When we think of Syria, we tend to remember incidents such as Saul travelling on the road to Damascus, and hence a land locked country to the north-east of Israel. It can be easy to forget that squeezed between Lebanon to the south and Turkey to the north, Syria has a sea coast of some 193 kilometres, an invaluable outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. Four ports are located along this strip of coastline, from north to south they are Latakia, Jablah, Baniyas and Tartus. Baniyas is primarily an oil terminal, while Latakia and Tartus are the two major ports for general cargo.

This information becomes more interesting in the light of a report from the Russian Kommersant newspaper. From sources in the Russian embassy in Syria and the Russian Defence Ministry, Kommersant reveals that Russia is currently dredging the Port of Tartus and widening the Port of Latakia. Kommersant reports that this activity “may be evidence that Russia is considering Syria as a base from which to expand its influence in the Middle East. In that case, the maintenance station at Tartus may be converted into a naval base in the future for Black Sea Fleet warships when they are withdrawn from Sevastopol.”

According to Kommersant, the Defence Ministry source “said that Moscow wants to form a squadron of ships led by the missile cruiser

syria

      Syria

Moskva that will be a permanent presence in the Mediterranean Sea and take part in antiterrorist exercises with NATO members. Thus the facilities being developed in Syria may be needed for the Black Sea Fleet and the Northern Fleet, if necessary, for reinforcement.”

The prophet Daniel tells us that “at the time of the end…the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over” (Dan 11:40). Perhaps the stage is being set, just to Israel’s north, for a very specific fulfilment of this prophecy.

The article continues: “The source in the Defence Ministry noted that the facilities in Syria would allow Russia to expand its influence in the Middle East and to guarantee Syria’s security. Russia plans to install an air defence system with S- 300PMU-2 Favorit ballistic missiles to be operated by Russians, not Syrians, for the defence of its base. Those missiles will also provide cover for a significant part of Syria.”

These developments, together with Russia’s commitment to supply medium range air defence missiles to Syria and to upgrade its fleet of T-72 tanks, indicate a significant and aggressive projection of Russian power into the Middle East just as we expect, and should be observed carefully by watchmen.

An Iran-Russia-China Axis?

Jane’s Intelligence Digest had this as the heading of an article on relations between Russia and Iran back in October 2005. More recently, Iran, together with Mongolia, Pakistan and India has been invited to full member status of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO, founded in Shanghai on 15 June 2001 is a loose alliance of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The United States has been dismayed at this developing alliance, but has made no progress at all in attempting to influence or break up the SCO. It sought observer status at its 2005 summit meeting but was rejected. SCO members will now completely encircle Afghanistan, which is being actively encouraged to join the alliance. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has been invited to attend the SCO annual summit on 15 June 2006.

We are witnessing some remarkable developments. See the developing alliances: Russia-Syria-Iran-China-Kazakhstan-and the other “stans”; increasing linkages between Russia and European nations substantially dependant on Russian oil and gas. Surely “the night is far spent and the day is at hand”.

The Gospel of Judas

It has become the subject of a slick National Geographic website. It has provoked comment from many Christian groups, Catholic and Protestant. You can even read about it in the Jerusalem Post! The so-called Gospel of Judas, is an ancient manuscript going back about 1 600 years and copied from an earlier writing apparently from about 180 AD. It was obtained for a reported $1.5 million by a Swiss lawyer, Mario Jean Roberty, who made a deal with National Geographic Magazine to finance publication.

It seems around Easter time each year that the media comes out with some story, article etc attacking Christianity, and this year, about a week before Easter, it was the turn of the “Gospel of Judas”. This “gospel” purportedly telling the gospel account from Judas’ viewpoint portrays Judas, not as a traitor and betrayer, but as a man acting to help Jesus to fulfil his mission. Jesus is depicted as instructing Judas to identify him to the authorities. The manuscript is a product of the mystical Gnostic traditions of the second century. In the hands of its 21st century publicists, the “gospel” firstly must produce a return on investment, but secondly plays to the unbelieving and sceptical by presenting an alternative story to the “traditional” gospel account.

The account of this “gospel” is of course simply rubbish. In fact it was referred to and debunked when it first appeared by Irenaeus, one of the so-called early ‘Christian Fathers’. Irenaeus in his work, Against Heresies refers to a group of Gnostics called the Cainites. As the name implies, the “Cainites” glorified the evil characters of scripture, Cain, Esau, Korah, the Sodomites etc. So how natural that Judas should be included in such company. “They produce a fictitious history… which they style the gospel of Judas”, grumbled Irenaeus. As one modern commentator put it: “It was junk then and it is junk now.”

The Da Vinci Code

If you want to meet Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, you’ll need to join a long queue. His publisher, Random House, can supply a Tour Schedule for the man nominated by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential men of the century. He has his own web site of course, and you can see him there looking dapper indeed and wearing just the sort of smile you would expect of a man whose blockbuster novel has now passed over 50 million copies sold, and the rivers of royalty cash flow strongly still.

Brown’s book contains no really new claims. Its thesis, that Jesus survived the cross, had children with Mary Magdalene, that their bloodline was preserved, that secret societies such as the so called “Priory of Sion” were dedicated to keeping such “secrets”—this sort of nonsense has been around for a long time. Brown, though writing fiction, claims that the basic story was indeed true, and that there is ample evidence for this, which he proceeds to unfold for the gullible. He writes particularly for women, and panders to his target audience. Consider this extract: “The Grail, Langdon said, is symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests for the Holy Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be ‘searching for the chalice’ were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned non-believers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine.”

The Da Vinci Code has a powerful appeal to a mass audience, alienated from religion and more than content to have the church “exposed” and the “truths” that have been “suppressed” brought out in the open. It is ironic that an anti-Christian culture should have its intellectual justification provided by a bizarre work of fiction filled with errors and lies. Fortunately many have seen through the hype and the nonsense. And many Christian organisations and writers have critically reviewed the book and exposed its many errors in books, articles and web-sites. Titles such as “Breaking the Da Vinci Code”, “Dismantling the Da Vinci Code” and the like abound. Those who want to take the time will readily find such material which comprehensively dissects the Dan Brown book.

The Da Vinci Code is claimed to be the best selling book in history after the Bible. How remarkable that in the last days people are willing to read this book, but will not read the Word of God. They will believe a lie, but will not believe the truth. This society, which will seize any message justifying a godless life, is living on borrowed time.

“The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full”, Abram was told (Gen 15:16), but finally it was, and that society came to an end. “The long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1Pet 3:20), but finally came “the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.”

Let none of us be deceived by a perishing world, but rather let us observe the signs which tell us the day of Christ is near, and put our hands to his work.