Thursday, October 27, 2016

2,800-year-old papyrus confirms organized kingdom at Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday revealed the earliest known extra-biblical reference to Jerusalem in Hebrew writing on a papyrus document confiscated from thieves four years ago by Israeli authorities.

The 2,800-year-old papyrus was found following an international enforcement operation by the IAA against antiquities robbers operating in the Judean Desert. Where the robbers found the papyrus cannot be sure, but it seems to have been found in a cave by the Hever Stream in the desert.

The papyrus is rare not only for the ancient Hebrew writing and the name of Jerusalem, but for existing at all. The arid desert certainly has conditions appropriate to preserve organic material over centuries, but ancient documentation that survived thousands of years remains rare. Only two other papyruses dated to the First Temple era have been found, one of which had been erased.

The papyrus was revealed at the IAA’s Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region conference on Wednesday.

Archaeologists are usually wary of publicizing finds not made through formal excavation due to the uncertainty of their origin. In this case, the researchers are confident that the find is authentic.

Carbon-14 analysis shows that the papyrus is between 2,500 and 2,800 years old. The Hebrew lettering is typical of the seventh century B.C.E. (699 B.C.E. – 600 B.C.E.) Though the writing itself could have been forged, the archaeologists believe it too is authentic.

Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the papyrus, the IAA says.

Most of the letters are clearly legible, say Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and Amir Ganor of the IAA, who believe the text says:

“From the king’s maidservant, from Naʽarat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”

In other words, says the IAA, the papyrus is an original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, describing the shipment of jars of wine from storehouses in Na’arat to Jerusalem.

Naʽarat would likely be the Naʽarat mentioned in the description of the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7: “And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Naʽarat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan.” However, 1 Chronicles 4:5, 6 also indicates it could be a woman’s name.

Ahituv notes that the papyrus isn’t just the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing – “to date no other documents written on papyrus dating to the First Temple period have been discovered in Israel, except one from Wadi Murabbaʽat.

“Also outstanding in the document is the unusual status of a woman in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century B.C.E.”

Ahituv adds that the document reinforces the theory that the city’s original name was “Yerushalem,” not “Yerushalayim.”

“The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah,” stated Klein. “It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century B.C.E. According to the Bible, the kings Menashe, Amon or Josiah ruled in Jerusalem at this time; however, it is not possible to know for certain which of the kings of Jerusalem was the recipient of the shipment of wine.”

Actually, according to biblical chronology, (see my earlier column About Time, part two: Bible history versus secular history) the kings of Judah in the last half of the seventh century were:

  • Josiah                          659-629 B.C.E.
  • Jehoahaz                      628
  • Jehoiakim                    628-618
  • Jehoiachin                   617
  • Zedekiah                     616-607 B.C.E.

 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including three novels.They are available in paperback or ebook on this page at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

UNESCO Tries to Revise Jerusalem's History

Photo By Bantosh, Wikimedia

If UNESCO has their way, they might very well take down the sign shown here. Instead, they seem intent on putting up a plaque that looks something like the following:

"On this site about 1935 B.C.E., Melchizedek, King of Salem, blessed Abraham the Hebrew."
"On this site in 1070 B.C.E., King David the Israelite defeated the Jebusites and established Jerusalem as his capital."
"On this site in 1026 B.C.E. Solomon dedicated the new Jewish temple he'd built.
"On this site in 607 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jewish temple.
"On this site in 537 B.C.E. Zerrubbabel rebuilt the Jewish temple."
"On this site in 168 B.C.E. Antiochus desecrated the Jewish temple."
"On this site in 165 B.C.E. Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the Jewish temple."
"On this site in 18 B.C.E. Herod the great began rebuilding the Jewish temple."
"On this site in 33 C.E. Jesus foretold the destruction of the Jewish temple."
"On this site in 70 C.E. the Roman army under General Titus destroyed the Jewish temple.
"On this site in 638 C.E. Islamic armies took control of Jerusalem."
"On this site in 691 C.E. Muslim Caliph Abd el-Malik built a shrine called the Dome of the Rock."
" On this site in 820 C.E., Caliph al-Mamun removed the name of Caliph Abd el-Malik from the dedication plate and inserted his own name instead."
"On this site in 1119 the Crusaders took Jerusalem back from the Muslims, and the Knights Templar Identified the Dome of the Rock as the site of the Temple of Solomon and turned it into a Catholic Church.
"On this site in 1187, Muslims retook Jerusalem and re-dedicated the Dome of the Rock to Islam."
"On this site in 1967, during the Six-Day War, Jewish forces took over the Dome of the Rock. A few hours later, General Moshe Dayan ordered the Israeli flag lowered, and he turned over authority of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Religious Trust."
"On this site in 2016, UNESCO decided the Temple Mount has always been a Muslim holy site and has no importance to Jewish history."

