Who was ‘Adam’? Genetic ‘man’-hunt catches eye of Vatican scientists

Who was ‘Adam’? Genetic ‘man’-hunt catches eye of Vatican scientists

  • adamcreation.jpg

    Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

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    Human sex-determining chromosomes: X chromosome (left) and the much smaller Y chromosome. (UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA)

A pair of scientific studies using the latest genetic evidence are seeking to identify the very first man to walk the Earth, the so-called “Adam.”

The studies delve into phylogenetics, a forensic hunt through the Xs and Ys of our chromosomes to find the genetic “Adam,” to borrow the name from the Bible. And Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield says he knows exactly when that first man lived.

“We can say with some certainty that modern humans emerged in Africa a little over 200,000 years ago,” Elhaik said in a press release. That directly contradicts a March 2013 study from Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona, which found that the human Y chromosome (the hereditary factor determining male sex) originated through interbreeding among species and dates back even further than 200 millennia.

“Our analysis indicates this lineage diverged from previously known Y chromosomes about 338,000 years ago, a time when anatomically modern humans had not yet evolved,” said Michael Hammer, an associate professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Elhaik published a paper in the January 2014 issue of theEuropean Journal of Human Genetics on his work; he used the opportunity to take a swipe at Hammer’s paper, published in theAmerican Journal of Human Genetics.

“We have shown that the University of Arizona study lacks any scientific merit,” Elhaik claimed. “In fact, their hypothesis creates a sort of ‘space-time paradox’ whereby the most ancient individual belonging to the Homo sapiens species has not yet been born.”

Think of the Michael J. Fox film, Back to the Future. Marty was worried that his parents would not meet and so he would not be born in the future. “It’s the same idea,” Elhaik said.

Hammer told FoxNews.com he stands by his work.

“The paper by Elhaik and colleagues … does not present a convincing argument against our paper and unfortunately at times appears to display a lack of technical understanding of the subject area. We are in the process of submitting a rebuttal,” he said.

Identifying the very first Y chromosome of a genetic “Adam” would not mean scientists had located the Biblical figure Adam, explained Werner Arber, the Vatican’s top scientist, told FoxNews.com.

“Scientific investigations have no means to identify Adam and Eve and to sequence their genomes,” said Arber, current president ofThe Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), the world’s first exclusively scientific academy, and a Nobel prize winner for his work in physiology. “Therefore, identification of Adam and Eve remains a matter of religious belief.”

Arber and other members of the PAS do closely monitor the field of phylogenetics, which is one of the hottest topics for genetic researchers. Scientists call the most recent common ancestor MCRA or A00 — it’s misleading to call the bearer of that chromosome Adam, noted Joe Pickrell from the New York Genome Center.

“At some point, a population geneticist had the clever idea of calling this common ancestor ‘Adam,’” he wrote on the Pickrell Labs website. “This is a biblical allusion, of course, and it probably was good for a bit of amusement a couple of decades ago. But it’s time to retire this metaphor–not only because it confuses the public … but because it confuses even practicing human population geneticists.”

Indeed, while metaphors are useful in communicating science, modern terminology shouldn’t be conflated with the Bible, explained Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the PAS.

“Contemporary scientific language is not the language of the Bible,” Sorondo told FoxNews.com in an email. “Therefore, although the Bible adopted an early scientific language, it cannot be read in the light of today’s scientific language…This was clarified during the scientific revolution of Galileo (the founder of our Academy) when Cardinal Cesare Baronio rightly pointed out that the Bible tells us how to reach Heaven but not what Heaven is.”

“Of course this is also true for phylogenetics.”

But in a 2012 address to the Synod of Bishops, Arber said that the Bible story of Adam and Eve details existing scientific knowledge from the time, proposing “a logical sequence of events in which the creation of our planet Earth may have been followed by the establishment of the conditions for life.”

“It is our duty today to preserve (and where necessary restore) this consistency on the basis of the improved scientific knowledge now available. I am convinced that scientific knowledge and faith are complementary elements in our orientational knowledge and should remain so.”


Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.


Will you still love me, tomorrow?


Will you still love me, tomorrow?

01/29/2014 13:14
 Yesterday people spoke eloquently about the need to remember, but what is done to make sure that the rest of us will not become memories of the past?

auschwitz sign

The sign “Arbeit macht frei” at the main gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo: REUTERS

Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I sit at my desk and think about all the media coverage that this anniversary generated, and how quiet it is now, the day after.

Yesterday I read ten articles about the Holocaust, about the victims and the need to remember.

But today when I skim through the news feed, I find nothing at all.

Does that mean there is nothing to write about?

Yesterday a prominent parliamentarian spoke at the Great Synagogue.

In past years other dignitaries have made that same speech

flanked by the Swedish royal family.

But where are they today?

When it comes to defending the Jewish minority’s human rights, are they just as easy to reach?

Do they stand up for the right to circumcision?

Do they fight to repeal the shameful 1937 ban of kosher slaughter?

Do they promise to ensure the Jewish minority’s safety?

Or is it that simple, that it is politically more favorable to mourn the dead Jews than to ensure continued Jewish life?

I have all the respect in the world for what the Living History Forum of Sweden is doing by organizing this memorial, but I lack a forum for a living future.

The difference between actively remembering, and passively mourning, is vast.

To actively remember is to every day reaffirm your identity, and to live it.

Not allowing commemorations to serve as a political platforms, but be promise for the future.

For what greater respect can we show those we have lost but to keep living?

Proud and visible.

I am pleased that the synagogue was packed yesterday

but I hope that we honor the memory by filling it every week.

Many beautiful words were written in our newspapers on Monday

but I hope that our fate is considered news worthy every single day.

Politics and the royal family stood by our side in Raul Wallenberg Square

I sincerely hope that they also do so in the halls of our parliament.

This is my hope, amidst all the despair.

That proximity to death will be a call to life.

Yesterday people spoke eloquently about the need to remember, but what is done to make sure that the rest of us will not become memories of the past?

Who will love the Jews, the morning after?

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser, writer and activist. An alumni of the Young Jewish diplomatic seminar (organized by the Mizrad Hahutz) and Tikvah seminars in NYC. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her two children. Follow her on Twitter.


Knesset in Auschwitz for ‘historic’ Holocaust Memorial Day

Knesset in Auschwitz for ‘historic’ Holocaust Memorial Day

Waving the Israeli flag at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photo: Sandy Rashty)Waving the Israeli flag at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photo: Sandy Rashty)

Polish locals watched a 1000-strong delegation of Israeli, British and European parliamentarians gather at Auschwitz-Birkenau this week.

Former Conservative head Lord Howard, Tory MP Matthew Offord and Anne McGuire, chair of Labour Friends of Israel attended the emotional ceremony on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The event, joined by 54 members of Knesset, was organised by Jonny Daniels, head of the From The Depths charity.

Twenty-eight year old Mr Daniels, who made aaliyah from London aged 18, orchestrated the event after six months in planning. “We’re making history,” he said.

The ceremony at the camp was followed by a formal dinner, attended by a select 650 guests.

Italian singer Andrea Bocelli performed at the event alongside the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra.

He paid tribute victims of the Holocaust.


Ghostly parchments from the vanished Jews of Mitteleuropa

 Tuesday, January 28

Ghostly parchments from the vanished Jews of Mitteleuropa

David Brand at work on a scroll: he spent nearly three decades repairing the parchments and redrawing the lettering
  • David Brand at work on a scroll: he spent nearly three decades repairing the parchments and redrawing the lettering
Jenni Frazer
Last updated at 12:00AM, January 25 2014

Jenni Frazer reports on the improbable survival of a precious hoard of 1,500 Torah scrolls

Just over half a century ago two lorries turned into a side road near the Knightsbridge barracks in central London, and a ghostly cargo was unloaded.

