Israel's Antiquities Authority begins investigation of James ossuary, wants Joash tablet
A first-century limestone box that may have held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the early church, is back in Israel after its display at the Royal Ontario Museum. The Antiquities Authority has created two separate commissions of archaeologists, geologists, and language experts to study the ossuary, the Associated Press reported yesterday. It's trying to authenticate the box and its inscription. Many scholars already accept their legitimacy, though there is some question about whether the inscription "James, the Brother of Jesus" must refer to the biblical men.
There's still plenty of mystery surrounding the James ossuary—questions of where it was found, for example, may forever remain unclear—but a bigger biblical archaeology tempest is swirling around the Joash inscription, which describes repairs to the First Temple in language very similar to 2 Kings 12.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reports that the inscription is "stirring controversy and suspicion among archaeologists, historians, religious and state authorities, and even the police."
Biblical Archaeology Review says the inscription is big news, whether it's real or fake:
If authentic, it may provide evidence for Israel's claim to the Temple Mount. If a forgery, some Israeli may be trying to manufacture evidence of Israel's claim to the Temple Mount. Or some Palestinian may be trying to plant an obvious forgery in order to undermine supposed evidence of Israel's claim to the Temple Mount. If authentic, it would support the historicity of the Book of Kings. If authentic, it might even show that the First Temple—Solomon's Temple—was decorated with gold. If authentic, it would cast doubt on the ability of epigraphers and philologists and Biblical scholars to detect a forgery. If a forgery, it would cast doubt on the ability of geologists to detect a forgery.
But it might be difficult to get to a decision either way. "The unnamed owner of the tablet had given it briefly to the Geological Survey, which dated it back to the 9th century B.C. and said it could have actually been a part of Solomon's Temple," the Associated Press says. "The owner of the artifact has since taken it from the institute, and police are investigating its whereabouts."
That's complicated, says Haaretz, since no one really seems to know who the owner is, and investigation into that question reads like an episode of Alias:
When the story broke in January, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the police decided to question many of the experts who had been given the stone to examine by a mystery man identified only as "Isaac Tzur."
Following a number of leads, including a cellular telephone number left with Professor Yosef Naveh of the Hebrew University, the police arrested a man at Ben Gurion Airport who allegedly held a cellular telephone with that number. However, at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court later that month, despite positive identification by another of the experts questioned, the man denied all connection with the affair and was released under restricted conditions.
Haaretz reports that the best bet on the real owner is Oded Golan, who also owns the James ossuary. He denies it, but Isaac Tzur was apparently a pseudonym used by a private detective hired by Golan.
If you're really into these archaeological mysteries and debates, be sure to check out Biblical Archaeology Review's article by Richard A. Freund, who apologizes for a press release claiming his team discovered the bones of John the Baptist— and claims he's been libeled by one of his colleagues.
Salem stock takes major hit
For Christian radio giant Salem Communications, bad news breeds bad news. Yesterday the company's fourth-quarter results fell short of most analysts' estimates, and it said the first quarter would be even worse—it will lose 20 to 22 cents a share.
There's the economic uncertainty created by the possibility of war, of course, but the radio network also faces increasingly intense competition from conservative talk stations. Salem has shifted much of its programming from religious shows to news-talk formats.
Wall Street didn't like the news, and the price of Salem stock dropped by 22 percent (or 24 percent, or "as much as 27 percent," depending on who's counting) yesterday. As Weblog is being posted, it's sinking even lower.
