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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Case of the purloined Jerusalem rock: Behold thy God O Israel

The Israel antiquities authority has the fascinating story of a 21 KG rock that was returned by a repenant N.Y. clergyman. Here is his story:
"I came to Israel on an organized trip. As a student of archaeology, I was very excited when we visited an excavation south of the Temple Mount. I asked how I can purchase a stone from the excavation because I wanted a souvenir with which to pray for Jerusalem and was told it was not possible. On the last day of the trip our Israeli tour guide approached me and took the stone fragment from inside his coat. 'Take it', he said. 'It's a present from me'. I asked him how he obtained the stone and he replied, 'It's okay; don't worry'.
With all due respect to the reverend, it is hard to believe that tour guides walk around with 21 kg (about 50 pounds)  rocks routinely kept under their coats, just in case they might be needed. The rock was from an Ummayad era column, which is not necessarily a proper object of veneration for Jews and Christians. In any case, while I know little about religious matters, I thought only Muslims pray to the Kaaba stone. Jews and Christians are not supposed to pray to objects, are they? Is there a political moral here too? You decide.
Jerusalem Holy Rock
Jerusalem rock: "Behold thy God, O Israel"?
הינה אלוהיך ישראל? 

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Monday, February 26, 2007

What are the odds in Jesus theory?

Last update - 20:12 26/02/2007
It states:

"On a scale of one through 10 - 10 being completely possible - it's probably a
one, maybe a one and a half."

Decide for yourself, what is more likely - is Jesus buried in this place or another like it? Or on the other hand, was he born to a virgin and resurrected three days after his death? What are the odds?

Scholars and clergymen in Jerusalem slam new Jesus documentary

By The Associated Press

Archaeologists and clergymen in Israel have derided claims made in a new documentary produced by the Oscar-winning director James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets.

The Lost Tomb of Christ, which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4 in the United States, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries - small caskets used to store bones - discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.

One of the caskets even bears the title, Judah, son of Jesus, hinting that Jesus may have had a son. And the very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church. The documentary is directed by Toronto filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici.

Although the documentary makers claim to have found the tomb of Jesus, the British Broadcasting Corporation beat them to the punch by 11 years.

In 1996, when the BBC aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.

"They just want to get money for it," Kloner said.

Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the government agency responsible for archaeology, declined to comment before the documentary was aired. She said the Antiquities Authority agreed to send two ossuaries to New York, but they did not contain human remains. "We agreed to send the ossuaries, but it doesn't mean that we agree with [the filmmakers]," she said.

The claims have also raised the ire of Christian leaders. "The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection," said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem. "The documentary," he said, "contradicts the religious principles and the historic and spiritual principles that we hold tightly to."

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this, Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

"How possible is it?" Pfann said. "On a scale of one through 10 - 10 being completely possible - it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half."

Pfann is even unsure that the name Jesus on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it is more likely the name Hanun. Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.

Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false.

"It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," Kloner said. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."

Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker's claim that the James Ossuary - the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel - might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box.

"I don't think the James Ossuary came from the same cave," said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. "If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus."

None of the experts interviewed by The Associated Press had seen the whole documentary. Repeated attempts to contact Cameron and Jacobovici were unsuccessful.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

At Mideast holy site, what is treasure?

We all found it hard to believe the Israel Antiquities Authority was allowing the Waqf to plunder and the most important Jewish nation archeological site, but it seems to be true.

Associated Press, in Boston Globe
November 17, 2006

At Mideast holy site, what is treasure?
By Matti Friedman, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM --Off an East Jerusalem side street, between an olive orchard
and an abandoned hotel, sit a few piles of stones and dirt that are
yielding important insights into Jerusalem's history.

They come from one of the world's most disputed holy places -- the
square in the heart of Jerusalem that is known to Jews as the Temple
Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The story behind the rubble includes an underground crypt, a maverick
college student, a white-bearded archaeologist, thousands of relics
spanning millennia and a feud between Israelis and Palestinians which is
heavily shaped by ancient history.

Among finds that have emerged are a coin struck during the Jewish revolt
against the Romans, arrowheads shot by Babylonian archers and by Roman
siege machinery, Christian charms, a 3,300-year-old fragment of Egyptian
alabaster, Bronze Age flint instruments, and -- the prize discovery --
the imprint of a seal possibly linked to a priestly Jewish family
mentioned in the Old Testament's Book of Jeremiah.

