Pope John Paul II to become a Saint


Pope Francis on Friday cleared Pope John Paul II for sainthood, approving a miracle attributed to his intercession and setting up a remarkable dual canonization along with another beloved pope, John XXIII.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrates a Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II in Buenos Aires, April 4, 2005.

In a major demonstration of his papal authority, Francis decided to make John XXIII a saint even though the Vatican hasn’t confirmed a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The Vatican said Francis had the power to “dispense” with the normal saint-making procedures to canonize him on his own merit, without a miracle.

The ceremonies are expected before the end of the year. The date of Dec. 8 has been floated as one possibility, given it’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the church. Polish media continued to report that October was likely, to mark the anniversary of John Paul’s election, but Vatican officials have said that’s too soon to organize such a massive event.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the miracle that brought John Paul to the ranks of sainthood concerned a Costa Rican woman.

The Spanish Catholic newspaper La Razon has identified her as Floribeth Mora, and said she suffered from a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 – the day of John Paul’s beatification, when 1.5 million people filled St. Peter’s Square to honor the beloved Polish pontiff.

In a series of reports late last month, La Razon reported that Mora awoke with debilitating head pain on April 8 and went to the hospital, where her condition worsened to the point that she was sent home with only a month to live.

Her family prayed to John Paul, and the aneurism disappeared.

La Razon quoted her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, who said: “It surprised me a lot that the aneurism disappeared, I can’t explain it based on science.”

The Associated Press has traveled to Mora’s home in Costa Rica but has been told that she is bound by secrecy and cannot discuss her case.

Then-Pope Benedict XVI put John Paul, who became pope in 1978, on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death. Benedict was responding to chants of “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Immediately” which erupted during John Paul’s funeral.

But there remains some concern that the process has been too quick. Some of the Holy See’s deep-seated problems – clerical sex abuse, dysfunctional governance and more recently the financial scandals at the Vatican bank – essentially date from shortcomings of his pontificate.

As a result, the decision to canonize John Paul along with John XXIII can be seen as trying to balance out those concerns, by beatifying one pope along with another.

Such was the case in 2000, when John Paul beatified John XXIII (1958-1963) , dubbed the “good pope,” alongside Pope Pius IX, who was criticized by Jews for condoning the seizure of a Jewish boy and allegedly referring to Jews as dogs.

By canonizing John Paul II along with John XXIII, the Vatican could be seeking to assuage concerns about John Paul’s fast-track sainthood case by tying it together with the 50-year wait since the death of John XXIII.

 


Food stamp welfare individuals must soon be chipped

“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” (Revelation 13:16-17)

In a little while, the above scene in Revelation 13 will become a global reality. People can no longer buy or sell without the mark of the beast. And sometimes that would mean no longer being able to eat!

The USDA is now considering biometric identification for all individuals who will want to benefit from their Food and Nutrition Services. The RFID chip may just soon be a must for everyone who does not want to starve!

The following is an excerpt of the executive summary of the FINAL REPORT of the Use of Biometric Identification Technology to Reduce Fraud in the Food Stamp Program:

Biometric identification technology provides automated methods to identify a person based on physical characteristics—such as fingerprints, hand shape, and characteristics of the eyes and face—as well as behavioral characteristics—including signatures and voice patterns.

Biometric identification systems are currently operational at some level in Arizona, California (under county initiative, first by Los Angeles County), Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. Finger imaging is the principal form of technology used in all eight States, though alternative technologies have simultaneously undergone trials in Massachusetts (facial recognition) and Illinois (retinal scanning). By the end of 2000, new systems are expected to be in place in California (statewide unified system), Delaware, and North Carolina. Other States are currently in the initial planning stages, including Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. However, there is little information available at this point regarding the specific course and trajectory these States will follow in terms of system types, implementation schedules, and the benefit programs in which they will implement the new requirement.

The States planned for implementation of their biometric identification systems in response to a wide variety of factors and considerations idiosyncratic to each State environment. Some States reported that their respective legislative mandates, which prescribed specific dates by which biometric systems were required to be in place, allowed insufficient time for development and planning. The States developed and followed implementation schedules in accordance with internal priorities and considerations. The States uniformly described their implementation processes as largely uneventful, though they encountered a variety of minor implementation issues, most of which were associated with the logistical difficulties of mobilizing and managing such a complex initiative.

