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A bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded 49, many of them women and children attending Sunday mass, in the deadliest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in years. The attack comes as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi fights battles on several fronts. — Reuters, 12/11/2016

Beneath layers of ancient marble, renovators at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem say they have found what may be the limestone bench where the body of Jesus was laid after his crucifixion. However, they can’t say for sure that it is the right tomb. The tradition associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the fourth century when Helena, the Christian mother of the emperor Constantine, came to the Holy Land seeking to identify sites connected to the ministry of Jesus. Another site called the Garden Tomb — discovered in 1867 just outside the Damascus Gate — developed an alternate following. The Garden Tomb is operated by a nondenominational Christian charitable trust based in the United Kingdom. British tour guides who lead groups past a hill that could be Golgotha and into the empty tomb only go so far as to say it could be the actual tomb of Jesus. New Testament scholars are intrigued by the Holy Sepulchre renovations, but are keeping their expectations in check. — Christianity Today, 11/30/2016

One attempt to study the demographics of godlessness is made by the American Bible Society, which ranks the nation’s cities based on their level of Bible engagement. The survey is conducted by the Barna group and regards individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches as ‘Bible-minded’ people. The least Bible-minded cities in the 2016 survey were Albany/Schenectady/ Troy in New York State with only 10% of residents qualifying as Bible-minded. Boston, Massachusetts (11%), moved from third to second place while Providence, Rhode Island (12%), the least Bible-minded city in 2015, dropped two spots to third place. The only Midwest city to make the top five in the ‘least Bible-minded’ list was Cedar Rapids, Iowa (13%), followed by Buffalo, New York (13%). Other cities in the bottom 10 include Las Vegas, Nevada (14%), San Francisco (15%), Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut (16%), Phoenix/Prescott, Arizona (16%), and Salt Lake City, Utah (17%). — The Guardian, 12/7/2016

Social

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is forming a new fund with more than $1 billion to invest in technologies aimed at counteracting climate change. The fund “will finance emerging energy breakthroughs that can deliver affordable and reliable zero carbon emissions,” investors said in a statement. Other investors include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son. — USA Today, 12/2/2016

One of medicine’s greatest successes is the sharp rise in survival rates for children with cancer. The flip side of that success is that many of those children are turning up later with serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, including second cancers, heart disorders, cognitive problems and infertility. In the 1960s, fewer than half of children with cancer were alive five years after their diagnoses; now, more than 80 percent are. Yet the improved survival rates “came at a high cost,” said Gregory Armstrong, an oncologist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “These treatments seem to accelerate the aging process,” said Greg Aune, a researcher and pediatric oncologist who works at a clinic for childhood cancer survivors at University Hospital in San Antonio. Tracking more than 30,000 childhood cancer survivors from the 1980s, new health problems repeatedly showed up years later. “This is a population that appears much older than its chronological age,” Armstrong said. — Washington Post, 12/26/2016

The United States population in 2016 showed the slowest growth since the Great Depression. Three of the biggest states lost residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report. Nationally, the population grew by only 0.7%, to 323.1 million. — U.S. Census Bureau, 12/21/2016

The nation’s first offshore wind farm has opened off the coast of Rhode Island, ushering in a new era in the U.S. for the industry. Deepwater Wind built five turbines to power about 17,000 homes, a project costing $300 million. Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the wind farm proves that offshore wind can happen safely and efficiently. — AP, 12/18/2016

Finland’s 62,000 teachers are all selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates, all of which are required to earn a master’s degree. Finland has a 93-percent graduation rate with just one set of educational goals and no specifically designated teaching methods or standardized exams, except for one at the end of the senior year. All schools are publicly funded and provisions made for special needs and equal opportunity. Finland spends roughly the same per pupil as do most states in the U.S., but has one of the highest performing school systems in the world. — Arizona Republic, 12/26/2016

