Monday, 29 February 2016

Canada's Liberal government temporarily extends the term of the country's ambassador for religious freedom


Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms
Rights and freedoms in Canada

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Fundamental freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

As reported by Lee Berthiaume of the Ottawa Citizen, February 15, 2016:

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is extending the term of Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom — at least until it can decide what to do with him.

Andrew Bennett’s three-year stint as ambassador was set to expire this coming Friday, but Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said Monday it is being extended until at least the end of March as the government weighs “how best to preserve and protect all human rights, including the vital freedom of religion or belief.”

“Dr. Andrew Bennett has shown remarkable ingenuity, sensitivity and competency over the past three years in serving as head of Canada’s Office for Religious Freedom and we are grateful for his continued service,” Dion added in an emailed statement.

Bennett is Canada’s first, and so far only, ambassador for religious freedom after the previous Conservative government established the Office of Religious Freedom inside the Foreign Affairs department (now known as Global Affairs Canada) in February 2013.

While Andrew Bennett’s three-year term as ambassador was scheduled to expire on Feb. 19, the office’s mandate and funding, which was set at about $5 million a year, ran until March 31. By extending Bennett’s term, the two are now on the same timeline.

Despite the extension, it’s widely believed the office’s days are numbered. Speaking at foreign policy conference last month, Dion said the Liberal government would continue to champion religious freedom abroad. But he said religious freedom should not be “disconnected” from other human rights.

“Human rights are interdependent, universal and indivisible,” he said at the time. “How can you enjoy freedom of religion if you don’t have freedom of conscience? Freedom of speech? Freedom of mobility?”

Conservative foreign affairs critics and some faith groups, including organizations representing Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim Canadians, have asked that the Liberals let the office continue its work. They say its mandate is more important now than ever, thanks to the role of religion in geopolitics.
Extending the term of Canada's ambassador for religious freedom seems like a good idea, but we need an Office for Religious Freedom within Canada, given the way the "fundamental freedoms" of conscience and religion are being increasingly taken away.

The government is being urged by representatives of some religious groups to keep the Office of Religious Freedom, as reported by Mr. Berthiaume in the Ottawa Citizen, January 22, 2016:

The Liberal government is facing pressure to keep the Office of Religious Freedom open, after representatives from three influential faith groups wrote Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion on Friday asking him not to scrap it.

The open letter from organizations representing Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim Canadians underscores the potential political cost of shuttering the three-year-old office, which the previous Conservative government established with much fanfare.

The Citizen reported last week that unless the Liberal government intervenes, current Ambassador for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett’s three-year term will expire on Feb. 18. The office’s mandate and funding, about $5 million a year, will run out on March 31.

Dion spokesman Adam Barratt said at the time that a decision had not been made and the minister was “examining options and how best to build on the work that has been accomplished in the area of religious freedom while promoting human rights as a whole.”

But in a letter to Dion, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Fogel, World Sikh Organization of Canada president Amritpal Singh Shergill, and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada national secretary Asif Khan expressed their support for the office’s “valuable work.”

“The Office of Religious Freedom, under the capable stewardship of Ambassador Bennett, has proven an effective advocate in highlighting the issue of religious persecution, partnering with Diaspora communities in Canada, and raising our country’s profile as a world leader in human rights promotion,” the letter reads.

The signatories describe the office’s $5-million budget as “modest,” and note that while the projects it supports abroad “do not always make headlines, we believe they laudably reflect a practical and effective role Canada can play in mitigating the plight of persecuted religious minorities around the world.”

The Office of Religious Freedom was the subject of controversy even before it was established on Feb. 19, 2013. Promised by the Conservatives during the 2011 election, some worried it would be used to selectively champion Christianity, woo certain ethnic voter groups and pursue pet projects of the government.

But Fogel said that religious freedom and tolerance transcend religious and partisan lines. “By joining hands with our friends in the Sikh and Ahmadiyya communities,” he said in a statement, “we are affirming that a diversity of Canadians appreciate the vital and practical work of the Office of Religious Freedom – and believe it should remain a fixture of Canada’s foreign policy.”

“We have joined with our friends in the Jewish and Ahmadiyya communities to express our appreciation for the work being undertaken by the office, and in conveying our hope that the government will continue to strongly support its efforts,” Shergill said in a separate statement.

Some, such as former NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, have called for the office to be abolished entirely and replaced with an office or organization that will take a more comprehensive approach to promoting human rights abroad.

But the communities represented by the three groups that wrote to Dion on Friday have sizeable communities within Canada, which could make it politically sensitive for the Liberal government to close the Office for Religious Freedom.
As reported by Mr. Berthiaume in the Ottawa Citizen, January 28, 2016:

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has given his strongest indication yet that the writing is on the wall for Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.

Speaking at a foreign policy conference Thursday, Dion said the Liberal government, like the Conservatives before them, will continue to champion religious freedom abroad. But he said religious freedom should not be “disconnected” from other human rights.

“Human rights are interdependent, universal and indivisible,” he said. “How can you enjoy freedom of religion if you don’t have freedom of conscience? Freedom of speech? Freedom of mobility?”

The previous Conservative government established the Office of Religious Freedom inside the Foreign Affairs department (now known as Global Affairs Canada) in February 2013. Headed by an ambassador for religious freedom, its mandate is to speak out and work against religious intolerance.

Unless the Liberal government intervenes, however, Andrew Bennett’s three-year term as ambassador will expire Feb. 18. The office’s mandate and funding, which was set at about $5 million a year, also runs out on March 31.