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here. Watch for the release of the new novel Unbroken on 

Monday, October 24, 2016

TXA drug found to dramatically reduce surgical complications

A DRUG that prevents ­patients from losing excessive amounts of blood during and after surgery dramatically reduces complications, a global trial led by The Alfred hospital reveals.

About 40 per cent of Australians who have open-heart ­surgery need blood transfusions and emergency surgery to stem the bleeding, putting them at risk of worse outcomes.

But giving them the drug tranexamic acid (TXA) almost halved these complications.

Anaesthetists and surgeons leading the study say the drug can be used safely for everything from heart surgery to hip replacement.

Melbourne researchers are also hopeful it will prove to be an effective “roadside drug” that reduces bleeding in road trauma patients while they are being transported to hospital.

Doctors were concerned the drug’s tendency to promote clotting might raise the risk of heart attack or stroke. But Associate Professor Silvana Marasco, a cardiothoracic surgeon at The Alfred and co-author of the study,­ said the findings of the 10-year trial of more than 4000 patients found no evidence to support these fears.

She said excessive bleeding in surgery could reduce the ­patient’s recovery and increase costs to the health system because of blood transfusions and emergency surgery.

“Bleeding during a surgery prolongs it, but it also causes a problem when the patient continues to bleed after you close the chest,” she said.

“If they have ongoing bleeding, you have to give them a blood transfusion, and sometimes the amount of blood they lose can collect around the heart and actually compress the heart and stop it from working ­properly. In that situation, they ­become quite unstable and you are rushing them back to the operating theatre for emergency surgery and we have to reopen them, find where the bleeding is coming from and give them drugs to reduce it.”

Professor Paul Myles, director of anaesthesia and perioperative medicine at The Alfred, said the findings meant almost every heart surgery patient could be treated with TXA.

“Use of TXA can also be safely expanded to prevent bleeding with other kinds of major surgery, such as knee and hip replacements, trauma surgery and spinal surgery — operations where TXA is not much used at present,” he said.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was funded by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists and the ­National Health and Medical Research Council. [Read more here…]

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Did Jesus die on a cross?

The old expression "The Greeks had a word for it" is very literally true. They have, for example, not one but four different words for "love."

There are two words used in the original Greek bible to describe the implement of Jesus' death. Yet nearly every English bible says that Jesus was killed on a "cross", and the verb form says that he was "crucified."

 The two Greek words in question are stauros (pronounced Stou-ros or stavros) and xylon (pronounced ksee-lon).  Here's what Greek scholars say about those two words: 

Strong’s Greek Dictionary:

4716. Stauros
"A stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment) Appears 28 times in the NT."

The Anchor Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:
The act of nailing or binding a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross or stake (stauros or skolops) or a tree (xylon)"

The New Catholic Encyclopaedia:
"Crucifixion developed from a method of execution by which the victim was fastened to an upright stake either by impaling him on it or by tying him to it with thongs..."

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:
"The method of torture and execution used by the Romans to put Christ to death. At a crucifixion the victim usually was nailed or tied to a wooden stake and left to die..."

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
"Stauros denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake. On such, malefactors were nailed for execution..."

A Dictionary of the Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And Contents, Including the Biblical Theology, in New Testament usage:
"[Stauros] means properly a stake…"

Hastings' Dictionary Of The Bible states:
"The Greek term rendered 'cross' in the English NT is stauros, which has a wider application than we ordinarily give to 'cross,' being used of a single stake or upright beam as well as of a cross composed of two beams."

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980
"The Greek word for 'cross' (stauros) means primarily an upright stake or beam, and secondarily a stake used as an instrument for punishment and execution. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament."

The Catholic Encyclopaedia
"The cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end."

The Classic Greek Dictionary, Greek-English and English-Greek:
"'stauros': upright pale, stake or pole; in plural, a palisade."