Fifteen hundred and sixty four sacred Torah scrolls, collected and catalogued from the war-torn Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia, had arrived in London on a dank February morning in 1964, an extraordinary testament to the Czech Jews to whom they had once belonged.

The story of the Czech scrolls is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Collated in near impossible conditions in 1942 by the curators of the Jewish Museum of Prague, the scrolls survived, unlike their cataloguers, few of whom lived through the Nazi Holocaust.

And after the defeat of the Nazis, the scrolls lay forgotten in the disused Michle Synagogue, near Prague, until the communists, desperate for hard currency and looking for goods to sell, stumbled across them.

The scrolls were not the Czech state’s to sell, though this appears hardly to have mattered. The postwar Jewish Museum fought tooth and nail against the sale, but lost. At least 50 scrolls from the Prague collection were sent to the young state of Israel in 1964, although present-day religious authorities in Israel deny all knowledge of them.

At any rate, the Czech communists still wanted to sell the rest: and they did not want to sell them off piecemeal, but only as a complete collection. A London art dealer, Eric Estorick, had been going to Czechoslovakia regularly since the end of the war and became aware of this extraordinary cache of Torah scrolls.

He approached a lawyer and philanthropist, Ralph Yablon, who had helped to acquire Kent House, the Knightsbridge building that became the premises of the Westminster Synagogue.

Yablon spoke to the Westminister Synagogue’s rabbi, Harold Reinhart. The scholar Chimen Abramsky was dispatched to Prague to evaluate the scrolls; and for an undisclosed sum — some say £30,000, some say £80,000 — a deal was done anthe Torah scrolls were sent to London.

Quite why the scrolls were collected and catalogued in Prague in the first place remains a point of contention. For many years it was believed that the Nazis were collecting Judaica in order to establish a Museum of an Extinct Race. But now, according to Evelyn Friedlander, the curator of the present-day collection at Westminster, this idea has been discredited.

“It seems to have been the inspiration of the Jewish community in Prague,” she says. “The city’s Jewish Museum had been established in 1906 and the curators were academics and professionals in their forties and fifties, in the prime of their careers.” One, the librarian, Tobias Jakobovits, was the uncle of Immanuel Jakobovits, the long-serving Chief Rabbi of Britain until 1991.

As the war progressed rural Jews began gravitating towards the bigger cities in Czechoslovakia. So when, in 1942, a letter went out from the Jewish community of Prague asking the far-flung congregations to send their Torah scrolls and other synagogue Judaica to the capital, the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia responded quickly. “Everything,” says Evelyn Friedlander, “was catalogued meticulously. We know where every scroll came from: they were labelled in Czech and German, giving the name of the community or congregation.” Czech, of course: but German, too, because this extraordinary task was carried out under Nazi supervision.

“The curators thought they were saving Judaism by saving the scrolls,” says Mrs Friedlander. Many of the scrolls that arrived in London were tied with a separate cloth binder, some dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 100 volumes of catalogue still in the Prague Jewish Museum, there are also details of where the binders originated, some exquisitely embroidered, some examples of local folk art, some honouring members of the congregation or marking special events such as births, barmitzvahs or weddings.

All the binders were flung in with the Torah scrolls unloaded from the first of the London lorries. On the second lorry, says Mrs Friedlander, “there is a story that there were messages in among the scrolls, scraps of paper saying ‘please help us.’ But no one knows what became of them.”

A team of nine scribes — experts in the parchment on which a Torah scroll is written and the actual inscription of the scroll — was assembled at Westminster Synagogue, to examine every single scroll and recatalogue them. But when that task had finished, it was still necessary to have someone work on the scrolls so that they would be fit to send out on loan to congregations. Minute repairs and meticulous redrawing of the Hebrew lettering can only be carried out by a qualified scribe.

At this point, laughs Friedlander, “a sort of miracle happened”. A man knocked on the door of the synagogue, dressed in full strictly Orthodox clothing, and announced himself as a travelling scribe who wondered if there was any work for him. Did the synagogue, perhaps, have a scroll or two for him to look at?