Conservative foreign affairs critics and some faith groups, including organizations representing Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim Canadians, have asked that the Liberals let the office continue its work. They say its mandate is more important now than ever, thanks to the role of religion in geopolitics.

But Dion, who described theocratism as a major obstacle to advancing of human rights in different countries, said championing all rights is essential. “All rights are together,” he said. “So that will be our approach to see improvements of human rights in Canada and around the world.”
I don't agree with Mr. Dion that "all human rights are together." Even the Liberals' beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms separates "fundamental freedoms" from others--with "conscience and religion" the first "fundamental freedoms" mentioned.

Cambridge University professor says that atheism was common in the ancient world

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Psalms 14:1 (also Psalms 53:1)

As reported by John Bingham of the London Daily Telegraph, February 16, 2016:

To its adherents it is the ultimate modern belief system, the antidote to centuries of ignorance and superstition, while to its detractors it is the product of latter-day decadence and materialism.

But a new Cambridge University study argues that atheism is in fact one of the world’s oldest religions – long predating Christianity and Islam.

Far from being the result of scientific breakthroughs or modern mass education, the belief that there were no gods was relatively common in the ancient world, research by Prof Tim Whitmarsh, a leading Cambridge classicist, concludes.

But the “ancient atheism” was effectively written out of history after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire after the reign of Constantine in the early 4th Century, heralding a new era of state-imposed belief, Prof Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge, argues.

The study is potentially bad news for believers and non-believers alike.

On one hand it breaks the widely assumed link between atheism and progress or modernity but it also rejects the idea that faith is a natural, instinctive impulse.

He sets out his findings in a new book, “Battling The Gods”, published on Tuesday, which collates evidence for atheism in the Greek city states.

It finds evidence for what he argues would now class as atheism in the works of a string of Greek thinkers from Xenophanes of Colophon – born around 570 BC – to figures such as Carneades in the 2nd Century BC, who was among the first systematically to compile arguments against the existence of the gods.

“Atheism is, of course, a Greek word,” he explained.

“It started out as a negative term but I think there is evidence that people positively identified as that, using that word.

“There is evidence from the 5th Century [BC] onwards, initially quite sketchy but certainly from the 2nd Century BC people were compiling lists of arguments against the existence of the gods.”

In the book he argues that the idea that atheism is a modern idea, stemming from the Enlightenment, is a “myth” nurtured by both believers and non-beliers alike for their own ends.

“Adherents wish to present scepticism toward the supernatural as the result of science’s progressive eclipse of religion, and the religious wish to see it as a pathological symptom of a decadent Western world consumed by capitalism,” the book explains.

“Both are guilty of modernist vanity. Disbelief in the supernatural is as old as the hills.”

He also points to the trial of Socrates, who was accused of “not recognising the gods of [Athens]” – as evidence that a form of atheism was common at the time even if Socrates denied the accusation.

He added: “Xenophanes is the earliest person on might associate with the broad penumbra of atheism.

“He did express a belief in a type of god but it was radically different.

“He set himself against the anthropomorphic conception of god, so if you think a god is anything like a human being you’ve got it entirely wrong. He said in effect gods should be associated with nature and the way things grow. He was one of the first to move away from the idea of a moral god who you could pray to.

“In ancient terms what he was saying was quite radical, hat all these temples and statues are useless.”

Prof Whitmarsh explained: “We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies.

“The rhetoric used to describe it is hyper-modern. In fact, early societies were far more capable than many since of containing atheism within the spectrum of what they considered normal.”

“Rather than making judgements based on scientific reason, these early atheists were making what seem to be universal objections about the paradoxical nature of religion – the fact that it asks you to accept things that aren’t intuitively there in your world.

“The fact that this was happening thousands of years ago suggests that forms of disbelief can exist in all cultures, and probably always have.”
Professor Whitmarsh's findings wouldn't come as any surprise to David, who wrote the passage from Psalms cited above. For the Holy Spirit to inspire David to write that, there must have been such fools in existence. However, atheism certainly doesn't extend all the way back to the beginning of history--the earliest chapters of Genesis indicate that Adam and Eve were aware of God's existence, especially before the fall.

Friday, 26 February 2016

400 years ago: The Roman Catholic Church tells Galileo to shut up

On February 26, 1616, the Roman Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, ordered Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei:

to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it... to abandon completely... the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.

Click on the link to see copies of the original documents from Mr. Galilei's trials in 1616 and 1633.

350 years after Galileo Galilei's death, Pope John Paul II decided it was a good time to make amends, as reported by Alan Cowell of The New York Times, October 31, 1992:

ROME, Oct. 30— More than 350 years after the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo, Pope John Paul II is poised to rectify one of the Church's most infamous wrongs -- the persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist for proving the Earth moves around the Sun.

With a formal statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Saturday, Vatican officials said the Pope will formally close a 13-year investigation into the Church's condemnation of Galileo in 1633. The condemnation, which forced the astronomer and physicist to recant his discoveries, led to Galileo's house arrest for eight years before his death in 1642 at the age of 77.

The dispute between the Church and Galileo has long stood as one of history's great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith. The Vatican's formal acknowledgement of an error, moreover, is a rarity in an institution built over centuries on the belief that the Church is the final arbiter in matters of faith.