Preparing staff for the implementation of the biometric systems, both philosophically and operationally, took different forms, priorities, and levels of effort in the States. At implementation, advance notification to clients and/or the general public about new biometric client identification procedures was considered important by all State representatives. The objective of providing advance notification was to inform and prepare clients for the additional application or recertification step (i.e., to explain the requirement and who is required to submit, and to address client concerns), as well as to accelerate enrollment of the existing caseload. All States prepared informational mailings to clients advising them of the new requirement. Some States reported developing additional outreach media including multilingual (English and Spanish) videos, posters, and brochures for viewing and distribution in the local office. Most of the States also identified various outlets in the community through which they informed the general public in advance about the implementation of biometric client identification procedures.

Program outcomes

The evaluations of finger imaging systems conducted by six States have produced the following findings. A small number of duplicate applications (approximately 1 duplicate for every 5,000 cases) have been detected by finger imaging systems. Finger-imaging systems appear to detect more fraud in statewide implementations than in regional pilot systems. Additional matches have been found by interstate comparisons of finger-image data.

Institution of a finger-imaging requirement can produce a significant, short-term reduction in caseload, because some existing clients refuse to comply with the requirement. The number of refusals depends on the implementation procedures and appears to be lower when finger imaging is incorporated into the recertification process.

The most carefully controlled estimate of non-compliance among existing clients suggests that introduction of a finger-imaging requirement reduces participation by approximately 1.3%. However, this estimate reflects both reduced fraud and deterrence of eligible individuals and households.

 


The entire Christian calendar is based on a miscalculation, the Pope has declared, as he claims in a new book that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly believed.

The ‘mistake’ was made by a sixth century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus or in English Dennis the Small, the 85-year-old pontiff claims in the book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives’, published on Wednesday.

“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in the book, which went on sale around the world with an initial print run of a million copies.

“The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”

The assertion that the Christian calendar is based on a false premise is not new – many historians believe that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC.

But the fact that doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking.

Dennis the Small, who was born in Eastern Europe, is credited with being the “inventor” of the modern calendar and the concept of the Anno Domini era.

He drew up the new system in part to distance it from the calendar in use at the time, which was based on the years since the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

The emperor had persecuted Christians, so there was good reason to expunge him from the new dating system in favour of one inspired by the birth of Christ.

The monk’s calendar became widely accepted in Europe after it was adopted by the Venerable Bede, the historian-monk, to date the events that he recounted in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in AD 731.

But exactly how Dennis calculated the year of Christ’s birth is not clear and the Pope’s claim that he made a mistake is a view shared by many scholars.

The Bible does not specify a date for the birth of Christ. The monk instead appears to have based his calculations on vague references to Jesus’s age at the start of his ministry and the fact that he was baptised in the reign of the emperor Tiberius.

Christ’s birth date is not the only controversy raised by the Pope in his new book – he also said that contrary to the traditional Nativity scene, there were no oxen, donkeys or other animals at Jesus’s birth.

He also weighs in on the debate over Christ’s birthplace, rejecting arguments by some scholars that he was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.

John Barton, Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture at Oriel College, Oxford University, said most academics agreed with the Pope that the Christian calendar was wrong and that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly thought, probably between 6BC and 4BC.

“There is no reference to when he was born in the Bible – all we know is that he was born in the reign of Herod the Great, who died before 1AD,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “It’s been surmised for a very long time that Jesus was born before 1AD – no one knows for sure.”

The idea that Christ was born on Dec 25 also has no basis in historical fact. “We don’t even know which season he was born in. The whole idea of celebrating his birth during the darkest part of the year is probably linked to pagan traditions and the winter solstice.”

 

The God Particle


After decades of careful experiment, physicists say they have found the “strongest indication to date” to prove the existence of the Higgs boson — a subatomic particle so important to the understanding of space, time and matter that the physicist Leon Lederman nicknamed it “the God particle.”
The announcement today, based on experiments at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab near Chicago and other institutions, is not the final word, but it’s very close. And it comes just before a major meeting this week in Australia, where more findings will be announced from the giant underground particle accelerator at CERN, the great physics lab in the Alps on the French-Swiss border.

