FaithWorld

Gas in the Holy Land: energy prospecting with the Bible as guide

israel gas 1Using the Bible as its guide, Texas-based energy company Zion Oil and Gas has searched for oil in the Holy Land for a decade. The company uses a map of the 12 ancient tribes of Israel and the biblical assertion – “the foot of Asher to be dipped in oil on the head of Joseph” – as an unlikely guide to help it decide where to drill. (Photo: A worker stands on an oil rig belonging to Zion Oil and  Gas in Karkur, northern Israel October 17, 2010/Nir Elias)

Sitting beneath an 18-storey rig in northern Israel, Zion’s CEO Richard Rinberg translates that reference by pointing to an area on the map where the territory of Asher – long and thin and shaped like a leg – once pushed into the land that belonged to Joseph’s sons.

“It’s exactly where we are,” said Rinberg, a good-humoured Orthodox Jew with a background in accounting and a belief that this biblical prophecy is backed by concrete scientific data. Founded by John Brown, a Christian Zionist who believes the Bible prophesied the discovery of oil in Israel, Zion is just one of a pack of energy companies that has spent years, even decades, surveying and drilling around Israel and its territorial waters. Like many, Zion has yet to find commercial amounts of oil or gas.

But faith runs deep in this part of the world, and Zion and its fellow prospectors were emboldened by the discovery last year by Texas-based Noble Energy of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in the offshore Tamar field. “There’s little doubt that optimism in oil and gas exploration, both offshore and onshore, has increased,” said Rinberg.

israel gas 2Read the full report here. Also check out a letter the company’s chief explorer wrote to the famous Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in which he discusses his inspiration and how he thinks the Bible and Jewish commentary describe the fundamental principles of modern petroluem geology.

Muslims say Obama failing to keep Cairo promises

obama protest (Photo: A protest against U.S. President Barack Obama in Jakarta November 9, 2010/Dadang Tri)

President Barack Obama’s pledge on Wednesday in Jakarta to strive for better relations with the Muslim world drew skepticism in Cairo, where last year he called for a new beginning in the Middle East after years of mistrust.

Seventeen months after Obama’s Cairo University speech, al Qaeda is still threatening the West, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalled over the issue of West Bank settlements and U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many in the Middle East believe that Washington’s tight alliance with Israel makes it impossible to end the suffering of the Palestinians, breeding cynicism among Arab Muslims toward U.S. intentions in the region.

Israel charges imam with incitement against pope

nazareth (Photo: Pope Benedict meets religious leaders in Nazareth, May 14, 2009, with many Muslim clerics in white and red turbans in the audience/Atef Safadi)

Israeli authorities have charged the imam of a mosque in Nazareth with inciting violence against Pope Benedict and supporting al Qaeda and “global jihad,” the justice ministry has said.

The indictment said Nazim Mahmoud Salim, who was arrested by police a month ago, led a group of about 2,000 worshippers, and had also preached at the flashpoint al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Salim is charged with inciting violence against Pope Benedict during his visit last year to Nazareth, the town of Jesus’ boyhood in the heartland of Israel’s minority Arab population.

Israeli students incensed by ultra-Orthodox benefit

israeli students (Photo: Students protest near Hebrew University in Jerusalem on October 27, 2010 against the bill to give more state funds to Torah students/Ronen Zvulun)

Israeli university students have demanded that the government drop plans to pay stipends to ultra-Orthodox Jews who study the Torah but do not work.

Protests over the so-called Yeshiva bill in the past week highlight growing Israeli resentment of the 600,000 ultra-Orthodox “haredim”, who live almost entirely off state welfare benefits.

Several thousand students held a protest march in Jerusalem on Monday warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu they were not “suckers” who would meekly accept what they regard as rank discrimination.

