of the buildings he erected, so Saddam has had every building he has built marked with the words: “The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar was reconstructed in the era of Saddam Hussein.” When he took control of the country, Saddam proclaimed himself “the rightful heir of the ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar”, and vowed to restore the empire of Babylon by expanding Iraq to encompass its former territories.
This, then, is the motivation for his support of the Palestinians in their push for control of Israel, even though Saddam is supposedly a secularist who only pays lip service to the Muslim religion in order to maintain power. This was certainly the motivation behind his invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s, which precipitated the first Gulf War lead by the United States, and by President George Bush Senior. This conflict has continued unto the present day, and now another war is being conducted between Saddam and the current President, George W. Bush. As I stated at the beginning of this article, this conflict is, in addition to everything else, extremely personal.
The personalization of the conflict is exemplified by the subtle and not-so-subtle name-calling that has occurred between Saddam and both of the Bush presidents. “Saddam” was not Hussein’s birth name, but one that he chose himself, as it means “one who confronts” or “he who shocks”, being derived from a Persian word meaning “to crush.” Thus Hussein’s full name has been translated as “Hussein who crushes obstacles”, or “Hussein the destroyer.” Knowing that Saddam’s first name had a meaning, President Bush Senior. intentionally mispronounced the word whenever possible, placing the accent on the first syllable instead of the last, which changed the meaning to that of “barefoot beggar.” Hussein has responded to these personal attacks rather personally as well, attempting to have Bush Senior assassinated, and referring to the current President as “little Bush.”
But the most interesting references that have been made in the ongoing bitch fight between Saddam and the Bushes have been Biblical in nature. For it cannot be insignificant that the Bushes are direct descendants of King Henry II of England, and therefore, by extension, of King David of Israel.(5) That means that they are related by blood to the Jewish kings who were conquered by Saddam’s predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, and like Saddam is a descendant of Ishmael, so are they the descendants of his blood rival, Isaac.
Perhaps this explains the unusual symbolism evoked by Saddam’s remark, made at the beginning of the first Persian Gulf War, that he was about to unleash “the Mother of All Battles.” Saddam was so fond of this phrase that, after the war (in which he erroneously declared victory), he named one of his ancient restored temples after the “Mother of All Battles.” It apparently did not escape the notice of the Americans that, in English at least, this phrase can be abbreviated into the word “Moab.”
The story of Moab in the Bible occurs not long after the story of Ishmael, during the account of the life of Abraham. In the story, God warns Abraham that he is about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, and this warning is also passed onto the character of Lot, an inhabitant of the area.(6) As most readers know, Lot and his family evacuated themselves from the area, and hid themselves in the cave of a nearby mountain. But Lot’s wife had been killed in the process (turned by God into a pillar of salt), so Lot’s daughters contrived to perpetuate their father’s lineage by getting him drunk and sleeping with him themselves. The first child born from this union was Moab, whose name means “born of her father”, a reference to his incestuous origin. Moab later became the king of a nation bearing his own name (now modern Jordan), and the Moabites, cousins of the Hebrews, with a similar language and culture, are mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, sometimes allies of the Hebrews, sometimes not. King David’s mother was a Moabite, and Moab was a thorn in the side of both David and Solomon during their respective reigns, before the Moabites were finally made subject to the kingdom of Judah. Eventually they were subsumed into the Babylonian empire, during the reign of - you guessed it - Nebuchadnezzar.
This may explain the significance of Saddam Hussein’s reference to Moab, a reference to a nation that Nebuchadnezzar once conquered, as Saddam intended to do himself. But in this most recent war with Iraq, the Americans seem to have turned this psychological warfare around to their own advantage. The most significant piece of artillery with which we are threatening Iraq is a relatively new explosive (invented since the last Gulf War) called the “Massive Ordnance Air Bomb”, or MOAB, and nicknamed “the Mother of All Bombs.” One has to wonder if this bomb was not invented for use against Hussein specifically. Perhaps the Americans are exacting a psychological counter-attack by calling a highly destructive bomb “Moab.” For if you haven’t noticed, Saddam’s name is eerily similar to “Sodom.” Maybe what the Americans are saying to him with the use of MOAB is, “We will destroy the cities of Saddam just like Yahweh destroyed Sodom.”
Psychological warfare is in fact the key tactic used in “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The massive aerial bombardment that the U.S. is inflicting on Iraq is called by the American military “Shock and Awe”, the idea being that the extent of the explosions will be so great that it will produce said psychological effects in the enemy, and force them to surrender. The phrase “Shock and Awe” was repeated endlessly throughout the first week of the war, usually pronounced quickly, so that it sounds like “Shakanah.” Is it a coincidence that this is an old spelling and pronunciation of the Hebrew word “Shekinah”, which means “whirlwind”, or “glory of God”? Indeed, during President Bush’s inaugural address, long before another war with Iraq was foreseen, he made a reference to the god he worships, and who guides him in all of his decisions, as the deity who “rides in a whirlwind.” Perhaps the “whirlwind” of bombing known as “Shock and Awe” is meant to make Saddam believe that the descendants of Isaac, the Bush family, have God on their side in this war with the new Nebuchadnezzar, and that the Shekinah is coming to destroy him.
There may be even more direct reasons for why the Bush family would want to conquer Iraq and install a “westernized” government. Mesopotamia is the land not only of Ishmael’s descendants, but also of the forefathers of the Hebrew race. Abraham, after all, was from “Ur of the Culdees”, and most of the text of Genesis seems to take place in the Fertile Crescent. In fact, it appears that the patriarchs from Adam to Abraham were all, in fact, kings of this land. Therefore, Iraq contains many of the archeological treasures dear to Hebrew history, some of which Saddam looted from Kuwait while his armies were occupying that country. There may even still be certain treasures from the Temple of Solomon hidden in Iraq. It is mentioned in The Book of Daniel that Belshezzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, was eating dinner on the golden tea set his father had stolen from the Temple of Jerusalem when he witnessed the proverbial “writing on the wall”, etched by a disembodied hand. According to the story, it was the prophet Daniel who, once again, interpreted the writing for the king. It said:
“MENE, MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians.”
With the exception of the last seven words, this prophecy could just as easily apply to the doomed regime of the new Nebuchadnezzar, Saddam Hussein. One wonders if, perhaps, somewhere in his hidden underground bunker, this would-be Babylonian emperor is now watching another ghostly hand etching out a similar warning. Perhaps it will not be long before, like his historical predecessor, Saddam is driven out into the wilderness by his own subjects, and made to eat grass and leaves like the animal that we all know, at heart, he is. Or perhaps the descendants of Isaac will just blow him to pieces, and declare final victory in the land which once held their forefathers captive.
(1) To this day, it is traditional in many cultures to perform circumcision not when a child is born, but when he reaches the age of 13, and it is used as a rite of passage into manhood.
(2) This is, some say, the origin of the word “baby”, stemming from “Babylon.”
(3) This is strangely reminiscent of the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh during the Egyptian captivity of the Hebrews.
(4) Saddam has even named two divisions of his elite Republican Guard “Hammurabi” and “Nebuchadnezzar”, the former being the name of another ancient Sumerian king, famous for codifying the tablets of law upon which the Bible’s “Ten Commandments” are based.
(5) It is notable, from a symbolic standpoint, that Bush has conducted a great deal of the war with Iraq from “Camp David.”
(6) Interestingly, this information was given to him by some “Watchers” who visited him at his house.