Britain grants landmark asylum to Afghan atheist

Britain grants landmark asylum to Afghan atheist

Every aspect of daily life in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, so living discreetly would be virtually impossible, the spokeswoman said
AFP/Getty Images
  • Every aspect of daily life in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, so living discreetly would be virtually impossible, the spokeswoman saidAFP/Getty Images
Published at 12:01AM, January 14 2014

An Afghan citizen has secured UK asylum for religious reasons despite being an atheist.

The case, believed to be the first of its kind, was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the basis that if he returned to Afghanistan he would face persecution because of his lack of religious belief.

Free legal support was provided by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students, supervised by lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, with help from local solicitors and barristers.

The man fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan and was allowed to stay in Britain until 2013, a university spokeswoman said. He was brought up as a Muslim but after arriving in the UK, aged 16, in 2007, he turned to atheism, she said.

The case involved the Law Clinic lodging a submission with the Home Office, and including evidence that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia as an “apostate” — someone who has abandoned religious faith — unless he remained discreet about his atheist beliefs.

Evidence showed that because every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, living discreetly would be virtually impossible, the spokeswoman said.


How religion cuts crime

How religion cuts crime: Church-goers are less likely to shoplift, take drugs and download music illegally

  • Study found people who visit places of worship commit fewer crimes
  • The more frequent the visits, the lower the chance of delinquent behaviour
  • Crimes ranged from littering and music piracy up to the use of illegal drugs


PUBLISHED: 05:00 EST, 14 January 2014 | UPDATED: 07:30 EST, 14 January 2014

People who regularly visit a place of worship are less likely to get involved in low level crime and delinquency, according to new research.

A survey from Manchester University found a direct correlation between higher visits to religious places and lower crime figures, especially in relation to shoplifting, drug use and music piracy.

Researchers believe this is because religion not only teaches people about ‘moral and behavioural norms’, but also spending time with like-minded people makes it less likely they’ll get mixed up with the ‘wrong crowd’. 

Researchers surveyed 1,214 people about how often they visited a place of worship, stock image of a church is pictured, across all of UK's major faiths. The respondents were also asked if they'd ever taken part in low-level crime. The study found a direct correlation with higher visits to religious places and lower crime ratesResearchers surveyed 1,214 people about how often they visited a place of worship, stock image of a church is pictured, across all of UK’s major faiths. The respondents were also asked if they’d ever taken part in low-level crime. The study found a direct correlation with higher visits to religious places and lower crime rates


Last year researchers from the University of Oregon found that crime rates are higher in countries where more people believe in heaven than in hell.

The findings emerged from a study into 26 years of data involving more than 140,000 people from almost 70 nations.

Academics discovered that offences such as murders, robberies and rapes were more common in societies where punishment forms an important part of people’s religious beliefs.

This means a country where more people think there is a heaven than a hell, for example, is likely to see more offences than a nation where beliefs are more equally shared.

As part of the project, more than 1,200 18 to 34-year-olds from across all the UK’s major faiths were were asked about their worshipping habits.


They were also asked about any past misdemeanours, and the likelihood they would commit low-level crimes in the future.

In total, researchers asked respondents about eight varying types of delinquency including littering, skipping school or work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage and violence against the person.

Although the study found varying degrees of correlation between increased church visits and decreased crime rates, the most significant were seen in relation to shoplifting, the use of illegal drugs and music piracy.

The researchers did not include more serious, high-level crimes because they ‘were too rare for the data to be able to show a significant pattern.’

Researchers asked respondents if they'd ever taken part in littering, pictured, skipping school or work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage and violence. Serious crimes were not included because they 'were too rare for the data to be able to show a significant pattern'Researchers asked respondents if they’d ever taken part in littering, pictured, skipping school or work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage and violence. Serious crimes were not included because they ‘were too rare for the data to be able to show a significant pattern’

PhD student Mark Littler from the university led the project. He said: ‘This research implies that the act of visiting a place of worship may trigger a significant reduction in the likelihood of involvement in certain types of criminal and delinquent behaviour.

‘In line with existing American research, my results suggest that it is the act of mixing with fellow believers that is important, regardless of whether this is via formal worship, involvement in faith-based social activities or simply through spending time with family and friends who share your faith.’

The study is the first time this type of analysis has been carried out in the UK and is due to be published later this year. It was funded by the Bill Hill Charitable Trust.