And the finds keep coming. On a drizzly November morning, Gabriel
Barkay, the veteran biblical archaeologist who runs the dig, sat in a
tent near the mounds examining some newly discovered coins stamped by
various Holy Land powers: the Hasmonean dynasty of Jewish kings more
than 2,000 years ago, a Roman procurator around the time of Pontius
Pilate, the early Christians of the Byzantine Empire, two Islamic
dynasties and the British in the 20th century.

Considering the wealth of findings, it is odd, perhaps, that this is an
excavation that was never supposed to happen.

Jews revere the Mount as the site of their two ancient temples. Muslims
believe it's where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during a
nighttime journey recounted in the Quran. Two mosques stand on the site,
as do some of the temple's original retaining walls, including the
Jewish shrine called the Western Wall, but there is no visible trace of
the temple itself.

The site has been the frequent arena of Israeli-Palestinian fighting,
and its volatility has prevented archaeologists from ever touching it.

In November 1999, the Waqf, the Muslim organization that administers the
site's Islamic holy places, opened an emergency exit to an ancient
underground chamber of stone pillars and arches known to Jews as
Solomon's Stables and to Muslims as the Marwani mosque.

Ignoring fierce protest from Israeli archaeologists who said priceless
artifacts were being destroyed to erase traces of Jewish history, the
Waqf dug a large pit, removed tons of earth and rubble that had been
used as landfill and dumped much of it in the nearby Kidron Valley.

The Waqf's position was, and remains, that the rubble was of recent
vintage and without archaeological value.

Zachi Zweig, a 27-year-old archaeology undergraduate at Bar Ilan
University near Tel Aviv, showed up at the dump a few days later. Though
Israel's archaeological establishment had shown no interest in the
rubble, Zweig was sure it was important, especially after a Waqf
representative told him to leave.

Zweig returned surreptitiously with friends, gathered samples of the
rubble and discovered a high concentration of ancient pottery shards. He
was charged by the Israel Antiquities Authority with stealing relics --
charges that were later dropped -- and finally convinced Barkay, his
lecturer at the university, that the rubble needed to be studied.

In 2004, after five years spent getting a dig license and raising funds,
they had 75 truckloads of rubble moved to a lot on the slopes of
Jerusalem's Mount Scopus.

The first coin they found, Barkay said, was one issued during the Jewish
revolt that preceded the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in
70 A.D., imprinted with the Hebrew words "Freedom of Zion."

The most valuable find so far, Barkay believes, is a clay seal
impression discovered last year. Its incomplete Hebrew lettering appears
to name Ge'aliyahu, son of Immer. Immer is the name of a family of
temple officials mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1.

Another important discovery is the many relics from the early Christian
era, which seem to disprove the notion that the site was abandoned in
those years as a symbol of God's abandonment of the Jews.

Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, best
known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, said moving the rubble
around has jumbled its contents and diminished its scholarly value.

But even so, "This is an insight into the life of Jerusalem, and
whatever they find will be very exciting," he said.

Archaeology here, however, is rarely just about providing insight into
the past.

Barkay's dig is funded by the City of David Foundation, a hard-line
religious group which spends most of its money settling Jewish families
in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. It's part of a broader attempt
by groups affiliated with the settler movement to make the point that
Jerusalem is Jewish.

When it removed the rubble, the Waqf was trying to destroy evidence of
Jewish history on the Temple Mount, said Uri Ragones, a foundation
spokesman. "We are going back to Jerusalem physically, learning about it
and uncovering our past. We're touching our deepest roots as a people."

For its part, the Waqf says it wasn't destroying any evidence of Jewish
presence -- because there isn't any.

"I have seen no evidence of a temple," said the Waqf's director, Adnan
Husseini. He had heard "stories," he acknowledged, "but these are an
attempt to change the situation here today, and any change would be very

Such reactions don't surprise Israeli Historian Gershom Gorenberg, whose
book "The End of Days" documents the fight over the holy site.

"Dig a centimeter beneath the debate over antiquities," he said, "and
you hit the debate over whom the Mount belongs to, and a centimeter
beneath that is the war over whom the entire country belongs to."

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