Ash Wednesday and Lent:
- Protestants revive Ash Wednesday | Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians and even some charismatic Christians with personal roots in those denominations were among worshippers who attended Ash Wednesday services (The Virginian-Pilot)
- Message of healing for Ash Wednesday | The Diocese of San Bernardino asks parishioners to discuss the sex scandal during Lent (The Press-Enterprise, Inland California)
- Washington Catholics join Pope's fast | While his envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, met with President Bush at the White House, rank-and-file Catholics in churches all over the city were having their foreheads daubed with ashes to signify penitence for their sins (The Washington Times)
- Bishop calls Lent a 'time for healing' | But few attend Mass to foster reconciliation (The Boston Globe)
War with Iraq:
- Catholics Debating: Back President or Pope on Iraq? | Conservative Roman Catholics are torn: as Catholics, they follow the pope, who opposes a war with Iraq, but as conservatives, they back the president (The New York Times)
- Diverse denominations oppose the call to arms | A broad spectrum of religious leaders are loudly urging President Bush to pull back from the brink of a war on Iraq (The New York Times)
- No holy wars in Christianity | Judging by the escalating religious chatter on television, you would think President George W. Bush was planning a war on Iraq as a faith-based initiative. If this were the case, it would indeed be indefensible. No major Christian theology supports the idea of a holy war (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)
- Church leaders mobilize for peace | Opposition to invasion of Iraq often not shared by parish members (The Baltimore Sun)
- Islam and us | Europe has most to fear from a Muslim backlash after America's crusade against Iraq (Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, London)
- Pontiff's envoy urges president to avoid war | The president told the cardinal that if force is required, "it will make the world better," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (Sacramento Bee)
- Pope intensifies plea to avert a US-led war (Financial Times)
- Crucifixion offered in peace plea | New Zealand woman has offered to be crucified by U.S. President George W. Bush if he pledges not to attack Iraq (Reuters)
- Of God, and Man, in the Oval Office | It may confound people that some mainline Protestant churches continue to resist the president's call to arms (Fritz Ritsch, The Washington Post)
- Blair: My Christian conscience is clear over war | The Prime Minister answers questions over his beliefs and motives (The Independent, London)
Church and state:
- Tablets on court seal ignite state, church suit | Today the federal Appeals Court in Atlanta will hear arguments over whether the seal is unconstitutional (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Commission votes to use auction funds to pay off 10 commandments bill | The County Commission voted 6-2 on Wednesday to use the $11,100 from the auction of the Ten Commandments plaques to pay off legal fees on the lawsuit involving the commandments (The Chattanoogan)
- Court ruling ends threat to religious schools' funds | Opponents of financing church-affiliated colleges with tax-exempt municipal bonds have conceded defeat (The Washington Times)
- Atheist group challenges Alabama governor's Bible study | Alabama Republican Gov. Bob Riley has incurred the wrath of ardent church-state separationists for offering early-morning bible study classes to his staff (Fox News)
- Church, state and children | Church leaders compound their malfeasance by bending constitutional freedoms and sidestepping their true obligation to protect children (Editorial, The New York Times)
- Federal money for faith-based social programs: Evangelicals are wary | Some are wary of President Bush's promotion of faith-based federal initiatives -- programs that most people assumed would resonate with evangelicals (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Bush and faith:
- What George Bush read this morning | "Ask God to keep the eyes of your spirit open to the Risen Christ, and it will be impossible for drudgery to damp you." (The Guardian, London)
- Also: My Utmost For His Highest | Read the devotional President Bush uses (RBC Ministries)
- Support for Bush significantly higher among more religious Americans | Whites who are born-again and Protestant particularly likely to be Republicans and Bush supporters (Gallup News Service)
Persecution and religious freedom:
- Six nations scored for abuse of faith | But Saudi Arabia, India, Laos, Pakistan, Turkemenistan and Vietnam were left off list (AFP)
- Also: US exempts India from list of nations violating religion (Indo-Asian News Service)
- Also: U.S. official: Saudi repression not 'severe' | China, Iran, Iraq, N. Korea included on religious persecution list (WorldNetDaily)
- Saudis: No 'particular concern' | The Bush administration has decided to reject the recommendation to place Saudi Arabia on an American blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom (Newsweek)
- Amritsar villages tense as church converts locals | At least six churches have come up in the region in the past few months, leading to a sudden increase in the number of Christian converts, a majority of them economically and socially impoverished Sikhs (Asian News International)
- 'Justice' from dark ages | Filipino airline employee Donato Lama was arrested for allegedly preaching Christianity, after Saudi authorities discovered a photograph of him engaging in a secret Catholic prayer service (The Daily Telegraph)
- Movement prospering under government control | While there is tolerance from Castro's regime, the church movement is part underground and part regulated (Times Daily, Alabama)
- McMahan apologizes for Islam remarks | State Rep. Lois McMahan apologized to her House colleagues Wednesday and said she plans to personally express her sorrow to the Muslim cleric for remarks she made after he delivered the daily prayer on Monday (The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.)