Pope seeks Mideast religious liberty, bishops criticise Israel

synod 1 (Photo: Bishops at Mass marking the end of the synod of bishops from the Middle East in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican October 24, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Pope Benedict called on Islamic countries in the Middle East on Sunday to guarantee freedom of worship to non-Muslims and said peace in the region was the best remedy for a worrying exodus of Christians.

He made his a appeal at a solemn mass in St Peter’s Basilica ending a two week Vatican summit of bishops from the Middle East, whose final document criticized Israel and urged the Jewish state to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

In his sermon at the gathering’s ceremonial end, the pope said freedom of religion was “one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect.” While some states in the Middle East allowed freedom of belief, he added, “the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited.”

Dead Sea scrolls going digital on Internet

dead sea scrolls 1 (Photo: Sections of the Dead Sea scrolls at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 14, 2008/Baz Ratner)

Scholars and anyone with an Internet connection will be able to take a new look into the Biblical past through an online archive of high-resolution images of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the custodian of the scrolls that shed light on the life of Jews and early Christians at the time of Jesus, said on Tuesday it was collaborating with Google’s research and development center in Israel to upload digitized images of the entire collection.

Advanced imaging technology will be installed in the IAA’s laboratories early next year and high-resolution images of each of the scrolls’ 30,000 fragments will be freely accessible on the Internet. The IAA conducted a pilot imaging project in 2008.

In Holy Land, Christians are a community in decline

latinIn the land where Jesus lived, Christians say their dwindling numbers are turning churches from places of worship into museums. And when Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the places of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, they find them divided by a concrete wall. (Photo: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2009/Ammar Awad)

Members of the Abu al-Zulaf family, Palestinian Christians, have left the hills and olive groves of their village near Bethlehem for Sweden and the United States, seeking a better life than that on offer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Ayman Abu al-Zulaf, 41, moved to France in 1998. But he returned to Beit Sahour, the village where he was born, a year later. “I needed to be here, not in France,” he said. “Without Christians, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, has no value.”

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.

Jewish settlers replace Korans burnt in West Bank

korans (Photo: Rabbi Menachem Froman (R) holds a Koran given to Palestinians after Monday’s attack in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem October 5, 2010/Ammar Awad)

Jewish settlers on Tuesday gave new copies of the Koran to Palestinians in a West Bank village whose mosque was burned in an attack blamed by Palestinians on militants in the settler movement.

Several copies of Islam’s holy book were scorched in the arson attack and threats in Hebrew were scrawled on the wall of the mosque of Beit Fajjar early on Monday. Suspicion immediately fell on settler militants opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in which some settlements would be turned over to a Palestinian state.

“This visit is to say that although there are people who oppose peace, he who opposes peace is opposed to God,” said Rabbi Menachem Froman, a well-known peace activist and one of a handful of settlers who went to Beit Fajjar to show solidarity with their Muslim neighbors.

Korans burnt in West Bank mosque attack blamed on Jewish settlers

beit fajjar 1 (Photos: Burned carpet in mosque above, burned Koran below, 4 Oct 2010/Ammar Awad)

Jewish settlers opposed to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians were accused of setting fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Monday, burning the Koran and scrawling threats in Hebrew on its walls. “Mosques, we burn,” said a warning scribbled at the door of the smoke-smudged mosque of Beit Fajjar south of Bethlehem on the day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for cool heads to avert the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

The green-carpeted floor of the mosque was burned to a black crust in a dozen places where it was doused with kerosene and set alight at around three in the morning. A dozen copies of the Koran were scorched by the fire.  Palestinians said settlers were behind the attack. “The settlers’ message is: terrorize the Palestinian people,” said Mohammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who came to inspect the damage and talk to the locals.

A Star of David symbol and the words “Price Tag” were found scrawled over the mosque’s doorway.  Militant settlers coined the slogan to warn of the cost of any threat to their presence. It was the fourth such attack since December and “a very serious incident which we view with utmost gravity,” said Israeli military spokeswoman Lieut. Colonel Avital Liebowitz.