“This is one of the cornerstones of how we understand the universe,” said Rob Roser, a Fermilab physicist, “and if it’s not there, we have to go back and check our assumptions about how the universe exists.”

Roser said he expected the CERN scientists to offer more evidence of the Higgs particle, though they will also be cautious. “The Higgs particle, if it’s real, will show itself in different ways. We need for all of them to be consistent before we can say for sure we’ve seen it.”

Fermilab has been home to an atom smasher called the Tevatron, which was shut down last year because CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is more powerful. Scientists who used the Tevatron have been sifting through the masses of data they collected by sending subatomic particles crashing into each other at nearly the speed of light.

“During its life, the Tevatron must have produced thousands of Higgs particles, if they actually exist, and it’s up to us to try to find them in the data we have collected,” said Luciano Ristori, a physicist at Fermilab and the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, in a statement. “We have developed sophisticated simulation and analysis programs to identify Higgs-like patterns. Still, it is easier to look for a friend’s face in a sports stadium filled with 100,000 people than to search for a Higgs-like event among trillions of collisions.”

The particle was first proposed in the 1960s by the English physicist Peter Higgs. The international effort to find it has taken decades, using tremendous amounts of energy to crash subatomic particles into each other in giant underground tracks, where they are steered by magnetic fields. Several different experiments have been done by independent teams to ensure accuracy.

Finding the Higgs particle would not be of practical value, at least not yet, but Roser argued that when the electron was first discovered in 1897, nobody guessed how it would lead to the high-tech, wired world we have today.

Physicists say the Higgs boson would help explain why we, and the rest of the universe, exist. It would explain why the matter created in the Big Bang has mass, and is able to coalesce. Without it, as CERN explained in a background paper, “the universe would be a very different place…. no ordinary matter as we know it, no chemistry, no biology, and no people.”

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John the Baptist Bones found in Bulgaria


Scientists have found new evidence they say supports the theory that a knuckle bone and other human remains found under a church floor in Bulgaria may be of John the Baptist.

The relics found in a small marble sarcophagus two years ago on a Bulgarian island called Sveti Ivan, which translates as Saint John, also included a human tooth, part of a skull and three animal bones.

A research team from Oxford University dated the right-handed knuckle bone to the first century AD, when John is believed to have lived until his beheading ordered by king Herod, the university said in a statement.

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And scientists from the University of Copenhagen analysed the DNA of the bones, finding they came from a single individual, probably a man, from a family in the modern-day Middle East, where John would have lived.

While these findings do not definitively prove anything, they also don’t refute the theory first proffered by the Bulgarian archaeologists who found the remains while excavating under an ancient church on the island.

Many sites around the world claim to hold relics of the saint, including the Grand Mosque in Damascus which says it has his head.

The right hand with which the prophet allegedly baptised Jesus in the River Jordan is also claimed to be held by several entities, including a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Montenegro.

“The result from the metacarpal hand bone is clearly consistent with someone who lived in the early first century AD,” Oxford University professor Tom Higham said of the new study.

“Whether that person is John the Baptist is a question that we cannot yet definitely answer and probably never will.”

Bulgarian archaeologists had found a small box made of hardened volcanic ash close to the sarcophagus.

The box bore inscriptions in ancient Greek that referred to John the Baptist and the date that Christians celebrate his birth, June 24.

The findings of another Oxford researcher, using historical documents, suggest that the monastery of Sveti Ivan may have received a portion of John the Baptist’s relics in the fifth or early sixth centuries.

The findings are to be presented in a documentary to be aired on The National Geographic channel in Britain on Sunday.

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The “theory of everything” is one of the most cherished dreams of science. If it is ever discovered, it will describe the workings of the universe at the most fundamental level and thus encompass our entire understanding of nature. It would also answer such enduring puzzles as what dark matter is, the reason time flows in only one direction and how gravity works. Small wonder that Stephen Hawking famously said that such a theory would be “the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God”.