Political

The Russian Federation’s official foreign policy, signed by President Vladimir Putin Nov. 30, reiterates Moscow’s long-standing interests in Syria. Maxim Suchkov writes, “Moscow reaffirmed its commitment to the ‘unity, independence and territorial integrity’ of Syria as ‘a secular, democratic and pluralistic state,’ where all ethnic groups and religious denominations will live ‘in peace and security and enjoy equal rights and opportunities.’ ” Suchkov adds, “This wording gives a sense of what the Kremlin is looking for … and what its starting negotiation position will be once the ‘fighting phase’ is over. It is also designed to annul allegations that Russia is considering the partition of Syria … such a posture does not technically prevent Moscow from advocating for a federalization if such an option is ever on the table.” — Al-Monitor, 12/22/2016

Across Western Europe, as many as 80,000 Afghans eventually may be repatriated after their asylum applications were rejected, under the agreement signed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and E.U. officials in October. In 2016, Germany deported a record 23,750 asylum seekers. More than 200,000 foreigners have pending deportation orders, including 12,500 Afghans. — Washington Post, 12/25/2016

The U.S. Congress decided for the first time to expressly protect the rights of people around the world who practice no religion at all. President Obama signed the International Religious Freedom Act, which includes a reference to non-believers as well. — USA Today, 12/22/2016

● 1,023 — the record number of non-violent federal criminals released in 2016 under the Presidential pardon program. — Cronkite News, 12/20/2016

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel cease Jewish settlement activity on Palestinian territory in a unanimous vote that passed when the United States abstained rather than using its veto as it has reliably done in the past. The United States’ abstention was a rare rebuke to Israel, and it reflected mounting frustration in the Obama administration over settlement growth that the United States considers an obstacle to peace. With President Obama’s time in office due to end, his decision not to veto was a last-minute symbolic statement of that displeasure and a sense of exasperation. — Washington Post, 12/24/2016

Financial

A server at Pita Jungle restaurant in Phoenix, who was 9 months pregnant, was surprised to find that a couple that she had served before Christmas left her a $900 tip on top of the $61.30 bill. The customer that left the tip, who was also pregnant, left a note on the receipt saying, “This is God’s money — He gave it to us so we could give it to you. God bless.” — Sunnyskyz.com, 12/23/2016

The United States will reach a milestone in January 2017 as the national debt will surpass $20 trillion, the largest amount ever owed by any nation in history. The outgoing administration will have added more red ink than all previous presidents combined. The United States is now paying more than $284 billion in interest payments on the debt every year. This is more than the combined amount of spending for transportation, education, conservation of natural resources and the environment. — Arizona Republic, 12/18/2016

Staggering hikes in prices of prescription drugs are a major concern of a new congressional report. The findings by the Senate Special Committee on Aging summarize the panel’s 2016 investigation of records from four pharmaceutical companies and public hearings that focused on sudden price spikes in decades-old medications and the pricing decisions imposed by drug industry entrepreneur Marin Shkreli and other industry executives. Shkreli gained widespread criticism for his role in directing price increases of as much as 5,000% for a medication used to treat a parasitic disease that weakens the immune system. — USA Today, 12/8/2016

Alfonso Prat-Gay was fired as Argentina’s Finance Minister after just one year in the post as a long-heralded recovery in the economy fails to materialize. The ministry he headed will now be split into two, with Luis Caputo, who was finance secretary, heading the new Finance Ministry and Nicolas Dujovne overseeing the Economy Ministry. The economy has sunk into recession this year, defying President Mauricio Macri’s forecast that it would return to growth in the second half, while the inflation rate has risen to about 40 percent. — Bloomberg, 12/26/2016

$1.1 Trillion — the amount of outstanding student debt in the U.S. $4 Billion — the amount proposed to be cancelled due to the government’s failure to properly monitor Corinthian Colleges, Inc., which went bankrupt in 2015, and arranged loans based on fraudulent promises to students. — Bloomberg News, 12/26/2016

Israel

List of Biblical sites which are part of archaeological digs in 2017:

● Tel Hazor, an important city in the days of Joshua (Joshua 11:10)

● Abel Beth Maachah in northern Israel (2 Samuel 20:14; 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29)

● Timna, part of King Solomon’s mines (2 Kings 25:9; Jeremiah 52:28-30)

● Rimmon, part of Persian ruler Cyrus the Great’s empire during the Babylonian captivity (Nehemiah 11:29) — Biblical Archaeology Review, January/ February 2017 (Editor’s note: It is possible for amateurs to volunteer to be part of the team on these digs.)

