Category Archives: Modern Middle East

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

As usual, the airwaves and cable connections were filled with stories about Christmas in Bethlehem.  ”

In birthplace of Jesus, Christian population has dropped from 86% to 12% in the past 60 years, following trend across Middle East, except in Israel.
The Times of Israel

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Manger Square summer 2009. Note the “Peace Center” on the right (north) side of the image and the minaret of the Mosque on the west that towers over the square

Different people explain this phenomenon differently—not only for Bethlehem but for the whole Middle East and North Africa:

  1. Oppression from the Muslim majority.
  2. Oppression from the Israeli “occupation” [today, Bethlehem is under total Palestinian control]
  3. Christians have the economic means to emigrate.
  4. Some young adult Christians emigrate for better living conditions.
  5. Christians more easily integrate into western civilization.

The Times of Israel has a very interesting article entitled: “Christians worry ‘Silent Night’ may soon refer to their community in Bethlehem.”

  The article presents the statistical evidence of this phenomenon and cites a number of sources that offer explanations as to why this is: including quotes from Vera Baboun (the Catholic female mayor of Bethlehem), a shopkeeper, etc.

I also found some of the external links interesting:

A 2014 article citing a Pew Foundation Study.
The 2011 BBC’s Guide: Christians in the Middle East.

The article ends with an interesting quote:

“This issue of Christian emigration has become a political tool,” said Ramon, the researcher at the Jerusalem Institute. “There are right-wing groups, like Evangelists[sic], who are always saying ‘Christians are in such a bad situation with the Muslims and that’s why they’re leaving!’ Then there’s liberal Protestants who emphasize that the relations between Christians and Muslims are good, and it’s just the Israeli occupation that is responsible for all this.”

“The real situation is somewhere in the middle,” he said. “The question about whether to stay or go is really dependent on one single thing: the question, where my children will have a better future?”

The Thrill of Discovery—in a Museum!

The Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul contains a number of “world class” objects that were gathered by the rulers of the late Ottoman Empire from all over the Middle East—including glazed tiles from the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon and a copy of the Treaty of Kadesh (between the Egyptians and the Hittite—late 13th century B.C.).

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“I am happy to meet you Mr. Lion!”
See below for the ferocious lion that this child is making friends with!
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Often times people tire quickly when visiting museums, but this January we observed one young visitor who was in the process of making friends with a ferocious looking lion that once guarded the approach to an 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli (ancient Samal).

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One of the pair of basalt lions that guarded the entrance
to the 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli
Note the detail of the mane and whiskers
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Oh, to see the world through a child’s eyes.  The joy of discovery/encounter!

The Holiest Druze Site in Israel

On the road that leads to the top of the Arbel Cliffs, on the west side of Lake Galilee, there is a turn off that leads to the most sacred Druze site in Israel.  I have known about it for many years but only a month ago was I able to visit it for the first time.

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View from the Nabi Shu’ayb complex looking northeast. The Arbel Cliffs and the Sea of Galilee are visible in the distance.

This site is located on the lower northeastern slope of the Horns of Hattin and commemorates Nabi Shu’ayb (=”the prophet Shu’ayb” = Jethro).   The identification of Shu’ayb with Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses is a Muslim and Druze tradition.

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View of the entrance ways into the main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb.

In the picture above, note the man on the left who is putting on a gray cape that covers him from head to calf.  Of course, one removes their shoes before entering the room.  As a non-Druze I was not permitted to enter the tomb area via the main doorway, but had to enter and exit via a side door—I was escorted by a Druze elder.  I was not permitted to take pictures within the room.

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View of a courtyard with a fountain that is located west of main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb. No one used the fountain while I was visiting the site.

Since 1948 this shrine has been under Druze control (= holy property [wakf]).  It was rebuilt in the late 20th century and is a place of pilgrimage for Israeli Druze.  On April 25th, the Druze community has an annual meeting (celebration) here.  Usually new Druze soldiers in the Israeli army swear loyalty to the state at this site.

This is one of 4 or 5 places where Shu’ayb is said to be buried.  The main tomb of Shu’ayb is in Jordan and there are several candidates in Sinai.

To view 9 images of this sacred site Click Here.

For a quick overview of the Druze Religion Click Here.

Ancient Capital on Temple Mount?

Life on the Haram esh–Sharif (Temple Mount in Jerusalem) is not static but dynamic!  Over the years the Muslims have been refurbishing older structures and completely remodeling others.  In the process much debris has been discarded, some of which was from ancient structures—possibly even from the Second Temple Period.

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A well-carved ancient capital that was on the debris pile
of the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
June 2011
Click on image to Enlarge (or download if you wish)

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Debris pile on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
located east of the Dome of the Rock — July 2009
Click on image to Enlarge (or download if you wish)

For additional images of “Life on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount”
Click Here.

Ancient Timber on Temple Mount?

In recent years there have been several articles and news items that argue that some of the timbers that were discarded after the remodeling of the el-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem are quite ancient—possibly even from the Temple that Herod built (the Second Temple) around 15 B.C.

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Wooden debris—including timbers—stored just west of the Golden Gate on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
Photo June 2009 — Click on image to enlarge and/or download

I thought I would share one of my pictures of such debris from a pile that was located just west of the interior of Golden Gate (to view exterior Click Here).  Note especially the notched  beams on the far side of the pile.

On of the more recent articles is that of Peretz Reuven, “Wooden Beams from Herod’s Temple Mount: Do They Still Exist?”Biblical Archaeological Review 39, no. 3 (May/June 2013): 40–47.

Israel – Gaza and the Iron Dome – Inspired by a Toy Car?

I usually don’t comment on modern Middle Eastern themes, but some of the readers of this blog are also interested in recent developments between the Hamas of Gaza and Israel.  It is widely reported that the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that Israel has deployed has been very effective (90% success rate) in dealing with significant missile threats from Gaza.

Israel 21ci has posted an interesting article entitled “15 things you didn’t now about the Iron Dome.”

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Among them are tidbits such as:

  • “A toy car sold by Toys R Us inspired developers . . . .”
  • The Iron Dome . . . only intercepts . . .a rocket if it is deemed a critical threat.”

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Go figure.

 

Yom Kippur War – 1973 – Declassified Documents

This coming Yom Kippur will be the one 40 years after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.  At that time I had recently arrived in Jerusalem with my wife Mary and my 11 month old son John to assume the position of Dean at the then Institute of Holy Land Studies (now the Jerusalem University College).

Today (September 12, 2013) the Israelis have released many documents concerning the commission that investigated the decisions of the Israeli leadership that led up to that war—in which the Israelis were ultimately successful, but initially was catastrophic for the Jewish state.

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Israeli Knesset from the Israel Museum

For this new information I suggest a recent edition of The Times of Israel:

Golda Meir: ‘My heart was drawn to a preemptive strike, but I was scared’.
Account of King Hussein’s 1973 war warning still deemed too harmful to release.
Three years too late, Golda Meir understood how war could have been avoided.

On that fateful Yom Kippur our family was out strolling below the Knesset with Continue reading