At the time of his condemnation, Galileo had won fame and the patronage of leading Italian powers like the Medicis and Barberinis for discoveries he had made with the astronomical telescope he had built. But when his observations led him to proof of the Copernican theory of the solar system, in which the sun and not the earth is the center, and which the Church regarded as heresy, Galileo was summoned to Rome by the Inquisition. Forced to Recant

By the end of his trial, Galileo was forced to recant his own scientific findings as "abjured, cursed and detested," a renunciation that caused him great personal anguish but which saved him from being burned at the stake.

Since then, the Church has taken various steps to reverse its opposition to Galileo's conclusions. In 1757, Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" was removed from the Index, a former list of publications banned by the Church. When the latest investigation, conducted by a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, made a preliminary report in 1984, it said that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned. More recently, Pope John Paul II himself has said that the scientist was "imprudently opposed."

"We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory," Paul Cardinal Poupard, the head of the current investigation, said in an interview published this week.

This theory had been presented in a book published in 1543 by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in opposition to the prevailing theory, advanced by the second-century astronomer Ptolemy, that the Sun and the rest of the cosmos orbited the Earth. But the contest between the two models was purely on theoretic and theological grounds until Galileo made the first observations of the four largest moons of Jupiter, exploding the Ptolemaic notion that all heavenly bodies must orbit the Earth.

In 1616, the Copernican view was declared heretical because it refuted a strict biblical interpreation of the Creation that "God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." But Galileo obtained the permission of Pope Urban VIII, a Barberini and a friend, to continue research into both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican views of the world, provided that his findings drew no definitive conclusions and acknowledged divine omnipotence.

But when, in 1632, Galileo published his findings in "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," the work was a compelling endorsement of the Copernican system.

Summoned to Rome for trial by the Inquisition one year later, Galileo defended himself by saying that scientific research and the Christian faith were not mutually exclusive and that study of the natural world would promote understanding and interpretation of the scriptures. But his views were judged "false and erroneous." Aging, ailing and threatened with torture by the Inquisition, Galileo recanted on April 30, 1633.

Because of his advanced years, he was permitted house arrest in Siena. Legend has it that as Galileo rose from kneeling before his inquisitors, he murmured, "e pur, si muove" -- "even so, it does move."
The Roman Catholic Church's opposition to heliocentrism is an example of the danger of taking an idea with pagan origins and making it church dogma.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

70 years ago: Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches concludes its conference in Geneva

On February 24, 1946, the Provisional Committee of the World Council of Churches concluded its four-day conference in Geneva by establishing the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) to stimulate a "vigorous expression" of Christian demands for justice and world order. The conference was attended by representatives of nearly 100 Protestant and Orthodox church organizations from 32 countries.

According to the WCC's website, the CCIA was one of two pioneering projects launched in 1946 in cooperation with the International Missionary Council (IMC) in 1946; the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland was the other.

The Geneva conference was another event in the timeline of end times apostasy. The World Council of Churches, falsely claiming to represent the Lord Jesus Christ and the faith once delivered unto the saints, officially came into being with its first assembly in Amsterdam in 1948.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Israeli government wants a share of gratuities for private religious services

As reported by Ari Rabinovitch of Reuters, February 5, 2016:

Israel's Tax Authority says it wants a cut of gratuities traditionally offered to Jewish ritual circumcisors and a slice of the payments that private kosher inspectors usually pocket.

A recent state comptroller's report said unreported payments for such religious services could account for tens of millions of dollars of income kept off the books while the Israeli state struggles with a large budget deficit and high debt.

In a message warning rabbis and others in the so-called religious services industry, the Authority said it would seek out this hidden revenue in assessing their tax bills.

"You can't come later and say you didn't know about it," an Authority spokeswoman said. There is no compulsory fee for circumcision in Israel when performed by a state-certified "mohel" or circumcisor. But it is customary for parents of newborn Jewish boys to offer a gratuity up to 1,000 shekels ($255), an amount recommended by the chief rabbinic council.

Tipping is also the norm for rabbis who officiate at weddings as part of a free service underwritten by the state. The Authority spokeswoman said they too will be targeted as part of the new enforcement campaign.

Israel has a national authority to certify that food products are kosher, but some communities - mostly among the ultra-Orthodox - ask their own rabbis to confirm privately that food meets their stricter religious standards. A gratuity would also be in order there.

There are also Kabbalah mystics around the country whom devotees seek out for blessings, personal guidance and even financial advice. A session with them usually ends with a private donation as well.

Israeli rabbinical court excommunicates and names man who refuses to grant his wife a divorce

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isaiah 29:13

For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, Malachi 2:16a (NASB)

Another episode in the life of rabbinic Judaism, as reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 19, 2016 (link in original):

(JTA) — In an unusual move, an Israeli rabbinical court excommunicated a scientist who refused to divorce his wife and ordered the publication of his name, photo and personal details.

The Jerusalem-based rabbinical appeals court issued this week a herem – a writ of banishment — against Oded Guez, a physicist at Tel Aviv University, because he had refused to give his wife a divorce for the past four years, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Friday.

The herem said Guez is not to be honored, hosted, allowed to attend synagogue or even be asked as to his health or visited at home if he is ill, among other prohibitions, “until he relents from his stubbornness and listens to his betters and he unchains his wife and gives her a get,” the sentence reads. “Get” is the Hebrew word for a religious divorce.

The unusual sentence was issued after Guez failed to show up for a hearing. He had appealed the rabbinical court’s ruling last year to publish his name but lost at Israel’s High Court of Justice.

