The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Israeli Archaeologists Discover Herod's Tomb
BY MICHELE CHABIN ©2007 Religion News Service
sraeli archaeologists believe they have discovered the tomb of King Herod, the excavation's chief archaeologist announced May 8.
Professor Ehud Netzer from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said his team had discovered the tomb three weeks ago during ongoing excavations at Herodium, a once-magnificent palace located nine miles south of Jerusalem, in what is now the West Bank.
Herod, who was appointed by the Romans, ruled Judea from 37 to 4 B.C. During his reign he undertook numerous monumental building projects, including the fortress at Masada and the reinforcement and expansion of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
The New Testament says Jesus was born during Herod's reign and that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt because the king planned to kill the infant Jesus.
Archaeologists have long based their belief that Herod was buried at Herodium on the account of the historian Josephus Flavius, who described the king's lavish funeral, although not the tomb itself.
Pointing to intricately carved remains from the excavation, Netzer said his team had discovered a grave, fragments from a sarcophagus and a mausoleum on Mount Herodium's northeastern slope.
"It was clear that someone had intentionally shattered the sarcophagus," soon after Herod's death, Netzer said, referring to Herod's many enemies.
Netzer said his team is certain the grave they discovered is Herod's despite the fact that neither human bones nor an inscription has yet been found at the site.
"It was the quality of the things that were uncovered that led us to understand that this was the grave of a king," Netzer said of the finely detailed remains of the sarcophagus, which was decorated with rosettes; the beautifully decorated urns for storing ashes; and the well-built podium of the mausoleum.
Canadian Bishops Say No to Gay Marriage--for the Moment
Canada's Anglican bishops have essentially rejected the blessing of same-sex marriages but acknowledge there will be further votes on the issue when the church's governing body meets next month.
The bishops issued an unexpected pastoral statement May 1 on the church's Web site. The statement is based on a draft proposal they discussed in Niagara Falls, Ontario, last month at a meeting attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Not all bishops "can conceive of condoning or blessing same-sex unions," the statement said. The "doctrine and discipline of our church does not clearly permit further action." The statement will be sent to delegates of the church's General Synod, which meets in Winnipeg June 19-25.
"Where we are today--not in June, but as of today--our doctrine and discipline does not allow the blessing of same-sex unions," Archdeacon Paul Feheley told Canadian Press. "So we're acknowledging that's where we are, understanding that that could change in June."
Of the 41 active bishops in Canada, Feheley said a "substantial majority" voted for the statement. Only one Canadian diocese, New Westminister near Vancouver, continues to bless same-sex unions, he added, even though Canada allows civil marriage for same-sex couples.
The missive says it is "a gospel imperative to pray with the whole people of God, no matter their circumstance," and offers examples of "possible pastoral responses" to same-sex couples. For instance, a parish, with its bishop's knowledge and permission, could pray with a civilly married same-sex couple and celebrate the Eucharist with them.
The bishops also say that no child should be denied baptism solely on the basis of the sexual orientation or marital status of the parents, and that no baptized Christian will be denied Communion or Confirmation for being in "a committed homosexual relationship or because of their marital status."
Conservative bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion have expressed concern over steps taken by Canadian Anglicans and U.S. Episcopalians to bless same-sex unions. The U.S. church is facing a September 30 deadline to promise to stop blessing same-sex unions or face unspecified "consequences."
Alabama Church Arsonists Plead Guilty to More Fires
Two church arsonists pleaded guilty on May 2 to burning churches in two Alabama counties and will serve two-year sentences in state prison, running concurrently with a previous two-year sentence that was handed down last month.
The men, Matthew Cloyd and Benjamin Moseley, pleaded guilty to setting fires in Sumter and Green counties last year. The two-year sentences will begin after they complete separate eight-year federal prison sentences.
Cloyd, Moseley and another man, Russell DeBusk, earlier admitted in federal and state court to burning four churches in Bibb County. Cloyd and Moseley, however, set five additional fires in Sumter, Green, and Pickens counties as a decoy.
In all, seven rural churches were destroyed and two more were damaged in the arson spree. On Wednesday they entered guilty pleas to the fires in Sumter and Green counties before Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway. Last month the three men entered guilty pleas for the fires in Bibb County and were sentenced to serve two years of a 15-year sentence in state prison.
Watchdog Panel Urges Monitoring Iraq on Religious Freedom
For the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, ongoing sectarian violence has earned Iraq a place among the world's worst violators of religious freedoms, a watchdog panel said on May 2.
Iraq was included with seven other countries, including Afghanistan, on a Watch List published in the 2007 report of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. The list names countries that "require close monitoring" because their governments commit or tolerate religious persecution.
"Despite ongoing efforts to stabilize the country ... successive Iraqi governments have not curbed the growing scope and severity of human rights abuses," the report read.
Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, violence between the country's Sunni and Shiite Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims has become a daily occurrence. The Shiite-dominated government has recently been accused of collaboration with death squads targeting Sunnis.
The watch list is the commission's second, lesser tier of religious rights abusers. The worst are recommended for designation as "Countries of Particular Concern" to the State Department, a status carrying the possibility of sanctions or other punitive action by the U.S. government. Eleven countries received that recommendation in Wednesday's report.
A footnote in the report said three of the commission's nine voting members felt Iraq should have received the more severe designation this year. Those three members were all appointed to the commission by Democrats; five of the remaining six were Republican appointees.
The 2007 report suggests the commission "may designate Iraq as a (Country of Particular Concern) next year if improvements are not made by the Iraqi government."
But Commissioner Nina Shea, one of the Republican appointees, said the commission could change Iraq's designation sooner. "We're not going to be sitting on our hands about Iraq over the next year," she said at a news conference.
Afghanistan under the Taliban and Iraq under Hussein were both listed as Countries of Particular Concern by the State Department before the U.S. invasions in 2001 and 2003, respectively.