While researching the Christian situation in Egypt last month, News Editor Edward E. Plowman visited two mass Bible-study sessions that attracted thousands of Coptic Orthodox members. The following is an account of what he saw and heard:

It is six o’clock on a pleasant Thursday afternoon in Heliopolis, an eastern suburb of Cairo. The service has already been in progress for one-half hour when we arrive at the Coptic Orthodox church on Cleopatra Street. We are led into the massive educational annex, past several rooms filled with people watching the service on closed-circuit television, to a large theater-like auditorium. More than 3,000 people are packed inside. The women are seated on the right, the men on the left, in accord with ancient Egyptian tradition. The balcony is full, and perhaps 150 young men are jammed into overflow seating on the platform. A rail in front of the platform is lined with dozens of tape recorders; scores of others repose on the laps of those seated near the podium.

The audience is singing a hymn as we are led to seats that have been reserved on the front row just below the podium. We are greeted by smiles and nods of welcome from those around us. Our assigned interpreter—a well-known physician, we learn later—quietly slips in beside us. The music is distinctly Arabic, unlike the familiar Western tunes often heard in Presbyterian services in Egypt. As in most Orthodox and Protestant church services, male voices dominate, their robust tones reverberating from the exposed brick and block walls. If the sometimes pained, sometimes adoring facial expressions are evidence, most of the men and boys are singing from the soul. The great hall is alive with feeling.

Father Zacharia Botros, 44, steps to the podium and opens his Bible. As all Coptic Orthodox clergy, he is bearded and is clad in a black robe and black clerical cap. Taller than average, he immediately commands attention. A hundred tape recorders are clicked on, and all around us people position their notebooks and pens.

Father Zacharia, as he is known all over Egypt, indicates that today’s Bible study will be about hunger, death, and life. Man’s hunger ranges from desire for food and sex to self-esteem, possessions, and power, he says. The priest amplifies each point with illustrations from Scripture and everyday life, pounding home applications in the dramatic oratorical manner of the great pulpit masters. At times he is a fiery evangelist, warning authoritatively about sin and death and exhorting his listeners to receive Christ, to cultivate a hunger for the Word of God. At times he is a skilled exegete, carefully explaining the rock-hard meaning of biblical truth. He leads the audience in quoting supportive Scripture throughout his presentation. At some points he also becomes a holiness preacher, pausing after every major section of his talk to identify with his people and to lead them in deeply moving prayers of appropriation of the truth expounded so far. “We can be changed right now—at once,” he affirms.

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All over the auditorium people pray aloud, repeating his phrases. Some openly weep.

The session has lasted nearly two hours. There are announcements, an offering, and another hymn. A number of the people leave, but nearly 2,000 remain for a shorter meeting, designed primarily for high school and university students. A movie segment of an Old Testament story is shown, and Father Zacharia concludes with a brief Bible exposition that would cheer the hearts of evangelical stalwarts everywhere. He is one of the most powerful ministers of the Word we have ever heard.

The priest is mobbed as he seeks to leave. Some want him to pray for their bodily healing (there were no charismatic-style manifestations during the public meeting), some want his counsel, others merely want to greet him and kiss his ring, an Orthodox custom.

He cannot linger. Someone tells us that he has been summoned to the cathedral this night for a meeting with Orthodox officials who feel that the content of his preaching is out of step with church tradition.

It is now 6:30 on Friday evening, and we are at the huge Coptic Orthodox cathedral on Ramses Street. In one of those uncanny coincidences the taxi driver who brought us was playing a cassette recording of last night’s message by Father Zacharia. The driver had not been at the meeting, so a friend had provided him with a tape. As we inched through the Cairo traffic, the tape reached the prayer passages, and the driver prayed aloud (with his eyes open), following the priest’s recorded lead. Later he turned to us with a broad grin and said in the best English he could muster: “I am a Christian.”

We are met at the cathedral by our interpreter, a young press agency employee who devotes much of her free time to volunteer work at the Orthodox headquarters complex on the cathedral grounds. She is one of many such church-committed young people we have met in recent days.