In Israel, rabbinical tribunals function as family courts for Jewish citizens and are part of the general judiciary — which also has Islamic Sharia courts. These religious tribunals have the authority to grant child custody and impose heavy fines and even jail sentences.

In Judaism, women who are not given a get by their husbands are called chained women because they cannot remarry according to Orthodox Jewish law. Any children they have out of wedlock may not marry under religious Orthodox law. Religious judges, or dayanim, do not have the authority to nullify marriages of reluctant husbands.

40 years ago: The death of Kathryn Kuhlman

And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: Luke 4:23a

On February 20, 1976, Miss Kuhlman, was one of the most famous "faith healers" of the 20th century, died at the age of 68. As is so often the case, Miss Kuhlman, who conducted crusades in a career that ran from the 1930s until her death, led an immoral life. She met a married revivalist named Burroughs Waltrip, who divorced his wife and married Miss Kuhlman in 1938. The marriage was reportedly a disaster from the start, and the two divorced in 1948 after several years of separation. Miss Kuhlman travelled through the United States before settling in Los Angeles in 1970, where she continued her healing crusades and was often regarded as a successor to Aimee Semple McPherson. Miss Kuhlman's television program I Believe in Miracles was widely syndicated throughut North America.

Miss Kuhlman was accused of financial impropriety in 1975 in a case that was settled out of court, and the healings claimed from her crusades were disputed by physicians such as William Nolen, and other critics. Miss Kuhlman suffered a minor heart problem in the summer of 1975, suffered a relapse in November, and died after open-heart surgery, apparently unable to heal herself.

Kathryn Kuhlman has left a dubious legacy, being a significant influence on later generations of faith healers, such as the notorious liar and false teacher Benny Hill Hinn. Those who are interested in further reading on Miss Kuhlman are invited to search various blogs and sites listed on this blog, such as Way of Life Literature.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Islam has its own exorcists

It isn't just the Roman Catholic Church or "evangelical" charismaniacs who go around casting out demons. As reported by Halisatu Aziz of the Accra Graphic, February 12, 2016:

“She had clocked 34 years but was still rejecting suitors. At one time, Mariam (not her real name) would accept a marriage proposal and the next moment, reject it,” Mariam’s brother narrates.

“Our mother thought her attitude was strange and conferred with a Sheik who after examining the situation, told us Mariam might never get married as she had a spiritual husband, a jinn. The only solution was to exorcise her,” he explained.

Quran chapter 72 describes jinns as being made from smokeless and scorching fire who are able to take possession of human beings. Jinns can either be good or evil and capable of harming the people they possess.

Thus, with the foundation of jinns firmly rooted in the Quran and as an Islamic community, residents of Nima in Accra believe in jinn possession and practise exorcism as a way of dealing with it.

Mustapha Hamid, an Islamic scholar at the University of Cape Coast, explained that the term

“jinn” was etymologically derived from the Arabic word “majnun” which means a madman. Thus, the term “jinn” was coined to admit that jinns were the cause of mental illness.

“People who are possessed by jinns typically behave like madmen,” Hamid said.

“They may not be dressed like madmen but their utterances and behaviour can be associated with madness.”

Mallam Luthfi Jamal-Baba, an Imam and exorcist at Nima said that exorcism is done differently by different exorcists though the underlying remedy is the recital of some verses from the Quran, to get the jinns out.

While some exorcists use only the recitation of the Quran, others use physical abuse with the view of inflicting pain on the jinns so that they exit.

“Some of the jinns are stubborn and when the victim is in a trance, they become violent and try to attack the exorcist during the exercise,” Jamal-Baba said. “When it happens that way, the victims are tied with a rope and sometimes chained to chairs to keep them calm.”

Jamal-Baba professed he does not believe in subjecting victims to physical beating as the victims are the ones who suffer the pain. Rather, he recites verses from the Quran.

He usually works with some assistants who pin the victims down when they get violent.

However, Mallam Mohammad, another exorcist at Nima, believes that caning victims during exorcism gets the jinns out more quickly.

“The victims, at that moment, do not feel the pain. The jinns are the ones who feel the pain and it is at this moment, together with the Quranic recitation, that they flee,” Mohammad said.

Though men can be possessed by jinns, women are considered the ones more prone to possession.

Jamal-Baba said the jinns prefer beautiful and attractive people and thus, tend to possess women.

According to him, the only way to prevent demon possession is to be steadfast in prayers, avoid wearing revealing clothes and bathing at midnight.

Women deemed possessed by jinns tend to talk to themselves, harm themselves and in extreme cases, kill themselves or other people around them.

A victim’s brother, who gave his name only as Aminu, said his younger sister behaved like a normal person until she turned 20 years when she was frequently found talking to herself or cutting herself with a razor blade. Before she turned 22, she wouldn’t come out of her room.

“She locked herself up in her room most of the time and we could hear her talk to herself as if she were with someone,” Aminu said.

Aminu’s sister was later taken to a Sheik at Nima who told them she had a jinn husband and needed to be exorcised.

In the field of orthodox medicine, all the symptoms associated with jinn possession may pass for treatable medical conditions.

Mr Nuworza Kugbey, a clinical psychologist at the Guidance and Counselling Placement Centre at the University of Ghana, said such symptoms could pass for psychotic disorders. Such disorders can cause one to behave abnormally.

“These are disorders that can be treated with both medication and psychotherapy,” Mr Kugbey said.

