January 10, 2013 1 Comment
December 18, 2012 5 Comments
Israel’s diplomatic corps finds itself in hot water after posting an inflammatory message on an official Facebook page. Although the message has now been deleted, this is not the first time Israel has used social media to post controversial views.
The message appeared on the Israel in Ireland Facebook page – which is linked to on the official embassy site – on Monday morning. The post comprised a painting of Mary and Jesus, accompanied by the following caption:
“A thought for Christmas… If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians. Just a thought…”
The message sparked immediate heated debate, but was taken down within hours.
“An image of Jesus and Mary with a derogatory comment about Palestinians was posted without the consent of the administrator of the Facebook page. We have removed the post in question immediately. Apologies to anyone who may have been offended,” said an official statement from the Israeli embassy in Dublin.
Since then, the Israel in Ireland page has been shut down altogether, and the link on the official website has been removed…
May 24, 2012 2 Comments
From Joseph I. Lauer via e-mail:
1. Yesterday, Zachi Dvira (Zweig) forwarded some information about the bulla and the work of the Temple Mount Sifting Project members. Zachi and Dr. Gabriel Barkay (the “Gaby” below) direct the Project.
Zachi wrote: “This bulla was found a few months ago at the sifting site by Rachel Nahum, which the sifting site office manager. It was found during the time we were working on Gibeon LMLK bulla essay. Gaby saw this bulla and identified it immediately as a fiscal bulla mentioning the town Bethlehem. We’ve been giving sifting services to Eli’s Shukrun excavations for over a year, but recently we have significantly increased the number of staff members working this material and it will take place for some time. We expect many more unique finds from this material to show up in the future.”
The IAA release quotes Eli Shukron stating, in part, “The bulla we found belongs to the group of “fiscal” bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE.”
Those interested in fiscal bulla should see Dr. Barkay’s report, “A Fiscal Bulla from the Slopes of the Temple Mount – Evidence for the Taxation System of the Judean Kingdom,” at http://templemount.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/finds-from-the-first-and-second-temple-period-city-dumps-at-the-eastern-slopes-of-the-temple-mount/ and his essay at http://www.echad.info/articles/fiscal_bulla.pdf [pp. 151-77 in Hebrew, and two English pages].
2. The expanded AP news report, at PhysOrg and other sites, states: “Shmuel Achituv, an expert in ancient scripts at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University who did not participate in the dig, said the discovery was the oldest reference to Bethlehem ever found outside of the Bible. Apart from the seal, the other mentions of Bethlehem, Achituv said, ‘are only in the Bible.’” In addition, the article stated, “Hebrew words often do not have vowels, which are understood from the context, making several interpretations of the same word plausible. Some of the letters are crumbled, or were wiped away. Three experts interviewed by the AP, one involved in the text and two independents, concurred the seal says Bethlehem. There are only some 40 other existing seals of this kind from the first Jewish Temple period, said Achituv, making this a significant find, both because such seals are rare, and because this is the first to mention Bethlehem.” See “Ancient Bethlehem seal unearthed in Jerusalem” at http://phys.org/news/2012-05-ancient-bethlehem-unearthed-jerusalem.html
There’s also a video of Eli Shukron speaking about the bulla in English, including at http://www.3news.co.nz/Ancient-Bethlehem-seal-unearthed-in-Jerusalem/tabid/1216/articleID/255380/Default.aspx
And see four pictures at http://news.yahoo.com/ancient-bethlehem-seal-unearthed-jerusalem-092659029.html
3. In my earlier “Is Bethlehem on the bulla?” e-mail I mentioned that “Some scholars have already indicated that they take issue with Eli Shukron’s reading of the bulla’s text (Bishv’at Bat Lechem [Lemel]ekh = in the seventh / bet lehem / lm[lk]) but see, instead, a person’s name or other wording.”
Since then, one scholar has posted the details of his disagreement and another has withdrawn his reservations about the “bet lehem” reading but with important caveats.
