Apocalyptic madness

INSPIRED by earthquakes and Islamic State, the doomsday prophets are busy driving fear into the hearts of the gullible.
Yep, it’s Armageddon season again and it’s a rich time for the conspiracy theorists. Nothing new there; apocalyptic visions are a part of many belief systems and probably most often reflect the preoccupations of a stressed society.
Somewhere in this hideous mix of selective fundamentalism is the notion that this world is a mere waiting room, easily discarded, like the heathens who populate it.
The belief that humans are created in the image of a loving God seems to be diminishing. Secular and religious groups sometimes seem to teach that we are not worth much because we are human. Thus, we deserve the plagues and pestilence that are to come.
There seem no limits to this something-dreadful-is-about-to-happen-right-now lunacy.
A lot of the speculation about imminent Armageddon is based on the final Biblical book, Revelation.
Some believe this foretells a world battle from which a new dictator _ the Anti-christ _ will emerge. A global war will follow in which most of the population will die and the surviving believers will be whisked to heaven in a supernatural event called the Rapture.
The Rapture Index, a popular internet barometer that supposedly calculates a rise in natural and man-made disasters, claims it gauges how close we are to the end. Anything above 145 signals the Apocalypse is near. In recent weeks, it has been hovering about 180. But last year it hit 188.
Christians and Jews have been on the lookout for the advent of the Antichrist since he was first referred to in the Old Testament.
He was first described by the ancient prophet Daniel, who 2600 years ago wrote of a satanic individual who, in the final days of the planet, would be supreme world dictator for seven years and be known by the numbers 666. He was defined by Daniel as the most evil man that would ever live.
The game to identify the Antichrist has been going on for years. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a candidate. So were the Emperor Nero, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Wilson Reagan (because he had six letters in each of his names), Saddam Hussein and John F. Kennedy (he received 666 votes at one political convention.
Some speculation comes with urban myths. One tells of a group that is planning to clone Jesus from religious relics if the Son Of God doesn’t return soon.
Another claims airlines will not pair Christian pilots and co-pilots out of fear that the Rapture will snatch away both crew members capable of landing the flight.
Another tells of a minister who picks up an angelic hitchhiker. The hitchhiker says the second coming of Christ is imminent, then disappears.
Not surprisingly, no one has yet been able to track down the players in either of the stories.
The stories are urban myths. Old ones, too. They have been passed around, in one form or another, for a few years now. The internet has breathed new life into the myths.
There’s certainly evidence that this world will one day end. There are plenty of Biblical prophecies of wars and rumours of war signalling the end times, but we should all stop worrying about dates and times.
Many Christians believe those events could occur soon. Some are obsessed by it.
It is a time when people can be easily misguided.

Pope urged to force Pell to explain role in paedophile cover-up


POPE Francis has been urged to force Cardinal George Pell to explain any involvement he may have had in the cover-up of paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale.

Secret church documents tendered to a royal commission revealed that the Cardinal helped move Australia’s worst paedophile priest between parishes.

The move came decades after complaints were first made about Ridsdale and years before his last known offending.

It is not clear whether Cardinal Pell knew of the offending.

Now a social media campaign is demanding Pope Francis act on the stunning revelation.

Angry supporters of child sexual abuse victims are lobbying the pontiff on Twitter to take immediate action to force Cardinal Pell to appear at the commission.

There have also been calls for his sacking.

Pope Francis promoted Cardinal Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne, to the newly created position of Prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy last year.

While the Vatican is yet to comment on the latest revelations it is expected they will mount increased pressure on the Cardinal.

Atheist’s kids often find religion later in life, report shows

The Pew Research Center released a report earlier this week that looked at the religious landscape of the United States.

Among the findings, Pew reported that almost half of all children who grow up as religiously unaffiliated (that’s about one in 10 Americans kids) end up finding religion later in life.

“Yes, 1 in 5 people raised in a community of faith now identify as non-religious — the primary talking point from yesterday’s well-publicized report,” The Daily Beast reported. “But what most of this week’s flurry of media coverage missed is an even more pronounced trend in the opposite direction: nearly half of everyone raised with no religion is now part of a faith tradition.”