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We are led to front-row seats in the cavernous structure. With high vaulted ceilings and simple appointments, it is shaped like a reclining cross. In front of us is the altar and a slightly raised platform separated from the sanctuary by a decorative metal fence.

We have come to hear the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, expound Scripture and reply to questions from his flock. There are more than 4,000 persons here tonight, many of them young adults. The men and women are seated on opposite sides of the center aisle. Often, we are told, the crowds exceed 5,000. The fence is to protect His Holiness from being overwhelmed by swarms of admirers at the close of the service.

Shenouda sits behind a microphone at a small table near the front of the platform. Behind him and to his right is the high-backed, maroon-upholstered papal throne. To his left are several rows of chairs that face him. The first row is reserved for bishops, and there are three here tonight. Priests are permitted to trim their beards but bishops are not. We can almost tell who has been bishop longest by the length of his beard. Visiting priests and monks sit behind the bishops. They straggle in all evening, passing through a gate in the fence. At the end more than a dozen clerics are in place. As each enters the platform area he bows before the altar, kisses the patriarch’s ring, then proceeds to a seat. Father Zacharia sits on the last row. The interruptions seem to bother neither Shenouda nor the audience.

Some hymns are sung, including one written by the patriarch when he was a monk out on the desert. It is a hymn of worship addressed to the Lord: “My heart is beating, leaping for you. I have wished to keep you close in my heart. I have left the whole world to be with you. I have left all except you.”

The hymn session enables ushers to gather written questions from the audience. Shenouda quickly shuffles through them and selects the few he will answer. There are inquiries about fasting during Lent, how to concentrate when praying, how to break the ice during confession, what to do about fear of the devil.

One questioner wants to know if it is true that the world will end in twenty years. This gives Shenouda an opportunity to teach basic eschatology. He cites the embarrassing problems experienced by the Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses in date-setting. He lists some of the end-time signs—the coming of the Anti-Christ, much apostasy, the salvation of the Jews, famine, war, and solar catastrophes. No one knows when it will happen, he emphasizes. Then he exhorts us to be ready at all times. For some of us, he warns, the end may be only five minutes away.

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His style is that of a learned, quiet-spirited but firm-minded orator, not given to excited, emotional pulpiteering, yet able to hold his audience. His occasional injections of humor add extra warmth.

Tonight’s Bible study is in the Song of Solomon, through which Shenouda has been proceeding verse by verse. His main point is that the believer’s love for God should be pure, that foreign objects of affection must be forsaken. This kind of love comes from following Christ, he says. Good works, prayer, fasting, and even Bible study and faith in Christ are of little or no value without such love, he affirms.

He stops rather abruptly about nine o’clock and is quickly escorted out a back exit. The people mill around in the clogged aisles, exchanging cheery greetings and looking for their mates. The priests descend from the platform and mingle with the crowd. Father Zacharia is surrounded by people seeking his blessing and prayers, and he has to struggle to reach a side door.

Sonia, our interpreter, expresses hope that we’ve gained some insight into the spiritual awakening that seems to be taking place in the Coptic Orthodox Church and that we’ve caught some of the excitement and fervor ourselves.

We have.

WCC Crisis: Hard Currency

The World Council of Churches reportedly has suffered a $2 million loss because of the decline in value of the U.S. dollar and German mark at Swiss exchange rates. The Executive Committee slashed nearly 12 per cent from the organization’s budget. Officials say that the WCC may be forced to relocate its world headquarters, now in Geneva, to a country where the currency situation is more favorable. The matter will be discussed at a top-level WCC meeting in September, according to press reports.

Center Cutback

The institution that has come to be known as the Billy Graham Center was not always planned for the Wheaton College campus in Illinois. At one time, before a premature newspaper report soured things, the evangelist’s native city, Charlotte, North Carolina, planned to get it. Then there were the hopes of some in Minneapolis, Minnesota, his headquarters city. With festive groundbreaking ceremonies last September (see October 21, 1977, issue, page 44) the college—Graham’s alma mater—appeared to lay to rest for all time any uncertainty about where the institution belonged. By that time the project had expanded from an archives to a graduate school of communications, an international institute of evangelism, a library, a museum, and a promoter of conferences.