One can only imagine David Brand’s face when he was ushered in to take stock of 1,564 scrolls. Brand, who now lives in a retirement home in Israel, stayed for 27 years, carefully working on the collection and using the same sort of ancient inks and quills used for centuries by Jewish scribes.

And why was it so important for the scrolls to be restored? Because once they were in the West, hundreds of communities all over the world wanted to use a rescued Czech scroll in their synagogue services. The Westminster curators decided to send out as many as they could on long-term loan. There are thought to be about 1,000 scrolls now in use in North America, and about 100 in the UK. Communities as far apart as Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii have asked for the loan of these iconic Torah scrolls.

On February 9, in Westminster Synagogue, a special service will be held to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Czech Torah scrolls in London. Many of the congregations which have borrowed a Czech scroll will attend — and will bring their scroll with them, to walk in procession around the synagogue. It will be an impressive and almost certainly emotional sight.

And among the congregation, it is hoped, will be Shlomo Fischl, who now lives in Israel. He comes from Horazdovice, in Bohemia, the congregation whose Torah scroll is now used by Westminster Synagogue.


Pope John Paul II’s blood stolen from church in Italy

Pope John Paul II’s blood stolen from church in Italy

Custodian describes night-time theft, from San Pietro della Ienca church in Abruzzo mountains, as more like a kidnapping
  • Reuters in Rome
Pope John Paul II waves to pilgrims

Pope John Paul II in 2001. The church was given some of the late pontiff’s blood in 2011 as a sign of his love for the mountainous region. Photograph: Paolo Cocco/Reuters

Thieves broke into a small church in the mountains east of Rome over the weekend and stole a reliquary with the blood of the late Pope John Paul II.

A custodian, Franca Corrieri, said she had discovered a broken window early on Sunday morning and had called the police. When they entered the small stone church they found the gold reliquary and a crucifix missing.

John Paul, who died in 2005, loved the mountains in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He would sometimes slip away from the Vatican secretly to hike or ski there and pray in the church.

Polish-born John Paul, who reigned for 27 years, is due to be made a saint of the Roman Catholic church in May, meaning the relic will become more noteworthy and valuable.

In 2011, John Paul’s former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, gave the local Abruzzo community some of the late pontiff’s blood as a token of the love he had felt for the mountainous area.

It was put in a gold and glass circular case and kept in a niche of the small mountain church of San Pietro della Ienca, near the city of L’Aquila.

Corrieri said on Monday the incident felt more like a kidnapping than a theft. “In a sense, a person has been stolen,” she said.

She said she could not say if the intention of the thieves may have been to seek a ransom for the blood.

Apart from the reliquary and a crucifix, nothing else was stolen from the isolated church, even though Corrieri said the thieves would probably have had time to take other objects during the night-time theft.

Some of John Paul’s blood was saved after an assassination attempt that nearly killed him in St Peter’s Square on 13 May 1981.


Message decoded, again: 3,000-year-old text may prove biblical tale of King Solomon

Message decoded, again: 3,000-year-old text may prove biblical tale of King Solomon

Digging History

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    Archaeologist Eilat Mazar shows off her 3,000-year-old Biblical find. (KEY TO DAVID’S CITY/YOUTUBE)

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    Haifa University professor Gershon Galil says the missing letters on the ancient inscription spell out “yah-yin,” which is Hebrew for wine. (GERSHON GALIL)

A few characters scratched into the side of an ancient earthenware jug have archaeologists scrambling for their dictionaries — and wondering if it corroborates the Bible’s stories of King Solomon.

The Ophel inscription — 3,000-year-old characters found in Israel in July — is the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem. It proves the real basis behind the parables and stories in the world’s most famous book, said Gershon Galil, a professor of ancient history and biblical studies at the University of Haifa.

“We are dealing here with real kings, and the kingdom of David and Solomon was a real fact,” Galil told FoxNews.com, in a phone call from Israel.

