News and Views


May/June 2016

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The oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible has been officially recognized by the United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world treasure. The manuscript, called the Aleppo Codex, has been added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, a list of the most important discoveries in human history. All current versions of the Old Testament are thought to originate from this ancient manuscript which was written around the year 930 AD. The Codex has been moved from place to place and around 190 of its pages are thought to be missing. There is disagreement over who owns the Codex, but filmmaker Avi Dabach, who is planning to make a documentary on the ancient manuscript, believes that it belongs to the Jewish community that fled Syria. —, 2/9/2016

Many Christian colleges now offer worship-arts degrees that students can use to launch careers in churches or the music business. The goal, says Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University President and CEO, Brian Mueller, is to educate well-rounded students who will be in demand as leaders of musical worship services in churches. “Students get what they want. The parents get what they want. And churches are getting professionally prepared worship-arts people who understand the current forms of worship that are popular today,” Mueller says. — Arizona Republic, 2/27/2016

With North Korea leading the way and Islamic extremism rapidly expanding, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution,” according to a group tracking this issue. Iraq is in second place on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. It is the first of 35 countries on the list where Islamic extremism “has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” said the report. On Open Doors’ map, the top 10 are highlighted in blood red to indicate “extreme” persecution. North Korea topped the list for the 14th consecutive year. Then followed Iraq, Eritrea (leading several sub-Saharan African nations on the list), Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Libya (which appeared on the list for the first time). Saudi Arabia, which recently executed a Shiite cleric and where bloggers have been sentenced to lashings for suggesting changes in the practice of Islam, came in at No. 14. — RNS, 1/13/2016

Africa’s experience with Christianity has for the most part been positive. About 63 percent of Africans identify as Christian, and Christian denominations founded and still run schools and hospitals. They have played critical roles in helping to keep communities together and stitching together a fraying social fabric. But while trying not to trample on religious freedom, governments are increasingly frustrated with tales of clergy fleecing their followers and are proposing a raft of new measures to protect unsuspecting church members from corrupt or immoral schemes. — RNS, 2/9/2016

Cameroonian special forces in Goshi, a town in northeastern Nigeria, freed about 100 captives held by Boko Haram militants, including Nigerians and Cameroonians. The town served as a hub for holding the teenagers Boko Haram used for its suicide bombing missions. In 2015, Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin established the 8,700-member Multinational Joint Task Force to combat the Islamic terror group. While the joint military operation successfully recaptured Goshi, experts say it is an insufficient force to completely defeat the extremist group. —, 2/19/2016


The Financial Times pronounced the newspaper business “deader than a doornail.” Its more advanced point was pronouncing the digital news business at the point of death, too. In the past six years the print newspaper business in the USA has shrunk by more than half, in the UK by one-third. Almost every news organization has glimpsed its future in video. — USA Today, 2/15/2016.

Scientists are tracking New York City bedbugs using DNA. Scientists have mapped the bugs’ genome, then traced fragments of the bugs DNA through the subway system. The next step is to figure out how the information can be put to good use, such as developing better insecticides or blood thinners. The team’s scientific paper on the subject was published in Nature Communications. — AP, 2/7/2016
Two Israeli scientists believe they have reached a breakthrough in destroying the AIDS virus and have announced their plan to start clinical trials on human beings. Prof. Abraham Loyter and Prof. Assaf Friedler of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem began studying the issue, and following some successful research, the Zyon Pharmaceutical company signed an exclusive agreement with the university to develop the medication. The two scientists believe that cells infected with the virus can be killed without harming the entire body, thereby curing the HIV carrier. They developed peptides (short chains of amino acid monomers) which cause this process and tested them successfully on human cells infected with the HIV virus. The virus was undetectable even two weeks after the end of the treatment. The researchers’ conclusion was that not only can the virus infection be stopped, but that the infected cells can be destroyed, too. — Ynet News, 1/10/2016

3,100,000,000,000 — the number of miles driven in the US in 2015. This is roughly the same distance as 337 round trips between planets Earth and Pluto. — AP, 3/24/2016

A study of junior doctors determined that working longer than mandated hours had no impact on the quality of care or surgical results. The study was done on 4,000 randomly picked residents that sometimes worked for more than 28 hours at a time. Residents’ work limits were first set in 2003 by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, and revised in 2011. The rules include 80-hour maximum workweeks. — AP, 2/7/2016


