Monday, July 31, 2006


The Tower of DavidJerusalem has long been embedded into the religious consciousness of the Jewish people. Jews have always studied and personalized the struggle by King David to capture Jerusalem and his desire to build the Jewish temple there, as described in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Psalms. Many of King David's yearnings about Jerusalem have been adapted into popular prayers and songs.

Two major Jewish festivals observed by most Jews conclude with the words: "Next Year in Jerusalem" ("l'shanah haba'ah birushalayim") or "Next Year in the Rebuilt Jerusalem" ("l'shanah haba'ah birushalayim hab'nuyah") .


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Julius Caesar

Julius CaesarGaius Julius Caesar (July 12, 100 BC – March 15, 44 BC) was a Roman military and political leader. He played an important part in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His conquest of Gaul extended the Roman world all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, with the first Roman invasion of Britannia in 55 BC. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses of all time, as well as a brilliant politician and one of the ancient world's strongest leaders. In 42 BC, two years after his death, the Roman Senate officially proclaimed him as one of the Roman gods.

Caesar fought in a civil war which left him undisputed master of the Roman world, and began extensive reforms of Roman society and government. He was proclaimed dictator for life, and he heavily centralized the government of the Republic. Caesar's friend Marcus Brutus conspired with others to assassinate Caesar, to restore the Republic and because they were afraid that Julius might try to make himself a king. This dramatic assassination on the Ides of March (March 15th) in 44 BC sparked a new civil war between the Caesarians, including Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus, and the Republicans, including Brutus, Cassius, Cicero and the sons of many men who were killed by Caesar in the civil war.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sodom and Gomorrah

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1832.In the Bible, Sodom (סְדוֹם) and Gomorrah (עֲמוֹרָה) were two cities destroyed by God for their sins. In Hebrew, Sodom means Burnt and Gomorrah means A Ruined Heap. Respectively, these names seem to have been given after the disaster, and were not their original names.

The story of Sodom has given rise to words in several languages, including English: the word "sodomy", meaning acts (stigmatized as "unnatural vice") such as homosexuality, anal sex, and the word "sodomite", meaning one who practices such acts. For the unnatural sins of their inhabitants Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim were destroyed by "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Genesis 13:13; 18:20; 19:24, 29; Hosea 11:8). Since then, their names are synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God's just wrath (Deuteronomy 29:23; 32:32; Isaiah 1:10 sqq.; Ezekiel 16:49; Matthew 11:23 sq.; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7). The Septuagint's Greek rendering katestrephe (Genesis 19:25) probably led to the opinion that the destruction of Sodom was accompanied by great upheavals of the earth, and even to the formation of the Dead Sea.


Abrahamic religion

map showing the prevalence of ‘Abrahamic‘ (purple) and ‘Dharmic‘ (yellow) religions in each countryIn the study of comparative religion, an Abrahamic religion is any of those religions deriving from a common ancient Semitic tradition and traced by their adherents to Abraham ("Father/Leader of many" Hebrew אַבְרָהָם Arabic ابراهيم), a patriarch whose life is narrated in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and as a prophet in the Qur'an. This forms a large group of related, largely monotheistic religions, generally held to include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá'í Faith (based upon Islam), and comprises about half of the world's religious adherents.

According to the Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first person to reject idolatry, hence he symbolically appears as the founder of monotheistic religions. In that sense, Abrahamic religion could be simply equated with monotheistic religion, but not all monotheistic religions are Abrahamic. In Islam he is considered as the first monotheist and is often refered to as Ibrahim al-Hanif or Abraham the Monotheist.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Possible Exodus RoutesThe book of Exodus is the second book of the Torah (the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;) and also the Tanakh (the Hebrew bible), and Christian old testament. The major events of the book concern the exodus, a departure of Hebrew slaves from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses. Jews call the book by its first words ve-eleh shemoth (i.e., "and these are the names") or simply "shemoth" שמות. The septuagint designates the second book of the Pentateuch as "exodus", meaning "departure" or "out-going". The latin translation adopted the name, which thence passed into other languages. As a result of the theme of the first half of the book, the term "an exodus" has come to mean a departure of a great number of people.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dead Sea Scrolls

Cyperus papyrus, Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt StueberThe Dead Sea Scrolls comprise roughly 600 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea). The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they are practically the only remaining Biblical documents dating from before AD 100.