A. Today, May 24, Dr. George Athas posted “A New Seal that DOES NOT refer to Bethlehem” at his site, at http://withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/a-new-seal-that-does-not-refer-to-bethlehem/
In it, besides making a political judgment, he explains in detail how he would read the lines differently and states his belief that the letter in the second line read as a het is actually a heh, negating a reading of of “lh(.)m” (= “lechem”). In a comment, Dr. Peter van der Veen agreed in part with Dr. Athas but took issue with the heh reading (“I do think that it is a het as the left vertical line can be detected but it is rather damaged.”). Dr. Athas explained why he was not convinced and concluded that, “In any case, this is why we need another pair of skilled eyes to inspect this bulla. I simply don’t trust photos enough to make definitive judgements.”
(Interestingly, on May 23, a reader (“Sarah”, not an epigrapher) of Duane Smith’s “A ‘Fiscal Bulla’ From Bethlehem” posting wrote, “looks like a he not a cheth in ‘Bethlehem’.” See http://www.telecomtally.com/blog/2012/05/a_fiscal_bulla_from_bethlehem.html)
However (and more on that below based on Dr. Ahituv’s observations), when you look closely at a greatly enlarged photo of the bulla, such as the IAA’s high-resolution picture at ZIP file http://www.antiquities.org.il/images/press/iaa_2205.zip, do you see what could be an almost completely effaced left stroke of a het?
(Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, and subject to stereoscopic microscope analysis, it seems to be there when observed at very great enlargement.)
Or do you see a heh? (The shading at the left between the horizontal lines and to the left above the top line would disqualify the heh.)
Ha’aretz also has a not-quite-as-large picture (that is further enlargeable when clicked upon with the mouse cursor) at
B. Dr. Victor Avigdor Hurowitz of Ben-Gurion University initially expressed reservations about the reading of the bulla in the IAA’s press release.
However, in an e-mail and a posting at his Facebook page he wrote the following about an hour ago: “Retraction about Beytlehem bulla. Friends, I must retract the statements I made a few days ago about the newly found bulla mentioning [b]yt lh(.)m בית לחם. Why? It turns out that my objections were based on a mistaken press release of the bulla issued by the IAA. They offered a transcription and transliteration which were erroneous. My colleague Shmuel Ahituv, an epigrapher, saw the bulla itself and he informs me that the signs on the right which the IAA transcribed as ב are in fact on close examination of the object remnants of a yod. Also, the letter transcribed as ח is indeed such. On the photo it looks like a ה because the down stroke on the left seems to be absent. Ahituv tells me that traces are still visible. In other words, the text reads [ב]ית לחם This is obviously Bethlehem and I have no objections to the identification. In summary, if Ahituv’s transcription and decipherment are correct this bulla is an attestation of this place in an extra-Biblical, Iron Age source. But if the IAA has correctly transcribed the text, my objections stand. So I retract my objection but will not accept blame.”
May 23, 2012 1 Comment
AP is reporting:
Jerusalem — Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old seal that bears the inscription “Bethlehem,” the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday, in what experts believe to be the oldest artifact with the name of Jesus’ traditional birthplace.
The tiny clay seal’s existence and age provide vivid evidence that Bethlehem was not just the name of a fabled biblical town, but also a bustling place of trade linked to the nearby city of Jerusalem, archaeologists said.
Eli Shukron, the authority’s director of excavations, said the find was significant because it is the first time the name “Bethlehem” appears outside of a biblical text from that period.
Shukron said the seal, 1.5 centimeters (0.59 inches) in diameter, dates back to the period of the first biblical Jewish Temple, between the eighth and seventh century B.C., at a time when Jewish kings reigned over the ancient kingdom of Judah and 700 years before Jesus was born.
The seal was written in ancient Hebrew script from the same time. Pottery found nearby also dated back to the same period, he said.
