ISIS Desecrates Saint’s Remains, Bulldozes Monastery–Priest Still Missing

marelian0In 284 St. Elian, a physician, refused to renounce Christianity and was killed by his father. The site of his death in Homs, Syria soon became a locus of miracles and devotion, and a Church was was raised there in the late 5th century. A stone sarcophagus was built in side chapel to house his remains. A monastery grew at the location.

Some time this month, all of that history and devotion was ground into dust by barbarians. ISIS has released photos (and possibly a video, though I haven’t been able to find it) that show them destroying the site. They allegedly smashed their way into St. Elian’s tomb, then brought in heavy machinery to do the rest.

There are pictures circulating showing uncovered bones. Some are saying these are the bones of St. Elian, but I don’t think they are. It’s unclear at this moment what became of St. Elian’s remains, but from the reports I’m reading it appears that the entire site was bulldozed. That would include the tomb, the church, the remains, and the frescos uncovered during restorations:


Some videos online claim to show the destruction, but they appear to show a different site. Right now, it’s all very sketchy, with only a few pictures in ISIS Twitter accounts and scattered reports. The media is filling in the scant details with a lot of speculation, so I’ve tried to sift it all as well as possible.

Worse than the loss to history is the human loss: Father Jacques Mouraud was kidnapped in the area on May 21st and is still missing. Fr. Mourad was the abbot of St. Elian, and had been working since 1991 to rebuild and restore the site.

Revelation of the destruction follows news earlier this week of the torture and beheading of leading Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad. al-Asaad had worked excavating and preserving the site of Palmyra for 40 years, and some called him the Howard Carter of Syria. Reports vary as to whether the 82-year-old was killed for collaboration and idolatry (including appearances at archaeology conferences with infidels), or because he refused to disclose the location of treasure, which ISIS imagined he was hiding somewhere in the ruins.  al-Asaad had made important discoveries at the ancient site, and was an expert in Aramaic. Please pray for the repose of his soul.

Crypto-Catholics At Jamestown?

The archaeology feeds have been buzzing with news of a discovery at a dig in Jamestown, Virginia. The graves of four people are being excavated, among them prominent leader Captain Jeffrey Archer, one of the leading  opponents of Captain John Smith. This was found with Archer’s coffin (in situ):


Here it is cleaned up:


Inside they found fragments of bones (obviously relics) and a holy water ampulla. This is a 3D recreation of the inside.


It’s a reliquary.

Archer was an important leader who was there from the beginning until his death in the harsh winter of 1609/10, when he was given a respectful burial at a time when other settlers may have been reduced to cannibalism.

Jamestown was a Protestant colony, and at the time it was founded Catholic recusants, such as Archer’s father, were being persecuted back home in England. Bringing the scourge of popery to the first permanent English colony in the new world would have been extremely unusual. James Fort was founded only two years after the Gunpowder Plot and the Papal Recusants Act requiring Catholic to take the Oath of Allegiance denying papal authority over the king.  James I may not have been a monster like Elizabeth I, but he hardly would have wanted to plant Catholics in a new world that he was trying to seize from the Spanish. Catholics were never to be trusted.

But now we know that Catholics were at Jamestown. The recent excavations have uncovered rosary beads, a crucifix, and holy medals. Remember that the Reformation in England was not driven by a groundswell of popular belief, but imposed by a tyrant on a population that was fiercely Catholic. Remnants of Catholicism went underground.

And some, it appears, made their way to the new world.


Burnt Biblical Scroll Deciphered by Digital Technology

A burnt scroll discovered inside in the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel can finally be read thanks to new technology. At first considered a lost cause because it was both wrapped and burnt, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales were able to digitally “unwrap” it to reveal the oldest lines of Leviticus (Lev 1:1-8) discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The combination of high-resolution scanning and the team’s “unwrapping” software made the discovery possible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 at an excavation of Ein Gedi, and is dated to the 6th century AD.

The research team at UK produced the flattened, readable text from the micro-computed tomography of the Ein Gedi scroll via the following successive stages:

1. Volume preparation

The data scan from the micro-CT machine is processed in order to enhance the ability to see the structures in the scan: the surface of the material, and the ink that is written on that material.

2. Surface segmentation

The data scan is carefully partitioned into the surfaces on which there is writing.  This partitioning is automatic and uses computer algorithms that are being developed through research. The result is a 3-D surface that is positioned exactly in the data volume where there is evidence of surfaces and writing.  Because the surfaces are rolled up layers within the scroll, they are shaped like tightly coiled sheets of paper.

3. User guidance

The user revises and improves the surface estimates that were made automatically by the surface segmentation step. The user is guided by views of the data scan and a draft view of how the surface appears in the scan.

4. Texture rendering

The completed surface is rendered as a high quality 3-D surface with the texture (markings, structure and ink evidence) from its precise position in the original data scan. The rendering step also produces a flattened version of the 3-D surface texture. This unwraps the potentially curvy and coiled 3-D surface so that it is a single flat page.

This video explains the process using the tasty medium of pastry.

ISIS Is Destroying Ancient Palmyra

This is the Lion of Al-Lat:


It stood at the entrance the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, and dated to the First or Second Century. It was a product of the great Palmyran civilization, which had a brief but prosperous glory while the Roman Empire was beginning its decline. It was built in honor of  Al-Lat, a pre-Islamic goddess.

It no longer exists.