Littler added: ‘These results suggest a more positive picture of Britain’s religious life than the doom and gloom you might read about it in the newspapers.

‘But they are not necessarily a blow to the proponents of atheism: religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms that are at the heart of this relationship; other, more secular, activities may equally serve a similar role.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2539100/How-religion-cuts-crime-Attending-church-makes-likely-shoplift-drugs-download-music-illegally.html#ixzz2qOvnlULp
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Book Review: ‘Maimonides’ by Moshe Halbertal


Book Review: ‘Maimonides’ by Moshe Halbertal

Maimonides’ vision of a God who reveals himself through nature vaulted all religion into modernity.


Jan. 10, 2014 4:02 p.m. ET
‘From Moses to Moses, there has been none like Moses” runs the epitaph on the tomb of Moses Maimonides, comparing the medieval Jewish philosopher with his Biblical namesake—in the philosopher’s favor. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this intellectual giant to Jewish civilization and, through his influence on Muslim and Christian thinkers, to Western civilization as a whole. In his rigorous and insightful study “Maimonides: Life and Thought,” Moshe Halbertal reintroduces readers to this rabbi-scientist, who insisted that faith should be an enterprise based on reason. What readers will gain from this remarkably modern thinker of the medieval age depends on their own reason—and their own faith.


By Moshe Halbertal
Princeton, 385 pages, $35

A page from a 15th-century manuscript of Maimonides’ ‘Mishneh Torah.’ The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel / Extended loan from Michael and Judy Steinhardt, New York / The Bridgeman Art Library

Much of what is known about Maimonides’ life comes from an extraordinary source: the Cairo Genizah, a thousand-year-old repository of nearly 200,000 medieval manuscripts discovered in 1897 on the grounds of a Cairo synagogue. Motivated by religious concerns about discarding Hebrew texts, Cairo’s medieval Jewish community saved nearly all written documents, even children’s schoolwork and sales receipts, providing a detailed picture of its civilization. Mr. Halbertal, a philosopher who wrote the Israeli Defense Forces’ ethics manual, draws on Maimonides’ works and correspondence, much of which was found in the Genizah, to situate his subject in the intellectual battles of his time.

The Genizah’s documents present a 12th-century Egypt that feels uncannily familiar: the technology capital of the world, the crossroads of a global economy. Its philosophers, especially Maimonides, asked a question that we in our information age still ask: Are our lives determined by forces beyond our control, or do we have the free will to shape our own destiny?

Maimonides was a physician, rabbi, politician and philosopher, and his life spanned concepts and continents. Born in Córdoba in 1138, he fled with his family to Morocco as a youth when a new, tyrannical Muslim regime took power and demanded that Spanish Jews convert or die. At 17 he published his “Treatise on Logic,” an introduction to Aristotelian logical principles; in his early 20s, while migrating through North Africa and then the Crusader-occupied Holy Land in flight from hostile regimes, he became a physician and began publishing on Jewish law.

He arrived and settled in Egypt and in 1171, he was appointed head of Cairo’s large Jewish community, acting as Cairene Jewry’s liaison to the Muslim ruling class. He later served as physician to a royal vizier and then to the sultan, Saladin, publishing medical treatises along the way, including works on treating chronic illnesses. Maimonides, though, mourned the intellectually rich Spanish Jewish community that had formed him, and he mourned his brother, a merchant who drowned on a trip to India. Mr. Halbertal views his two greatest works—”Mishneh Torah,” his profound distillation of Jewish law, and “Guide of the Perplexed,” his astonishing reconciliation of faith and reason—as in part inspired by these losses.

Scholars often divide Maimonides’ intellectual work in two: first, his efforts at codifying Jewish law, which previously existed mainly in the vast and often unresolved legal discussions in the 63 tractates of the Talmud; second, his philosophical writing that reconciles the science of his time with his Jewish (and by extension, all monotheistic) faith. Mr. Halbertal’s achievement here is that he presents these two projects as a single one: a bold attempt by Maimonides to make sense of faith for an educated audience in an advanced civilization.