Nelson Mandela’s day


YESTERDAY would have been Nelson Mandela’s 96th birthday. He is remembered, not as a perfect man because he wasn’t that, but as a revolutionary who did much to rid his South Africa of the evil of apartheid.

Here are some memorable quotes from Mandela.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
― Nelson Mandela

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

If America Became a Christian Nation

American author Benjamin Corey has imagined what would need to happen If America Became a Christian Nation and concluded: “The ones who advocate it probably Wouldn’t Like What it Looked Like”

Corey’s list of what might happen if America followed Jesus’ teaching and example include:

We’d Have To Abolish the 2nd Amendment (the one about right to bear arms).

We’d Have to Replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Enemy Love.

We’d Have to End Capital Punishment.

Eradicating Poverty Would Be One of Our Most Pressing Concerns.

We’d Freely Care for the Sick.

We’d Become The Most Loving Nation Toward Immigrants.

We’d Do Away with the Pledge of Allegiance.

We’d Pay Our Taxes Without Complaining About It.

You can read Corey’s justification for the above at

Why are Christians so different in attitude?

ENGLISH author and feminist Virginia Woolf wondered about the lack of empathy between some people.
“Why are we so hard on each other,” she asked, “when life is so difficult for all of us and when, in the end, we value the same things?”
Martin Luther himself was not kind about Protestant groups other than his own, particularly the Baptists who had won many converts from the Catholics.
But Luther also seemed to think that denominations were unnecessary. “I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call   themselves not Lutherans, but Christians,” he said.
But he had already opened a can of worms. The rise of thousands of denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th century, out of which four major divisions or traditions of Protestantism would emerge: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican. From these four, other denominations grew over the centuries.
You didn’t even have to be a Christian to be denominational. British writer Quentin Crisp said when he I told the people of Northern Ireland that he was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, ‘Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”
The word denomination is not found in the Bible. Jesus never taught there should be divisions in the church with significant doctrinal differences. The original church was a single congregation of Christ’s followers.
Some modern denominations emphasise slight doctrinal differences, but more often they simply offer different styles of worship to fit the differing tastes and preferences of Christians.
Most Christian churches have far more in common than they have in disagreement with each other. Research in the US a couple of years ago indicated that the majority of protestant/evangelical congregations shared at least 90 per cent of the same beliefs. The researchers found little disagreement over the most basic elements of Christianity — such as Jesus’ life and teachings, including His deity, death and resurrection.
There is a common Christian faith that is recognisable in a large outdoor church in Sri Lanka, an evangelical meeting in Latiin America, a small Anglican church in Melbourne or Hobart and a Catholic cathedral in Rome. The cultural “flavour” may be different but the heart is the same.
Diversity is a good thing in Christianity. Disunity is not.
The great theologian J.B.Phillips said he understood why some people could not understand why the churches can’t “get together”.
He said: “The problem is doubtless complicated, for there are many honest differences held with equal sincerity, but it is only made insoluble because the different denominations are (possibly unconsciously) imagining God to be Roman or Anglican or Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian or what have you.
“If they could see beyond their little inadequate god, and glimpse the reality of God, they might even laugh a little and perhaps weep a little. The result would be a unity that actually does transcend differences, “
One thing’s for sure. There will be no denominations in Heaven. But there might be plenty in Hell.

Reality lies in what we can’t see

THE veil between heaven and earth seems to be sometimes lifted, but usually only for a moment.

Paul the apostle talked of humans seeing life mainly “through the glass dimly’’. He said there would be a day, not in this world, when we would see ourselves, each other and God very clearly.

But he said the full clarity was dangerous to unprepared hearts and minds, so, on this side of heaven, we could only sense the reality of God.

“Humankind can not bear too much reality,’’ T.S. Eliot observed. Or, as John Lennon said: “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.’’

The creed of modernity is that man can understand anything and everything through rational inquiry and therefore master the world.

But the wise know that our constructs of reality can only point to the truth.

