Tag Archives: ancient religious sites


BLOG 429 April 22, 2019

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

A number of interesting discoveries have surfaced in recent weeks that are worthy of our inspection. While the April 9 election overshadowed all other details in the Middle East, much was going on behind the scenes that is worthy of a second look.

The Jewish world took note of the fact that Pope Francis stated that he is opening the World War II archives in the Vatican. Controversy has swirled around the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church ever since the end of the war. The target of much criticism has been whether Pope Pius XII ignored the plight of the Jews occurring right under his nose in Rome. What did Pius XII do or not do?

Several years ago, Pope Francis invited me to walk through the mausoleum recently uncovered during the period of the reign of Pius XII. After careful evaluation, scholars and archaeologists found the original tomb of Peter that was over 2,000 years old. As I peered through the excavations, I could see the plastic containers holding those bones. Quite an experience!

At the end of the tunnels, I found the tomb of Pius XII. The cement sarcophagus stands about three feet above the ground and is rather ordinary in appearance compared to some of the papal tombs in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Part of the reason that Pope Francis has opened this door is because of his personal understanding and relationship with the Jewish community. Moreover, he is particularly interested in a greater openness in the Vatican. The world will be watching to see what comes forth.

And speaking of what is now appearing, a 2,600 year old seal from the Kingdom of Judah was recently discovered in the City of David. The inscription read, “belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King. While it was not impossible at the time to say that the seal belonged to the Nathan-Melech mentioned in the Bible, the similarity is uncanny. In II Kings 23:11, he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah. The seal was found in the remains of a public building destroyed during the fall of the First Temple. The seal attests to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah.

A second artifact was also uncovered. The bluish agate stone was engraved in ancient Hebrew (belonging to) Ikar the son of Matanyahu. Both of these finds will be presented in the Israel Exploration Journal. Pictures will help the reader envision these discoveries.

Keep your eyes open. More to come.

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Filed under Bible Lands, Israel, middle east


BLOG 287 January 25, 2016

The antiquity of the Middle East reaches to the beginning of history. Consequently, the treasures of distant millenniums still wait to be found. These possibilities raise a million fascinating stories of intrigue that stretch from Julius Caesar and Moses to Abraham. One of the most recent tales of mystery is the loss of an ancient manuscript called the Cairo Codex.

The fascinating history of this legendary Hebrew manuscript stretches to the origins of the Karaites, an ancient Jewish sect that began in the century after Jerusalem was sacked and the Second Temple destroyed, In Baghdad, a group of Jews rebelled against the authority of the prevailing rabbi’s view of scripture. The original originalists strove to be faithful to the meanings understood by the ancient Israelites. The remnant of this period is the Cairo Codex supposedly written by Moshe ben Asher in 894 which would make it the earliest known Hebrew manuscript. It was supposedly kept for over a thousand years in the Dar’l Synagogue in Abbasiyah, Cairo.

The manuscript has now disappeared and no one (except some insider) knows whether it is in Egypt, Israel, or the hands of a collector. The hunt is on for this invaluable piece of the past. The whole story can be found in this month’s January/February Moment magazine. Makes a fascinating read.

However, one of the tragedies of the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS has been the destruction of such important ancient sites. One of the most significant edifices in Iraq was destroyed sometime between this Fall and 2014. St. Elijah’s Monastery had been a major Christian place of worship for over 1,400 years. Generations of monks had spent their lives praying in the chapel, worshiping at the altar, and burning candles into the night. As one approached the entrance the Greek letters chi and rho marked the door. This marking is still used as an abbreviated symbol of the name of Jesus Christ.

Standing on a hill above Mosul, the 27,000 square-foot rock monastery had 26 distinct rooms even though the roof was gone. The creation of the monastery began in 590 when the monastic movement swept across the Middle East and Europe. This was long before there were any divisions in Christianity. Consequently, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike reverenced this site. In 1743, at least 150 monks were massacred by a Persian general because they refused to convert to Islam.

Recent high resolution aerial photographs revealed the monastery had been reduced to a pile of rubble. ISIS troops, bulldozers, and men with pickaxes continue to destroy everything they consider contrary to their understanding of Islam. From his office in exile, Catholic priest Paul Thabit Habib said, “Our Christian history is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.” Roman Catholic Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who celebrated Mass on the monastery’s altar ,was grief-stricken. He said, “Elijah the prophet must be weeping.”

Weeping indeed!

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Filed under Catholics, Christians, middle east