Prior to Maimonides, Judaism had little by way of dogma. Jews were expected to believe in one God and to follow the Torah’s commandments, but no list of beliefs defined Judaism. But Maimonides’ quest to delineate Jewish belief, as Mr. Halbertal explains, wasn’t some philosophical exercise but a historical necessity. Ancient Pagan regimes had presented Jews with stark physical choices—martyrdom, flight or practicing Judaism secretly. As for Christianity, Jews saw its God-incarnate as violating the Torah’s prohibition on idolatry. But Islam was unambiguously monotheistic. Was it perhaps compatible with Judaism? And if so, why shouldn’t a Jew convert? In answering this question for the Jews of Yemen, who posed it to him when faced with Islamic persecution—Maimonides’ authority was respected by communities from France to Africa and beyond—the rabbi-philosopher presented not only a practical answer but a conceptual one. If one accepts the Torah as a public divine revelation, he posited, then any subsequent “revised” revelation, particularly one received in private, wouldn’t merely suggest an imperfect Torah; it would suggest an imperfect God. Jews could not convert to Islam.

It is this concept—that God’s perfection itself prevents divine interventions and “miracles” ousting the natural order—that vaults Maimonides’ thought out of the world of mere piety and into the realm of philosophy. Followed to its logical conclusions, the idea of a perfect God demands a belief in a God who reveals himself not through violations of nature, but through nature itself. This sanctification of nature turns Judaism into a rigorously rational faith. Consider, for instance, Maimonides’ idea of divine providence. God’s protection, he insisted, doesn’t come from divine intervention in human affairs, but rather through the divine gift of human intellect, which affords talented humans the capacity to solve human problems. As a physician, Maimonides couldn’t believe that physical suffering was an act of divine will—because if that were true, then how could he cure a disease?

Maimonides’ faith was more modern than medieval. Yet it differs profoundly from today’s casual agnosticism, because it was motivated by a philosophical humility rare in our time. In the discussion of idolatry in the Mishneh Torah, for example, Maimonides identified superstitions as not merely foolish, but as “means employed by ancient idolaters to deceive the peoples of various countries and induce them to become their followers.” Idolatry, here, is less the belief in a false God than the false belief in human control over the world, whether through charlatan leaders or through the worshiper’s own actions (if I do a rain dance, it will rain). In debunking this belief, Mr. Halbertal writes, Maimonides “went so far as to make rationality into a religious obligation.” To be rational is to acknowledge human limitation. It means standing in awe of what we can’t grasp.

“The Guide of the Perplexed” is Maimonides’ greatest work. Written as letters to a Jewish student confused by Greek philosophy and its apparent conflict with the Torah, the “Guide” presents a system of Jewish belief that accommodates a scientific worldview—but in a highly enigmatic style that invites multiple interpretations. Wisely, Mr. Halbertal doesn’t choose a single angle from which to view the text, but rather analyzes it from multiple perspectives, since, as he puts it, “any attempt to propose a single consistent reading of the treatise strikes me as doomed to failure.” Instead, Mr. Halbertal suggests a “skeptical” reading, which veers toward agnosticism; a “mystical” reading, which assumes a hidden spirituality; a “conservative reading,” which keeps the work in line with the Torah; among others. (For those following at home, the most accurate English translation of the “Guide” is the edition by Shlomo Pines.)

The text is also a radical critique of religious language that would be at home in a literary-theory course. In rationalizing the Torah’s descriptions of God’s intervention in human affairs, Maimonides argues that any language describing God as having a body, or even emotions, must be understood metaphorically, as a feeble attempt to describe a presence beyond description. In doing so, Mr. Halbertal claims, Maimonides suggested that language itself is a kind of deception, an idolatry that props up the illusion of human power. As Mr. Halbertal puts it, “Recognizing the limits on language is tantamount to recognizing the limits of our cognition of the world.” Whether this means that God can’t be known at all, or that God simply can’t be known through language, is one of the many questions that Maimonides left unanswered. This ambiguity and others like it give the “Guide” its enduring power, turning it into a fascinating test of the readers’ own beliefs.

Mr. Halbertal’s book isn’t for the uninitiated. Despite its English subtitle, this is no biography. The author isn’t a historian, and while the book’s short biographical section provides the rudiments of Maimonides’ life and a convincing sense of his personality, it takes primary sources at face value and is less reliable as a result. This is a philosophy book that doesn’t try to seduce the non-analytic reader. Mr. Halbertal also assumes—appropriately for his original Hebrew-language audience—a knowledge of Jewish legal concepts that is basic to those with a Jewish education but alien to those without one. Readers unfamiliar with terms like halakhah (literally “the walk,” denoting Jewish law) or geonim (literally “geniuses,” denoting early medieval Babylonian rabbinic authorities) will be swimming upstream. Those merely curious about Maimonides may do better with Joel L. Kraemer’s beautifully written 2008 biography, which provides a more accessible, if less nuanced, summary of his ideas along with ample historical and cultural background.

