The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ancient News

If you're among the handful of regular readers of this blog -- my loyal and holy remnant -- you will know that I often write about certain archaeological discoveries that give us a glimpse into the distant past. It's really a life-long fascination with the work of archaeologists, one that began when, at the age of ten, I found a flint arrowhead amidst the gravel in our driveway in suburban New York. I still have that point, and I count it among my treasured possessions. But this early fascination with things archaeological was no more than an interest and I never considered becoming an archaeologist. I have absolutely no desire to dig in the dirt to uncover the lives of our ancient ancestors. Over the years, though, I've become acquainted with several professional archaeologists who enjoy doing just that. They have not only taught me many wonderful things but also whetted my appetite to learn more. This growing interest paralleled my interest in Sacred Scripture, especially since so much of what we know about the ancient world of the Bible has come to us through the work of archaeologists. More importantly, though, their work continues to confirm much of what the Bible tells us.

I haven't posted anything archaeological in quite some time, but in recent weeks the field has made the front pages on several occasions. And so I suppose it's time to share my thoughts on these and other news stories. Here are a few for your enjoyment, enlightenment or surprise:

UNESCO's Bias. Just in case you're not yet convinced that the United Nations is the most useless of all international organizations, here's some news that should change your mind. UNESCO -- the UN's so-called "Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization" -- has condemned Israel because it has conducted archaeological investigations at the Temple Mount and other locations in Jerusalem. UNESCO apparently believes Jerusalem is sacred only to Islam, something they insist all those pesky, imperialist Jews must also recognize. This, of course, ignores the fact that Jerusalem is the far more ancient center of the Jewish people. UNESCO also refers to Israel as the "occupying power" and condemns it for conducting any excavations in the old city of Jerusalem. UNESCO, it would seem, is staffed by Jew-haters who parrot the Islamist line that Israel is a rogue state that must be eliminated. Nothing more need be said.

Jerusalem Exists! As long as we're talking about Jerusalem, it has risen up once again and embarrassed some who consider themselves Scriptural scholars. Yes, believe it or not, many of these experts have long downplayed the biblical record that focuses on the importance of Jerusalem. Some have actually assumed that Jerusalem and Israel were never all that important because there is no contemporary record that mentions Jerusalem. No longer! Sci-News, a site that covers the latest scientific discoveries, describes the discovery of a papyrus fragment in which Jerusalem is mentioned prominently. This extra-Biblical reference to Jerusalem dates to the 7th century B.C., the time of the first temple.

The Jerusalem Papyrus
Discoveries that confirm the Biblical record have been going on for decades. Prior to the 20th century, the only place one encountered the Hittites was in the Bible. Naturally, most scholars, therefore, rejected the very idea that a Hittite empire had ever existed. Their general rule was: If it's in the Bible, it must be wrong.

Then, in 1906, the Hittite capital of Hattusha was discovered in modern-day Turkey. The discovery included a library containing over 10,000 tablets that confirmed the Biblical record and led to further discoveries. Yes, the Hittites were a powerful people with an extensive empire.

Toilet Desecration of Ba'al Temple. Once again, thanks to the work of  archaeologists, the Biblical text is proven correct. In 2 Kings 10 we find the following verses, describing Jehu's destruction of Ba'al temples in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century B.C.:

"Afterward they went into the inner shrine of the temple of Baal, and took out the pillars of the temple of Baal. They burned the shrine, tore down the pillar of Baal, tore down the temple of Baal, and turned it into a latrine, as it remains today" [2 Kgs 10:25-27].
Well, guess what? Archaeologists, digging at Lachish, in ancient Israel second in size only to Jerusalem, found a destroyed temple of Ba'al and right there in the middle of the inner temple they found a toilet where no toilet should be. Jehu had "turned it [the temple] into a latrine" because doing so was the ultimate desecration and made the temple unusable forever. Interestingly, the archaeologists, after conducting laboratory tests on the toilet, determined it had never been used. In other words, its placement was strictly symbolic, but would still desecrate the temple forever.
An 8th century BCE "symbolic" toilet found at Lachish during the 2016 excavation by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists. (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)
Temple Toilet - the "Jehu's Latrine"
ISIS Destruction of Antiquities. Driven by their fundamentalist Islamic faith, ISIS believes that all symbols of polytheism (and even those of non-Muslim monotheism) must be destroyed. After all, you never know when a bunch of Ba'al worshipers might rise up out of the sands of the Middle East and threaten Islam. They see idolatry as the greatest of sins, and any of its manifestations must be obliterated. History means absolutely nothing to these folks who consider only their version of Islam worth preserving. And so wherever these maniacal fanatics go, they leave infidel corpses and piles of rubble behind them. In the words of ISIS leadership, "These monuments should not be excavated and restored, but viewed with disgust and hatred...The sites were destroyed for disbelieving in Allah and His messengers.”

The Iraqi Army recently managed to push ISIS forces from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, and what they found was devastating. The city's history goes back over 3,000 years and has long been considered one of the treasures of the ancient world. No longer. Ali al-Bayati, a militia commander who visited the newly liberated site stated that “One hundred per cent has been destroyed.” This, of course, was expected since ISIS conveniently made videos of their destruction of Nimrud. I've included one below:

ISIS has repeated this destruction throughout the Middle east. In the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra ISIS troops went on a rampage of destruction. One temple of the Assyrian god Ba'al was completely flattened. The below photos show the temple pre-ISIS and its destruction.

When they entered Palmyra, the ISIS forces promised to leave the site untouched, but soon after staged a public execution of Khaled al-Assad, the archaeologist who for years had managed the excavations. They then began their systematic destruction of the ancient city.

ISIS continued their destruction wherever their forces went. They destroyed the Mar Elian Monastery in the Syrian town of al-Qayatain. They did the same in the museum in Mosul (see video below), and looted the ancient Roman city of Apamea, selling looted artifacts to fund ISIS military operations. The city of Dura-Europas with its ancient Christian church and synagogue was also systematically looted as was the Bronze-Age city of Mari. 

But the greatest atrocity committed by ISIS has been the equally systematic slaughter of thousands of Christians and others, including Muslims who don't share their demonic vision.
Christians About to be Killed by ISIS
We have been blessed by these martyrs who have kept the Faith in the face of certain death.

ISIS, al-Qaida, the Taliban, and their millions of followers represent Islam at its very worst and call to mind the early days of the 7th and 8th centuries when Muslim armies spread Islam by the sword. Unlike the early spread of Christianity, the spread of Islam was not a peaceful process.

There is much more, but it will have to wait. I am called to other work. 

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