Iran announced that it now has access to more than [US] $100 billion in previously frozen assets due to sanctions relief granted by the nuclear deal. The sum claimed by Tehran is nearly twice the estimate given by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that Iran would have access to about $55 billion. At the time, Kerry acknowledged that some of the funds would likely be used to support terrorist groups. — Washington Post, 2/2/2016

In 2010, the Rand Corp. estimated 27 million people would have health exchange policies in 2016. The Congressional Budget Office said that 20 million people would purchase plans in 2016. However, only 12.7 million signed up for plans by the end of the deadline of January 31 and about 1 million are likely to drop their plans or be dropped when they don’t pay their premiums. — USA Today, 2/15/2016

Iranian military officials announced that they plan to purchase $8 billion worth of arms from Russia, the latest sign of growing economic and military ties between the two countries in the wake of the nuclear deal signed last year. — Bridges for Peace, 2/19/2016

A $3 billion weapons deal is to be signed between Israel and India ahead of an historic visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Holy Land. India plans to buy 164 laser systems for its air force, specifically for its Sukhoi-30MKI and Jaguar planes, and 250 precision guided bunker busting bombs, according to a report. — Times of India, 2/10/2016 TSA’s PreCheck allows fliers to be screened more quickly because they do not have to take off their shoes, belts or light jackets and can leave liquids Israeli Medical Researchers and laptops in their luggage. The PreCheck pro­gram is in place at more than 150 airports and has more than 2.1 million travelers enrolled. — USA Today, 2/15/2016


Officials in Connecticut, South Carolina, and Colorado announced public/private arrangements to fund “pay for success” projects to help families struggling with drug addiction, improve health outcomes for poor mothers and their children, and reduce chronic homelessness. The concept involves a government entity teaming up with a private intermediary that develops the project, identifies effective programs already being utilized, and raises capital from philanthropic-minded investors. If the initiative produces specific results over multiple years, the state or local government pays back the investment with a small rate of return. Social Finance, a Boston-based, non-profit organization, raised the capital funding needed for the initiative. The US program was founded in 2011 and identifies programs that can help fix social problems, looking at best practices on how to affect change and securing funding to get it done. — AP, 2/20/2016

Airbnb (an exchange where individuals rent their homes on a short-term basis to tourists) is less than eight years old, but it has already caused massive changes in the way people travel. While consumers may have initially been hesitant to try the service, a new survey from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. shows that once they switch, they tend to not go back to hotels. According to a recent survey of 2,000 US consumers, people who have stayed in peer-to-peer lodging [P2P] in the last five years are fifty percent less likely to go back to hotels. They move directly from preferring traditional hotels to preferring P2P accommodations. — Bloomberg News, 2/16/2016

The former U.S. Treasury official who led the 2008 bailout program for the nation’s biggest banks says in his new role at the Federal Reserve that Congress and regulators should consider breaking them up to protect the financial system from another crisis. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari said his regional Fed bank will study ways to toughen US banking laws. He suggests breaking up the nation’s largest financial institutions and loading them with “so much capital that they virtually can’t fail” and taxing leverage to make the system safer, he said. Top Fed leaders including Chair Janet Yellen do not call for such dramatic steps. — Bloomberg News, 2/16/2016
In the next two years, Tesla and Chevy plan to start selling electric cars with a range of more than 200 miles priced in the $30,000 range. Ford is investing billions, Volkswagen is investing billions, and Nissan and BMW are investing billions. Nearly every major carmaker — as well as Apple and Google — is working on the next generation of plug-in cars. This is a problem for oil markets. OPEC still contends that electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of global car sales in 2040. Exxon’s forecast is similarly dismissive. The oil price crash that started in 2014 was caused by a glut of unwanted oil, as producers started cranking out about 2 million barrels a day more than the market supported. Soon electric vehicles might trigger a similar oil glut by reducing demand by the same 2 million barrels. — Bloomberg News, 2/24/2016