According to carbon dating and textual analysis, the documents were written at various times between the middle of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. At least one document has a carbon date range of 21 BC–AD 61. The Nash Papyrus from Egypt, containing a copy of the Ten Commandments, is the only other Hebrew document of comparable antiquity. Similar written materials have been recovered from nearby sites, including the fortress of Masada. While some of the scrolls were written on papyrus, a good portion were written on a brownish animal skin (hide) that appears to be gevil.

The fragments span at least 800 texts that represent many diverse viewpoints, ranging from the beliefs of the Essenes to those of other sects. About 30% are fragments from the Hebrew Bible, from all the books except the Book of Esther.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Paul of Tarsus

Portrait of St. Paul by RembrandtSaul, also known as Paul, Paulus, and Saint Paul the Apostle, (AD 3—67) is widely considered to be central to the early development and spread of Christianity, particularly westward from Judea. Many Christians view him as an important interpreter of the teachings of Jesus. Paul is described in the New Testament as a Hellenized Jew and Roman citizen from Tarsus (present-day Turkey), and as a persistent persecutor of early Christians, almost all of whom were Jewish, prior to his "Road to Damascus" experience, which brought about his conversion to faith in Jesus as Messiah, not only for Jews, but for all, regardless of ethnic background. Paul made the first great effort, through his Epistles to Gentile Christian communities, to show that the God of Abraham is for all people, rather than for Jews only, though he did not originate the idea, for example see Isaiah 56:6-8 or proselyte or Great Commission, or Simon Peter's vision of the sheet descending from Heaven in Acts 10:9-23a.

Paul is venerated as a Saint by all the churches that honor saints, including those of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, and some Lutheran sects. He is the 'patron saint' of the City of London and has also had several cities named in his honor, including Sao Paulo, Brazil and Saint Paul, Minnesota in the United States. He did much to advance Christianity among the Gentiles, and is considered to be one source (if not the primary source) of early Church doctrine, and the founder of Pauline Christianity. His epistles form a fundamental section of the New Testament. Some argue that he was instrumental in establishing Christianity as a distinct religion, rather than a sect of Judaism, as Christianity was first known.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

History of South Africa

Bartolomeu Dias rounding the Cape of Good HopeThe written history of South Africa begins with the arrival of the first European explorers to the region. The Portuguese, the first Europeans to see South Africa, chose not to colonise it, and instead the Dutch set up a supply depot on the Cape of Good Hope. This depot rapidly developed into the Cape Colony. The British seized the Cape Colony from the Dutch in the end of the 18th century, and the Cape Colony became a British colony. The ever-expanding number of European settlers prompted fights with the natives over the rights to land and farming, which caused numerous fatalities on both sides. Hostilities also emerged between the Dutch and the British, and many Dutch people trekked into the central Highveld in order to establish their own colonies. The Dutch (by then known as Boers) and the British went to war twice in the Anglo-Boer Wars, which ended in the defeat of the Boers and of their independent republics.

The Cape Colony, Natal and the two Boer republics unified in 1910 as the Union of South Africa. Black people were not granted suffrage in the Boer republics, and the rights of Black, Coloured, and Asian people continued to erode in the Union.


Friday, July 21, 2006


Pierre Le Gros, Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred, 1695-99 RomeHeresy, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is a "theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the 'Catholic' or Orthodox doctrine of the Christian church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox. by extension, [heresy is an] opinion or doctrine in philosophy, politics, science, art, etc., at variance with those generally accepted as authoritative." Urgent concerns with the uniformity of belief and practice have characterized Christianity from the outset.

The process of establishing orthodox Christianity was set in full swing when Paul wrote the epistles that comprise a large part of the New Testament.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Geography of Israel

Satellite image of Israel Jan 2003Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.

It is bounded on the north by Lebanon, on the northeast by Syria, on the east and southeast by Jordan, on the southwest by Egypt, and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea.