But the world’s leading archaeologists are still hotly debating the meaning of the inscription. Gershon offers what he calls the “only reasonable translation,” noting at the same time that the very existence of the text is as important as its meaning.

‘If Obama were to achieve something, he would not claim that Bush did it. It’s not in human nature!’

– Haifa University professor Gershon Galil

“The most important thing this tells us is that somebody during this time knew how to write something,” he said.

Three letters of the inscription are incomplete, and Galil translates them to read, “yah-yin chah-lak,” which is Hebrew for “inferior wine.” The first half of the text indicates the twentieth or thirtieth year of Solomon’s reign — making the entire inscription a label of sorts for the jug’s contents.

He explains that the text must be written in an early form of southern Hebrew because it is the only language of the time to use two yods (Hebrew letters) to spell the word wine. Galil also suggests that the “inferior wine” was probably given to laborers who were helping to build the burgeoning city of Jerusalem.

If Hebrew as a written language did exist during the time of the inscription, it places the ancient Israelites in Jerusalem earlier than previously believed, under a time the Bible indicates was King Solomon’s rule.

According to Galil’s understanding of the text, the writing ability demonstrated by the inscription proves the existence of a fully functioning administration that collected taxes, prepared storage jars and performed other duties as early as the second half of the 10th century BC.

“The Bible claims that Solomon built the temple and that he was the man that enlarged the city,” explained Galil. Outside of biblical texts, there has not been any evidence that Solomon in the mid-10th century ordered the building of the First Temple, the ancient Israelites’ place of worship where the Dome of the Rock currently stands.

Some suggest Judean King Hezekiah actually built the temple in Solomon’s name. Galil scoffed at the suggestion.

“If Obama were to achieve something, he would not claim that Bush did it. It’s not in human nature! Solomon built the temple, not Hezekiah.”

“Even if my reading is not the right one, the fact that somebody knew how to write [in Hebrew] during this time, shows that somebody could have easily written a book a little while later like [the Old Testament’s] book of Samuel and Judges.”

Galil hopes that in years to come, more evidence will be found to support the Kingdoms of Solomon and David.

“The evidence that we have today and each year we have so much more that David and Solomon were real and important kings and not just tales of the Bible,” he said.


Internet community helps woman crack code left by dying grandma; random letters were prayers

Internet community helps woman crack code left by dying grandma; random letters were prayers

Associated Press
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    This undated family photo shows Dorothy Holm. A brain tumor took away Holm’s ability to speak, she picked up index cards and began filling them with seemingly random, indecipherable sequences of letters. Her grandchildren saw her scribbling and thought she was leaving them a code, but it was one the preteens couldn’t crack. Her granddaughters, 18 years later, were able to solve the code with help from the Internet community. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Janna Holm) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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    This undated family photo shows the front of an index card filled with letters written by Dorothy Holm. A brain tumor took away Holm’s ability to speak, she picked up index cards and began filling them with seemingly random, indecipherable sequences of letters. Her grandchildren saw her scribbling and thought she was leaving them a code, but it was one the preteens couldn’t crack. Her granddaughters, 18 years later, were able to solve the code with help from the Internet community. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Janna Holm) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

  • 119df5443d6ab103490f6a706700647b.jpg

    This undated family photo shows the back of an index card filled with letters written by Dorothy Holm. A brain tumor took away Holm’s ability to speak, she picked up index cards and began filling them with seemingly random, indecipherable sequences of letters. Her grandchildren saw her scribbling and thought she was leaving them a code, but it was one the preteens couldn’t crack. Her granddaughters, 18 years later, were able to solve the code with help from the Internet community. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Janna Holm) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MINNEAPOLIS –  When a brain tumor took away Dorothy Holm’s ability to speak, she picked up index cards and began filling them, edge to edge, with seemingly random, indecipherable sequences of letters. Her grandchildren saw her scribbling and thought she was leaving them a code — but it was one the preteens couldn’t crack.

Eighteen years later, the puzzle has been solved after one of Holm’s granddaughters posted images of a card online. In just 13 minutes, a MetaFilter.com user figured out that as Dorothy Holm was dying, she was writing out prayers.

