Can you name the Top 10 religion stories of the past 1,000 years? As the second millennium rushes to a close, the people at "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly," the PBS TV show, decided to compile such a daunting list. The results, selected by staff after consultation with scholars, are a fascinating journey through the world’s significant religious developments: many of which have resulted in untold pain and suffering. Jews were profoundly affected by virtually all of these stories.
Presented in chronological order they are:
1. The Great Schism of 1054, dividing Christianity into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches.
2. The Crusades, 1095-1291.3. Muslim expansion and conquest of India (1190-1200) and the reign of Islamic empires in the Middle East and parts of Europe.
4. Printing on moveable type of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.
5. Church patronage of the arts, and of universities and learning.
6. The posting by Martin Luther of the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, beginning the Reformation.
7. Colonialism and the Christian missionary period, responsible for the spread of Christian faith to North and South America, Africa and Asia.
8. In 1620, English Puritans settle in Plymouth, Mass., the first of many immigrants seeking religious freedom; religious freedom becomes the cornerstone of American democracy.
9. The ideas of 19th-century thinkers including Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud that challenge traditional religious belie.
10. The ongoing anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews culminating in the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel (1948).
"You’ll notice a heavy emphasis on Christianity and Europe; it was that kind of millennium," explained host Bob Abernethy. "You may also find our list arbitrary and wrong. Let us know."
Jordan appears set to give up its religious authority over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, a potentially far-reaching development for peace and religion in the Middle East.
"If our Palestinian brothers want to take over this responsibility, Jordan is willing to cede this responsibility to them," Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Raouf al-Rawabdeh said in an interview broadcast last week by the Saudi-owned radio station Middle East Broadcasting Center.
The Palestinian Authority said the announcement was an important diplomatic achievement.
"We are part of our Arab and Muslim nation," Rawabdeh said. "Our interest in Jerusalem is because we are part of this nation, and we are not an alternative to our Palestinian brothers."
Rawabdeh said Jordanian religious authorities are currently running the sites in cooperation with the Palestinians.
Jordan has said in the past that it would give Palestinians control once final-status talks between the Palestinians and Israel were completed. Jordan’s rulers, the non-Palestinian Hashemite tribe, have long held sway over Jerusalem’s Muslim sacred sites. That control started in 1948 when Jordan’s King Abdullah annexed Jerusalem. Abdullah was assassinated three years later at the Temple Mount’s Al Aqsa Mosque by members of a Palestinian nationalist underground group.
But his grandson, the late King Hussein, maintained firm control over the holy sites until Israel won Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordan renounced its legal and administrative roles to the PLO in 1988. But King Hussein maintained his role as custodian of Islamic sites in Jerusalem, spending about $240 million between 1952 and 1991 on the upkeep of mosques and Islamic religious courts, according to an Israeli newspaper.
"It’s a green light for the Palestinians to exercise even more authority in Jerusalem," explained Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee. "It’s the ceding of religious authority, which is very, very important in the Islamic religious world. Anyone who was thinking that the Jordanians will have some role to play in a confederation with the Palestinians, this symbolizes the end of it."
And what does Israel have to say about this development?
"The administration of the holy sites in Jerusalem is in the authority of religious institutions, not the Palestinian Authority," a spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "In the framework of the negotiations, Israel must make sure to protect its full sovereignty over the areas of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount."
Pope John Paul II’s plan to visit the biblical birthplace of Abraham in present-day Iraq in December is being criticized by the U.S. government and some Jewish groups.
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the administration is concerned the "regime in Iraq would attempt to manipulate the visit for political purposes. Iraq remains a brutal dictatorship where torture and summary execution are commonplace," said spokesman James Foley. He added that the U.S. sympathized with the pope’s desire to make a historic pilgrimage of several biblical sites next year, including Mt. Sinai in Egypt, Damascus, Syria, Bethlehem in the West Bank and Nazareth and Jerusalem in Israel.
The World Jewish Congress also says it is deeply troubled that the pope would meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during a three-day trip starting Dec. 2, which will include a helicopter visit to the town of Ur, the city about 200 miles south of Baghdad that is the traditional birthplace of Abraham.
"Questions have been raised about going to Iraq at all," WJC executive director Elan Steinberg told The Jewish Week.
"We’re told [John Paul] going to use the occasion to meet with Saddam, a mass murderer. And this would be in defiance of U.S. sanction." For his part, the pope has said the trip to Iraq is part of a millennial personal pilgrimage and that it will have no political significance beyond a message of peace.
The Chaldean Catholic patriarch, Raphael Bidawid, who represents some 80 percent of Iraq’s 1 million-member Christian minority, has accused the U.S. and Israel of "trying hard to prevent the visit." For interfaith stories and ideas, contact Eric J. Greenberg at email@example.com.