But theologians needn’t lose too much sleep just yet. Despite decades of effort, progress has been slow. Many physicists have confined themselves to developing “quantum gravity” theories that attempt to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity – a prerequisite for a theory of everything. But rather than coming up with one or two rival theories whose merits can be judged against the evidence, there is a profusion of candidates that address different parts of the problem and precious few clues as to which (if any) might turn out to be correct.

Here’s a brief guide to some of the front runners.

String theory

This is probably the best known theory of everything, and the most heavily studied. It suggests that the fundamental particles we observe are not actually particles at all, but tiny strings that only “look” like particles to scientific instruments because they are so small.

What’s more, the mathematics of string theory also rely on extra spatial dimensions, which humans could not experience directly.

These are radical suggestions, but many theorists find the string approach elegant and have proposed numerous variations on the basic theme that seem to solve assorted cosmological conundrums. However, they have two major challenges to overcome if they are to persuade the rest of the scientific community that string theory is the best candidate for a ToE.

First, string theorists have so far struggled to make new predictions that can be tested. So string theory remains just that: a theory.

Secondly, there are just too many variants of the theory, any one of which could be correct – and little to choose between them. To resolve this, some physicists have proposed a more general framework called M-theory, which unifies many string theories.

But this has its own problems. Depending how you set it up, M-theory can describe any of 10500 universes. Some physicists argue that this is evidence that there are multiple universes, but others think it just means the theory is untestable.

Loop quantum gravity

Although it hasn’t had the same media exposure, loop quantum gravity is so far the only real rival to string theory.

The basic idea is that space is not continuous, as we usually think, but is instead broken up into tiny chunks 10-35 metres across. These are then connected by links to make the space we experience. When these links are tangled up into braids and knots, they produce elementary particles.

Loop quantum gravity has produced some tentative predictions of real-world effects, and has also shed some light on the birth of the universe. But its proponents have so far struggled to incorporate gravity into their theories. And as with string theory, a true experimental test is still some way off.

CDT

Causal dynamical triangulations looks pretty similar to loop quantum gravity at first glance. Just as loop quantum gravity breaks up space into tiny “building blocks”, CDT assumes that space-time is split into tiny building blocks – this time, four-dimensional chunks called pentachorons.

The pentachorons can then be glued together to produce a large-scale universe – which turns out to have three space dimensions and one time dimension, just as the real one does. So far, so good, but there’s a major drawback: CDT as it currently stands cannot explain the existence of matter.

Quantum Einstein gravity

This idea, proposed by Martin Reuter of the University of Mainz, Germany, takes a rather different tack.

Part of the problem with unifying gravity and quantum mechanics is what happens to gravity at small scales. The closer two objects are to each other, the stronger the gravitational attraction between them; but gravity also acts on itself, and as a result, at very small distances a feedback loop starts. According to conventional theories the force should then become ridiculously strong – which means there’s something wrong with the conventional theories.

However, Reuter has come up with a way to generate a “fixed point”: a distance below which gravity stops getting stronger. This could help solve the problem, and lead to a quantum theory of gravity.

Quantum graphity

All the theories above assume that space and time exist, and then try to build up the rest of the universe. Quantum graphity – the brainchild of Fotini Markopoulou of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and colleagues – tries to do away with them.

When the universe formed in the big bang, Markopoulou says, there was no such thing as space as we know it. Instead, there was an abstract network of “nodes” of space, in which each node was connected to every other. Very soon afterwards, this network collapsed and some of the nodes broke away from each other, forming the large universe we see today.

Internal relativity

Developed by Olaf Dreyer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, internal relativity sets out to explain how general relativity could arise in a quantum world.

Every particle in the universe has a property called “spin”, which can be loosely thought of as what happens to the particle when it is rotated. Dreyer’s model imagines a system of spins existing independently of matter and arranged randomly. When the system reaches a critical temperature, the spins align, forming an ordered pattern.

Anyone actually living in the system of spins will not see them. All they see are their effects, which Dreyer has shown will include space-time and matter. He has also managed to derive Newtonian gravity from the model: however, general relativity has not yet emerged.

E8

In 2007 the physicist (and sometime surfer) Garrett Lisi made headlines with a possible theory of everything.

