Crucifixion nails found in Israel? Probably not.

Crucifixions, nail, Roman, Roman nailThere’s been a shocking archaeological discovery in Israel. Nails from the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ have been found!

Well, no, probably not.

The claim comes from Israeli Canadian documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, the Washington Post reports. Jacobovici has done several documentaries on Christian subjects and came across an archaeological report from 1990 mentioning the discovery of nails in the tomb of a man named Caiaphas. For those who know their Bible, this is the same name as the Jewish high priest who plotted to arrest Jesus and then gave him to the Romans. The name is right, the date of the tomb is right, so the nails must be those from the Crucifixion, right?

The Post quotes Jacobovici as saying, “There’s a general scholarly consensus that the tomb where the nails were found likely belonged to Caiaphas. Nails at that time were a dime a dozen, but finding one in a tomb is exceedingly rare.”

Actually neither of these statements is true. The Post quotes an Israeli archaeologist as saying that the inscriptions in the tomb aren’t clear as to the occupant’s identity, and I myself have seen Roman nails turn up in tombs. They were pretty common objects, after all.

The timing of this announcement just before Easter and just before Jacobovici’s next documentary comes out (titled “Nails of the Cross” to air Wednesday on the History Channel), adds to the suspicion that Jacobovici is fooling either himself or us.

There’s also the question of why a Jewish high priest would take the nails of someone who he thought was a false prophet to the grave with him, or even how he got them in the first place since it was Jesus’ family and followers who removed Jesus from the Cross.

In the view of this former archaeologist, this story is more of the usual sensationalism masking as science that fills so much of the media. A bit like the spurious discovery of Caligula’s tomb.

Never fear. There are plenty are saints’ relics in Rome, including enough nails for a dozen Crucifixions. Gadling’s own David Farley has even written a book about the Holy Foreskin, which you can also visit in Italy. Actually there’s more than one relic claiming to be the Holy Foreskin, but that’s another story. . .

[Image of Roman nails courtesy user Takkk via Wikimedia Commons. These are not the same nails that came from the tomb mentioned in this article.]

The burqa and niqab: can travelers get used to anything? Should they?

burqa, burka, niqab, Somaliland, somaliland
Travel broadens the mind, at least for most people. As we explore different cultures and beliefs we see that for the most part they’re OK. While there are always local customs we just can’t follow, in general the more we travel, the more accepting we become.

But how accepting should we get? I’ve traveled extensively in the Muslim world and I’ve yet to figure out exactly how I feel about the burqa and niqab, two types of female Islamic clothing that cover the face. For the vast majority of the world’s population, the face is a key to identity. We look at the face to tell what a person is thinking and feeling. It’s how we spot friends and enemies at a distance. To see a covered face makes many people suspicious. In most cultures, it means the person has something to hide.

Here in Europe a debate is raging over whether the face veil should be banned. Some politicians say it’s oppressive and against Western values, while others defend it as part of a cultural heritage that needs to be tolerated in a free society. One thing these pundits have in common is that they talk about women who cover their faces, but very few actually talk with them. Regarding the burqa ban in France, one female friend quipped, “It’s just another case of men telling women what to wear.” Here’s a video from the BBC program Newsnight that interviews Muslim women both for and against veils.

This video makes two important points: that opinion is divided in the Muslim community over face covering, and that there are thinking, educated people under those veils.As a Western man I haven’t had many opportunities to talk with covered women, but when traveling in Somaliland I got to talk to a few niqabis. While talking with them I discovered that their personalities began to emerge. I also kept a lot of eye contact since there was nothing else to look at. The eyes are always expressive. Among niqabis they’re even more so.

Fellow travel writer Lara Dunston taught in Abu Dhabi for many years and noticed the same thing. The veil didn’t stop her from getting to know people as individuals. She even became able to recognize people just from their eyes. She says the vast majority of her students cover by choice. In the book From My Sisters’ Lips, Muslim convert Na’ima bint Robert talks about why she chose to cover her face, and interviews others who made the same choice. Central to their decision was the desire to be known for what they think, not how they look. They see the veil as accentuating a person’s identity rather than hiding it.

burqaIf only it were that straightforward. In many places it’s not individual choice but social pressure or even force of law that makes women cover their faces. Saudi Arabia, which is our ally because we need their oil and they need our weapons, has been instrumental in the global spread of radical Islam. For example, they’re building beautiful mosques and madrasas in the Muslim regions of Ethiopia in order to change what has been a bastion of liberal Islam. I’ll never forget passing through one village where the only stone building, and the only one that had more than one storey, was a Saudi-built mosque. Walking along the road in the noonday sun was a woman in a niqab with a huge bundle of firewood over her back. I was hot just standing there. I can’t imagine how she must have felt.