An Oxford study a couple of years ago concluded that belief in God is part of human nature. We are naturally predisposed to believe in a divine power and that some vital part of us survives death, according to the wide-ranging three-year international study.

The theory is that human thought processes are “rooted” in religious concepts rather than ideas simply learned from experience because they provide some social benefit.

The co-director of the project, Professor Roger Trigg, said the research showed that religion was “not just something for a peculiar few to do on Sundays instead of playing golf”.

“We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies,” he said.

“This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.”

Who is the most influential person on Twitter

A new study shows U.S. President Barack Obama is still by far the most followed world leader on Twitter, but Pope Francis is considered the most influential by the number of his messages retweeted.

The annual Twiplomacy analysis of Twitter accounts released by Burson-Marsteller shows nearly 57 million people following Obama, up from 44 million last year. Pope Francis was next with 19.5 million followers on nine language accounts, up from 14 million in 2014.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had nearly 11 million followers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had more than 6 million, and the White House had almost 6 million followers.

Pope Francis’ words were spread widest, with an average of 9,929 retweets per tweet, compared to Obama in fourth place with 1,210

Another finding from the study is that Spanish is the Most Tweeted Language

World leaders tweet in 54 different languages, and English is by far the lingua franca of digital diplomacy. However, the 74 Spanish language accounts are far more prolific, making Spanish the most tweeted language among world leaders.

French is the third most-used language , followed by Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Turkish, Croatian, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, and German.

See more at http://twiplomacy.com/blog/twiplomacy-study-2015/#section-15

The final song

THIS is the song that Andrew Chan, Myu Sukumaran and the others who were executed a few days ago sang with loud voices before the gunshots rang out – although it wasn’t the miracle many of us prayed for, nonetheless it was a miraculous moment ….

Hearing this song today and knowing how powerful it must have been in those moments is deeply moving

Amazing grace under fire


In the still night air of Nusakambangan island, eight condemned prisoners joined together in a chorus of Amazing Grace just after midnight. They also sang Bless the Lord O My Soul before their song was cut off by the crack of gunfire.

As details began to emerge of the final minutes of the group, who included the Bali nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, it was revealed all eight prisoners rebuffed offers of blindfolds, opting instead to stare at their executioners while they broke out in song.

Pastor Karina de Vega, who witnessed the executions, said the voices of all eight members of the group cut through the air.

“They were praising their God,” Pastor de Vega said.

“It was breathtaking. This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”

I wonder what effect this all had on the Indonesian soldiers aiming rifles at their hearts. That’s a story yet to unfold.

The role of faith before the firing squad

A thoughtful piece by Simon Smart in today’s Sydney Morning Herald

It is hard to imagine the final thoughts of Andrew Chan as he waited, tied to a stake, for bullets to tear into his flesh and swiftly bring his life to a violent, inglorious end. If you contemplate this even briefly you can sense something of the chilling terror of that moment. It’s a tragedy when any life ends prematurely, but somehow the cold mechanical intentionality of execution carries an especially grave weight. Australians have been feeling that weight of late, despite the fact that executions are routine in various parts of the world, including in the United States.

Chan famously became a Christian in jail, studied theology, and right up until his transportation to Nusakambangan Island led the English worship service in Kerobokan prison. In recent weeks he was ordained as a minister of the church. He attributed his radically changed life entirely to his religious conversion.

Not everyone buys it. “Jailhouse religion” is a pejorative term for crims finding God in the slammer in the hope of a reprieve or better treatment. There have been some notorious ones. Charles “Tex” Watson, Charles Manson’s right-hand man, has been a Christian since 1975 and these days, despite being unlikely to ever be released is an ordained minister. Even serial killer Ted Bundy claimed a dramatic conversion on his way to the electric chair.

But as his appointment with death loomed, Australians became familiar with the stories of Chan, (along with fellow convicted drug trafficker Myuran Sukumaran), having become a model prisoner and an inspiration to other inmates to clean up their acts and get involved in meaningful pursuits rather than waste away.

