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Religion Today Blog Christian Blog and Commentary

Michele Chabin

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

 The site where, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army breached the outer walls of ancient Jerusalem before capturing the city and destroying the Second Jewish Temple has been discovered, the Israel Antiquities Authority says.

Archaeologists made the discovery last winter during an exploratory survey at a future construction site, the IAA said on Thursday (Oct. 20).

After expanding the excavation archaeologists discovered the remains of a tower jutting from what they believe was the Third Wall, the outermost wall surrounding Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period.

Opposite the tower’s western facade they found dozens of catapults and stones the archaeologists are certain were used by the Romans, led by Titus, against the Jewish guards who defended the wall from the tower.

Rina Avner, one of the lead archaeologists, told RNS that the discoveries confirm a detailed account of the battle by the contemporary historian Josephus.

“We found pottery from the Second Temple period within the cement of the wall, which was on the same level as the balustrades. We dated the embedded pottery to 70 A.D., the year Josephus said the Romans attacked the city and destroyed the Second Temple, forcing the Jews into exile.

“We were able to cross-reference our finds with the writings of Josephus. It was amazing,” Avner said.

The find comes amid an outcry over a recent resolution by UNESCO that ignores Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount and refers exclusively, as Muslims do, to the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

The archaeologist said the latest discoveries add to the large volume of other proof that Jews lived in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.

The UNESCO resolution “erases history and actually tries to destroy our past and the Christians’ past,” Avner said.


Michele Chabin is RNS’ Jerusalem correspondent

Courtesy: Religion News Service

Publication date: October 21, 2016

Gunmen kidnapped an American missionary from his home in central Niger and killed two other people. The incident is the first reported kidnapping of an American in the region.

On Oct. 14, the attackers stormed into Jeffery Woodke’s home in the town of Abalak, killing his guard and housekeeper, Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement the following day. The armed men, driving a white Toyota Hilux pickup truck, took Woodke and headed across the desert toward Mali.

“Our forces are on their trail,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said. “The president of the republic is personally following the situation and our forces are fully mobilized to capture them and put an end to this disastrous affair.”

Woodke, a 55-year-old native of McKinleyville, Calif., has lived in Niger since 1992. He worked with JEMED, a local partner of U.S. non-profit Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  The Nigerien charity group helps Tuareg herdsmen who are battling disease, drought, and lack of education.

Woodke served as an instructor at The Redwood Coast School of Missions, a ministry run by the Arcata First Baptist Church in Arcata, Calif. His biography on the mission’s website describes him as having a “passion in providing humanitarian aid to those who are among the poorest in the world, coupled with his desire to see God’s kingdom advanced in a largely Muslim world.”

The Sahel region faces attacks from al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups, Nigerian-based extremists Boko Haram, and other criminal gangs. Armed attackers have targeted and kidnapped Europeans, demanding huge sums of money in ransom. An Australian doctor kidnapped in February in Burkina Faso and a Swiss woman kidnapped in Mali both remain in captivity. Woodke’s kidnapping is the first of any American in Niger. In 2009, suspected extremists attempted to kidnap U.S. embassy personnel from a hotel in the town of Tahoua.

“We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Niger,” a State Department official said after the Friday abduction. “The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”


Courtesy: WORLD News Service

Publication date: October 21, 2016

This week in Lahore, Pakistan, a court freed a Muslim man charged with double murder after he forgave himself and his two accomplices. Leveraging a longtime Islamic tradition, Faqueer Muhammad claimed family pardon and legal “forgiveness” for himself, along with his son and nephew, for the so-called “honor” killing of his daughter and her lover.

“The deceased, Kiran Bibi, was my real daughter,” Muhammad said in court. “I have forgiven the accused persons in the name of Almighty Allah, and have no objection to their acquittal. I also waive my right of [retribution] and [blood money].”

Muhammad’s self-acquittal came days after Pakistan enacted the Anti-Honor Killing Law, which prohibits the use of family pardon to absolve criminal punishment. But since Muhammad’s crime took place in 2014, the law does not apply to his case, according to the court in Lahore.

“There is no chance of conviction at all,” the judge assured Muhammad, demonstrating the difficulty of changing attitudes in the deeply conservative Islamic society.

After a year of parliamentary bickering and verbiage tinkering, Pakistani lawmakers finally passed the bill to toughen penalties for men who murder women—often their wives or sisters—in the name of family honor.

“Honor killings are a cancer in our society. This law is being presented against this cancer,” said Naveed Qamar, a member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party.

In Pakistani society, family honor is closely linked—if not synonymous—with a woman’s perceived virtue. If a Muslim woman is suspected of indecent behavior, which can include offenses such as marrying a Christian, committing adultery, or sitting down too near another man, Islamic tradition allows for her murder. Under Sharia law, the killer may be “forgiven” and acquitted of criminal punishment.

Last year alone, about 1,100 Pakistani women and girls were victims of honor killings, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission. Like rape, honor crimes are woefully underreported, and the actual number likely is much higher.

“It may not change much overnight, but [the Anti-Honor Killing Law] is certainly a step in the right direction,” wrote Pakistani activist Sharmeen Obaid.

Obaid’s Oscar-winning film, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which tells the story of an honor crime survivor, caught the eye of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, perhaps sparking the new bill’s parliamentary success.

The law still allows for Sharia-styled forgiveness—but only if the killer receives a death sentence. If pardoned by the slain woman’s family, the convicted honor killer would escape execution and serve a 25-year prison sentence. Pakistani lawmakers added the forgiveness provision as a concession to Islamic parties, who complained the law granted women too much freedom.

“They are trying to impose Western culture over here,” Senator Hafiz Hamdullah told the Associated Press. “We will not allow [it]. We will impose the law that our holy Quran and Sunnah [tradition] say.”

Hardline Muslims also expressed frustration that the government refused to consult the conservative Islamic Ideology Council before incorporating the new policy into national law. The group recently criticized a domestic abuse reporting law as “un-Islamic,” and leaked a statement saying Pakistani men have religious license to “lightly beat” their wives.


Courtesy: WORLD News Service

Publication date: October 21, 2016