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The center, to which Graham has pledged $15.5 million, is under construction now, but developments last month raised questions again about whether all of last September’s plans will be realized. Center director Donald E. Hoke resigned amid reports that the center will not be developed to the extent announced at the groundbreaking. The college announcement of Hoke’s resignation said nothing about any change in the plans that Hoke helped to design. Wheaton President Hudson Armerding acknowledged in a telephone interview, however, that two major facets of the center program are being reviewed. He said the main floor’s public display (sometimes called the “museum”) section was being reduced. The plans for the International Institute of Evangelism, which would bring Third World Christian leaders to study at the center, have been “referred back to the program committee,” the president stated.

Armerding said the museum area is being reduced on the recommendation of Graham himself. He did not say how much it is being cut, but he indicated that the final decision will be made by the Billy Graham Center board this spring after they see revised plans. This section has probably been the most-discussed during the planning stage, and Graham was known to be very sensitive to the possibility that it might be viewed as a “monument” to him. It was one of the features that tourist industry officials wanted to exploit at the Charlotte location, and a site had been offered adjacent to an interstate highway.

Even if there are reductions, the “evangelistic thrust” of the center will be maintained, a source within the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association insisted. He acknowledged that parts of the plan are being reviewed but said that no programs would be eliminated.

A description of the planned display-exhibit area in the January issue of Graham’s Decision magazine explained: “This first-floor area for visitors will contain photographs, films, replicas of significant places, ‘shoebox theaters’ and special exhibits for children. In a small theater a specially prepared motion picture will show dramatic highlights of the Graham ministry, with a Gospel presentation by Billy Graham. Visitors to the center will receive a clear presentation of God’s plan of salvation.” Although most of the rest of the building was planned for the use of serious scholars or especially-invited leaders, this area was to be open to the general public.

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In his address at the groundbreaking, Graham emphasized the training aspects of the center’s program. He added, “Our desire is not to build anything which could be interpreted as a monument.”

The center has been the major recipient of grants from the World Evangelism and Christian Education Fund (WECEF), the Dallas-based foundation whose income is generated largely by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The $15.5 million committed to the project is for construction and a maintenance endowment. Funding of the operational budget has not been settled. Construction is expected to be completed by 1980.

Stock Answers

It was evangelism of a different kind in the Bible Belt last month when the stockholders of J. P. Stevens and Company held their annual meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. Conversion of the textile giant’s labor policy to a pro-union position was the aim of a few of those present, but management won every contested vote by more than 94 per cent. None of the resolutions proposed by a coalition of labor, civil rights, and religious groups got more than 6 per cent of the voted shares.

Stevens is the nation’s second largest textile producer and is said to be the most strongly anti-union firm among the Southern textile mills. For years union organizers have been unable to make much headway in company’s plants. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union has won elections to represent Stevens workers in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, but no contracts have been negotiated with management. Lack of progress in the contract talks was one reason that the National Council of Churches joined the union’s boycott of Stevens products last year (see December 9, 1977, issue, page 58). The NCC-related Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility tried to marshal all the church-owned stock it could for the Greenville meeting. The center has become well-known for its efforts to use stock to get companies operating overseas—particularly in South Africa—to change policies, but it has also worked in some domestic areas.

Timothy Smith, the center’s optimistic director, believes more was achieved at the Stevens annual meeting than the statistics indicate. He told James D. Finley, Stevens chairman, that the company’s “obstructive and illegal tactics” in fighting unionization “may have given a gift to the corporations of the country, the Labor Reform Act.” The NCC, along with various union groups, has been seeking federal legislation to get more privileges for labor organizers.

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Finley declared to the assembled stockholders that the company’s record of sales and profits was “incontestible proof of the failure of the boycott.” He also said the firm stood ready to submit to a nation-wide secret ballot by all 45,000 employees “to decide once and for all” if they want to be represented by the union.