And while myriad voices, from politicians to celebrities of various stripes have “stood for mercy” and begged for forgiveness, others have resolutely focused on the victims of the drug trade and the many lives that stood to suffer irreparable damage had the infamous shipment of heroin made it through customs in Australia a decade ago. These people are finding it hard to feel much sympathy for the condemned pair, believing Chan and Sukumaran’s perilous journey was utterly selfish. They knew the risks and simply had to accept the punishment.

Chan certainly faced up to his crime and accepted that he was profoundly in the wrong when he embarked on that ill-advised venture as a 21-year-old. The Christian faith that he claimed as his own has never been about a gathering of the “good people”, rather it is more like the “league of the guilty”, as Francis Spufford called it – the solidarity of those who know they need forgiveness and redemption.

Chan considered his former life a waste and of no benefit to anyone, and it was in reading the Bible that he came to see the value of being a blessing to others. Despite his incarceration he interpreted his conversion as being set free from the inside. He is now famous for being such a calming and life-affirming presence among the other prisoners that even the Korobokan prison governor was one of those appealing for a last-minute reprieve.

Close observers have noted how calm and positive the 31-year-old Chan – who married his fiancée on the eve of his execution – remained right to the end. Jeff Hammond was for four years a spiritual counsellor and pastor to Chan. After visiting him for the last time Hammond told Fran Kelly at ABC Radio National: “He’s got a peace within his own heart … his hope whether he lives or whether he dies [is] that the fruit that he’s been able to produce will continue to be a blessing to other people.”

What do we make of this hope that Chan carried with him right up to his death? It’s fair to say that if there is no God and his radically changed life was all the result of some grand illusion then the whole sorry episode does begin to look like a meaningless waste for all involved. More broadly such a lack must mean that there is no hope for ultimate justice or mercy for any of us. And perhaps that’s right and we need to face it. Religion as a crutch is a familiar trope for those who aren’t convinced of its substance.

But if Chan was onto something all those years ago when, in solitary confinement, he first sensed God alongside him as he read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, then he joins many others who have gone to their deaths in similar circumstances, not glad of the fate that awaited them, but hopeful, even confident that through their death they were in fact being ushered into life; that they were in a mysterious but profound sense going home.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer​, the famous German theologian executed by the Nazis for his part in a plot to kill Hitler, died when he was 39 years old and engaged to be married. The Nazis sent him to the gallows at Flossenbürg concentration camp two weeks before it was liberated. As he was led away from his cell he is reported to have said to another prisoner, “This is the end … For me, the beginning of life.” It is the very idea that gave Chan a reason not to utterly despair as he stood to face the dreaded line of rifles pointed cruelly in his direction.

Given the torment and unimaginable stress of recent months when any night a knock on his cell door could signal the end, perhaps he also felt the release of a weight built up over a decade of anguished expectation expressed immortally by Dickens’ Sydney Carton on his way to the gallows in A Tale of Two Cities, “It is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”


Indonesian newspaper pleads for halt to executions

An editorial in the Jakarta Globe as two Australians and eight others await execution..

Do the Right Thing and Show Mercy, President Jokowi

A day that no rational, compassionate human being could ever wish for appears to be at hand: the day that 10 fellow human beings, nine of them foreign nationals, are gunned down in a hail of bullets because the Indonesian government wants to make a barbarous point.

The Attorney General’s Office, which seems to be taking an awful lot of pleasure in organizing the executions, has summoned officials from foreign embassies to the prison island of Nusakambangan on Saturday. The AGO is required to give the inmates 72 hours’ notice about their execution, so it appears that the killings — yes, killings; make no mistake, this is state-sanctioned murder — could take place as soon as Tuesday.

But the AGO has said it will carry out the executions once all the inmates’ appeals have been exhausted. And one of the 10, Indonesian Zainal Abidin, still has an appeal to be heard on Monday.

If, as appears likely, Zainal avoids the firing squad at the last minute, the government will have confirmed what everyone already suspects: that the executions are a stunt — bloody and grotesque — to impress upon the rest of the world the Indonesian government’s disturbingly nationalist bent.

Why persist with a practice as savage as the death penalty when much of the world cries out against it? What can Indonesia gain from this?