The fuss was triggered by a paper discussing E8, a complex eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points. Lisi showed that the various fundamental particles and forces known to physics could be placed on the points of the E8 pattern, and that many of their interactions then emerged naturally.

Some physicists heavily criticised the paper, while others gave it a cautious welcome. In late 2008, Lisi was given a grant to continue his studies of E8.


For some, it’s Judgment Day. For others, it’s party time.

A loosely organized Christian movement has spread the word around the globe that Jesus Christ will return to earth on Saturday to gather the faithful into heaven. While the Christian mainstream isn’t buying it, many other skeptics are milking it.

A Facebook page titled “Post rapture looting” offers this invitation: “When everyone is gone and god’s not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansion we’re going to squat in.” By Wednesday afternoon, more than 175,000 people indicated they would be “attending” the “public event.”

The prediction is also being mocked in the comic strip “Doonesbury” and has inspired “Rapture parties” to celebrate what hosts expect will be the failure of the world to come to an end.

In the Army town of Fayetteville, N.C., the local chapter of the American Humanist Association has turned the event into a two-day extravaganza, with a Saturday night party followed by a day-after concert.

“It’s not meant to be insulting, but come on,” said organizer Geri Weaver. “Christians are openly scoffing at this.”

The prediction originates with Harold Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer from Oakland, Calif., who founded Family Radio Worldwide, an independent ministry that has broadcast his prediction around the world.

The Rapture — the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on earth that precedes the end of time — is a relatively new notion compared to Christianity itself, and most Christians don’t believe in it. And even believers rarely attempt to set a date for the event.

Camping’s prophecy comes from numerological calculations based on his reading of the Bible, and he says global events like the 1948 founding of Israel confirm his math.

He has been derided for an earlier apocalyptic prediction in 1994, but his followers say that merely referred to the end of “the church age,” a time when human beings in Christian churches could be saved. Now, they say, only those outside what they regard as irredeemably corrupt churches can expect to ascend to heaven.

Camping is not hedging this time: “Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment,” he said in January.

Such predictions are nothing new, but Camping’s latest has been publicized with exceptional vigor — not just by Family Radio but through like-minded groups. They’ve spread the word using radio, satellite TV, daily website updates, billboards, subway ads, RV caravans hitting dozens of cities and missionaries scattered from Latin America to Asia.

“These kinds of prophecies are constantly going on at a low level, and every once in a while one of them gets traction,” said Richard Landes, a Boston University history professor who has studied such beliefs for more than 20 years.

The prediction has been publicized in almost every country, said Chris McCann, who works with eBible Fellowship, one of the groups spreading the message. “The only countries I don’t feel too good about are the `stans’ — you know, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, those countries in Central Asia,” he said.

Marie Exley, who left her home in Colorado last year to join Family Radio’s effort to publicize the message, just returned from a lengthy overseas trip that included stops in the Middle East. She said billboards have gone up in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“I decided to spend the last few days with my immediate family and fellow believers,” Exley said. “Things started getting more risky in the Middle East when Judgment Day started making the news.”

McCann plans to spend Saturday with his family, reading the Bible and praying. His fellowship met for the last time on Monday.

“We had a final lunch and everyone said goodbye,” he said. “We don’t actually know who’s saved and who isn’t, but we won’t gather as a fellowship again.”

In Vietnam, the prophecy has led to unrest involving thousands of members of the Hmong ethnic minority who gathered near the border with Laos earlier this month to await the May 21 event. The government, which has a long history of mistrust with ethnic hill tribe groups like the Hmong, arrested an unidentified number of “extremists” and dispersed a crowd of about 5,000.

No such signs of turmoil are apparent in the U.S., though many mainstream Christians aren’t happy with the attention the prediction is getting. They reject the notion that a date for the end times can be calculated, if not the doctrine of the Rapture itself.

“When we engage in this kind of wild speculation, it’s irresponsible,” said the Rev. Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It can do damage to naive believers who can be easily caught up and it runs the risk of causing the church to receive sort of a black eye.”

Pastors around the U.S. are planning Sunday sermons intended to illustrate the folly of trying to discern a date for the end of the world, but Akin couldn’t wait: He preached on the topic last Sunday.