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depression, is one of the psychotic disorders where patients experience unusual and swift mood swings; at one time, very happy and the next moment, extremely sad.

People who have bipolar disorder can be indecisive and tend to have relationship issues. In extreme cases, they commit suicide.

Schizophrenia, another psychotic disorder, is a brain illness where people who have it usually hear voices. Also, they tend to speak to themselves as though someone was present.

To the majority of Muslims at Nima, however, what may be considered a medical condition by orthodox medicine, is considered jinn possession where exorcism is the only treatment.
If jinns prefer "beautiful and attractive people," the majority of the female population of Edmonton should be immune to possession. To see the references to jinns in the Qur'an, search here.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Remains of a 12,000-year-old village have been discovered in the Jordan Valley

As reported by Raoul Wootliff of The Times of Israel, February 17, 2016:

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley dating from around 12,000 years ago, The Hebrew University revealed on Wednesday.

The site, named NEG II, is located in Wadi Ein-Gev, west of the Sea of Galilee and south of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, and is estimated to cover an area of roughly 1,200 square meters (three acres).

In a series of excavations, archaeologists found numerous artifacts pointing to a vast human settlement including burial remains, flint tools, art manifestations, faunal assemblage and stone and bone tools.

While other sites from the same period have been unearthed in the area, the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that NEG II was unique in that it contains cultural characteristics typical of both the Old Stone Age — known as the Paleolithic period — and the New Stone Age, known as the Neolithic period.

“Although attributes of the stone tool kit found at NEG II place the site chronologically in the Paleolithic period, other characteristics – such as its artistic tradition, size, thickness of archaeological deposits and investment in architecture – are more typical of early agricultural communities in the Neolithic period,” said chief excavator Dr. Leore Grosman.

“Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” she added.

The Paleolithic period is considered the earliest period in the history of mankind. The end of that era is marked by the transition to agricultural societies with the emergence of settled villages and domestication of plants and animals.

According to Grosman, NEG II was likely occupied in the midst of the cold and dry global climatic event known as the Younger Dryas, when temperatures declined sharply over most of the northern hemisphere around 12,900–11,600 years ago. Affected by climatic changes, groups in the area became increasingly mobile and potentially smaller in size, she said.

NEG II, however, shows that some groups in the Jordan Valley may have become larger in size and preferred town-like settlements to a nomadic existence.

Researchers said this shift in settlement pattern could be related to climate conditions that provided the ingredients necessary for prehistoric man to take the final steps toward agriculture in the southern Levant.

“It is not surprising that at a number of sites in the Jordan Valley we find a cultural entity that bridges the crossroads between Late Paleolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers,” Grosman said.

Archaeologists discover evidence of settlement in Jerusalem 7,000 years ago

As reported by Raoul Wootliff of The Times of Israel, February 17, 2016:

Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest known remains of an ancient settlement on the site of modern-day Jerusalem, dating back some 7,000 years, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The finds were uncovered by the IAA during excavations carried out prior to the laying of a new road in the Shuafat neighborhood in northeastern Jerusalem.

The excavation exposed two houses with well-preserved remains and floors containing various installations as well as pottery vessels, flint tools, and a basalt bowl, the IAA said.

Experts have dated the finds to 5,000 BCE, the beginning of the Chalcolithic era, also known as the Copper Age. During the period, which stretches back to 3,000 BCE, man started using copper tools for the first time, a revolutionary advancement from the stone tools previously used.

According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, head of the IAA’s Prehistory Branch, the findings are the oldest proof of human settlement in the Jerusalem area.

“The Chalcolithic period is known in the Negev, the coastal plain, the Galilee and the Golan, but is almost completely absent in the Judean Hills and Jerusalem,” Barzilai said in a statement. “Although in recent years we have discovered a few traces of Chalcolithic settlements, such as those at Abu Gosh, Motza Junction, and the Holyland compound in Jerusalem, they have been extremely sparse. Now, for the first time, we have discovered significant remains from 7,000 years ago.”

The remains predate previously found evidence of human settlement in the area by up to 2,000 years. Before the latest discovery, it was thought that the area was first settled in the early Bronze Age, from around 3,000–2,800 BCE.

Ronit Lupo, director of excavations for the IAA, said the discovery, which includes complicated architectural structures and a range of different tools, points to a thriving population in the area.

“This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity,” she said.

“Apart from the pottery, the fascinating flint finds attest to the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times: Small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building, borers and awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported,” Lupo added. “The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community.”

Lupo said that the site also yielded a number of animal bones, which will be analyzed to help understand the dietary and economic habits of the people who lived there.

Friday, 12 February 2016

UNESCO recognizes the Aleppo Codex as a world treasure

As reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 9, 2016 (link in original):

The Aleppo Codex — believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible — has been officially recognized as a treasured item by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The codex, which is on permanent display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, will be listed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

UNESCO officially recognized the codex on Monday, according to Haaretz, deciding it belongs in its registry of 300 items and collections from all over the world. The registry already includes two other items from Israel: the Israel Museum’s Rothschild Miscellany, a collection of illustrated 15th-century manuscripts, and the Pages of Testimony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, which documents the names and stories of Holocaust victims.

Written in northern Israel around 930 CE, the codex has a storied and transient history. It was smuggled into Israel from Syria 60 years ago, and since then 200 of the original 500 pages have mysteriously disappeared.

An award-winning 2013 book — “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred and Mysterious Books” — chronicles its history.