It is in the president’s power to end this shameful travesty and grant these individuals clemency. So it is to President Joko Widodo that we beseech mercy for Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso; for Serge Areski Atlaoui; for Myuran Sukumaran; for Andrew Chan; for Rodrigo Gularte; for Raheem Agbaje Salami; for Martin Anderson; for Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise; for Okwudili Oyatanze; and for Zainal Abidin.

We stand for mercy, Mr. President. Will you stand with us?

Nepal earthquake


MORE than 2,000 people are dead after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on Saturday.
WORLD Vision is sending tents, medicine and hygiene packs into Nepal as CEO Tim Costello flies in to assess earthquake damage.
Mr Costello, who was due to fly to Nepal last night, said World Vision has 200 staff, mainly Nepalese, working in the country.
“We’re just hearing that many people’s homes, including many staff homes, have been destroyed and they’re sleeping out,” he told AAP.
“We’re flying in tents, hygiene packs, medicines – the hospitals are overflowing and can’t cope.”
Mr Costello said World Vision’s rapid response teams, which include water and sanitation experts, were being deployed from India and Bangladesh.
“Child protection experts are with them, they’ve gone in,” he said.
“Lots of kids are disoriented, disconnected, sometimes families broken up, you can get predators. So we have child-friendly spaces.”
Mr Costello said the response teams were trained to work in disaster zones.
After helping quake victims with emergency shelter in the immediate aftermath of the quake, World Vision’s assessment team will focus on Gorkha and Lamjung, near the quake epicentre, to assist an estimated 40,000 people.
Mr Costello said the airport wasn’t damaged, so relief flights could land.
He said anyone who wanted to donate could call 13 32 40 or go to the World Vision’s website – worldvision.com.au.

A Hundred Years From Now


When the playing of the bugle sent a shiver down my spine
When I felt a sense of duty and stepped up to join the line
A song was sung, my heart was young, the ship it sailed away
When my mother stood there crying and I had no words to say
When I wore my country’s coat of arms to pledge a solemn vow
I didn’t think they’d honour me a hundred years from now

When I landed in an ambush on that distant foreign shore
When I saw the bullets flying and I heard the canon roar
I turned my head, my friend lay dead, it happened so damn fast
When I made it through the mayhem of that terrifying blast
When I managed to survive that day…still I don’t know how
I didn’t think they’d tell the tale a hundred years from now

When the battle raged forever and adversity was rife
When the courage and the sacrifice were daily facts of life
As darkness fell, it seemed like hell, but mateship got us through
When nothing else made any sense… that’s the flag we flew
When thoughts of home revived my strength and wiped my bloody brow
I didn’t think they’d call me ‘brave’ a hundred years from now

When I felt a chill that morning – when my heart beat like a drum
When the captain gave his orders and I knew the time had come
No glory there, just pure despair, my best is what I gave
When they wrote ‘lest we forget’ upon the headstone of my grave
When, beside my cross, the children of the future stop to bow
My spirit will remain alive a hundred years from now

When the playing of the bugle sends a shiver down your spine
When you realise that your qualities are just the same as mine
From dreamtime land to coastal sand, the city to the sprawl
When the essence of my legacy unites Australians all
When Anzac legend shines a light on all who make that vow
With pride, the world will know their name a hundred years from now

Rupert McCall, OAM

Does music strike a chord with everyone?

STEPHEN McAdams, professor of music research at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, played movie tunes to Mbenzélé pygmies in the Congo rainforest to find out whether music is a universal language.

Here’s a brief interview that has just appeared in New Scientist.

Why do you want to know whether music has the same effect on everyone?

Every culture has music, so if we want to understand humans, we need to understand why music is there and why it is used in different ways. Deciphering what aspects of it are dependent on our basic biology and what aspects are dependent on culture will help us find answers to these questions.

You played movie tunes to Mbenzélé pygmies in the Congo rainforest. Why them?

Their exposure to Western music was nil: they are hunter-gatherers who live in the forest. They rarely go into big cities and they don’t have radios.

You also played the tunes to a group of Canadians. So is music a universal language?