“It was kind of relieving to have an answer, even if we don’t know what every single word says,” Janna Holm, who posted the card, said. “It’s nice to know that they were prayers, and kind of gave some insight into what she was thinking and what she was focused on in her last couple weeks.”

Holm said Wednesday that her grandmother, who lived in Shakopee, was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized and formed a brain tumor. She died in 1996 when Janna was 11. In her final weeks, she wrote line after line of capital letters on roughly 20 index cards, sparking her grandkids’ curiosity.

Holm said she, her brother and two cousins — then ranging in age from 8 to 12 — spent a few months trying to figure out what the letters stood for, but failed.

Holm’s father recently found one of the cards, and Holm, who loves puzzles, decided to delve into the project once again. She asked for help Monday on MetaFilter.com, a community blog, thinking her grandmother may have been trying to remember lyrics, and that each letter stood for a word in a song.

“This is a crazy long shot, but I’ve seen Mefites pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!” she posted.

In the image she posted, the letters fill the front of the card top to bottom. There is some repetition, strokes that look like backward commas and lines that look like stanza breaks. The back of the card contains fewer lines, marked with the numerals 1 and 2.

In minutes, MetaFilter members were on the case. One user — looking at the back of the card — thought about religion and realized that each letter stood for a word in the Lord’s Prayer.

“AGH, YES! ….. OFWAIHHBTN … Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” the user wrote.

With that, more MetaFilter members worked on the front of the card. Holm guessed it might be a personal prayer. Using her own deductions and comments from the website, Holm compiled a prayer in which her grandmother was giving thanks, and praying that her loved ones would be safe, happy and healthy.

Holm said she’s not sure why her grandmother used a code, but perhaps, as her memory was fading, she used it as a “cheat sheet” to help recall prayers.

Holm, of Baltimore, Md., said the experience has shown her the power of crowd sourcing (she posted that her dad was amazed at the skills of “the internet people”) and it’s been fascinating to learn more about her grandmother.

And after a couple whirlwind days, Janna Holm says she has all the answers she needs.

“I don’t care if a little bit of it never gets solved,” she said. “It’s OK to have a little bit of mystery.”


Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti


Byzantine-era church uncovered in Israel

Digging History

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    One of the mosaic floors discovered at the site. (YOLI SHWARTZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

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    A little girl cleans one of the mosaic floors discovered at the site of a Byzantine-era church in Israel. (YOLI SHWARTZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

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A 1,500-year-old church complete with a sophisticated mosaic was uncovered by archaeologists in southern Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) say the Byzantine-era structure “probably served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities.”

The discovery was made during a routine salvage excavation conducted by the IAA prior to the construction of a new neighborhood in the area.

The building is approximately 72 feet long by 40 feet wide and consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. An open courtyard at the front of the structure is paved with a white mosaic floor and a cistern.

Directly off of the courtyard is a rectangular hall with another more intricate mosaic floor with colored geometric designs.

Including among the finds are five inscriptions, one of which mentions Mary and Jesus.

“At its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” archaeologist Daniel Varga said in a press release.

The main hall has a mosaic with depictions of a variety of animals including zebra, leopard, turtle and wild boar. The designs also include Christian symbols.

Archaeologists also discovered glass vessels, oil lamps, amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, and bowls. These finds “indicate a rich and flourishing local culture” during the Byzantine period.

In order to preserve the site, it will be covered with dirt and the IAA is making plans to remove the mosaic floors to be put on display.


Researchers offer yet another explanation to mysterious Voynich manuscript

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    The Voynich manuscript’s unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning. (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)

Does “flower power” have an answer?

Written in “alien” characters, illustrated with sketches and dating back hundreds of years, the Voynich Manuscript has puzzled cryptographers, historians and bibliophiles for centuries — and a new analysis may finally offer an explanation.