Shmuel Achituv, an expert in ancient scripts at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University who did not participate in the dig, said the discovery was the oldest reference to Bethlehem ever found outside of the Bible. Apart from the seal, the other mentions of Bethlehem, Achituv said, “are only in the Bible.”
The stamp, also known as “fiscal bulla,” was likely used to seal an administrative tax document, sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the seat of Jewish power at the time.
It was found as archaeologists sifted through mounds of dirt they had dug up in an excavation outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
Shukron said the first line most likely read “Beshava’at” — or “in the seventh” — most likely the year of the reign of a king. The second line, he said, has the crumbling letters of the word “Bethlehem.” The third line carried one letter, a “ch” which Shukron said was the last letter of the Hebrew work for king, “melech.”
Hebrew words often do not have vowels, which are understood from the context, making several interpretations of the same word plausible. Some of the letters are crumbled, or were wiped away. Three experts interviewed by the AP, one involved in the text and two independents, concurred the seal says Bethlehem.
There are only some 40 other existing seals of this kind from the first Jewish Temple period, said Achituv, making this a significant find, both because such seals are rare, and because this is the first to mention Bethlehem.
The dig itself has raised controversy.
It is being underwritten by an extreme-right wing Jewish organization that seeks to populate the crowded Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan with Jewish settlers, arguing that they have ancient links to the area. The dig is being undertaken in a national park in the area of Silwan, known to Jews as “the City of David.”
Shukron said the seal was found some months ago, but they needed time to confirm the identity of the artifact.
December 30, 2011 1 Comment
[For a background on brawl between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests, click here]
Writes Msgr Charles Pope:
One of the more surprising, and personally saddest things I have encountered in my trips to the Holy Land, is the encounter with Orthodox clergy. While I had been trained to expect tensions between Jews and Arabs, my experience involving the Orthodox clergy was actually the most tense and shocking. It also surprised me since, speaking for myself, I have always had great admiration for the beautiful liturgies of the Orthodox. And, while I know little of the internal realities of those Churches, I have always hoped for reunion. My experiences in the Holy Land showed me very clearly how difficult and unlikely such a reunion may be. A few personal stories.
1. Mass at the Calvary – On my last trip, two years ago I was given the magnificent privilege of celebrating Holy Mass with my parishioners right up on the Calvary, at the Latin Altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (See photo at upper right). It remains one of the highlights of my entire life. There I was celebrating Mass just feet away from where the cross had once stood, and over the sight of the nailing.
I had reported to the Latin sacristy at 5:30 AM and vested for the 6:00 AM Mass. One of the Franciscan Friars spoke to me in a kind but firm way about the rules that must be observed. He warned me that under no circumstances was I to set foot outside of the sacristy once I had vested. To do so, he warned me, would likely provoke a violent response from the Orthodox clergy, standing twenty feet away near the entrance to the supulchre. When I smiled in stunned wonderment, he reiterated, “Father I am very serious, if you do so you will provoke an international incident.”
The only way we could get to the Calvary Altar at the other end of the Church was to be led there by an approved escort. Any singing was also forbidden during the Mass, a restriction that made sense given the need not to disturb other liturgies underway.
We were also warned severely not to stray from the Latin Chapel with while wearing our Roman vestments. During the Mass, which was a beautiful experience otherwise, the deacon with me strayed just a little too far to my left and the Orthodox priest standing guard at the Greek altar, wildly gestured that he must step back. Following the Mass, we clergy had, once again, to be carefully escorted back to the sacristy.
2. I do not claim to understand the hostility directed toward Roman clergy by the Orthodox priests of different nationalities. I am sure it is ancient and we are not likely innocent. But I also learned how hostile they are to one another.
Behind the Sepulchre is the Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox) chapel. In it, according to tradition, one can enter a cave said to be the burial chamber of Nicodemus (though it is empty). But the Chapel is scorched black, and in a ruinous state by a fire that happened back in the 1800s. It was explained to me by one of the docents that the chapel has never been repaired because no agreement could be reached among the Orthodox clergy on how to get supplies in to repair the chapel. “Amazing!” I said. “Its pretty normal for here,” said the docent.
