Sunday, 26 March 2017

20 years ago: The Heaven's Gate mass suicide

On March 26, 1997, police officers in the San Diego–area community of Rancho Santa Fe, California found the bodies of 39 members of the unidentified flying objects transhumanist cult Heaven's Gate in the mansion which they rented. The dead included the movement's founder and leader, Marshall Herff Applewhite, 65. The people who committed suicide--consuming a combination of phenobarbitol and apple sauce, washed down with vodka, followed by securing plastic bags around their heads in order to cause asphyxiation--did so in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp, which was then clearly visible from Earth.

Heaven's Gate exhibited numerous classic characteristics of cults: the deadly mixture of a little truth and much error (a smattering of Bible passages on end times, but heavy reliance on extrabiblical sources of truth, with especially heavy doses of New Age teaching and literature); authoritarian leadership (especially dangerous when the leaders believe themselves to be directly fulfilling prophecy; a fortress mentality; and bizarre economic and lifestyle practices (including voluntary castration of Mr. Applewhite and seven other men).

As far as I know, the members of Heaven's Gate who committed suicide haven't yet been transported to Comet Hale-Bopp. I don't know the comet's current whereabouts, but it's somewhere--out there. Surprisingly, the website for Heaven's Gate still exists; it's reportedly maintained by surviving members, but that's far from obvious to the casual visitor.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Has the tomb of Jonah been discovered in Iraq?

And now for something completely different: a positive result from Islamic terrorism. As reported by Josie Ensor of the London Daily Telegraph, February 28, 2017:

Archaeologists documenting Isil’s destruction of the ruins of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah say they have made an unexpected discovery which could help in our understanding of the world’s first empire.

The Nebi Yunus shrine - containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah, as he was known in the Bible, or Yunus in the Koran - was blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants soon after they seized huge swathes of northern Iraq in 2014.

The shrine is situated on top of a hill in eastern Mosul called Nebi Yunus - one of two mounds that form part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

The Iraqi army retook the area from Isil last month, revealing the extensive damage wrought by the jihadists.

But local archaeologists have told the Telegraph that Isil also dug tunnels deep under the demolished shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched 600BC palace.

Limited excavation was carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852, which was revisited by the Iraqi department of antiquities in the 1950s. But neither team reached as far as the palace.

It is the first evidence of Isil’s use of tunneling in ancient grounds in their hunt for artefacts to plunder.

Inside one of the tunnels, Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih discovered a marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672BC.

While the king’s name is not visible on the cuneiform slab, a historian who has seen photographs of it says phrases are legible which were used only to describe him, in particular his rebuilding of Babylon after his father Sennacherib had it destroyed.

The palace was built for Sennacherib, renovated and expanded by Esarhaddon (681-669 BC), and renovated again by Ashurbanipal (669-627). It was partly destroyed during the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC.

There are only a handful of such cuneiforms recovered from the period, most of which from the second mound just north of Nebi Yunus in Kouyunjik.

In another part of the tunnel they discovered Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, depicted sprinkling the “water of life” to protect humans in her care.

“I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size,” said Prof Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, suggesting they may have been used to decorate the women's quarter of the palace. “The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isil’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.

“There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”

Ms Salih, a former curator of the Mosul museum who is supervising a five-man team carrying out the emergency documentation, said she believes Isil looted hundreds of objects before Iraqi forces recaptured the eastern side of the city.

“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,” she told the Telegraph by phone from Mosul. “We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period."

She warned that the tunnels were not professionally built, however, and are at risk of collapsing “within weeks” - burying and potentially destroying the new finds.

Experts from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq - alongside other international teams - are bidding to help local archaeologists secure and document the site. Unesco is due to hold a meeting in Paris later this month to decide who will be sent.

The terror group destroyed several other key landmarks in Mosul and elsewhere because they considered the worshipping of shrines not to be in keeping with their Islamic traditions. Isil militants believe giving special veneration to tombs and relics is against the teachings of Islam.

A report just released by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government lists some 100 sacred buildings damaged or wiped off the map during Isil’s two-year reign.

They closed all of Mosul’s museums and cultural centres during their more than two-year reign over the city. Many of the city’s archaeologists and historians went into hiding.

“Many decided to stay in the city when Isil came, fearing what they might do to their families if they fled,” said Prof Robson. “They hid their books and lied about their expertise. Thankfully, most of them survived.”

40 years ago: Islamic terrorists take people hostage in Washington, D.C. while demanding the cancellation of the screening of a movie about Muhammad

On March 9, 1977, 12 Hanafi Muslim gunmen seized three buildings in Washington, D.C.--the District Building; B'nai B'rith headquarters; and the Islamic Center of Washington--beginning a 39-hour standoff. One of the terrorists' demands was that the U.S. premiere screening of the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (1976) be cancelled because they regarded the film as sacrilegious. The incident concluded peacefully on March 11 when the more than 130 hostages were released after ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran joined the negotiations. The film's world premiere screening, on July 30, 1976 in London, had been beset by bomb threats and a hasty change of the film's title to The Message--but at least that screening had taken place without any hostages being seized.

Harry and Michael Medved, in their entertaining and fascinating book The Hollywood Hall of Shame (1984), have a chapter on Mohammad, Messenger of God (pp. 143-152), with detailed information on the movie. They note the irony of Muslims protesting a movie that was produced and directed by a Muslim--Moustapha Akkad--and financed by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi--after initial funding from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and subsequent funding from King Hassan II Morocco was withdrawn. For those who may be unaware, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Libya are Muslim countries.

It's worth comparing the reaction of Hanafi--a branch of Sunni Islam--Muslims who protested Mohammad, Messenger of God with the reaction of Christians who protested the blasphemous movie The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. In the latter case, there were letters of protest, and a rally outside the offices of MCA/Universal in Universal City, California, where 25,000 people heard a few speeches--and then quietly left. What violent protests did take place were in France, and were attributed to extremist Roman Catholics. See my post 25 years ago: Violent Islamic protests over The Satanic Verses contrast with peaceful Christian protests over The Last Temptation of Christ (February 21, 2014).

There's one delicious similarity in the case of both movies: The Last Temptation of Christ was a major box office failure, with a loss reported to be as much as $14 million, when promotional and other costs are added to the basic cost of making the movie. According to the Medved brothers (p. 151), Mohammad, Messenger of God had, by 1984, made less than $2 million in the United States and less than $5 million worldwide, making for a loss of almost $30 million. Wikipedia and Infogalactic report a take of $15 million, still a considerable loss when other costs are factored in. The movie was reportedly popular with Shiite Iranians.

75 and 60 years ago: Pope Pius XII relaxes fasting rules for Roman Catholics

Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Mark 7:7 (citing Isaiah 29:13)

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:
“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV)

Yet another reminder that Roman Catholicism is manmade religion that can be changed on the whim of the leaders:

On December 30, 1946, Pope Pius XII authorized Roman Catholic bishops throughout the world to permit Catholics in their dioceses to eat meat on Fridays and omit certain fast days for the duration of the year.

On March 22, 1957, Pope Pius XII decreed that required fasting before receiving Holy Communion be reduced to three hours, with necessary medicines and water excepted.

See my post 50 years ago: Roman Catholic leaders in Canada relax the ban on eating meat on Friday (October 28, 2016)