Israel is unable and unwilling to change its unique blend of religion and state, said the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office in an address to Jewish Diaspora journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday. “While many great democracies around the world can successfully and beautifully separate religion and state, in Israel we can’t,” Eli Groner said. “We can’t and we won’t. We’re a Jewish sovereign nation state, for better and for worse.” — Times of Israel, 12/5/2016

A stone bowl engraved with a rare Hebrew inscription — “Hyrcanus” — dating to the Hasmonean period was discovered in the archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Givati Parking Lot at the City of David at the Jerusalem Walls National Park. “Hyrcanus” was a common name of the time, as well as the name of two kings of the Hasmonean dynasty. According to researchers, “This is one of the earliest examples of the appearance of chalk vessels in Jerusalem. In the past, these vessels were widely used mainly by Jews because they ensured ritual purity (stone vessels never receive tumah).” — Jni media, 12/22/2016

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is preparing to deal with unconventional threats on Israel’s northern border, including those involving nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. The “Yahalom” Special Operations Engineering Unit has established the new Seyfan Company for this purpose. Military forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian government have been cited numerous times for their use of chemical weapons against the civilian Syrian population during the ongoing civil war across Israel’s northern border. In addition, there has been recent evidence that the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization may also have begun using chemical weapons in some of their operations as well. As early as 2015, ISIS was trafficking in chemical weaponry in Europe, according to a European Union parliamentary report. — JewishPress.com, 12/21/2016

Israel’s national water carrier will lay the groundwork for a pipeline that will double its annual supply to Jordan whose limited water resources have been under increased strain in recent years due to an influx of Syrian refugees. Mekorot’s new pipeline will extend from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and provide Jordan with 100 million cubic meters of water annually, roughly doubling the kingdom’s current allocation. The deal is part of a broader water-sharing agreement that the neighboring countries signed in February, 2015 which also commits Jordan to building a desalination plant in Aqaba and selling Israel a portion of the potable water it generates there. — The Israel Project, 12/14/2016 Israel’s Minister of Defense has instructed the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to acquire hundreds of new surface-to-surface missiles to increase the Jewish state’s striking power. The weapons will reportedly be deployed in the northern region of Israel and will be used instead of the air force in certain missions. “The change stems from changes in the nature of operations in the north and from the need to increase capabilities to respond in ways in which we have not responded before,” an official said. “We have no choice,” said Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman. — Bridges for Peace, 12/26/2016

Almost 90% of Israeli wastewater is purified and used in irrigation, making it an undisputed world leader in this field. A new report by the country’s Water Authority, cited Spain as the second-place country, with recycling of water at 20% compared to Israel’s 87%. Israel is also a pioneer in desalinization, with its Sorek plant near Tel Aviv producing a thousand liters of drinking water for about 58 cents in U.S. dollars. That is the amount of water consumed by one person in Israel in a single week. Israel aims to produce 200 billion gallons of potable water annually through five major desalination plants by 2020 and has shared its expertise in the field to help address water shortages globally. — Haaretz, 12/25/2016

Israel is embarking on a major archaeological expedition to find yet undiscovered Dead Sea Scrolls. Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said a government research team will spend the next three years surveying hundreds of caves in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea, the arid region where the Dead Sea Scrolls, the world’s oldest biblical manuscripts, were preserved for thousands of years and discovered in 1947. In recent years, ancient manuscripts have trickled onto the local antiquities market, and looters are believed to have plundered them from Dead Sea area caves, prompting the government initiative. — Israel Antiquities Authority, 11/14/2016

 

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