"Solomon's Temple Tablet may be the most significant archaeological finding yet" in Israel
A sandstone tablet with an inscription very similar to 2 Kings 12 may be extremely significant both in biblical archaeology and Israeli religious politics.

The ten lines of Phoenician script describes King Jehoash's orders "to buy quarry stones and timber and copper and labour to carry out the duty with the faith" in repairing the First Temple.

If it's authentic, "it would be a first-of-its kind piece of physical evidence describing events in a manner that adheres to the narrative in the Bible," says the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha'aretz, which broke the story yesterday. It can also increase tension between Jerusalem's Jews and Muslims. "Muslim clerics insist, despite overwhelming archaeological evidence, that no Jewish shrine ever stood at [the Temple Mount]," the Associated Press explains. "That claim was made by Palestinian officials in failed negotiations with Israel in 2000 over who would be sovereign there." There are two mosques currently on the site.

Gold flecks burned into the tablet suggest it might actually have been part of Solomon's Temple, says Amos Bean, director of the Geological Survey of Israel. "These specks of gold are not natural material, but a sign of human activity," he told the AP. "They could be from gold-plated objects in the home of a very rich man, or a temple. … It's hard to believe that anyone would know how to do these things to make it look real."

The Geological Survey of Israel is standing firmly beside the artifact. "Our findings show that it is authentic," says Shimon Ilani, whose geological tests confirm that the writing dates to the 9th century B.C.

But the GSI was the second organization to examine the tablet. The Jerusalem collector who owns the tablet first went to the Israel Museum, but curators there couldn't rule whether it was a forgery. Museum officials have so far avoided press comment on this finding.

Gabriel Barkai, an Israeli archaeologist from Bar Ilan University's Land of Israel Studies Department, told Ha'aretz that it's too early to pass judgment. "The problem here is that circumstances of the finding are not clear," he said. "We should wait for the official scientific publication, at which time we will be able to probe this finding carefully. Right now, of course, we can't rule out any possibility. It's too bad that a matter of this sort was kept under wraps, apparently due to business concerns." But if it turns out to be what it seems, Barkai says, it could be "the most significant archaeological finding yet in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel."

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Ashcroft decries anti-religious bigotry
In a Denver speech to 1,000 members of faith-based charities, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said they had been discriminated against. "Unfortunately, over the last several decades, the government has discriminated against people of faith who are striving to do good for others," he said. "Out of fear, ignorance and occasional bigotry, faith-based groups have been prohibited from competing for federal funding on a level playing field with secular groups."

But Bush's faith-based initiative is righting those wrongs, he suggested. "For the first time in a long time, our leaders in Washington understand what Americans of all religious backgrounds have long held to be true: through faith, all things are possible."

Of course, he had his detractors. "Civil rights groups, who say the administration's plan to give religious organizations government money for social services represents an illegal infringement on the separation of church and state, accused Mr. Ashcroft of distorting the historical record," reports The New York Times, which doesn't give any examples of such "distortion.". "And they questioned whether it was proper for him, as the legal officer charged with overseeing civil rights enforcement, to be lobbying on such a divisive political issue."

You've got to love a civil rights group that says the U.S. attorney general can't stand up against discrimination if it's a divisive issue. (No, really. You've got to love them. It's in the Bible.)

While most reports focus on the church-state controversy, the Rocky Mountain News digs the love. "Attorney general couches controversial proposal in 'I love you' terminology," says the article's deck. Here's what Ashcroft told the charity workers:

While government programs provide for entitlements, when one citizen reaches for another, or one organization, or a group of citizens, does so based on an overwhelming conviction within them that we are one, it says something more than "You are entitled." It says "I love you," and "I love you" is something that needs to be said more frequently in our culture.

The full text of Ashcroft's speech should be posted on the Department of Justice's website, but the page of Ascroft's speeches hasn't been updated since November.

Paper's ban on Scripture irks readers, writers
The Daily Journal of International Falls, Minnesota, like many other smalltown papers, has a column written by local clergy. "For almost nine years area clergy have submitted articles without creating any major controversy," Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Larry Connors writes this week. "But change is in the air." The paper has issued new guidelines, including one banning the quotation of Scripture.

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"One of the best ways to keep from just writing down a sermon on paper is to not use Scripture, so we ask you to refrain from quoting Scripture in your columns," says a letter from the paper to the pastors. "Although Scripture is an important aspect to religion, we feel it is inappropriate for our newspaper's church column. When a writer uses a Bible or other religious text, as a resource, it seems that they are attempting more to write a sermon than a church column and they may turn off readers. Besides, if a clergy member [feels] strongly enough they can always write a letter to the editor, which is published on The Daily Journal's opinion page. In a letter to the editor, a reader may quote Scripture."

Connors says the policy makes no sense. "The Bible is not just something I use for a Sunday morning sermon, but it is at the very core and heart of my life in every aspect," he writes in what he says will be his final column. "My opinions without using the insights and principles of God's Word are just my opinions and ideas."

Other readers and writers are similarly upset. "The Daily Journal is showing its bias and anti-Christian views," writes Helen Clark, whose husband, a Baptist pastor, also received the letter. "I feel that the evangelical Christians in International Falls are being shortchanged in the local print media."

"Pastors, I would say pull your column and shake the dust from your feet," says reader Jutta Goetz in another letter to the editor.

More articles

Supreme Court rejects Columbine tile case:

First Amendment:

  • Scalia defends public expression of faith | Recent rulings have gone too far, Justice says during tribute to Va. gathering (The Washington Post)

  • Also: Scalia complains on church-state rulings | Although the Constitution says the government cannot "establish" or promote religion, the framers did not intend for God to be stripped from public life, Scalia said Sunday at a religious ceremony (Associated Press)

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  • Vatican denounces cloning, abortion | "Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, for example, risk reducing the human person to a mere object: life and death to order, as it were!" (Associated Press)

  • Missing Link | Something is missing from Human Cloning and Human Dignity, the report of the President's Council on Bioethics: recognition of the harm reproductive cloning would do to the structure of the American family (Stanley Kurtz, National Review Online)

  • Brownback holds off on pushing cloning bill | He says the time isn't right to make another push in a closely divided Senate that has other issues to handle (The Wichita Eagle)

Missions and ministry:

Orthodox Christian again calls for suicide bombing:

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