“I believe Christ could come today. I believe he could choose not to come for 1,000 years,” he said. “That’s in his hands, not mine.”

Bart Centre, an atheist from New Hampshire, started Eternal Earth-bound Pets in 2009. He offers Rapture believers an insurance plan for those furry family members that won’t join them in heaven: 10-year pet care contracts, with Centre and his network of fellow non-believers taking responsibility for the animals after the Rapture. The fee — payable in advance, of course — was originally $110, but has gone to $135 since Camping’s prediction.

Centre says he has 258 clients under contract, and that business has picked up considerably this year. But he’s not worried about a sales slump if May 21 happens to disappoint believers.

“They never lose their faith. They’re never disappointed,” he said. “It reinforces their faith, strangely enough.”

~Boo

 


The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.

Hassan Saida with artefacts

If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

The tiny booklet, a little smaller than a modern credit card, is sealed on all sides and has a three-dimensional representation of a human head on both the front and the back. One appears to have a beard and the other is without. Even the maker’s fingerprint can be seen in the lead impression. Beneath both figures is a line of as-yet undeciphered text in an ancient Hebrew script.

Astonishingly, one of the booklets appears to bear the words ‘Saviour of Israel’ – one of the few phrases so far translated.

The owner of the cache is Bedouin trucker Hassan Saida who lives in the Arab village of Umm al-Ghanim, Shibli. He has refused to sell the booklets but two samples were sent to England and Switzerland for testing.

Christian Jerusalem map


A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the artefacts were originally found in a cave in the village of Saham in Jordan, close to where Israel, Jordan and Syria’s Golan Heights converge – and within three miles of the Israeli spa and hot springs of Hamat Gader, a religious site for thousands of years.

According to sources in Saham, they were discovered five years ago after a flash flood scoured away the dusty mountain soil to reveal what looked like a large capstone. When this was levered aside, a cave was discovered with a large number of small niches set into the walls. Each of these niches contained a booklet. There were also other objects, including some metal plates and rolled lead scrolls.

The area is renowned as an age-old refuge for ancient Jews fleeing the bloody aftermath of a series of revolts against the Roman empire in the First and early Second Century AD.

The cave is less than 100 miles from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and around 60 miles from Masada, scene of the last stand and mass suicide of an extremist Zealot sect in the face of a Roman Army siege in 72AD – two years after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

It is also close to caves that have been used as sanctuaries by refugees from the Bar Kokhba revolt, the third and final Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in 132AD.

The era is of critical importance to Biblical scholars because it encompasses the political, social and religious upheavals that led to the split between Judaism and Christianity.

It ended with the triumph of Christianity over its rivals as the dominant new religion first for dissident Jews and then for Gentiles.

In this context, it is important that while the Dead Sea Scrolls are rolled pieces of parchment or papyrus containing the earliest-known versions of books of the Hebrew Bible and other texts – the traditional Jewish format for written work – these lead discoveries are in book, or codex, form which has long been associated with the rise of Christianity.

The codices seen by The Mail on Sunday range in size from smaller than 3in x 2in to around 10in x 8in. They each contain an average of eight or nine pages and appear to be cast, rather than inscribed, with images on both sides and bound with lead-ring bindings. Many of them were severely corroded when they were first discovered, although it has been possible to open them with care.

The codex showing what may be the face of Christ is not thought to have been opened yet. Some codices show signs of having been buried – although this could simply be the detritus resulting from lying in a cave for hundreds of years.

Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the lead codices appear to consist of stylised pictures, rather than text, with a relatively small amount of script that appears to be in a Phoenician language, although the exact dialect is yet to be identified. At the time these codices were created, the Holy Land was populated by different sects, including Essenes, Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Dositheans and Nazoreans.

There was no common script and considerable intermingling of language and writing systems between groups. Which means it could take years of detailed scholarship to accurately interpret the codices.

Many of the books are sealed on all sides with metal rings, suggesting they were not intended to be opened. This could be because they contained holy words which should never be read. For example, the early Jews fiercely protected the sacred name of God, which was only ever uttered by The High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem at Yom Kippur.