3. These sorts of tensions also lead to the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre having a cluttered, dingy, and unrepaired quality to them. Even pushing a broom requires delicate negotiations.
4. Cronyism – Over at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem similar tensions exist, as you can see in the video below. When I was last there, the line to go down into the grotto of the nativity below the high altar, came to a halt and did not move for almost an hour. Our tour guide discovered that the reason for this was that a Russian Orthodox priest was conducting a private tour for a group that had paid him to do so. That group had walked past the rest of us in line and the priest took them down and conducted a service and raised funds. The other tour guides finally had to summon the Palestinian police to force an end to the unscheduled and unpermitted “fundraiser.”
Our tour guide told us she always felt the most tense going to the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, since the hostility and unpredictability of the the Orthodox clergy often led to complications. I can attest to that!
The rest of the sites in the Holy land, both in Jerusalem and up in Galilee, were largely overseen by the Franciscans of the Holy Land, and they are most agreeable and kind to people of every faith. They were true gentlemen everywhere we went and they do a splendid job maintaining the shrines too. God bless the Franciscans of the Holy Land and I would encourage you to be generous to them. They do good work in a difficult land.
All this leads to the video below: A sad and disturbing sight of dozens of orthodox and Armenian priests bashing each other with broom handles.
It reminds me of the great sadness I felt in Jerusalem as I was led by a guard to go and say Mass at the seat of mercy. What an odd juxtaposition, and yet what a strong reminder of how much we need the power of the Cross. As the guard led me out and up the steep steps to the Calvary Chapel, I thought of Christ being led up the same hillside, not for his protection, but for my salvation.
And even to this day, at the two holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, it seems Satan still lurks and sulks. The video below shows that he is still able to lash out from time to time and, sadly, we connive in his plots.
Lord have mercy on us and grant us peace on earth.
And while I agree that the Franciscans do a fantastic job (which makes the Galilee a far more tranquil experience) some can be quite brusque when it comes to an erring tourist.
December 28, 2011 2 Comments
Speaking of Church brawl, this time it’s between clergy in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks who were armed with brooms got into it while cleaning the Church. Palestinian riot police were called in:
A Christmas cleaning of the Church of the Nativity turned into scuffles on Wednesday between rival Christian clerics zealously guarding denominational turf at the holy site.
Brooms and fists flew inside the church marking the birthplace of Jesus as some 100 priests and monks of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches brawled.
Palestinian police, bending their heads to squeeze through the church’s low “door of humility,” rushed in with batons flailing to restore order.
“It was a trivial problem that … occurs every year,” said police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi. “Everything is all right and things have returned to normal,” he said. “No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God.”
Administration of the 6th century Bethlehem church, the oldest in the Holy Land, is shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics.
Any perceived encroachment of jurisdictional boundaries within the church can set off a row, especially during the annual cleaning for Orthodox Christmas celebrations, which will be held next week.
What a pathetic witness. See for yourself:
December 25, 2011 1 Comment
Bethlehem, West Bank – Tens of thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, bringing warm holiday cheer to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on a raw, breezy and rainy night…
By late night, the Israeli military, which controls movement in and out of town, said some 100,000 visitors, including foreigners and Arab Christians from Israel, had reached Bethlehem, up from 70,000 the previous year.
Read on and check out the other photos here.
December 24, 2011 Leave a comment
As day broke on this not-so-little-town which lies just a few miles south of Jerusalem, locals began gearing up to welcome thousands of pilgrims who come to see the spot where biblical tradition says Jesus was born to a young couple visiting from Nazareth.
Saturday’s events were to be focused on Manger Square, the plaza in the town centre which was to host a traditional Christmas procession at midday followed by concerts and other entertainment on what is the biggest tourist attraction of the year in the Palestinian territories.