But those prepared to plunge into the depths will be rewarded with a mind-enlarging perspective that is absent from today’s American culture, where theological arguments are typically reduced to a choice between arrogant atheism or mind-numbing faith. While Maimonides’ ideas won’t convince those wedded to either of the above, it is refreshing for today’s perplexed to listen in on serious thinkers—both Maimonides and Moshe Halbertal—who refuse to check their brains or their faith at the door. As Mr. Halbertal says, the perplexed of every age can learn one thing from Maimonides: No matter what their dilemma may be, “they should never allow it to foreclose human thought and inner integrity.”

—Ms. Horn’s most recent novel is
“A Guide for the Perplexed.”


‘Duck Dynasty’ star: Show leading students to pray


‘Duck Dynasty’ star: Show leading students to pray

Associated Press

A teenager on TV’s “Duck Dynasty” says the reality show is leading students to pray before lunch at schools across the country.

Sixteen-year-old Sadie Robertson told an audience in Montgomery on Sunday that young people are forming “Duck Dynasty clubs” to pray before lunch at school. She said it’s an awesome thing for a TV show to be able to bring prayer into schools.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that Robertson made the comments during a fundraiser for Prattville Christian Academy.

She said her family has decided not to talk about the controversy resulting from comments about gay people made by her grandfather, Phil Robertson. She said the family, of West Monroe, La., is glad to be back together because Phil Robertson is the leader and they couldn’t do anything without him.



‘Lost’ remains of martyred queen unearthed

‘Lost’ remains of martyred queen unearthed

  • queen-ketevan

    New DNA analysis of a bone fragment found in an Indian Church suggest that the relic belongs to Queen Ketevan, who was martyred in the 1600s. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The remains of a woman kept in an Indian church likely belong to an ancient queen executed about 400 years ago, a new DNA analysis suggests.

The DNA analysis suggests the remains are those of Queen Ketevan, an ancient Georgian queen who was executed for refusing to become a member of a powerful Persian ruler’s harem. The findings are detailed in the January issue of the journal Mitochondrion.

Tumultuous life
Ketevan was the Queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in Georgia, in the 1600s. After her husband the king was killed, the Persian Ruler, Shah Abbas I, besieged the kingdom.

“Shah Abbas I led an army to conquer the Georgian kingdom and took Queen Ketevan as prisoner,” said study co-author Niraj Rai, a researcher at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India.

‘[It’s] the first genetic evidence for the sample being a relic of Saint Queen Ketevan.’

– Niraj Rai, a researcher at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India

Queen Ketevan languished in Shiraz, Iran, for about a decade. But in 1624, Shah Abbas asked the queen to convert to Islam from Christianity and join his harem. She refused, and he had her tortured, then executed on Sept. 22, 1624. Ketevan the Martyr was canonized as a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church shortly after. [Saintly? The 10 Most Controversial Miracles]

Missing relics
Before her death, Queen Ketevan had befriended two Augustinian friars who became devoted to her. Legend had it that, in 1627, the two friars secretly dug up her remains and smuggled them out of the country. An ancient Portuguese document suggested her bones were held in a black sarcophagus kept in the window of the St. Augustinian Convent in Goa, India.

But the centuries had not been kind to the church: Part of the convent had collapsed and many valuables had been sold off in the intervening centuries. Early attempts to find her remains failed.

But starting in 2004, Rai and colleagues excavated an area they believed contained the remains and found a broken arm bone and two other bone fragments, as well as pieces of black boxes.

Rare lineage
To find out if the bones belonged to the martyred queen, the researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA, or DNA found only in the cytoplasm of an egg that is passed on through the maternal line.

The arm bone once belonged to a female with a genetic lineage, or haplogroup, known as U1b, the analysis showed. In a survey of 22,000 people from the Indian subcontinent, the researchers found none with U1b lineage. By contrast, the lineage was fairly common in a sample of 30 people from Georgia.