In some ways, yes. Emotional arousal was the same in both groups – a reflection of whether the music was exciting or restful. That was assessed subjectively by the listeners, and objectively by measuring heart rate, breathing and so on. This common response is probably driven by certain acoustic properties, such as tempo.

Why would some elements of music do this?

Arousal is probably linked in evolutionary terms to preparation to deal with a threat or new situation. When music accelerates or suddenly gets shrieky, for example, it seems to cue this alert response – the heart rate rises and so on.

What aspects of the music did not prompt a universal response?

We looked at whether the music evoked happy/joyful or sad/scary feelings, and got a positive/negative rating. We used music from three films: the melancholy theme from Schindler’s List, the scary shower scene from Psycho and the upbeat Cantina scene tune from Star Wars. The Canadians reacted as you might expect. For the pygmies, we got no clear physiological results and subjectively, they found all the music negative.

Why might the Mbenzélé not like the Western music?

All the pygmies’ own music is highly arousing and positive. They feel negative emotions disrupt the harmony of the forest and they depend on the forest and so they want it to be happy.

What is the Mbenzélé’s own music like?

Mostly vocal, with some clapping and beating on log drums, but of a sophistication that is comparable to Western symphonic music, with extraordinary polyphonies and polyrhythms.

Did they have a favourite movie tune?

Music for them is functional – they don’t sit around and consume it. Music accompanies various kinds of activities. I don’t think the idea of having a favourite would make sense to them.

Australian Senator asks regulator to consider revoking Scientology’s registration

AN AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL regulator has been asked to consider revoking the Church of Scientology’s registration as a charity in the wake of a damning documentary about the religion.

The film, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief , based on Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, made shocking allegations about Scientology, including that members were threatened and tortured in prison-like camps, forced to endure hard labour and beaten in ‘The Hole’.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is concerned by allegations in the film and has asked the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to urgently review the church’s registration.

“These allegations included that the Church of Scientology … tortures its members, that it has stolen US Government documents and requires current members to cut all ties with friends and family members,’’ Senator Xenophon said in a letter to the charities commission.

He said he was deeply concerned about the harmful influence the global Church of Scientology could be having on its Australian branches.

Acting Charities and Not-for-profits commissioner David Locke confirmed that the commission had received Senator Xenophon’s letter and would respond directly to him.

The commission has revoked the registration of 10 charities since 2014.

In 2009, Senator Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to reveal allegations from former members that the Church of Scientology had engaged in forced imprisonment, coerced abortions, physical violence and blackmail.

Prominent Scientologist and Hollywood actor John Travolta has rejected claims in the American documentary that he was being held captive by the church which holds a “dirt file’’ on him.

First-Century gospel manuscript


A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel of Mark known to exist — written during the first century— is set to be published.

At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).

The first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.

In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.

The first-century gospel is one of hundreds of new texts that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars is working to uncover, and analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, said Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

“We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters,” Evans told Live Science. The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer.

The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved, the researchers dated the first-century gospel in part by analyzing the other documents found in the same mask.

Scholars who work on the project have to sign a nondisclosure agreement that limits what they can say publicly. There are several reasons for this agreement. One is that some of the owners of these masks simply do not want to be made known, Evans said. “The scholars who are working on this project have to honor the request of the museums, universities, private owners, so forth.”

Evans said that the only reason he can talk about the first-century gospel before it is published is because a member of the team leaked some of the information in 2012. Evans was careful to say that he is not telling Live Science anything about the first-century gospel that hasn’t already been leaked online.

Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can’t say much more about the text’s date until the papyrus is published.

Evans said that the research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.


The future map of religions


Muslims will grow, “nones” will lose market share and Christians will hold steady, according to new projections from the Pew Research Center.

The report predicts Muslims will overtake Christians by 2050.

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth.

All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new projections that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050.


As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

•While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events — war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more — Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070.

•Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent.

Quake reveals day of Jesus’ crucifixion, researchers say

SOME Geologists say Jesus was most likely crucified on Friday, April 3, in the year 33.

The investigation, reported in International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea.

Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36.

The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said.

“The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision,” he said. But the year has been in question.