The original pronunciation has been lost, but has been transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH – known as the Tetragrammaton – and is usually translated either as Yahweh or Jehovah. A sealed book containing sacred information was mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelations.

One plate has been interpreted as a schematic map of Christian Jerusalem showing the Roman crosses outside the city walls. At the top can be seen a ladder-type shape. This is thought to be a balustrade mentioned in a biblical description of the Temple in Jerusalem. Below that are three groups of brickwork, to represent the walls of the city.

A fruiting palm tree suggests the House of David and there are three or four shapes that appear to be horizontal lines intersected by short vertical lines from below. These are the T-shaped crosses believed to have been used in biblical times (the familiar crucifix shape is said to date from the 4th Century). The star shapes in a long line represent the House of Jesse – and then the pattern is repeated.

This interpretation of the books as proto-Christian artefacts is supported by Margaret Barker, former president of the Society for Old Testament Study and one of Britain’s leading experts on early Christianity. The fact that a figure is portrayed would appear to rule out these codices being connected to mainstream Judaism of the time, where portrayal of lifelike figures was strictly forbidden because it was considered idolatry.

If genuine, it seems clear that these books were, in fact, created by an early Messianic Jewish sect, perhaps closely allied to the early Christian church and that these images represent Christ himself.
However another theory, put forward by Robert Feather – an authority on The Dead Sea Scrolls and author of The Mystery Of The Copper Scroll Of Qumran – is that these books are connected to the Bar
Kokhba Revolt of 132-136AD, the third major rebellion by the Jews of Judea Province and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars.

The revolt established an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for two years before the Roman army finally crushed it, with the result that all Jews, including the early Christians, were barred from Jerusalem.

The followers of Simon Bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, acclaimed him as a Messiah, a heroic figure who could restore Israel. Although Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba, they were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews. The war and its aftermath helped differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism.

The spiritual leader of the revolt was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who laid the foundations for a mystical form of Judaism known today as Kabbalah, which is followed by Madonna, Britney Spears and others.
Yochai hid in a cave for 13 years and wrote a secret commentary on the Bible, the Zohar, which evolved into the teaching of Kabbalah. Feather is convinced that some of the text on
the codices carry the name of Rabbi Bar Yochai.

Feather says that all known codices prior to around 400AD were made of parchment and that cast lead is unknown. They were clearly designed to exist for ever and never to be opened. The use of metal as a writing material at this time is well documented – however the text was always inscribed, not cast.

The books are currently in the possession of Hassan Saida, in Umm al-Ghanim, Shibli, which is at the foot of Mount Tabor, 18 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

Saida owns and operates a haulage business consisting of at least nine large flatbed lorries. He is regarded in his village as a wealthy man. His grandfather settled there more than 50 years ago and his mother and four brothers still live there.

Saida, who is in his mid-30s and married with five or six children, claims he inherited the booklets from his grandfather.

However, The Mail on Sunday has learned of claims that they first came to light five years ago when his Bedouin business partner met a villager in Jordan who said he had some ancient artefacts to sell.
The business partner was apparently shown two very small metal books. He brought them back over the border to Israel and Saida became entranced by them, coming to believe they had magical properties and that it was his fate to collect as many as he could.

The arid, mountainous area where they were found is both militarily sensitive and agriculturally poor. The local people have for generations supplemented their income by hoarding and selling archeological artefacts found in caves.

More of the booklets were clandestinely smuggled across the border by drivers working for Saida – the smaller ones were typically worn openly as charms hanging from chains around the drivers’ necks, the larger concealed behind car and lorry dashboards.

In order to finance the purchase of booklets from the Jordanians who had initially discovered them, Saida allegedly went into partnership with a number of other people – including his lawyer from Haifa, Israel.

Saida’s motives are complex. He constantly studies the booklets, but does not take particularly good care of them, opening some and coating them in olive oil in order to ‘preserve’ them.

The artefacts have been seen by multi-millionaire collectors of antiquities in both Israel and Europe – and Saida has been offered tens of millions of pounds for just a few of them, but has declined to sell any.

When he first obtained the booklets, he had no idea what they were or even if they were genuine.

He contacted Sotheby’s in London in 2007 in an attempt to find an expert opinion, but the famous auction house declined to handle them because their provenance was not known.