A huge Christmas tree covered in lights and glittering decorations dominated the centre of the square which was already filling up with excited visitors, some wearing red Santa hats, others in the sombre garb of various monastic orders.
Singing filled the square as pilgrims belted out carols in Arabic, and street vendors were doing a brisk trade in cakes, sweets and hot air balloons.
The celebrations were to continue into the night and culminate with a celebration of the Midnight Mass by Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the most senior Catholic bishop in the Middle East.
He is expected to deliver a message of hope for peace in the Middle East and around the world, which was also expected to touch on the revolutions sweeping the Arab world.
Bethlehem’s Manger Square is the location of the Church of the Nativity which was built on the site where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cattle shed, and laid him in an animal’s feeding trough, also known as a manger.
Bethlehem attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year and is the main tourist attraction in the Palestinian territories.
December 13, 2011 1 Comment
November 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Associated Press is reporting on the renovation:
Bethlehem, West Bank (AP) — Preparations for a long-needed renovation of the 1,500-year-old Church of the Nativity are moving ahead in Bethlehem, the town of Jesus’ birth, in the face of political and religious conflicts that have kept one of Christendom’s holiest sites in a state of decay for centuries.
The first and most urgent part of the renovation, initiated by the Palestinian government in the West Bank, is meant to replace the building’s roof. Ancient wooden beams pose a danger to visitors, officials say, and leaks have already ruined many of the church’s priceless mosaics and paintings.
If the repairs go ahead as planned next year, it will be the first time the crumbling basilica has seen major renovation work in more than a century and a half.
Altering a building like the Church of the Nativity, built 1,500 years ago on the site of a church 200 years older than that, is never a simple affair. The building is shared by three Christian sects — Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians — who have traditionally viewed each other with suspicion and are wary of upsetting the brittle status quo that governs the site.
To repair a part of the church is to own it, according to accepted practice, meaning that letting other sects undertake renovations or pay for them could allow one to gain ground at another’s expense.
The resulting paralysis and disrepair has been a recurring theme at the church.
“In the roof the timbers which were constructed in ancient times are rotting, and this structure is falling daily into ruin,” wrote one visitor. That was in 1461.
Some measure of the complications involved in a renovation of this type can be found in the Nativity’s similarly ancient and fractious sister church, the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem…
… Today, the increasingly dire state of the Nativity’s roof and the intervention of an external player in the form of the Palestinian Authority — which has circumvented the old rivalries and allowed all to save face — has led the three churches to agree to a renovation to be arranged and funded by the Palestinian government and international donors…
… The roof is in such poor condition that there is a “risk of collapsing beams within the wooden structure which could hurt people inside the church,” said Issam Juha of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation…
… The roof was first built, along with the rest of the basilica, by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century A.D. following the destruction of the original church built on the site of the grotto where Jesus was believed to have been born. Some of Justinian’s massive wooden beams are still in use.
In 1480, with Bethlehem under Muslim rule and the roof disintegrating, permission was granted to replace it. Philip, Duke of Burgundy, sent craftsmen, wood and iron. King Edward IV of England sent lead, and the Doge of Venice provided ships. Major work was carried out again two centuries later.
When the British controlled the Holy Land between 1917 and 1948, they recognized the urgency of replacing the roof but simply could not navigate the explosive rivalries between the sects in the church, traditionally backed by powers like France and Russia.
In the mid-1800s the tensions had become so fierce that Russian Czar Nicholas I actually deployed troops along the Danube to threaten a Turkish sultan who had been favoring the Catholics over the Orthodox.
The British managed only small repairs. The same went for the Jordanians, who ruled Bethlehem from 1948 to 1967, and for the Israelis, who captured the West Bank from the Jordanians and turned the city over to the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.
A UNESCO report in 1997 found that because of water leaking from the roof, most of the mosaics and paintings, some dating from Byzantine times, had been “damaged beyond repair.”…
Give the article a full read here.