The chairman’s remarks and responses to stockholder questions were not satisfactory to all of the participants, and they kept going back to the microphones in the cavernous hall. The affair lasted four hours. The annual meeting was described as rancorous but not disorderly. There were demonstrators outside the well-guarded building, but no major incidents were reported.

Among the minority representatives was a Glenmary priest, Gerald Conroy. He reminded the chairman that the company had failed to respond to Southern Catholic bishops’ offer to mediate the dispute with the union. Later, six bishops (of Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Richmond) issued a statement saying they had concluded that Stevens had engaged in “repression” of labor organizing. They stopped short, however, of endorsing the boycott.

“We had a more influential presence this year than last,” Smith said of the Greenville meeting. Instead of joining in the criticism of the company for moving the meeting from the traditional New York site to South Carolina, he commented, “The company did us a favor by moving South. None of us could have afforded to fly so many workers to New York to speak.”

The effort at Stevens was considered one of the most important of the year for the “corporate responsibility” workers. Organized labor has identified the South as its main recruiting area, and the textile industry has been one of the chief obstacles to unionization in the region. In the minds of union advocates, Stevens so typifies attitudes of southern industrialists that the labor reform measure pending before Congress has been nicknamed the “J. P. Stevens Bill.”

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Smith and his supporters are not concentrating all of their energy on the stockholder meetings, however. Just before the Greenville meeting a coalition of unions and their sympathizers brought such pressure to bear on one New York bank that Stevens chairman Finley was forced to step down from a seat on the bank board. He acknowledged to reporters at Greenville that he would not stand for election to another term on the board of Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust Company because “they don’t want me.” The bank manages large union pension trust funds, and it was pressured to drop Finley or lose the accounts. The union and its supporters are also pressuring other businesses whose executives or directors sit on the Stevens board.

In a related action, New York’s Citicorp, the nation’s second largest banking corporation, announced that it will no longer grant loans to the South African government. Smith’s organization has been focusing attention on Citicorp and other lenders to South Africa for years and called the action an “important first step.” He indicated, however, that he would push for other steps, such as an end to loans to private corporations in South Africa. Other financial giants have also cut back on their lending to the white-ruled African country under pressure from American groups.

Gay Week In San Jose

Homosexual activists in San Jose, California, have been successful in obtaining city approval for a “Gay Human Rights Week” in June. Council members took the action despite sharp opposition, the presentation of petitions bearing 30,000 signatures (mostly of area church members), and threats of recall.

Council chambers were jammed last month with what was said to be the largest gathering of citizens there in city officials’ memory. More than 700 noisy protesters and a few dozen gay supporters were given a chance to air the issue at the special session that was called because of snowballing negative public opinion. There was cheering when councilman David Runyon, a member of Lincoln Glen Church (Mennonite Brethren) in San Jose, led a successful move to rescind by a 4 to 3 vote a resolution setting aside a “Gay Pride Week” in June. The cheering turned to jeers, however, when the council in effect reversed itself again, simply replacing “pride” with “human rights” in the designation.

Opening comments by Mormon Richard Harrington, chairman of the Citizens Committee Against Gay Pride Week, set the tone for the opposition. He said his group represented sixty churches with congregations having a total of 60,000 members. “We do not want San Jose recognized as a city which honors homosexuals, and we do not want San Jose to become a symbol of sexual deviation,” he exhorted.

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Jerry Crosby, minister of administration for the 4,000-member First Baptist Church of San Jose, directly challenged the four who passed the initial “Gay Pride Week” resolution: Mayor Janet Gray Hayes, Vice-Mayor Susanne Wilson, Alfred Garza, and James Self. “Your action tonight will determine your political destiny,” warned Crosby, prompting thunderous approval from the audience. He accused the mayor of making “a horrendous blunder” in allowing the resolution to get on the council agenda. Leaders of the citizens group spoke of instituting recall procedures immediately.

