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Ouria Tadmor/Eilat Mazar

Ouria Tadmor/Eilat Mazar

Archaeologists in Israel made a groundbreaking discovery this week. They say that they have found a seal mark that may bear the signature of the biblical Prophet Isaiah.

The 2,700-year-old stamped clay artifact was found during excavation at the foot of the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It is inscribed with the name Yesha’yah[u] (Isaiah) in ancient Hebrew script.

According to the Bible, Isaiah was a counselor to the Judean king Hezekiah, which would make the find logical.

In ancient times a seal stamp, or bulla, was used to authenticate documents or items.

Dr. Eliat Mazar led the team that found the seal mark linked to the biblical prophet. The artifact was found among undisturbed Iron Age remains outside an ancient royal bakery.

“We found the eight-century B.C.E. seal mark that may have been made by the prophet Isaiah himself only 10 feet away from where we earlier discovered the highly-publicized bulla of King Hezekiah of Judah,” said Mazar in a statement.

The discovery was made as part of the Ophel Excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But due to damage of the inscription, it isn’t possible to positively identify the seal. While the bulla is marked with the Hebrew name of Isaiah, it is followed by “nvy.” In order for “nvy” to spell out “prophet,” it would need to end with Hebrew letter aleph, but the damage makes that unclear.

“The absence of the final letter…requires that we leave open the possibility that it could just be the name Navi,” Mazar said. “The name of Isaiah, however, is clear.”

Isaiah’s close relationship with King Hezekiah is described in the Bible’s Second Book of Kings.

“If it is the case that this bulla is indeed that of the prophet Isaiah, then it should not come as a surprise to discover this bulla next to one bearing King Hezekiah’s name given the symbiotic relationship of the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah described in the Bible,” said Dr. Mazar.

The seal mark is just the last fascinating archeological find in Israel. There have been a number of archaeological breakthroughs this past year.

Earlier this month, for example, experts revealed that they had uncovered a rare multicolored Roman mosaic featuring three toga-wearing figures during excavations in the ancient city of Caesarea.

In January, archeologists announced the discovery of a large 1,500-year-old pool and elaborate fountain at the site of an ancient church near Jerusalem.

Last November, new evidence dated Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Roman era, matching historical records.

Archeologists also uncovered a stunning 1,500-year-old Christian mosaic in the ancient Mediterranean coastal city of Ashdod-Yam, now part of the modern city of Ashdod.

Other finds include the skeleton of a pregnant woman, dating back 3,200 years, in Israel’s Timna Valley, at a place once called King Solomon’s Mines. In October 2017, archaeologists in Jerusalem announced that they have uncovered a new section of the Western Wall that had been hidden for 1,700 years. Also in 2017, an ancient Greek inscription was found on a 1,500-year-old mosaic floor near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Mazar’s article about the seal has been published in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

AR15_A3_Tactical_Carbine_pic1Two weeks after a deadly school shooting at a Florida high school took the lives of 17 people, the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Pennsylvania is holding a ceremony blessing couples that own an AR-15 assault rifle. This already controversial event is made even more divisive by the fact that the shooter in Florida used an AR-15 rifle. The ceremony is also being held a mere half a mile away from Wallenpaupack South Elementary School. Local parents, already on high alert after the Florida school shooting, have said that they do not feel it is safe to have an event with so many powerful weapons so close to an elementary school. “I would consider keeping my child home,” said local parent, Liz Zoccola. “It’s scary.”

Kendra Hanor, another parent, agreed. “I wish they wouldn’t have it at all. I don’t think there’s a good time to have it, especially this close.”

Church leaders, however, intend to go forward with the ceremony. The blessing ceremony was planned before the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, and church leaders say they are taking precautions.  “All of the weapons in the ceremony will be checked to make sure they are unloaded, with a zip tie so that no bullets can be inserted,” said Richard Panzer, the president of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary.  “We are inviting local and state police to be on the premises, so that everything goes safely.”

The Pennsylvania ceremony is meant to focus on each couple’s commitment to defend their home and the coming kingdom of Cheon Il Guk, the kingdom of God referenced in Revelation. Hyung Jin Moon, one of the church leaders, believes that guns are the “rod of iron” described in the book of Revelation. Those coming to the ceremony will take a pledge of defense and have been told to bring an AR-15 or “equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle, representing both the intent and the ability to defend one’s family, community…” Couples who wish to participate but do not own a gun were told to bring a $700 gift certificate to show that they plan to buy one.

“These actions to participate with crowns and a rod of iron/gift certificate are signs of attendance, sovereignty and vigilance to protect God’s coming nation of Cheon Il Guk,” the church said. “They are also a foundation of faith and substance to unite with the Second King [Hyung Jin Moon] who is advancing God’s providence at this time.”

The ceremony has made headlines across the country in the wake of the Florida school shooting. As the debate over gun control heats up, the blessing ceremony has the potential to become a lightning rod. Either way, it is unlikely to simply fade into the background given the current climate.

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Jim Bakker is making headlines again three years after his “Praise the Lord” (PTL) empire near Charlotte collapsed amid financial corruption and sexual scandal. Now, instead of rebuilding his 2,300 acre Christian theme park and resort, Heritage USA, Bakker is selling supplies for the coming apocalypse. “We are in the final days,” Bakker says.