According to Haaretz, 7,200 pages of Isaac Newton’s papers, which are stored in Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem, was also added to the UNESCO registry this week.
And this item, reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 12, 1976:


A facsimile edition of the oldest known manuscript of the Hebrew Bible — the Aleppo Codex — was published by the Hebrew University last week. It is the fruit of 20 years’ work by a team of Hebrew University scholars, headed by Prof. Moshe Goshen Gottstein. The 500-page red and blue leather-bound facsimiles will sell for $400 apiece.

The Aleppo Codex was first published in about 900 AD in Tiberias by Aharon Ben Asher, a master of the textual tradition. By the end of the 11th century, the manuscript had been carried off from Jerusalem to Cairo. But it was subsequently transferred to Aleppo, Syria where it remained in the possession of the Jewish community. During Israel’s War for Independence in 1948, the Syrians tried to burn the Biblical treasure, but 600 of the 800 pages were saved.

The manuscript was smuggled out of Syria in 1956 and delivered to President Yitzhak Ben Zvi of Israel for safe-keeping. It is now at the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. Most of the Pentateuch is among the lost portion. The manuscript begins with Deuteronomy, Chapt. 28, Verse 17. It includes the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel but Kings I is missing and only parts of Kings 2 have been preserved. The books of Isaiah and Ezekial are complete, but only parts of Jeremiah are preserved. Most of the minor prophets, the Book of Psalms and Chronicles are also preserved.
See also my post Israeli scholar completes 30-year mission to "fix" textual errors in Old Testament (January 18, 2013).

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The first Palestinian embassy in the Western Hemisphere is inaugurated in Brazil

As reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 4, 2016:

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — A new building housing the first Palestinian Authority embassy in the Western Hemisphere was inaugurated in Brasilia.

The PA’s envoy to Brazil, Ibrahim Alzeben, led Wednesday’s event, which was attended by left-wing Brazilian government officials, representatives of Arab countries and members of the local Arab community.

A week earlier, Alzeben attended the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held by the Jewish community in the Brazilian capital, saying “I could not be absent. It is very important to remember this date.”

The inauguration of the embassy comes as Brazil and Israel tussle over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nominee to fill the vacant Israeli envoy position.

The closeness of the new embassy to major Brazilian governmental buildings, including the Planalto Palace, Congress, Supreme Court and ministries, has been widely criticized due to security concerns.

“Diplomats and their vehicles cannot be checked. The embassy is a sovereign Hamas area now,” an unnamed military source told Brazil’s Veja magazine in an article published last year. “The site is strategic. Terrorists could access the whole governmental structure in a half an hour.”

Built on a piece of land that is more than 17,000 square feet and donated by the Brazilian government when it was led by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the space is considered large in comparison to other diplomatic missions. Topped with a golden dome, the building resembles the famous mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid the cornerstone for the building in 2011.

Bilateral relations between Brazil and the Palestinians date back to 1975, when the Palestine Liberation Organization was authorized to appoint representatives in Brasilia. In 1993, Brazil authorized the opening of the Palestinian Special Delegation in Brasília, whose status was equated to embassy in 1998. In 2004, a representative office of Brazil in Ramallah was opened. After Brazil recognized a state of Palestine in December 2010, the Special Delegation became the Embassy of Palestine.

Israel has not had an ambassador in Brasilia since December. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination of Dani Dayan, a former settler leader in the West Bank, remains unapproved by Rousseff since August and has set off a diplomatic row.
See my previous post, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands by his choice as Ambassador to Brazil despite Brazilian objections (January 16, 2016).

Scientists announce the discovery of gravitational waves--100 years after Albert Einstein theorized their existence

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalms 19:1

As reported by Mariëtte Le Roux of The Times of Israel, February 11, 2016 (bold in original):

Great excitement rippled through the physics world Thursday at the announcement that gravitational waves have been detected after a 100-year search.

Here’s what it means.

Q: What are gravitational waves?

A: Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity a century ago. Under this theory, space and time are interwoven into something called “spacetime” — adding a fourth dimension to our concept of the Universe, in addition to our 3D perception of it.

Einstein predicted that mass warps space-time through its gravitational force. A common analogy is to view space-time as a trampoline, and mass as a bowling ball placed on it. Objects on the trampoline’s surface will “fall” towards the centre — representing gravity.

When objects with mass accelerate, such as when two black holes spiral towards each other, they send waves along the curved space-time around them at the speed of light, like ripples on a pond.

The more massive the object, the larger the wave and the easier for scientists to detect.

Gravitational waves do not interact with matter and travel through the Universe completely unimpeded.

The strongest waves are caused by the most cataclysmic processes in the Universe — black holes coalescing, massive stars exploding, or the very birth of the Universe some 13.8 billion years ago.

Q: Why is the detection of gravitational waves important?

A: It ended the search for proof of a key prediction in Einstein’s theory, which changed the way that humanity perceived key concepts like space and time.

Detectable gravitational waves open exciting new avenues in astronomy — allowing measurements of faraway stars, galaxies and black holes based on the waves they make.

Indirectly, it also adds to the evidence that black holes — never directly observed — do actually exist.

So-called primordial gravitational waves, the hardest kind to detect and not implicated in Thursday’s announcement, would boost another leading theory of cosmology, that of “inflation” or exponential expansion of the infant Universe.

Primordial waves are theorised to still be resonating throughout the Universe today, though feebly.

If they are found, they would tell us about the energy scale at which inflation ocurred, shedding light on the Big Bang itself.