The other two bones showed evidence they were part of genetic lineages common in India, which supported documents suggesting the queen’s relics were stored in a room with the bones of two local friars.

“The complete absence of haplogroup U1b in the Indian subcontinent and its presence in high-to-moderate frequency in the Georgia and adjoining regions, provide the first genetic evidence for the [arm bone] sample being a relic of Saint Queen Ketevan of Georgia,” Rai told LiveScience.

The study is well done and honest, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

“It is a bone presumed to be of the queen and will remain so until its DNA can be compared to that of preferably living relatives and if not available dead relatives,” Cassiman said, referring to nuclear DNA that is in all the body’s cells.

But until that point, the conclusion is based on statistics. Those statistics strengthen the idea that the bone belongs to St. Ketevan, but aren’t strong enough to positively identify the remnant, Cassiman said.


Israel’s Christian Awakening



Israel’s Christian Awakening

A Controversial New Movement Wants to Cooperate More Closely With the Jewish State


Dec. 27, 2013 7:34 p.m. ET
As Christmas neared, an 85-foot-high tree presided over the little square in front of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Kindergarten children with Santa Claus hats entered the church and listened to their teacher explain in Arabic the Greek inscriptions on the walls, while a group of Russian pilgrims knelt on their knees and whispered in prayer. In Nazareth’s old city, merchants sold the usual array of Christmas wares.

This year, however, the familiar rhythms of Christmas season in the Holy Land have been disturbed by a new development: the rise of an independent voice for Israel’s Christian community, which is increasingly trying to assert its separate identity. For decades, Arab Christians were considered part of Israel’s sizable Palestinian minority, which comprises both Muslims and Christians and makes up about a fifth of the country’s citizens, according to the Israeli government.

But now, an informal grass-roots movement, prompted in part by the persecution of Christians elsewhere in the region since the Arab Spring, wants to cooperate more closely with Israeli Jewish society—which could mean a historic change in attitude toward the Jewish state. “Israel is my country, and I want to defend it,” says Henry Zaher, an 18-year-old Christian from the village of Reineh who was visiting Nazareth. “The Jewish state is good for us.”

LOOKING UP: Celebrating Christmas in Nazareth, December 2012 Reuters

The Christian share of Israel’s population has decreased over the years—from 2.5% in 1950 to 1.6% today, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics—because of migration and a low birthrate. Of Israel’s 8 million citizens, about 130,000 are Arabic-speaking Christians (mostly Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox), and 1.3 million are Arab Muslims.

In some ways, Christians in Israel more closely resemble their Jewish neighbors than their Muslim ones, says Amnon Ramon, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a specialist on Christians in Israel at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. In a recent book, he reports that Israeli Christians’ median age is 30, compared with 31 for Israeli Jews and only 19 for Israeli Muslims. Israeli Christian women marry later than Israeli Muslims, have significantly fewer children and participate more in the workforce. Unemployment is lower among Israeli Christians than among Muslims, and life expectancy is higher. Perhaps most strikingly, Israeli Christians actually surpass Israeli Jews in educational achievement.

As a minority within a minority, Christians in Israel have historically been in a bind. Fear of being considered traitors often drove them to proclaim their full support for the Palestinian cause. Muslim Israeli leaders say that all Palestinians are siblings and deny any Christian-Muslim rift. But in mixed Muslim-Christian cities such as Nazareth, many Christians say they feel outnumbered and insecure.

“There is a lot of fear among Christians from Muslim reprisals,” says Dr. Ramon. “In the presence of a Muslim student in one of my classes, a Christian student will never say the same things he would say were the Muslim student not there.”

“Many Christians think like me, but they keep silent,” says the Rev. Gabriel Naddaf, who backs greater Christian integration into the Jewish state. “They are simply too afraid.” In his home in Nazareth, overlooking the fertile hills of the Galilee, the 40-year-old former spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem is tall and charismatic, dressed in a spotless black cassock. “Israel is my country,” he says. “We enjoy the Israeli democracy and have to respect it and fight for it.”

That is the idea behind the new Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, which aims to increase the number of Christians joining the Israel Defense Forces. It is an extremely delicate issue: Israeli Arabs are generally exempt from military duty, because the state doesn’t expect them to fight their brethren among the Palestinians or in neighboring Arab countries. Israeli Palestinians, who usually don’t want to enlist, say they often face discrimination in employment and other areas because they don’t serve.