For almost two hours a parade of thirteen Gay Week proponents and opponents stated their views. Supporters of Gay Week included an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, and a member of the San Jose Human Rights Commission who declared that as a gay he has human rights because “God gave them to me.” Gay Week advocates cited positive contributions by homosexuals to society, and they complained that human rights of gays are denied constantly. Opponents quoted often and at length from the Bible, condemning homosexual activity as sin. The precedent of local government supporting a sexual preference was another point of contention for anti-gays.

In finally calling for the question, Runyon declared: “This council should not be involved in an issue of sexual preference.” Councilman Garza, in a surprise reversal of his first vote, joined Runyon, Lawrence Pegram, and Joseph Colla to defeat the February resolution. He immediately followed up with a motion for a new resolution specifying Gay Human Rights Week instead of Gay Pride Week, then joined Hayes, Wilson, and Self to make the unpopular decision stick.

Garza explained that in a chat with Marvin Rickard, pastor of the 5,000-member Los Gatos Christian Church, he had discovered that the real issue was the word pride. Therefore, he argued, Gay Human Rights Week should stand. Rickard, however, was outspoken against any gay recognition, and members of his congregation along with those from First Baptist comprised a significant part of the crowd in the council chambers.

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The following morning Mayor Hayes was unavailable for comment, but her spokesperson Barbara Krause indicated that the mayor was quite disturbed by “the hostile reaction” to the council vote. Krause said that Mrs. Hayes “sincerely believed it was a human rights issue” and had to vote accordingly. Phone calls were running three to one against the decision.

Vice-Mayor Wilson said she was “grieved” at the response and expressed surprise at many of the volatile letters she received from “Christians.” “This resolution was typical of those we pass for groups all the time,” she said, “and we did not put a value judgment on it.” Last year the council passed more than 100 such special-week proclamations for various groups within the city.

Crosby in an interview commented that he believes Christians were correct in expressing hostility on a moral issue. “I’m for human rights unless it is a question of morality,” he said.


Atheist Schism

It sounds like a church squabble, but this time it’s the atheists who are fighting among themselves. The battle broke into the open at a recent national meeting of atheists in Newark, New Jersey. Some of Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s followers in her American Atheists organization felt that it should be restructured along more democratic and responsible lines. A position paper calling for such changes was to be read by Jane Conrad, director of Quest for Truth, the Colorado chapter of American Atheists. Mrs. O’Hair, however, barred Mrs. Conrad from reading the paper. Next, Mrs. O’Hair expelled Mrs. Conrad and several other persons from membership, charging them with “conspiracy, poor leadership qualities, and false and malicious representation against the national office.”

Chapters from at least five states withdrew from the national organization in protest against Mrs. O’Hair’s actions.

Many members believe that some of Mrs. O’Hair’s suits “have been disruptive and without real significance,” said Mrs. Conrad in an interview with religion writer Virginia Culver of the Denver Post. These members tried to help Mrs. O’Hair to recognize that “her abrasive manner generated hatred and violence which was then projected on all atheists,” explained Mrs. Conrad.

Mrs. Conrad said she had always believed the O’Hair organization had 60,000 or more names on its mailing list. But, said she, a letter from William Murray—Mrs. O’Hair’s son who had split with her in a schism last year—alleged that the mailing list numbers only 2,517 names and that the membership is 1,207.

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Reporters were unable to reach Mrs. O’Hair for comment.

Last month Mrs. O’Hair’s estranged husband, Richard Franklin O’Hair, who was president of the O’Hair atheist enterprise from 1965 to 1975, died of cancer at age 64.

Religion in Transit

Portions of the Bible are now available in 1,631 languages, the number spoken by 98 per cent of the world’s population, according to the American Bible Society. The complete Bible is available in 266 languages and the New Testament in 420, the ABS says.

A Gutenberg Bible was sold by New York book dealer Hans P. Kraus for $1.8 million to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, West Germany. It reputedly is one of only forty-seven that survive out of a printing of 200 more than 500 years ago. The United States has thirteen copies; another was to be sold this month by General Seminary (Episcopal) in New York City. The Gutenberg Bibles are considered the world’s most expensive books.