Take this woman: uneducated, almost certainly illiterate, who’s probably never been outside her own region, and introduce her to a Saudi cleric with his nice car and clothes and education, and he tells her she needs to cover her face or Allah will be angry and her neighbors will think she’s a slut. What’s she going to do? That’s not a choice; that’s oppression pure and simple.

In a response to the controversial “Just Say No To Burqas” mural in Australia, a Muslim activist friend of mine Asra Nomani said, “‘Say No To Burqas,’ says ‘no’ to not only burqas but the interpretation of Islam that says that women are too sexy for their faces and have to cover up to be ‘good Muslims.’ It’s important that we reject the interpretation of Islam that sanctions burqas. One girl who had to wear a burqa in my village in India asked me, ‘What’s it like to feel the sun shine on your face?'”

Asra makes a good point that the burqa is only one interpretation of Islam. The Koran and Hadith say that both men and women should dress modestly. They say nothing about women bundling themselves up from head to toe in yards of cloth.

An educated debate about this issue is becoming increasingly important as Western society becomes more multicultural. It’s becoming more important to me personally. I spend every summer in Oxford. Among the many Muslims there, most women wear headscarves, something that I barely notice anymore. A small minority of women wear the niqab, including a local pharmacist. Last year we were in the park and my son, then four years old, saw one of the mothers wearing a niqab.

“Why is she hiding her face?” he asked.

“Because she wants to for her religion,” I said.

“SHE SHOULD TAKE IT OFF!” he said in that typical child voice that carries for miles.

“Only if she wants to,” I replied rather lamely.

I couldn’t think of a better answer. I still can’t.

10 passengers we love to hate: Day 9 — passengers who try to convert you

Here we are on the ninth day of the “passengers we love to hate” series. Today’s pick is the enthusiastic proselytizer who desperately wants to convert you to his or her religion. Far more than merely wasting the flight attendant’s time or hogging the baggage claim area, this brand of annoying passenger will question your morality, insist you are going to Hell (pictured here) and proudly proclaim they have all the answers.

Now let me just say that I feel everyone is entitled to their beliefs. Freedom of religion is a basic foundation of any decent society, but that also includes freedom from religion. You don’t know me, you don’t know what I believe, and you don’t have the right to harass me for an entire flight trying to convince me to change to your way of thinking.

I seemed plagued by this sort of passenger. At least once a year I’m stuck next to one of them, usually on a long international flight. Once I had an entire high school group of evangelicals who tag team preached to me all the way from the U.S. to Bulgaria.

My religious friends joke that maybe God is trying to tell me something. The problem with that theory is that these annoying fellow passengers come from all different religions. Maybe God is trying to tell me not to listen to people who claim to know what He wants.

Plus I think God would send some better emissaries. Every member of the Mile High Preaching Club I’ve had to deal with has been astonishingly ignorant about different faiths, and sometimes pretty shaky about their own. One of those high school evangelicals insisted the Bible was literally true and the only foundation for a proper life, then admitted he hadn’t read it all. Please do your homework, and if I want to talk to you about your religion, I’ll ask. If I don’t ask, read the inflight magazine and show me some respect.

Is that so hard? I have friends whose beliefs range from Orthodox Judaism to hardcore atheism, and not a single one of them tries to convert me, not even when we debate religion. They can disagree with me without calling me evil or ignorant or wrong. I don’t take kindly to that sort of treatment, especially when I have jet lag.

Judge not, lest ye be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day: Celebration Worthy of Note

Here’s a heads up for next year since the day has passed. Still, since this is a month of holidays, I didn’t want this one to go unmentioned. December 12th is one of the most important holy days in Mexico and much of Latin America. The Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day is when people honor Mexico’s patron saint, the Lady of Guadalupe. She appeared in the 16th century to Juan Diego, a poor farmer in Mexico, and is thought to have been the Virgin Mary. His apron with her image on it remains.

Along with many church celebrations, processionals and ceremonies in Mexico and the U.S., December 12th is when hundreds of people make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, thought to be on the site when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. Inside the church, the tilma (apron) that belonged to Juan Diego is on display. Several million come here every year for mass and to see the icon. By the looks of the crowds in this YouTube video, it’s quite the place to visit.

Here is another video from a church in New Jersey that begins to celebrate the feast day the Sunday before the 12th. There is an interview with the priest about the celebration’s significance and footage of the happenings. And, here is an article from today’s Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky that also provides an overview about how this celebration is important to people who have immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and those with Mexican heritage.

The photo was taken by Chantel Foster during the Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day procession in Albuquerque, New Mexico and posted on Flickr.