“We were dragged into a conflict that wasn’t ours,” says Father Naddaf. “Israel takes care of us, and if not Israel, who will defend us? We love this country, and we see the army as a first step in becoming more integrated with the state.”

According to Shadi Khaloul, a forum spokesperson, the total number of Christians serving in the Israeli military has more than quadrupled since 2012, from 35 to nearly 150. This may seem a drop in the ocean, but it was enough to enrage many Palestinian Israelis. Father Naddaf says that his car’s tires were punctured and that he received death threats, worrying him enough that he got bodyguards. Hanin Zoabi, an Arab-Muslim member of the Israeli parliament, wrote Father Naddaf a public letter calling him a collaborator and accusing him of putting young Christians “in danger.” “Arab Palestinians, regardless of their religion, should not join the Israeli army,” Ms. Zoabi told me. “We are a national group, not a religious one. Any attempt to enlist Christians is part of a strategy of divide-and-rule.”

Many Arab Christians don’t see it that way. “We are not mercenaries,” says Mr. Khaloul, who served as a captain in an IDF paratrooper brigade. “We want to defend this country together with the Jews. We see what is happening these days to Christians around us—in Iraq, Syria and Egypt.”

Since the Arab revolutions began in Tunisia in 2011, many Christians in the region have felt isolated and jittery. Coptic churches have been attacked in Egypt, and at least 26 Iraqis leaving a Catholic church in Baghdad on Christmas Day were killed by a car bomb. Islamists continue to threaten to enforce Shariah law wherever they gain control.

The Christian awakening in Israel goes beyond joining the IDF. Some Israeli Christian leaders now demand that their history and heritage be taught in state schools. “Children in Arab schools in Israel learn only Arab-Muslim history,” says a report prepared by Mr. Khaloul and submitted to Israel’s Ministry of Education, “and this causes the obliteration of Christian identity.”

Some Israeli Christians even recently established a new political party, headed by Bishara Shlayan, a stocky, blue-eyed former captain in the Israeli navy who told me that he once beat up an Irish sailor in Londonderry who called him an “[expletive] Jew.” The new party is puckishly called B’nai Brith (“Children of the Covenant”), and Shlayan says it will have Jewish as well as Christian members. Nazareth’s mayor, Ramez Jaraisy, recently told the Times of Israel that Shlayan was a “collaborator” with the Israeli authorities.

“The current Arab political establishment only brought us hate and rifts,” says Mr. Shlayan. “The Arab-Muslim parties didn’t take care of us. We are not brothers with the Muslims; brothers take care of each other.” Mr. Shlayan, who advocates better education, housing and employment for Israeli Christians, says he also dreams of turning Nazareth into an even busier tourist spot by erecting the world’s biggest statue of Jesus.

Should this Christian awakening succeed, it would be yet another notable shift in the balance of power among religious groups in the Middle East.

—Mr. Schwartz is a former staff writer and senior editor for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.


People who are religious are less likely to be stressed at work

Religious people take fewer sick days and are less anxious because spirituality ‘offers a buffer against the strains of modern life’

  • People who are religious are less likely to be stressed at work
  • They are also less likely to be depressed or exhausted
  • They are more likely to feel that their life has meaning


PUBLISHED: 06:25 EST, 9 January 2014 | UPDATED: 08:18 EST, 9 January 2014

People who are religious take less sick days and are generally healthier than those who are not, new research showsPeople who are religious take less sick days and are generally healthier than those who are not, new research shows

People who are religious are healthier and take fewer sick days, new research suggests.

They are also less stressed and anxious at work, the researchers found.

Experts believe this could be because spirituality offers a ‘buffer against strains’ of modern life.

A psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport found that the more religious a person is, the less likely they are to suffer from anxiety, depression or exhaustion.

Dr Roxane Gervais also discovered that employees who are religious feel their lives have more meaning than those who are not.

Dr Gervais surveyed workers in a bid to discover how happy they are in their home and working lives.

She found those who attend religious services feel more content within themselves and that they feel connected to a higher being.

Dr Gervais told The Telegraph: ‘As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay cheque at the end of the month.

‘My research shows that religiosity in the workplace may act as a resource, making people more resilient to cope with the many challenges of working life. 