Before June 1967, the area composing Israel (resulting from the armistice lines of 1949 and 1950) was about 20,700 square kilometers (8,000 mi²), which included 445 square kilometers (172 mi²) of inland water. Thus Israel was roughly the size of the state of New Jersey, stretching 424 kilometers (263 mi) from north to south. Its width ranged from 114 kilometers (71 mi) to, at its narrowest point, 10 kilometers (6.2 mi).

After the June 1967 War, Israel occupied territories totaling an additional 7,099 square kilometers (2,743 mi²). These territories include the West Bank, 5,879 square kilometers (2,270 mi²); East Jerusalem (annexed, according Israeli law), 70 km² (27 mi²); and the Golan Heights (de facto annexation), 1,150 km² (444 mi²).


Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, with around 14 million followers (as of 2005). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions such as Samaritanism (see Samaritan), Christianity, and Islam.

Judaism has seldom, if ever, been monolithic in practice, and has not had any centralized authority or binding dogma. Despite this, Judaism in all its variations has remained tightly bound to a number of religious principles, the most important of which is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, transcendent God, who created the universe and continues to be involved in its governance. According to Jewish thought, the God who created the world established a covenant with the Jewish people, and revealed his laws and commandments to them in the form of the Torah. The practice of Judaism is devoted to the study and observance of these laws and commandments, as they are interpreted according to the Tanakh, Halakha, responsa and rabbinic literature.


Monday, July 17, 2006


The Israeli flag is rooted in Jewish tradition. The white background symbolizes purity. The symbols on the flag are two stripes—one on the top and one on the bottom—and the Star of David emblem adorning the centerThe name "Israel" is rooted in the Hebrew bible, the Tanakh, where Jacob is renamed Israel after wrestling with a mysterious adversary ("a man", and later "God" according to Gen. 32:24-30; or "the angel", according to Hosea 12:4). Israel means "he who has wrestled with God." The Jews, the nation fathered by Jacob, were then called "the children of Israel" or the "Israelites."

The Israeli flag is rooted in Jewish tradition. The white background symbolizes purity. The symbols on the flag are two stripes—one on the top and one on the bottom—and the Star of David emblem adorning the center.

The stripes and blue color are inspired by the tallit (a jewish prayer shawl, used mainly in the shachrit (morning) and musaf (additional prayers, on a holiday or the Sabbath).


Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great fighting Persian king Darius III (not in frame) Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, from a 3rd century BC original Greek painting, now lostAlexander the Great (in Greek Μέγας Αλέξανδρος, transliterated Megas Alexandros) (Alexander III of Macedon) was born in Pella, Macedon, in July, 356 BC, died in Babylon, on June 10, 323 BC, King of Macedon 336–323 BC, is considered one of the most successful military commanders in world history (if not the greatest), conquering most of the known world before his death. Alexander is also known in the Zoroastrian Middle Persian work Ars "the accursed Alexander" due to his conquest of the Persian Empire and the destruction of its capital Persepolis.

He is also known in Middle Eastern traditions as Dhul-Qarnayn in Arabic and Dul-Qarnayim in Hebrew and Aramaic (the two-horned one), apparently due to an image on coins minted during his rule that seemingly depicted him with the two ram's horns of the Egyptian god Ammon. He is known as Sikandar in Hindi; in fact in India, the term Sikandar is used as a synonym for "expert" or "extremely skilled"; in the Malay Language he is known as Iskandar Zulkarnain.


Friday, July 14, 2006

History of Ancient Israel

The Wailing WallThe Semitic culture followed on from the Ghassulians. People became urbanized and lived in city-states, one of which was Jericho. The area's location at the center of routes linking three continents made it the meeting place for religious and cultural influences from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. It was also the natural battleground for the great powers of the region and subject to domination by adjacent empires, beginning with Egypt in the late 3rd millennium BCE.