ISIS has taken over Palmyra, which has a rich cultural heritage, and begun a systematic destruction of all “idols.” Eyewitnesses have described the destruction of the lion with construction equipment, as well as the smashing of cultural treasures in the museum.

The ISIS forces have promised locals that they will not destroy mere ruins, only “idols.” No one believes them.

The Great Colonnade, Palmyra

The Great Colonnade, Palmyra

Lead Coffin Found Near Richard III Is Opened

This is a neat video from the University of Leicester about a curious double coffin found during the excavation of the remains of Richard III. Near the end of the original excavation, they found a lead coffin inside a stone sarcophagus, which were buried perhaps 100 years before Richard. The remains may belong to a woman named Emma, wife of John of Holt:

In September of that year, 1290, the Bishop of Lincoln issued an indulgence granting 20-days off Purgatory for anyone who would say ‘a Pater and a Ave for the soul of Emma, wife of John of Holt, whose body is buried in the Franciscan church in Leicester’. However, little is known about her, including what she looked like, her age at death or where in the friary church she was buried.

Bonus for Doctor Who fans: check out the t-shirt on the archaeologist.


ISIS Blows Up Ancient Wall of Nineveh

"Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance" by Fredarch -- Wikimedia Commons

Before the destruction: “Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance” by Fredarch — Wikimedia Commons

A part of Nineveh’s great wall was dynamited by ISIS militants, according to One of Mosul’s most distinctive ancient structures, the wall dates to the 8th century BC.

According to a local historian, militants

destroyed on Tuesday night much of the historic city wall located on Tahrir neighborhood on the left coast of Mosul….  Using a great amount of explosives, ‘Takfirists’ (Sunni Islamic terrorists) blew pieces of the wall considered the most important historical monument of the Iraqi province and the whole region.

Destruction of ancient monuments is common for ISIS, since some represent pre-Islamic identity while others are considered “idolatry.” They also loot museums wherever they go, but their delicate Islamic sensibilities don’t extend to the destruction of valuable portable artifacts, which are sold on the black market to fun their war machine.

The destruction of the wall calls to mind the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.

United by Cruelty: Carthage and America

Ancient tales tell of how Carthaginians sacrificed their own children to obtain favors from the gods. Historians dismissed these accounts as mere propaganda, but recent interpretations of the archaeological record suggest the stories were true.

As the archaeologists and historians relate their theories in this story from the Guardian, it’s clear that none of them makes the connection between children killed to bring parents good fortune, and the ongoing industrial scale slaughter of children in the modern world.

“…when you pull together all the evidence – archaeological, epigraphic and literary – it is overwhelming and, we believe, conclusive: they did kill their children, and on the evidence of the inscriptions, not just as an offering for future favours but fulfilling a promise that had already been made.

“The inscriptions are unequivocal: time and again we find the explanation that the gods ‘heard my voice and blessed me’. It cannot be that so many children conveniently happened to die at just the right time to become an offering – and in any case a poorly or dead child would make a pretty feeble offering if you’re already worried about the gods rejecting it.”

Thus far the hard evidence suggests these sacrifices were limited to perhaps a couple dozen a year, and were offered for good fortune. Period accounts, however, suggests a larger scale of sacrifice.

As people gather in DC today for the March for Life (the largest annual protest, and the least covered), our body count puts the Carthaginians to shame.

Here in America, the slaughter of our children enters its fourth decade with over 50 million dead, sacrificed not on an altar to the gods for good fortune, but on the altar of convenience to maintain our disposable culture of death.

Thus, when one of the researchers says this…

“The feeling that some ultimate taboo is being broken is very strong. It was striking how often colleagues, when they asked what I was working on, reacted in horror and said, ‘Oh no, that’s simply not possible, you must have got it wrong.'”

“We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t.”

… you have to marvel at the blindness. What the hell are we doing every day if not sacrificing our children? I can drive five miles to a place where women are offering their unborn children up for murder at the hands of strangers. That’s what abortion is: the murder of a helpless innocent to “improve” the life of the parent. It’s not that we’re that different from the Carthaginians, it’s that we are far, far worse.

Carthago delenda est was the way Cato the Elder ended his speeches: “Carthage must be destroyed.” Now we have a hundred Carthages spread across the world, each proclaiming the right to mutilate women and kill unborn children. What else is it if not a sacrifice to our own modern gods: convenience, money, abundant consequence-free sex, and selfishness?

Carthage? When it comes to evil, they were amateurs.

Originally published 1 year ago today.

Dig Quest: A Biblical Archaeology App for Kids

Dig Quest (iOS: free) is a light but entertaining educational app that gives kids a chance to explore Biblical archaeology by solving puzzles. Produced by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the app offers two sites to explore: Lod (location of an elaborate mosaic) and Qumran (of Dead Scrolls fame). 2014-11-23 15.27.45

In Lod, you brush away dirt to reveal the mosaic, and then play a timed visual quiz. At Qumran, you open jars and piece together Dead Sea scrolls like a jigsaw puzzle. Success unlocks artifacts with art and information. There are over thirty levels with fifty images of various antiquities, as wall as spoken excerpts from the Dead Sea scrolls.

The gameplay isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off, but the process of uncovering and piecing together objects and texts and learning more about them should keep kids engaged and playing long enough to slip across some good educational content about ancient Israel.

This is an easy recommendation for parents and particularly home schoolers. The app is free, and IAA is planning to add content in the future.

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