While Bakker claims that he has abandoned his previous lifestyle in favor of coming to a truer understanding of Christ, plenty of people remember that his theme park and TV show funded an opulent lifestyle filled with vacation homes, expensive cars and an air-conditioned doghouse. There are questions about whether Bakker truly repented after serving five years in prison for fraud or if he is merely capitalizing on 21st century fears such as terrorism and climate change. His new TV show, “The Jim Bakker Show,” certainly works hard to sell fuel-less generators, doomsday guidebooks and freeze-dried food with a shelf life of up to 30 years. Bakker, however, insists that the twin disasters of Hurricane Harvey and Maria and concerns of nuclear war with North Korea are signs that the end times are on the horizon, and that Christians ignore the warnings at their own risk. “One day,” Bakker says, “you’re going to shake your fist in God’s face and you’re going to say, ‘God, why didn’t you warn me?’ He’s going to say, ‘You sat there and you made fun of Jim Bakker all those years. I warned you. But you didn’t listen.’ ”

Some people believe that Bakker really has turned over a new leaf. “Jim lost everything, and then he came back,” says Bakker’s brother-in-law Mark Graham. “All he wants to do is get the message of salvation out there. And keep people alive.” Graham further claims that Bakker has disowned the Prosperity Gospel, the idea that God rewards faith with blessings such as wealth. Others, however, are skeptical. John Wigger, a professor of history at the University of Missouri and author of “PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire,” claims that Bakker is simply tapping into new opportunities to make money. “The Prosperity Gospel, with all its glitz and money, fit the culture of the 1980s and Jim found that was a very successful component of his message,” Wigger says. “In this post-9/11 era, he’s found that the Apocalypse and survivalism make for a very compelling message that will also gain him an audience.”

Whether or not the Bakkers are once again getting rich off their TV show is difficult to say. There are no Nielsen ratings for Christian television and because Morningside, Bakker’s ministry and broadcast station, is registered as a church, it does not have to file financial information with the IRS. Unlike most faith-based organizations, Bakker’s ministry also refuses to post financial details on their website. Bakker and Graham insist that they have “nothing to hide…We’re transparent with the IRS and the government,” Graham says. “Our partners trust that their money is going to be used for what they designated it for.” Charles Shepard, the former investigative report who anchored the Observer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the fall of PTL, believes that Bakker is up to his old tricks. “If he were someone who had really seen the light,” Shepard says, “he would be forthcoming about…revenues and his compensation.”

Whether Bakker really has turned over a new leaf or is capitalizing on current tensions is currently unclear. Only time will tell where he really stands and if his dire predictions of a rapidly approaching Armageddon come true.

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On MSNBC’s “Hugh Hewitt” last Saturday, well-known Harvard professor Steven Pinker asked where was God during the massacre that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida.

Pinker was on the show to discuss his new book, Enlightenment Now. When defending his book, he stated: “It is not against religion. It is certainly against the belief that God interferes with the laws of the universe and that by praying to him we can make the world better. I think that is a dangerous belief because it’s not true. If we want to make the world better, we have to figure out how to do it ourselves. If we want to cure disease, we have to come up with antibiotics and vaccines and not prayer. If we want to stave off global warming, we can’t assume God won’t let bad things happen.”

Pinker continued and discussed the Florida shooting, which he stated “Cast doubt on the idea that there is a benevolent shepherd who looks out for human welfare. What was the benevolent shepherd doing while the teenager was massacring his classmates?”

He added, “If you’re counting on God to make the world a better place you are probably going to make the world a worse place because he is not listening and we saw that yesterday.”

Christians everywhere were offended by Pinker’s comments, and disagreed with his analysis. Many spoke up saying that we should not be blaming God for the work of Satan. Others cited that God has been readily pushed out of society, for example no prayers in schools, and therefore we are suffering from the consequences of these actions.

Why God allows suffering is a hot topic that has been debated in Christian circles since the beginning of the religion. Pastors understand that after tragedy, they have to find a way to properly address doubts felt by their congregations.

Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of The Humanitarian Disaster Institute, stated:”People will be turning to Christian leaders for guidance in the aftermath of the senseless violence that happened yesterday…One of the biggest challenges pastors will face is the pressure to explain why someone would do something like this. Yet, no answer will take away the pain and heartache. What will be most helpful to those struggling is to meet them in their suffering by creating space for lament, providing comfort, encouraging community, and reminding others of the hope we have in Christ.”

One way that Christians can come together during tragedies is through volunteer efforts. Despite many that criticize the Christian faith, there are still organizations that mobilize after tragedies of this stature. Chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association arrived in Flordia within hours of the shooting and are trained to provide emotional and spiritual support amid crises. The team partnered up with Parkridge Church to host a vigil for the victims.

Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, said in a statement “So many lives have been forever changed by this evil act. As we pray for the students, faculty, and families, we know God can bring hope and comfort, in Jesus Christ, in the darkest hours.”

These statements are very different from Pinker’s claims, and these organizations believe we should focus on God after tragedy’s like this. Scripture promises that God never leaves us, and that evil is going to be a part of our world due to incredible sin.

“He’s the only hope we have. He’s the only thing that provides a future. He’s the only one who can bring peace where there is nothing but lostness and struggle and anger and fury and confusion…We just want to see Christ in the forefront of all of this,” Pastor Eddie Bevill of Parkridge Church stated in an interview.