Spin of spin

Malta Independent - - BOOKS -

Au­thor: Mark Camil­leri Pub­lisher: Sen­siela Kotba Soc­jal­isti Year: 2013 Ex­tent: 40pp

Noel Grima

The ti­tle of this slim book is rather mis­lead­ing, for, as the au­thor him­self ad­mits, its aim is not to prove that the Melita of the Acts of the Apos­tles is indeed Malta or Ml­jet (part of Croa­tia in the Adri­atic).

Rather its aim is to re­fresh the ar­gu­ments that say that there is no con­ti­nu­ity of Chris­tian­ity in Malta from the early Chris­tian cen­turies and to­day and those that hold the op­po­site view.

The au­thor is the Na­tional Book Coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive chair­man who has been in the news for a book that de­fied cen­sor­ship, and for a book urg­ing a ma­te­ri­al­ist re­vi­sion of Mal­tese his­tory.

In essence, what this means is to di­vide Mal­tese his­to­ri­ans be­tween those who favour the con­ti­nu­ity of Chris­tian­ity and those who ar­gue that at some point dur­ing the Mus­lim dom­i­na­tion of Malta, the Mal­tese stopped be­ing Chris­tians and what re­mained of them be­came Mus­lims.

The book ends with a viva voce in­ter­view with the late Pro­fes­sor God­frey Wet­tinger who right up till his death a year ago re­mained stead­fast in his as­ser­tion that the Mal­tese be­came Mus­lims but changed back when the Nor­mans in­vaded Malta and kicked the Mus­lims out.

In this rather un­in­hib­ited in­ter­view and also in an ar­ti­cle by Pro­fes­sor Yosanne Vella on Mal­taTo­day in July last year, as well as in the rest of Mark Camil­leri’s book we find ev­i­dence of the war to death be­tween the con­ti­nu­ity believ­ers and the dis­con­ti­nu­ity ones.

For cen­turies, aided and abet­ted by the Church and the Or­der, be­lief in the con­ti­nu­ity of Mal­tese Chris­tian­ity through the cen­turies was strong and uni­ver­sal. Gian Fran­cisco Abela him­self said Chris­tian­ity in Malta can be traced back di­rectly to St Paul.

Then in the 1970s, me­dieval his­to­rian Prof. Wet­tinger came out ar­gu­ing there is noth­ing to in­di­cate the con­ti­nu­ity of Chris­tian­ity in Malta but rather in all prob­a­bil­ity Chris­tian­ity died out dur­ing the Arab times and the Mal­tese in­te­grated with the Arab over­lords and be­came Mus­lims.

The con­ti­nu­ity con­tin­gent came back in 1990 with the pub­li­ca­tion of Tris­tia ex Meli­to­gau­dio, a poem by an ex­iled poet in Malta (or per­haps Gozo lead­ing some to claim that while Malta be­came Mus­lim, Gozo re­mained Chris­tian) in the 12th cen­tury, writ­ten in Greek, that showed that there were Chris­tians in Malta in the 12th cen­tury.

The book by ‘con­ti­nu­ity’ pro­fes­sors Stan­ley Fior­ini, Ho­ra­tio Vella and Joseph Brin­cat was billed as ev­i­dence of Chris­tian con­ti­nu­ity dur­ing Arab times. It speaks of a bishop who led the believ­ers and kicked out the sheiks from the is­land. But ques­tions at the re­peated pre­sen­ta­tions of this book elicited the in­for­ma­tion that the Roger the poem was speaking about was not Count Roger who came to Malta in 1091 but his son King Roger II who came to Malta some 30 years later. One in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that Count Roger led a raid, a razzia, which did not in­tend to con­quer Malta, and freed the Chris­tian slaves in the Mal­tese pris­ons. It was Roger II who came to Malta to con­quer it and who be­gan forc­ing the Mus­lims out. In 1990 (I am fol­low­ing Pro­fes­sor Vella here), Prof. Wet­tinger gave a con­fer­ence in Castille in which he said he had been wrong. He had made a mis­take to say the Mal­tese had be­come Mus­lims for the sim­ple rea­son there were no Mal­tese left. The Mal­tese had all been ex­ter­mi­nated − eth­nic cleansing. Then we come to the bale­ful days of May 2015. On 20 May, Jeremy Jones gave a lec­ture at the Aula Magna in Val­letta. He is an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at Ox­ford Univer­sity and I was present at the lec­ture (though I ad­mit my ac­count is not the best one there is). Ba­si­cally he said the trans­la­tion of the poem in the Meli­to­gau­dio book had many mis­takes and the con­clu­sions based on the in­cor­rect trans­la­tion were con­se­quently wrong. In the new trans­la­tion the bishop and his se­lected fol­low­ers had come from Si­cily and did not con­sist of peo­ple who had been liv­ing in Malta.

Mr Jones had barely time to visit Prof. Wet­tinger and tell him his the­ory had been vin­di­cated. Prof. Wet­tinger died on 24 May 2015.

I have ex­trap­o­lated from the Mark Camil­leri book but the above shows there is no love lost be­tween the Con­ti­nu­ity and NonCon­ti­nu­ity clans.

The au­thor as­serts that the Con­ti­nu­ity group got all sup­port from the Church and the State un­der PN rule. He proved this by men­tion­ing the award given to Mgr John Az­zopardi by the Malta His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and the de­cid­edly over-the-top ef­fu­sion of wel­come by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Abela to Pope Bene­dict XVI in April 2010 all re­in­forc­ing the Con­ti­nu­ity the­ory.

An­other tar­get for Camil­leri’s scep­ti­cism is the Su­per­in­ten­dence of Cul­tural Her­itage who he al­leges is hid­ing var­i­ous finds from the Mus­lim pe­riod such as what was found when Md­ina was repaved re­cently.

As re­cently as April 2013 he asked, un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, to be al­lowed ac­cess to the min­utes of the Su­per­in­ten­dency but was re­fused.

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