‘Such personal beliefs could be very helpful not only for employees, but also for employers providing people with a buffer zone.’

As a result, she says employers should be encouraged to be understanding and supportive of their employees’ beliefs.

Dr Gervais’ findings are to be presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s in Brighton.

Workers who are religious are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to feel as though their life has meaningWorkers who are religious are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to feel as though their life has meaning


The research comes just after it was revealed that people who have a spiritual side have a ‘thicker’ section of brain tissue than those who do not.

The research, from Columbia University, also suggested that this thickening of the brain’s cortex could help to stave off depression.

The study authors believe this could suggest being religious changes the structure of the brain in a way which reduces depression risk.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2536433/Religious-people-fewer-sick-days-anxious-spirituality-offers-buffer-against-strains-modern-life.html#ixzz2q0FM43gN
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‘Hand of God’ spotted by NASA space telescope

‘Hand of God’ spotted by NASA space telescope

  • nustar-hand-of-god

    The hand might look like an X-ray from the doctor’s office, but it is actually a cloud of material ejected from a star that exploded. NASA’s NuSTAR spacecraft has imaged the structure in high-energy X-rays for the first time, shown in blue. Low (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MCGILL)

Religion and astronomy may not overlap often, but a new NASA X-ray image captures a celestial object that resembles the “Hand of God.”

The cosmic “hand of God” photo was produced when a star exploded and ejected an enormous cloud of material, which NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, glimpsed in high-energy X-rays, shown in blue in the photo. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory had imaged the green and red parts previously, using lower-energy X-rays.

“NuSTAR’s unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light,” NuSTAR telescope principal investigator Fiona Harrison, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement.

‘We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion.’

– Hongjun An, of McGill University in Montreal

The new image depicts a pulsar wind nebula, produced by the dense remnant of a star that exploded in a supernova. What’s left behind is a pulsar, called PSR B1509-58 (B1509 for short), which spins around 7 times per second blowing a wind of particles into material ejected during the star’s death throes.

As these particles interact with nearby magnetic fields, they produce an X-ray glow in the shape of a hand. (The pulsar is located near the bright white spot in the image but cannot be seen itself, NASA officials said.)

Scientists aren’t sure whether the ejected material actually assumes the shape of a hand, or whether its interaction with the pulsar’s particles is just making it appear that way.

“We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion,” Hongjun An, of McGill University in Montreal, said in a statement. “With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues.”

The red cloud appearing at the fingertips is a separate structure called RCW 89. The pulsar’s wind may be heating the cloud to produce the low-energy X-ray glow, astronomers believe.

The X-ray energies seen by NuSTAR range from 7 to 25 kiloelectron volts, or keV, whereas the energies seen by Chandra range from 0.5 to 2 keV.

The Hand of God is an example of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving familiar shapes in random or vague images. Other common forms of pareidolia include seeing animals or faces in clouds, or the man in the moon. Despite its supernatural appearance, the Hand of God was produced by natural astrophysical phenomena.


New translation of Hebrew text reveals legend of Ark of the Covenant

New translation of Hebrew text reveals legend of Ark of the Covenant

  • ark-of-the-covenant-relief-2.jpg

    This bas-relief image showing the Ark of the Covenant being carried is from the Auch Cathedral in France. (I. VASSIL, RELEASED INTO PUBLIC DOMAIN THROUGH WIKIMEDIA)

A newly translated Hebrew tells a tale claiming to reveal where treasures from King Solomon’s temple were hidden and discusses the fate of the Ark of the Covenant itself.

But unlike the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the text leaves the exact location of the Ark unclear and states that it, and the other treasures, “shall not be revealed until the day of the coming of the Messiah son of David ” putting it out of reach of any would-be treasure seeker. But don’t put on your Indiana Jones costume just yet; the text’s translator says the book is likely just early Jewish folklore.

King Solomon’s Temple, also called the First Temple, was plundered and torched by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century B.C., according to the Hebrew Bible. The Ark of the Covenant is a chest that, when originally built, was said to have held tablets containing the 10 commandments. It was housed in Solomon’s Temple, a place that contained many different treasures. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]

The newly translated text, called “Treatise of the Vessels” (Massekhet Kelim in Hebrew), says the “treasures were concealed by a number of Levites and prophets,” writes James Davila, a professor at the University of St. Andrews, in an article in the book “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha More Noncanonical Scriptures Volume 1” (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013).