Q: Why are gravitational waves they so elusive?

A: Einstein himself doubted gravitational waves would ever be detected given how small they are.

Ripples emitted by a pair of merging black holes, for example, would stretch a one-million-kilometre (621,000-mile) ruler on Earth by less than the size of an atom.

Waves coming from tens of millions of lightyears away would deform a four-kilometre light beam such as those used at the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) by about the width of a proton.

Q: How have we looked for them?

A: Before now, gravitational waves had only been detected indirectly.

In 1974, scientists found that the orbits of a pair of neutron stars in our galaxy, circling a common centre of mass, were getting smaller at a rate consistent with a loss of energy through gravitational waves.

That discovery earned the Nobel Physics Prize in 1993. Experts say the first direct detection of gravitational waves is likely to be bestowed the same honour.

After American physicist Joseph Weber built the first aluminium cylinder-based detectors in the 1960s, decades of effort followed using telescopes, satellites and laser beams.

Earth- and space-based telescopes have been trained on cosmic microwave background, a faint glow of light left over from the Big Bang, for evidence of it being curved and stretched by gravitational waves.

Using this method, American astrophysicists announced two years ago they had identified gravitational waves using a telescope called BICEP2, stationed at the South Pole. But they later had to admit they made an error.

Another technique involves detecting small changes in distances between objects.

Gravitational waves passing through an object distort its shape, stretching and squeezing it in the direction the wave is travelling, leaving a telltale, though miniscule, effect.

Detectors such as LIGO at the centre of Thursday’s news, and its sister detector Virgo in Italy, are designed to pick up such distortions in laser light beams.

At LIGO, scientists split the light into two perpendicular beams that travel over several kilometres to be reflected by mirrors back to the point where they started.

Any difference in length upon their return would point to the influence of gravitational waves.

Sources: European Space Agency, Institute of Physics, LIGO, Nature.
As reported by Kerry Sheridan of The Times of Israel, February 11, 2016 (bold in original):

The wave that made history snuck up on them.

David Shoemaker will never forget the date — September 14, 2015 — when he woke up to a message alerting him that an underground detector had spotted a 1.3-billion-year-old ripple in the fabric of space-time.

A gravitational wave — predicted to exist a century ago by Albert Einstein — had been glimpsed directly for the first time by a pair of US-based detectors.

“It is seared in my brain,” said Shoemaker, a top scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and head of the Advanced LIGO Project, an international effort to uncover evidence of gravitational waves.

Such waves are a measure of strain in space, an effect of the motion of large masses that stretches the fabric of space-time — a way of viewing space and time as a single, interweaved continuum.

The “chirp,” as Shoemaker described the long-awaited wave, had arrived while he was asleep.

But since the data analysis works in quasi-real-time, scientists watching the data stream early in the work day in Europe saw it immediately.

Two black holes spiraling into each other became a single black hole, and the joining of these two giants curved the fabric of space-time around them, ever so briefly.

“When the signal finally got to the Earth on September 14 we knew within three minutes that our instruments had seen something really different,” said Shoemaker.

“I was sitting at home, with a cup of coffee in my hand and opening up my email at around 7 am,” he told AFP.

An instant message had arrived from a close colleague in Germany.

The message said: “I think we are in trouble now,” he recalled.

But Shoemaker, a leading scientist in the search for gravitational waves since the early 1980s, did not leap out his chair or shout expletives.

He just took a deep breath.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘That’s fascinating. Let’s see what the instruments did wrong.'”

Taken by surprise

In fact, the team had only just turned on the pair of underground detectors — one in Louisiana and one in Washington state — for a series of final checks before formally starting the observation experiment, which would run from mid September until January.

“It was just at the beginning of this run, when we were all ready to go — to press the button to start the observing run — that the gravitational wave was observed,” he said.

“So it was a very exciting moment for us and it took us perfectly by surprise.”\

Immediately, Shoemaker and colleagues began running through a checklist of possible failures.

One by one, they ruled out electromagnetic storms, lighting strikes, earthquakes, or interference by people near sensitive parts of the instruments.

Furthermore, the timing matched up.

The detector in Hanford, Washington picked up the signal 7.1 milliseconds after the Livingston, Louisiana instrument, some 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) away.

“The travel time of light between the two instruments is 10 milliseconds,” said Shoemaker.

“And if the two signals had arrived 11 milliseconds apart, we would have simply said, ‘Nope. It’s two instrumental defects that happened at the same time.’

“But it happened within 7.1 milliseconds, which is a perfectly plausible delay between the two.”

Weeks of tests

After many tests, the LIGO team’s discovery was confirmed.

“It took weeks before we were really gaining confidence that it was a true gravitational wave event, before I could admit to myself that something had been seen,” Shoemaker said.

“But, you know, eventually, joy sets in.”

The LIGO work is vastly different from that done by US astrophysicists who announced in 2014 they had detected the first ripples from the Big Bang, then months later admitted their indirect, telescope-based findings were premature and could not be confirmed.

Shoemaker and colleagues are using different equipment to hunt for much smaller, shorter waves, on the order of milliseconds or seconds. In other words, the kinds of gravitational waves that happen all the time, but had never before been observed.

“This is the first time there has ever been a direct detection of the gravitational waveform,” Shoemaker said.

“And that makes it a magical thing.”
As reported by Joe Dyke of Agence France-Presse, February 11, 2016 (bold in original):

It took a century, but the theory from Albert Einstein handwritten neatly on paper that is now yellowing has finally been vindicated.