- If legislative prayer is now so divisive, why keep doing it? | Monday wasn't the first time the prayer has caused discord (Peter Callaghan; The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.)
Crime and investigations:
- FBI investigates beating of Arab-American | Mob allegedly yelled 'white power,' and Muslims blame evangelical leaders (Associated Press)
- Police question Archbishop Ncube over cricket demo | Nicholas Mathonsi, Ncube's lawyer, said the police also quizzed Ncube on who had organized a prayer mass for victims of torture (The Daily News, Harare, Zimbabwe)
- Pastors condemn arrest, detention (The Daily News, Harare, Zimbabwe)
- Cast out | Religious shunning provides an unusual background in the Longo and Bryant slayings (The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.)
- Also: Many religions remove members (The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.)
Clergy sex abuse:
- Victims of priests' abuse seeking redress outside church | Frustrated after months of pleas for change inside the church, the victims' movement is shifting tactics and applying pressure primarily from the outside by lobbying state legislators and assisting grand jury investigations (The Washington Post)
- 'I'm a Church Man' | After the scandal, a handful of priests get back to work (Newsweek)
- Vicar beats archbishop to day of judgment | Priest jumps before he is pushed for sexual and financial allegations (The Guardian, London)
- Also: 'Harassment' vicar loses appeal (BBC)
- Party says unborn need more protection | The criminal death of an unborn child should be given the same consideration as the murder of an elderly or disabled person, the Christian Democratic Party said yesterday (The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Abortion statute blocked by court | Order temporarily lifts state law requiring in-person counseling before the procedure (The Indianapolis Star)
- Abortion sides upset at plans for funds | Bush administration decision to provide funding from an expanded AIDS program to overseas clinics that also promote abortion has roiled both sides in the long-standing battle over abortion policy (The Washington Times)
- Abortion ruling splits Nicaragua | The Nicaraguan authorities say that the parents and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who received an abortion two weeks ago will not face criminal charges (BBC)
- Jury pool in murder trial is surveyed about abortion (The New York Times)
- Antiabortion rally draws Lt. Governor | Steele silently disagrees with Ehrlich (The Washington Post)
- Black church leaders exhorted to confront AIDS | The Rev. Walter McCray, president of the National Black Evangelical Association, challenged ministers to overcome their queasiness in discussing drug abuse, sexual relations and homosexuality (The Oregonian, Portland)
- Bush cripples his AIDS initiative | As it turns out, the president's AIDS initiative is likely to attach antiabortion paranoia to every single dollar and to force-feed religion to the poor on a global scale (Frances Kissling, The Boston Globe)
- Studies say sex not main AIDS cause | Dirty needles and tainted blood—not unprotected sex or the lack of condoms—are the primary cause of Africa's AIDS epidemic, according to three articles published this month in a leading medical journal (The Washington Times)
Pledge of Allegiance:
- School district to appeal pledge ruling | Will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling barring use of the pledge in classrooms (Associated Press)
- Ban on reference to God delayed | Stay gives the high court time to decide whether to review the Pledge of Allegiance case (Los Angeles Times)
- 1 Amendment, 2 Parts | What about the people's "free exercise?" (Arnold Ahlert, New York Post)
Other stories of interest:
- Church echoes with ancient Aramaic chants | Diminutive soloist unites audience with Al-Bustan performance (The Daily Star, Lebanon)
- Ky. Bible college gets 666 prefix removed | "We're just elated that the number has been changed," said Rob Roy MacGregor, the college's vice president of business affairs (Associated Press)
- Sin for your supper | In the French catechism, gluttony is given as 'gourmandise'. Virtuous French gourmands want it changed (The Spectator, U.K.)
- Bring back the Sabbath | Why even the most secular need a ritualized day of rest (The New York Times)
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