In terms of textual clues to the date of the crucifixion, Williams quoted a Nature paper authored by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. Williams summarized their work as follows:
•All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV, 44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.
•All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
•All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
•The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan, right before the start of the Passover meal.
•John’s gospel differs from the synoptics, apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.

When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday, April 3, 33, being the best match, according to the researchers.

Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion — darkness.

Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 p.m. after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a duststorm, he believes.

Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the earthquake that took place in the Jerusalem region during the early first century.

Easter is the reason we use the Gregorian calendar

BY the 16th century, scholars had realized that the Roman Empire’s Julian calendar was out of sync with the solar year — and that Easter was falling further away from the spring equinox.

In an effort to close the gap, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar. But because of old religious rivalries, Protestants in Europe were dead set against the change. It wasn’t until 1752 that

England adopted the Gregorian calendar. On that day, the country skipped forward 11 days overnight, going from Wednesday, September 2, to Thursday, September 14. The Gregorian calendar is still the most widely used civil calendar today.

Eastern Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar to calculate religious holidays. As a result, while most of the Western world will celebrate Easter on April 5 this year, Orthodox churches are celebrating on April 12.

Can open, worms everywhere

Days before the body of Jesus went missing from the tomb, Pontius Pilate, a Roman bureaucrat stuck between a rock and a hard place, looked at Jesus standing before him and asked: ”What is truth”.

No answer to the question is recorded, because Jesus probably didn’t give one. He must have thought His life and imminent death were answers enough.

Not that many understood it at the time. Even his disciples were confused. Why did He have to die? Why didn’t he conquer the Romans and establish His kingdom on Earth? Why didn’t He just come to the planet and say, “I love you and if you want, I’ll forgive you and you can live with Me in Heaven when you die.”

It was never going to be that easy. The grace we live in didn’t come cheap.

Jesus claimed without ambiguity that He was the Son of Man. It sounded like blasphemy.

He deliberately set Himself on a collision course with the authorities. He knew it had to end in His execution. He told his disciples that it was the only way.

In the end, he said, he understood his own impending death as a ransom for many. That statement alone made him either crazy or divine. The crowds loved Him. He healed them, taught them . . . loved them. And then he died.

Jesus’ message was simple – the world was in chaos and someone had to pay.

The life and death of Jesus are historical facts. The resurrection is, even to believers, somewhat a matter of faith.
If you’re sure there’s no God and that the laws of the nature are the only things operating in the universe then it is absurd to believe Jesus could have risen from the dead.

The gospel accounts of the resurrection are not particularly poetic. Just the bald statement proclaimed as fact that Jesus had risen.

After the resurrection, we are assured, Jesus’ tomb was empty and he was seen around Jerusalem, sometimes by up to 500 people at a time. People could touch him, he ate food with them, he was not a ghost.
Strangely, after he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others on the same streets; understood by some, but not by others. Some understood his triumph over death and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him.

The possibility that the resurrection actually occurred still shakes the world to its foundations.

This week, millions of people will pack churches, stadiums and homes to claim that something that happened 2000-plus years ago has caused them to be resurrected in their lives, resurrected in their marriages, resurrected in their homes, and resurrected in their communities.

Selling the sacred cow


WHILE India bans the slaughter of cows, its beef exports are growing. What gives?

It’s true that 20, out of 29 states in India now completely ban cow slaughter. But although the population of India is 80 percent Hindu and so largely non-beef eating, India is the second-largest exporter of beef in the world after Brazil.

The 1.89 million metric tons of beef India exported in 2012-2013 were derived largely from herds of the native water buffalo Bubalus bubalis. This beast is beef, according to the United States Department of Agriculture and the global meat industry, but in India it is known as “buff” and doesn’t count as forbidden flesh. The new slaughter ban laws apply only to Indian cows and bulls.

One consequence of the general taboo is that bovine flesh is often one of the cheaper forms of protein around, and a staple for many underprivileged communities

Cattle are still valued as a source of manure and draught power, and are left to reproduce freely at pasture. Restrictions on slaughter mean that herds in India are not culled as in countries with regulated beef industries, contributing to a large surplus of animals, particularly older males.