The British Museum Tries, and Fails, to Recast Paganism as Female Empowerment

The exhibit Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic, currently on display at the British Museum, contains images of goddesses and other supernatural female beings from across the globe and throughout history. To Matthew J. Milliner, it appears a throwback to the “goddess movement” that originated in the 1970s, and imagined a primitive past of matriarchal cultures that worshipped female divinities and stood in contrast to the patriarchal societies of the modern West, with their male clergy and paternal God. But this view of the past never held up to scholarly scrutiny, as is self-evident from the artifacts themselves:

Visitors to this British Museum exhibition are immediately faced with a nude Inanna (whose Akkadian name was Ishtar), the ferocious forerunner of Aphrodite. She stands naked and exposed, just as men like King Sargon the Great of Assyria wished her to be. She is sometimes known as Astarte or the Canaanite goddess Anat, but whatever one calls her, she was merciless and vindictive. Using Inanna to advance female empowerment, as the exhibition intimates, is comparable to prescribing crystal meth to combat mild depression.

The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet was as bloodthirsty as Astarte, and she makes an appearance as well, enabling women (so the gallery label suggests) “to be lionesses and warriors, to be advocates and change agents.” But those who read a bit closer will learn that Sekhmet’s bloodlust, according to Egyptian mythology, is in fact a result of humble obedience to her father, the male god Ra, who sent Sekhmet to do his bidding. In short, even when the goddess went on a rampage, it was because Daddy made her do it. This is no different with Taraka, the Hindu flesh-eating ogre who is also proudly featured in this exhibition.

The Egyptian goddess Isis, who compensated for Astarte’s aggression with an undeniable tenderness, also has a cameo in the show. She shows her breast to her son Horus, urging him to receive her nourishing milk. Still, the fact that much of Isis’s time is spent rehabilitating her husband/brother Osiris’s lost penis gives us quite a window into what Egyptian men felt the job of women to be. . . . In view of the sex-soaked Egyptian phallocracy, no wonder monotheistic women like Miriam shook their timbrels in celebration when they left (Exodus 15:20–21).

Read more at Comment

More about: Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Feminism, Museums, Paganism

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law