FaithWorld

Roman archaeologists find oldest images of Apostles in a catacomb

apostles 4 (Photo: Professor Fabrizio Bisconti shows the image of an unidentified person on the ceiling of the catacomb chamber, with the four portraits of Apostles in circles in the corners of the ceiling, 22 June 2010/Tony Gentile)

Archaeologists and art restorers using new laser technology have discovered what they believe are the oldest paintings of the faces of Jesus Christ’s Apostles.  The images in a branch of the catacombs of St Tecla near St Paul’s Basilica, just outside the walls of ancient Rome, were painted at the end of the 4th century or the start of the 5th century.

Archaeologists believe these images may have been among those that most influenced later artists’ depictions of the faces of Christ’s most important early followers.  “These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four Apostles,” said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, the head of archaeology for Rome’s numerous catacombs, which are owned and maintained by the Vatican.

The full-face icons include visages of St Peter, St Andrew, and St John, who were among Jesus’ original 12 Apostles, and St Paul, who became an Apostle after Christ’s death.

apostles 5 (Photo: Wide shot of the catacomb chamber, showing other illustrations as well, 22 June 2010/Tony Gentile)

The paintings have the same characteristics as later images, such as St Paul’s rugged, wrinkled and elongated forehead and balding head and pointy beard, indicating they may have been the ones which set the standard.

The four circles, about 50 cm in diameter, are on the ceiling of the underground burial place of a noblewoman who is believed to have converted to Christianity at the end of the same century when the emperor Constantine made it legal.

Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

bethlehem wall 1 (Photo: A Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)

Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad.  As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.

With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

From the minefields of Israel’s frontlines with Syria and Lebanon to the fortified fences around the West Bank and Gaza Strip — much in this month’s headlines — to the walls, old and new, of Jerusalem, physical barriers shape the lives of the 12 million people cut off here in what was once called Palestine.

Egypt prepares new marriage and divorce law for non-Muslims

coptEgypt will draft a new law to govern marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, a state newspaper reported, a move analysts see as an attempt to contain anger after a court overruled the Coptic Orthodox Church last month.

Egypt’s Coptic church has long called for changes to the country’s personal status laws, which say Islamic rules on marriage and divorce prevail except in cases where both husband and wife are non-Muslims and from the same religious denomination. Under the current law, for instance, a Catholic husband with a Coptic wife could be subject to Islamic law.

“The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marie has decided to form a committee to prepare a personal draft law for Christians and non-Muslims,” the state-run al-Akhbar newspaper reported, adding it would take 30 days.

Russian Orthodox want tougher abortion law, ties with “pro-life” West

red square

Moscow's Red Square -- soon the site of an anti-abortion march? (Itar-Tass photo 9 May 2005)

The Russian Orthodox Church has called for tougher rules to reduce the number of abortions carried out in a country struggling to combat its fast-dwindling population.  Russia registered 1.2 million abortions and 1.7 million births last year, according to the Health Ministry.

“In Soviet times we got used to abortion and we got used to considering it an unavoidable part of our legal reality and that there is no way to the turn back the page,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a powerful cleric who is close to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.  “But we see today that it is possible to turn back a great deal,” said Chaplin,  He  said the legislation had to change but declined to say how.

Western aid groups deny religious agenda in Afghanistan

convertTwo Western aid organisations have denied allegations they were engaged in Christian proselytising in Afghanistan after the government suspended their activities following a television report.  Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid said they had been operating in Afghanistan for decades and their work was entirely humanitarian.

“Norwegian Church Aid has no mandate to influence people’s religious beliefs in any part of the world — neither in Afghanistan,” the organisation said on its website.

“We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve,” Maurice A. Bloem, Church World Service”s deputy director and head of programs, said in a statement.

Afghanistan to probe NGOs after “preaching” report

aid

Afghanistan has launched an investigation into the activities of hundreds of aid groups after a local media report accused a Norwegian organisation of preaching Christianity, a crime punishable by death.

Foreign and Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country — helping out in areas ranging from health to education — but some Afghans remain skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytising. (Photo: An Afghan girl with refugee women waiting to receive free blankets distributed by a foreign charity in Kabul on December 2, 2002/Radu Sigheti)

Afghanistan’s economy ministry said on Sunday it had formed a commission to investigate all NGOs after a local TV report accusing Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) of promoting Christianity.

Egypt court says Copts can remarry, church objects

coptic

Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, December 11, 2005/Tara Todras-Whitehill

An Egyptian court has ruled that divorced Copts have the right to remarry, contradicting the church’s position and undermining its efforts to maintain its authority over the Christian community in Muslim-majority Egypt.

Saturday’s administrative court decision was prompted by a rare intervention by Pope Shenouda, leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, who launched an appeal by the church against another court ruling made in March 2008 that had approved the request by the two divorced men to remarry.

Kenya PM blasts judges for barring Islamic courts from constitution

kenya doves

President Mwai Kibaki (C), Prime Minister Raila Odinga (L) and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (R) release pigeons for peace at a Nairobi rally for the constitution referendum on May 15, 2010/Thomas Mukoya

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has attacked the country’s judiciary as an obstacle to reform after its high court  ruled it would be discriminatory to entrench kadhi courts — Islamic courts that rule on the basis of sharia — in Kenya’s constitution. The ruling came three months before Kenyans vote in a referendum on a proposed new constitution, seen as an important step towards ensuring that post-election violence which shook east Africa’s largest economy in 2008 is not repeated.

Opposition to the Muslim courts brought together Christian clergy and some politicians to oppose the proposed constitution. The kadhis’ courts deal with matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslims.

GUESTVIEW: Our American heritage: the Protestant legacy on the Supreme Court

supreme court

The U.S. Supreme Court, 23 June 2003/Brendan McDermid

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a U.S. freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, PA who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

It is hard to evaluate the significance of history while it is being written.  But in considering whether it matters that there possibly will be no Protestant on the Supreme Court when it convenes next fall, one thing is clear – it’s a fascinating time to be a student of Christian practice in America.

Does the lack of Protestants of any stripe on the Court truly matter to anyone save those who might feel upset that their denomination is left out?  Arguably not.  In a time of increasing ethnic and religious pluralism, and with tectonic changes going on within Protestantism and Catholicism in the United States, it is possible that the old categories simply don’t work anymore.

“Definitely a God” poster tops UK ad complaints

christian party

A bus poster which claimed “There definitely is a God, so join the Christian Party and enjoy your life” attracted more complaints than any other advert last year, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said on Wednesday.

More than 1,200 people complained that the Christian Party‘s advert was offensive to atheists and could not be substantiated.

The poster was a response to an ad campaign last year by the British Humanist Association which stated “There’s probably no God — now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  The ASA did not investigate either of the adverts, saying political party campaigns were outside its remit.