Traditions regarding the early history found in later works such as the Kebra Nagast and commentaries of Rashi, Philo, and numerous others, (besides of course, the Tanakh) refer to the early inhabitants as the sons of Shem and also speak of an invasion by the people known as Canaanites (see Canaan) descended from Ham.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

the Wailing Wall

The Wailing WallThe Western Wall (Hebrew: הכותל המערבי, HaKotel HaMa'aravi), or simply The Kotel, is a retaining wall from the time of the Jewish Second Temple of Jerusalem (see also Temple of Herod). It is sometimes referred to as the Wailing Wall, or as the al-Buraq Wall, in a mix of English and Arabic. The Temple was the most sacred building in Judaism. Herod the Great built vast retaining walls around Mount Moriah, expanding the small, quasi-natural plateau on which the First and Second Temples stood into the wide open spaces of the Temple Mount seen today.

In recent centuries, Jews were allowed little or no access to the site, such as when Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) ruled over it for 400 years (1515-1917), followed by the British Mandate of Palestine (1917-1948) and the Jordanian rule of Jerusalem (1948-1967). Only when the Israel Defense Forces won a victory in the 1967 Six Day War were Jews finally able to gain free access to the site.



Map of Canaan
Canaan (Arabic کنعان, Hebrew כְּנַעַן, Septuagint Greek Χανααν) is an ancient term for a region roughly corresponding to present-day Israel/Palestine including the West Bank, Western Jordan, southern and coastal Syria and Lebanon continuing up until the border of modern Turkey.

Various Canaanite sites have been excavated by archaeologists, most notably the Canaanite town of Ugarit, which was rediscovered in 1928. Much of our modern knowledge about the Canaanites stems from excavation in this area.

In linguistic terms, Canaanite refers to the common ancestor of closely related semitic languages including Hebrew, and Ugaritic, and was the first language to use a semitic alphabet, from which the others derived their scripts; see Canaanite languages.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lee Strobel

Former atheist and Christian Apologist Lee StrobelLee Strobel, a former legal editor for the Chicago Tribune, is a Christian apologist and former teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He is best known for writing the semi-autobiographical bestsellers The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator. Strobel also hosted a television program called Faith Under Fire on PAX TV. His daughter, Alison, is also a Christian writer.

Strobel earned a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale Law School. A journalist for fourteen years, he was awarded Illinois' highest honors from United Press International for both investigative reporting (shared with a team he led at the Chicago Tribune) and for public service journalism.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas [Thomas of Aquin, or Aquino] (c. 1225 – 7 March 1274) was an Italian Catholic philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis. He is the most famous classical proponent of natural theology. He gave birth to the Thomistic school of philosophy, which was long the primary philosophical approach of the Catholic Church. He is considered by the Catholic Church to be its greatest theologian and one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. There have been many institutions of learning named after him.

The life of Thomas Aquinas offers many interesting insights into the world of the High Middle Ages. He was born into a family of the south Italian nobility and was through his mother, Countess Theadora of Theate, related to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Holy Roman emperors.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Mount Sinai

Photo from the summit of Mount Sinai, taken by Ian Sewell in December 2004Mount Sinai, also known as "Gebel Musa" or "Jabal Musa" by the Bedouins, is the name of a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula. It is 2,285 metres high and is located in a mountain range in the southern part of the peninsula. It is near a protruding lower bluff known as the Ras Sasafeh (Sufsafeh), and rises almost perpendicularly from the plain.

To some scholars it is the same as the Biblical Mount Sinai, though this is not agreed upon.

The name Sinai comes probably from the Moon God Sin, similar to the Desert of Sin. Judaism teaches that as soon as the Jewish people received the Bible at Mt. Sinai, they would be hated by the rest of the world for having been the ones to receive divine word (a state of affairs presented as a pun: Sinai as Seen-ah, which means hatred).


Thursday, July 06, 2006

William Whiston

William Whiston (December 9, 1667 - August 22, 1752), English divine and mathematician, was born at Norton in Leicestershire, of which village his father was rector. He is probably best known for his translation of the Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, his A New Theory of the Earth, and his Arianism.

He was educated privately, partly on account of the delicacy of his health, and partly that he might act as amanuensis to his father, who had lost his sight. After his father's death, he entered at Clare College, Cambridge, where he applied himself to mathematical study, and obtained a fellowship in 1693. He next became chaplain to John Moore (1646-1714), the learned bishop of Ely, from whom he received the living of Lowestoft in 1698.




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