Israeli officials on Thursday offered a rare look at the documents where Einstein presented his ideas on gravitational waves, a display that coincided with the historic announcement that scientists had glimpsed the first direct evidence of his theory.

“Einstein devised this with pen and paper, but it took humanity 100 years to develop the tools to catch a glimpse of it,” said Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, pointing to two pages.

One was the first document in which Einstein fully presented his theory of gravitational waves, while the other was a page from his 46-page theory of relativity, written in 1916 and 1915 respectively.

They were written neatly in German, with corrections made within the text.

The theory of gravitational waves was developed by the German physicist 100 years ago.

In a landmark discovery for physics and astronomy, international scientists announced in Washington on Thursday that they had glimpsed the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time.

Einstein’s theory states that mass warps space and time, much like placing a bowling ball on a trampoline.

Other objects on the surface will “fall” towards the centre — a metaphor for gravity in which the trampoline is space-time.

Gravitational waves do not interact with matter and travel through the universe completely unimpeded.

It was a central pillar of Einstein’s theory of gravity, but had never been proven.

“(The discovery) is a very moving moment,” Grosz said, wearing a tie with a picture of Einstein and his familiar bushy hair. “A smile from heaven after exactly 100 years.”

‘A new window’

Einstein himself doubted gravitational waves would ever be detected given how tiny they are.

Barak Kol, head of physics at the Hebrew University, explained the size of their impact can be as small as “one thousandths of the nucleus of an atom”.

Kol, who had worked on trying to prove the theory, said the discovery was a historic day for scientists and those concerned with Einstein’s legacy.

“It is the end of a part of the journey that took 100 years since it started with the idea of one person,” he said.

“(But) it will open a new window to the universe. It will enable us to see processes in the universe.”

He added that, as with other major scientific discoveries, it was likely to lead to many developments that “we cannot predict...”

70 years ago: The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament is published

On February 11, 1946, the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament--the first serious challenge to the popularity of the King James Version--was published. The copyright was held by the International Council of Religious Education, which merged with the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America in 1950 to form the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.

The complete Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published on September 30, 1952, and was officially the best-selling non-fiction book in the United States from 1952-1954. Real Christians eventually rejected the RSV because of its liberalism (e.g., substituting "young woman" for "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14), and it's largely forgotten today. The King James Version is still with us.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Australian-made globe pulled from stores after omitting Israel, but including Palestine

I don't know if this resulted from evil intentions or incompetence (or both), but Typo seems an appropriate name for the chain of stores. As reported by Michael Safi of the British newspaper The Guardian, February 1, 2016:

The Australian stationery chain Typo has inadvertently waded into one of the world’s thorniest political conflicts, pulling a line of globes that named Palestine but omitted to label Israel.

The design choice, which saw Israel and 12 other countries represented by a number on the map, corresponding to a legend at the base of the globe, prompted threats of boycott and charges of anti-Semitism by supporters of the Jewish state.

The decision to halt production of the globes led to similar threats by Palestine advocates.

Issues with the original design were first pointed out on 21 January by a flurry of customers on the store’s Facebook page, including one who asked why Typo was selling a globe “that has wiped Israel from the face of the earth”.

Typo said in response the design – a Mercator projection from around 1860 – was “an official map from an international body that has been approved for export” and Israel’s label had been omitted “purely because there wasn’t enough space to include the name”.

Two hours later the chain said it had “decided to remove the globes from sale in-store and online and will halt all future production”.

This decision in turn drew complaints from supporters of Palestine, who have peppered the store’s social media accounts with complaints and threats of boycott.

The ensuing anger bled over into otherwise uncontroversial posts on the company’s Facebook page, including one advertising a travel bag with the tagline, “I just took the road less travelled ... And now I’m lost!”

Among the replies were: “Could you be lost because you don’t know how to use a map. Use the correct one with Palestine and it will help!”

“The road less travelled is one that DOESN’T bow down to Zionist sentiment,” another user said.

(The map also omitted the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia, prompting one user to ask: “What is your political agenda Typo?”)

The company, part of the Cotton On Group, tried to stem the damage on Monday, writing on its Facebook page that new globes would be manufactured labelling every country.

“Typo is not removing any country from the globe. We made the decision to recall the current globes from sale as we are sourcing new artwork from our supplier that has every country marked on it but with no need for a key. All countries will remain on the map, the key will not,” it said.

“We never intended to offend anyone with this product.”

Among other errors the map labelled the Caspian Sea twice and misspelled the name of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

10 years ago: The death of Betty Friedan, and a suspicious coincidence

On February 4, 2006, Betty Friedan died in New York City on her 85th birthday. Mrs. Friedan, born Betty Goldstein, was the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963); co-founded in 1966 and served as the first president of the National Orgnization for Women (NOW); and was responsible more than anyone else for creating the modern feminist movement and its associated evils. She provided ample evidence for Rush Limbaugh's statement that the feminist movement was created to give unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.

Mrs. Friedan's death came the day after news of the death in New York City of actor Al Lewis at the reported age of 82. Mr. Lewis, born Albert or Alexander Meister, was best known for playing Grandpa Munster in the television comedy series The Munsters (1964-1966). Mr. Lewis was also known for his support of liberal causes.

Is it just a coincidence that Betty Friedan and Grandpa Munster died in the same city on the same weekend? I find it very suspicious. ;)