Over 30,000 people made aliyah to Israel in 2015, the highest number in over a decade. Ministry of Immigrant Absorption statistics showed an increase of about 10% from 2014 and the highest number since the 2003 peak in immigration. The biggest proportion of olim (new immigrants) came from France, with 7,900 arriving in Israel in 2015. This is the second time France has topped the list, attributed in part to a string of terror attacks in that country. Aliyah from Ukraine also increased again, with 7,000 olim, a rise of about 15% from 2014, or 230% from 2013. A further 6,600 arrived from Russia. In total, the Ministry and the Jewish Agency recorded 15,000 arrivals from eastern Europe, a 25% increase from to 2014. About 9,330 olim arrived from Western Europe, 6% above 2014’s figure. A slight decrease in aliyah from the US was registered, with 3,768 arrivals in 2015 compared to 3,871 the year before. — Ynetnews 12/29/2015

A recent 14-year dry spell in the Middle East was the worst drought in the past 900 years, according to a new NASA study. Their researchers examined records of rings of trees in several Mediterranean countries to determine patterns of dry and wet years across nine centuries. The study published this week concludes that the years from 1998 to 2012 were drier than any other period. The lead author, Ben Cook, said the range of extreme weather events in the eastern Mediterranean has varied widely in the past nine centuries, but the past two decades stand out. In Israel, the effects were dampened by its array of desalination plants. When the sixth plant in Ashdod goes into full production, these plants will reach 600 million cubic meters of water, nearly 70% of Israel’s domestic water consumption. The water shortage was one of several factors that affected Syria in the lead-up to the outbreak of that country’s devastating civil war in 2011. — JTA, 3/4/2016

Archaeologists Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper describe a stone road in Israel on which ancient Jews would make their Jerusalem pilgrimage. Many different types of roads crossed through Judea-Palestine in the Roman period. Methodically planned imperial “highways” were standardized across the Empire, with milestones at fixed intervals listing names of the builders and the distance and destination of the roads. They linked major urban areas and military bases, supporting commercial activities, communication, and supplies transportation. There were also “agricultural roads” connecting settlements with their fields and “rural roads” connecting villages with nearby sites, such as springs. Another type of ancient road is that on which Jews would travel to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. One such pilgrim road was found at an upward pass at Beit Horon, 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem, comprised of curved rock-cut steps measuring 5.5 feet wide. Alongside the modest road is a Roman imperial road more than double the width of the pilgrim road; both led to Jerusalem. — Biblical Arch. Review, Jan./Feb., 2016
The Siloam Pool has long been considered a sacred Christian site, where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:1-11). Traditionally, the Christian site of the Siloam Pool was the pool and church that were built by the Byzantine empress Eudocia (ca. 400-460 AD) to commemorate that miracle. However, the exact location of the original pool remained a mystery until June 2004. During construction work to repair a large water pipe south of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, at the southern end of the ridge known as the City of David, archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron identified two ancient stone steps leading to a monumental pool from the Second Temple period. The structure was 225 feet long and oriented toward Tyropoeon valley. The Siloam Pool is adjacent to the “King’s Garden” in the ancient City of David. It is just southeast of the remains of the fifth-century church and pool traditionally believed to be the site. — Biblical Archaeology Staff, 12/3/2015

A new group calling itself the Palestinian Islamic Army (PIA) has popped up in the Gaza Strip, showing the growing influence of the Islamic State (ISIS) among Palestinians. A thirty-minute video from the PIA shows its followers pledging allegiance to ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and paints Hamas leaders as “apostates” and “infidels” for failing to implement Islamic sharia law in the Gaza Strip. The ISIS ideology has infiltrated Gaza, a truth that Hamas has unsuccessfully been trying to conceal for the past year. — Gatestone Institute, 1/12/2016

The Energy Ministry has tripled its estimate of the volume of still-undiscovered natural gas in Israeli waters. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, has been presenting to international energy companies the new assessment of a potential 2,100 billion cubic meters (BCMs) of natural gas, in contrast to the 680 BCMs that the Tzemach Committee relied on to examine the government’s policy regarding the natural gas market. The Tamar and Leviathan gas fields have already yielded 750-950 BCM of natural gas. The new assessment is based on a report prepared by French firm BeicipFranlab. The potential amount of petroleum is estimated at 6.6 billion barrels. — Bridges for Peace, 2/25/2016

Hamas claims it has built more than 50 tunnels in the past 18 months, but Israel rejects that as an exaggeration. Some tunnels have electricity and telephone lines, but most require only manpower and persistence. They have been virtually impossible to detect by Israeli technology. — USA Today, 2/15/2016

Categories: 2016 Issues, 2016-May/June

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