Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem May Become Palestine’s First World Heritage Site

The government of Palestine is applying to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would be the first such site for the emerging nation.

The government of Palestine is eager to increase its recognition among the community of nations. While 130 countries recognize it as a country, a few don’t, most notably the United States and Israel. When Palestine was accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization with a vote of 107-14, the U.S. and Israel protested being outvoted by not paying their UNESCO dues.

The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.

Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.

The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.

UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.

[Photo courtesy Lewis Larsson]

Herod may not have completed Jerusalem’s Western Wall, archaeologists discover

It is one of the holiest spots in one of the holiest cities in the world. The Western Wall attracts Jews and Christians alike, and is on the limits of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim holy site.

It’s always been believed to have been built by King Herod, the king of Judea and a vassal of the Roman Empire who reigned from 37-4 BC. Herod expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Western Wall is the western boundary of that expansion.

Now archaeologists have found evidence that the Western Wall was finished after Herod’s death. The coins found under the foundations date to 20 years after Herod died.

This isn’t news to scholars. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the project was finished by Herod’s great-grandson. Archaeologists also found a mikve (Jewish ritual bath), three clay lamps in a style popular in the first century AD, and other artifacts. Seventeen coins were found, including two minted by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus in 17 or 18 AD.

I visited Jerusalem several times when I was working as an archaeologist in the Middle East back in the early Nineties. On numerous occasions I saw where local tradition came up against the findings of archaeology and history. For example, the route of the Via Dolorosa, the trail Jesus supposedly took on his way to Calvary, was only established in the 19th century. In the centuries before that there were several different routes.

In the current debate between the faithful and the atheists, these facts change nothing. The deflating of a local tradition will not make anyone stop believing in God, and the atheists are equally convinced about their views.

Photo courtesy Chris Yunker.

Eleni’s Bakery: Oscar countdown? Almost

My dad, who is visiting from the Hudson Valley region of New York, was watching either the Food Channel or the Food Network a little earlier. I heard Johnny Depp’s name mentioned and my ears perked up. There’s a bakery in New York City that put Johnny Depp’s lovely face on a sugar cookie. Not just Johnny Depp either. Anyone who is Oscar worthy might find their faces on one of Eleni’s Bakery cookies. The photo is from the Oscar contenders of 2003. Although, here’s a post from Luxist that assures this Oscar cookie venture is a yearly happening.

I became mesmerized watching how this bakery makes these cookies. Did you know there are sheets of sugar that work like paper? Amazing. In the past, these tins of Oscar cookies have flown off the shelves to the tune of 100 tins a day. Last year, I think these tins cost up to $58 per tin. It’s not cheap to be fashionable and “in.”

I think this Food Channel segment was a repeat since when I looked up Eleni’s Web site I couldn’t find any Oscar cookies, which makes sense since no one has been nominated yet. The holiday movies have just started rolling in and some of the Oscar contenders have just begun to show up at the dollar movie theaters. If you haven’t seen “3:10 to Yuma,” see it. It’s great. I also just saw “American Gangster,” but that’s not what I’m writing about now. Perhaps, though, come to think of it, we’ll see a Russel Crowe, Christian Bale or Denzel Washington cookie show up when the nominations come out.

You can head to Eleni’s for some lovely holiday themed cookies–or if animals are your thing, check out the safari offerings. The butterflies are also gorgeous. Chelsea, where the bakery is located, is a fun place to poke around if you happen to be in Manhattan.