Many have come forward with answers to the mysterious manuscript’s secrets. In 2011, a self-proclaimed prophet of god said he had cracked the crazy characters, which were “sonic waves and vocal syllables.” But most experts agree that its meaning remains hidden.

“The Voynich has been the subject of almost countless essays and investigations, none of which has been able to crack the code,” wrote Mark Blumenthal, editor in chief of HerbalGram, the peer-reviewed journal of the nonprofit American Botanical Council.

In the latest attempt to decipher the code, two botanical scholars have their own explanation for the text. After reviewing the images of the plants depicted in the 500-year-old manuscript they were able to identify them with real-world vegetation.

“We were both immediately struck by the similarity of xiuhamolli/xiuhhamolli (soap plant … sometimes known as the “Aztec Herbal”) to the plant in the illustration on folio 1v of the Voynich,” botanist Arthur O. Tucker and retired information technologist Rexford H. Talbert wrote in their study.

By focusing on the pictures and not the “words,” the botanists offer a unique insight.

“Numerous failed attempts to crack the code of the Voynich Manuscript have focused on linguistics and cryptography,” associate curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center Wendy Applequist said. “Tucker and Talbert have focused on its botany and, surprisingly but plausibly, identified many of the plants depicted as New World taxa.”

“At minimum, this offers new leads for decipherment efforts; ultimately, if text relating to Central American ethnobotany can be retrieved from the manuscript, its historical significance will be extraordinary,” Applequist noted.

The two scholars combed through the manuscript and discovered that through interpreting many of the plants’ names, a linguist would be able to use that information to decipher the code.

“Also, because we have been trained as botanists and horticulturists, not linguists, our feeble attempts at a syllabary/alphabet for the language in the Voynich Ms. must be interpreted merely as a key for future researchers, not a fait accompli.”

Although Tucker and Talbert have not completely cracked the code just yet, their research will hopefully lead others in the centuries old race to unlock the mysteries of the Voynich manuscript.

“Tucker and Talbert have produced an analysis both intriguing and insightful which solves one of the ultimate ethnobotanical cold cases!” ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin noted.


Pastor Rick Warren: Fighting Obesity with Faith

Pastor Rick Warren: Fighting Obesity with Faith

The pastor aims to build a healthy congregation with a new diet book


Jan. 17, 2014 8:50 p.m. ET
‘If you’re not following me on TwitterTWTR -0.31% you’re going to hell,” says megachurch pastor Rick Warren, before cracking up. Mr. Warren—or Pastor Rick, as his teeming staff calls him—is leaning back in a red leather chair with his sneaker-clad feet up on the coffee table in one of his many offices on the 120-acre Saddleback Church campus in Lake Forest, Calif. He’s only joking. He has plenty of followers already: Almost 1.3 million keep up with him on Twitter, and around 30,000 attend his sermons.

Rick Warren Amanda Friedman for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Warren’s popularity soared after the release of his 2002 best seller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” a self-help book about discovering and exploring a relationship with God that has sold about 40 million copies. “All of a sudden, people are calling me, well-known people are calling me, and I’m saying, ‘Why are you calling me? I’m just a pastor,’ ” he recalls. Now he has come out with “The Daniel Plan,” a diet book—though he says it is more than just a diet book—written with two doctors. It’s already a best seller, and Mr. Warren, 59, plans to turn it into as much of a brand as “The Purpose Driven Life,” which thousands of churches, corporations and even sports teams adopted as a 40-day plan.

Mr. Warren came up with the idea for “The Daniel Plan” a few years ago while doing baptisms “the old-fashioned way”—by physically raising and lowering people into the water. That day he baptized 850 people. “That’s about 150,000 pounds, which is why I’m so buff,” he says with a chuckle. “But as I’m lowering people, I literally felt the weight of America’s obesity problem,” he adds. “I thought, good night, we’re all fat!” Then he says he realized, “Good night, I’m fat!”

He didn’t think he could ask his congregation to get healthy without doing so himself. The following weekend, he declared he would set out to lose 90 pounds (at 6-foot-3, he weighed nearly 300 pounds) and asked if anyone wanted to join him. Mr. Warren says that he thought he might get 200 people, but by the end of the week, 15,000 people had signed up on Saddleback’s website.