Soon afterwards, the British author and journalist Nick Fielding was approached by a Palestinian woman who was concerned that the booklets would be sold on the black market. Fielding was asked to approach the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and other places.

Fielding travelled to Israel and obtained a letter from the Israeli Antiquities Authority saying it had no objection to their being taken abroad for analysis. It appears the IAA believed the booklets were forgeries on the basis that nothing like them had been discovered before.

None of the museums wanted to get involved, again because of concerns over provenance. Fielding was then asked to approach experts to find out what they were and if they were genuine. David
Feather, who is a metallurgist as well as an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, recommended submitting the samples for metal analysis at Oxford University.

The work was carried out by Dr Peter Northover, head of the Materials Science-based Archaeology Group and a world expert on the analysis of ancient metal materials.

The samples were then sent to the Swiss National Materials Laboratory at Dubendorf, Switzerland. The results show they were consistent with ancient (Roman) period lead production and that the metal was smelted from ore that originated in the Mediterranean. Dr Northover also said that corrosion on the books was unlikely to be modern.

Meanwhile, the politics surrounding the provenance of the books is intensifying. Most professional scholars are cautious pending further research and point to the ongoing forgery trial in Israel over the ancient limestone ossuary purporting to have housed the bones of James, brother of Jesus.

The Israeli archeological establishment has sought to defuse problems of provenance by casting doubt on the authenticity of the codices, but Jordan says it will ‘exert all efforts at every level’ to get the relics repatriated.

The debate over whether these booklets are genuine and, if so, whether they represent the first known artefacts of the early Christian church or the first stirrings of mystical Kabbalah will undoubtedly rage for years to come.

The director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, has few doubts. He believes they may indeed have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

‘They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,’ he says. ‘The initial information is very encouraging and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery – maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.’

If he is right, then we really may be gazing at the face of Jesus Christ

~Boo

 


God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar.

In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.

Information presented in Stavrakopoulou’s books, lectures and journal papers has become the basis of a three-part documentary series, now airing in Europe, where she discusses the Yahweh-Asherah connection.

“You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him,” writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. “He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many … or so we like to believe.”

“After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife,” she added.

Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess.

Asherah’s connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

“The inscription is a petition for a blessing,” she shares. “Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from ‘Yahweh and his Asherah.’ Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife.”

Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, “is the Bible’s admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we’re told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her.”

J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention “Yahweh and his Asherah.”

“Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors,” he added. “Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant.”

Asherah — known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar — was “an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing,” Wright continued.

“Many English translations prefer to translate ‘Asherah’ as ‘Sacred Tree,’” Wright said. “This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again.”

“Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together,” Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said.

Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been “chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to ‘purify’ the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh,” he added.

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody told Discovery News, “with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C.” In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to “a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations.”

~Boo

 


Coast to Coast AM host Ian Punnett welcomed neuroscientist Andrew Newberg for a discussion on how contemplating ‘God’, whatever that may mean to a given individual, affects brain activity. Several different parts of the brain are triggered when a person thinks about spiritual ideas, Newberg said, adding that the more one believes in what he is praying to or meditating on, the stronger the response. Scans show increased activity in the frontal lobe, decreased activity in the parietal lobe, and the emotional areas of the brain are switched on, he explained. This does not occur when an atheist thinks about God, he noted.

“Our beliefs, in general, are extraordinarily important in how we do in life,” Newberg continued. Research shows that people who embrace positive spiritual concepts are more resilient, optimistic, and compassionate, he said. There are, however, negative consequences for the religious who struggle with their beliefs or become angry at God. According to Newberg, such thoughts foster negative emotions, prompt the release of stress hormones, and have an actual physically damaging effect on the human body. Newberg also spoke about how people perceive the appearance of God. The most common drawings show God as an abstract or nature scene, not as the classic anthropomorphic bearded man in the clouds, he reported.

Be sure to check out Coast to Coast Am for more interesting shows.

Also, be sure to check out the interviewee on a recent show Andrew Newberg.

His book can be found here Principles of Neurotheology or if you own a kindle you can try this link Kindle version of the Principles of Neurotheology.

 




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