Church officials are warning pastors around the nation to investigate before inviting a church-directory company onto the premises to take pictures of church members. Such companies usually offer to produce church pictorial yearbooks at no charge, ostensibly because their profits come from portrait orders placed by the members. A number of companies have filed for bankruptcy after collecting the portrait charges and delivering poor-quality photos or none at all. Rarely in these instances are the promised church directories produced. Arkansas authorities recently arrested three executives of Pictorial Enterprises, a yearbook company that has attracted many complaints, on felony theft-by-deception charges. To aid pastors, the United Church of Christ has produced a directory of the directory companies, complete with evaluations.

A recent Gallup poll found that 64 per cent of U.S. Catholics desire the return of “the old-style Latin mass.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in an out-of-court settlement agreed to pay $500,000 to the family of a teen-ager who was paralyzed three years ago in a tumbling exercise at an SDA school in Takoma Park, Maryland. The family had sued for $6.5 million; the amount agreed upon was the total amount of the school’s insurance coverage.

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Church leaders in the Youngstown, Ohio region have formed the Ecumenical Coalition of Mahoning Valley to spearhead efforts to reopen under community-worker ownership a steel plant that was closed last September, throwing 5,000 people out of work and creating an economic crisis throughout the area. Churches as well as business firms and individuals are depositing funds in “Save Our Valley” accounts to provide seed money and attract federal aid for the project.

Southern Baptist Convention church membership last year topped 13 million, its largest ever. (Resident membership was listed as 9.4 million.) Losses, however, were recored in the number of baptisms (345,690, the lowest since 1949), and in enrollment for Sunday school, and other programs among the 35,255 SBC congregations.


James Schoenfeld, 26, and his brother, Richard, 23, two of the three convicted kidnappers of twenty-six children in a school bus at Chowchilla, California, have made professions of faith in Christ, according to prison chaplain Cliff Harbaugh.

A Paris criminal court has convicted Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard of fraud and sentenced him to four years in prison and a $7,000 fine. He was absent, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The president of the French branch of Scientology, Georges Andrews, was given a suspended prison term of one year and fined $600. The two were charged with promising to heal mental and other illnesses and inducing prospective members to pay more for courses than they were worth.

Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop Joseph McKinney of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was named chairman of the National Service Committee, the main coordinating body of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in the United States. He succeeds priest Michael Scanlon, president of Steubenville (Ohio) College. McKinney has been identified with the charismatic movement since the early 1970s. In 1973 he led a delegation of Catholic charismatic leaders to a private audience with Pope Paul VI.

Jeb Stuart Magruder, 43, former Nixon aide who became an executive with Young Life International after serving part of a prison sentence for his role in the Watergate affair, plans to enter Princeton Seminary this fall.

Robert McAfee Brown, 57, a United Presbyterian, announced his resignation from his teaching post at Union Seminary in New York, effective next year. A leading advocate of “liberation theology,” he cited as his reason a lack of administrative skills demanded by his Union post.

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Shortstop Chris Speier of the Montreal Expos and left-fielder Joe Rudi of the California Angels have formed Athletes for Life to fight legalized abortion. Both have been active in the Christian movement among professional ball players.

Willard M. Aldrich has resigned as president of Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. He has held the post since 1943. His son Joseph, 38, pastor of the 1,500-member Mariner’s Church in Newport Beach, California, was named as his successor.

World Scene

The Roman Catholic bishops of Poland have once again called on the nation’s Communist authorities to respect the rights of Polish citizens. The appeal was part of a statement drawn up during the bishops’ annual plenary assembly. It deplored “the fact that scientific, artistic, and religious activities are subjected to state censorship.”

When the body of Emanuel Swedenborg, eighteenth-century philosopher and founder of a religious sect, was removed from a grave in London in 1908 for reburial outside the Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden, authorities discovered that the head was missing. Last month the skull turned up at an auction in England, and the Swedish Royal Academy of Science paid $3,000 to obtain it.

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