Next he recruited three friends in the medical field, including Mehmet Oz, the surgeon and television show host, to come up with a system for how they would do it. Along with fitness and nutrition, Mr. Warren says he added the “special sauce” of “focus, friends and faith”—in other words, help from a higher power and from friends and community.

Named for the Biblical prophet Daniel, who challenged himself to eat only vegetables and water, Mr. Warren’s Daniel Plan instructs people to rely on “God power” rather than just willpower to eat healthily. His theory is that guilt only motivates people to follow diets in the short term, but “grace” lasts longer.

The book, released in December, provides a meal plan that includes lean protein, fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and it encourages regular exercise. The day after a two-hour rally to kick off the plan at Saddleback, he says local grocery stores were out of vegetables. “That’s the power of a congregation,” he says. “When an elephant is walking, it shakes the ground, and that’s a congregation—it shakes the ground.”

His book follows upon a rough period for Mr. Warren. He says, “2013 was the worst year of my life.” In January, he had severe back problems that put him in the hospital for weeks, and in April, his 27-year-old son committed suicide. “That was the worst day of my life, of course,” he says.

He could not sleep for the next six months. “You know what happens when you don’t sleep?” he asks. “Your cravings go crazy, you don’t exercise, and on top of that, I had a church family that loved me bringing me casseroles.” After losing 65 pounds in his first year and a half on the Daniel Plan, he gained 35 pounds back. In October, he went back on the diet and lost 35 pounds before the book’s release in December. He still has 25 pounds to go. “I’m the first guy who lost weight on the Daniel Plan twice,” he says. “I tell that story because I want my failings to encourage people.”

With his new book, Mr. Warren aims to make health a form of worship. “The Bible says…God made your body, Jesus died for your body, and He expects you to take care of your body,” the pastor says. “We are repositioning health as a spiritual stewardship.”

He thinks our culture sees the body in one of two extreme ways. “We either idolize the body, and there are people who do that and it’s all about how you look, or we go to the other extreme and we say, ‘We don’t care about that,’ ” he says. It’s health’s higher purpose that Mr. Warren says distinguishes his plan from other diet books. “It’s not so much what you eat; it’s what eats you,” he says. “It’s the stresses, the unreached goals, the broken heart and the grief.”

Mr. Warren thinks he knows more about these psychological concerns—and about health care—than any government or counseling system. “The church has been in the health-care business 2,000 years longer than the government, so the audacity of the government trying to tell the church what they should do with health care is—are you kidding me?” he exclaims.

Mr. Warren gives the church credit for inventing the hospital and says that one of Jesus’ three key tenets was “healing.” “One-third of his ministry was health care,” he says. “We believe the Daniel Plan is really taking the church back to what it has done for 2,000 years, because only in the last 75 years have we abdicated education and health care to the government.”

He feels the same way about poverty and unemployment: “Churches know more about poverty than any government will ever know, because we’re dealing with the poor every day.”

Mr. Warren aims to continue to expand Saddleback beyond the U.S. He and members of his congregation have traveled to every country around the world (and he shows off his album of visits to 196 of them to prove it) as part of his nonprofit P.E.A.C.E. Plan, an initiative to “assist the poor and care for the sick.” With branches already built in Berlin, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong and plans to create over a dozen other locations in strategic “hub” cities from Tokyo to Mexico City, his hopes for Saddleback are increasingly global.

And what’s his personal purpose? “My ultimate goal…is for you to live the life you’re intended to live,” he says. “You drift through life and let things happen to you, or go by design and say, ‘This is what I’m intended to do.’ The Bible is very clear that God has a purpose. But even if I know that purpose, I can’t fulfill it if I’m out of shape.”

Write to Alexandra Wolfe at alexandra.wolfe@wsj.com

Rick Warren

The megachurch pastor aims to build a healthy congregation with a new diet book