“Some of these (treasures) were hidden in various locations in the Land of Israel and in Babylonia, while others were delivered into the hands of the angels Shamshiel, Michael, Gabriel and perhaps Sariel ” writes Davila in his article.

The treatise is similar in some ways to the metallic “Copper Scroll,” one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found near the site of Qumran in the West Bank. The Copper Scroll also discusses the location of hidden treasure, although not from Solomon’s Temple.

The treatise describes the treasures in an imaginative way. One part refers to “seventy-seven tables of gold, and their gold was from the walls of the Garden of Eden that was revealed to Solomon, and they radiated like the radiance of the sun and moon, which radiate at the height of the world.”

The oldest confirmed example of the treatise, which survives to present day, is from a book published in Amsterdam in 1648 called “Emek Halachah.” In 1876, a scholar named Adolph Jellinek published another copy of the text, which was virtually identical to the 1648 version. Davila is the first to translate the text fully into English.

A story of legends
The writer of the text likely was not trying to convey factual locations of the hidden treasures of Solomon’s Temple, but rather was writing a work of fiction, based on different legends, Davila told LiveScience. [In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World]

“The writer draws on traditional methods of scriptural exegesis [interpretation] to deduce where the treasures might have been hidden, but I think the writer was approaching the story as a piece of entertaining fiction, not any kind of real guide for finding the lost Temple treasures,” he wrote in the email.

The structure of the story is confusing. In the prologue it states that Shimmur the Levite (he doesn’t appear to be a biblical figure) and his companions hid the treasures, “but later on the text mentions the treasures being in the keeping of or hidden by Shamshiel and other angels,” Davila said. “I suspect the author collected various legends without too much concern about making them consistent.”

Similarities to the Copper Scroll
The Copper Scroll, which dates back around 1,900 years, and is made of copper, shows several “striking parallels” with the newly translated treatise, Davila said.

The treatise says that the treasures from Solomon’s Temple were recorded “on a tablet of bronze,” a metal like the Copper Scroll. Additionally, among other similarities, the Treatise of the Vessels and Copper Scroll both refer to “vessels” or “implements,” including examples made of gold and silver.

These similarities could be a coincidence or part of a tradition of recording important information on metal.

“My guess is that whoever wrote the Treatise of Vessels came up with the same idea [of writing a treasure list on metal] coincidentally on their own, although it is not unthinkable that the writer knew of some ancient tradition or custom about inscribing important information on metal,” wrote Davila in the email, noting that metal is a more durable material than parchment or papyrus.

An ongoing story
The study of the treatise is ongoing, and discoveries continue to be made. For instance, in the mid-20th century a copy of it (with some variations) was discovered and recorded in Beirut, Lebanon, at the end of a series of inscribed plates that record the Book of Ezekiel.

Those plates are now at the Yad Ben Zvi Institute in Israel, although the plates containing the treatise itself are now missing. Recent research has revealed, however, these plates were created in Syria at the turn of the 20th century, about 100 years ago, suggesting the treatise was being told in an elaborate way up until relatively modern times.


Ancient textile may contain lost Biblical blue dye, Israeli researcher says

Ancient textile may contain lost Biblical blue dye, Israeli researcher says

Digging History

Associated Press
  • 2,000-year old textile is blue color described in the Bible

    Dec. 31, 2013: A nearly 2,000-year old textile that appears to contain a mysterious blue color described in the Bible, one of the few remnants of the ancient color ever discovered. (AP PHOTO/CLARA AMIT, ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY, HOPD)

JERUSALEM –  An Israeli researcher says she has identified a nearly 2,000-year old textile that may contain a mysterious blue dye described in the Bible, one of the few remnants of the ancient color ever found.

Naama Sukenik of Israel’s Antiquities Authority said Tuesday that recent examination of a small woolen textile discovered in the 1950s found that the textile was colored with a dye from the Murex trunculus, a snail researchers believe was the source of the Biblical blue.

Researchers and rabbis have long searched for the enigmatic color, called tekhelet in Hebrew. The Bible commands Jews to wear a blue fringe on their garments, but the dye was lost in antiquity.

Sukenik examined the textile for a doctorate at Bar-Ilan University and published the finding at a Jerusalem conference Monday.