The Companion Bible, Appendix 162:
"In the Greek N.T. two words are used for 'the cross' on which the Lord was put to death: 1. The word stauros; which denotes an upright pale or stake, to which the criminals were nailed for execution. 2. The word xylon, which generally denotes a piece of a dead log of wood, or timber, for fuel or for any other purpose. It is not like dendron, which is used of a living, or green tree, as in Matt.21: 8; Rev.7: 1, 3; 8:7; 9: 4, &c. As this latter word xylon is used interchangeably with stauros it shows us the meaning of each is exactly the same. The verb stauroo means to drive stakes. Our English word 'cross' is the translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word 'stick' means a 'crutch'. Homer uses the word stauros of an ordinary pole or stake, or a simple piece of timber.[footnote, Iliad xxiv.453. Odyssey xiv.11] And this is the meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but of always one piece alone. Hence the use of the word xylon (No.2 above) in connection with the manner of our Lord's death and rendered 'tree' in Acts 5:30."

Other scriptural evidence: 

  Is there other evidence within the Bible itself that can help us know how Jesus was killed? As it turns out, there is.

As noted above, at Acts 5:30, Peter declared that Jesus was "hanged upon a tree (xylon)." Acts 10:39 and 13:29 also use the same expression, that Jesus was 'hanged upon a tree.' Most Bibles so translate the phrase. 

 Where else does the Bible use that word xylon

Matthew 26:55 "Did you come out to arrest me with swords and sticks (xylon)?" 

 Luke 23:31 "If they do these things when the tree (xylon) is green, what will they do when it withers?"
Galatians 3:13 (KJV) "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (xylon)."
1 Peter 2:24 "He carried our sins up to the tree (xylon)."
Revelation 2:7 "...the tree (xylon) of life in the midst of the garden." 

Of the 20+ occurrences of stauros in the Greek New Testament, most Bibles consistently render the word "cross." But, not so fast: the 70 Jewish scholars who created the Greek translation the Hebrew old testament known as the Septuagint, shortly before Jesus' day, also had access to the word stauros. Did they ever render it "cross"? No.

At Esther 7:9 we find the story of Haman erecting a 50-cubit-tall stauros on which he planned to hang Mordecai, on which he ended up being hoisted himself. Was this stauros a cross? Bibles variously render the implement there as "pillar, tree, gallows." None render it "cross." Why not? If the Septuagint translators rendered the word stauros, why shouldn't English translators render it "cross"? Why the inconsistency? 

The answer is obvious: Haman, whose body was displayed in a stauros, wasn't hung on a cross. 

The words "cross" and "crucifixion" comes from the Latin word crux, not the Greek stauros. Did the bible writers use stauros simply because there was no Greek word to describe a crossed piece of wood? Of course not. Greeks were great with words.

If Jesus was killed on an implement the Romans called a "crux", the Bible writers would have inserted the Latin word crux. There are numerous examples where the Bible writers used Latin names for things that weren't native to Judea: Census, Praetorium, flagellum, etc. Furthermore, Greek had words that translated the idea of crossing. Luke 16:26 says: "Those wishing to cross (diabenai) from here to you are not able." Acts 16:9 says "Cross over (diabas) to Macedonia and help us." If neither of those words worked, a writer could have simply made up a word, using elements of dia and xylon to convey the idea. Just as there are examples of Bible writers using Latin words, there are also numerous examples of Bible writers making up new words as the need arose. For example, the Greeks had no word for humility until Paul attached the idea of "low" to the word for "mind" and came up with tapeinophrosune. 

Does it matter what you believe on this subject, or is it simply an interesting word puzzle? 

Ultimately, whether Jesus was nailed to a stake, a cross, an X, or was hit by a bus, what matters is this:

  1. His death paid the ransom to buy back life for those exercising faith. 
  2. Wearing the instrument of his death around your neck is idolatry, and it's insulting.

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Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

After-school Satanic club coming to a grade school near you

Lilith Starr is a devil’s advocate in every sense.

As founder of the Satanic Temple of Seattle, she’s under pressure from national satanic headquarters — located in the Colonial witch trials city of Salem, Mass. — to launch a counterstrike against grade school Christianity by opening an after-school Satan Club.

“I think many people have the misunderstanding that we are some kind of tongue-in-cheek troll group,” said Starr, 44, a Harvard grad who sometimes dresses in church robes and, when circumstances demand, paints her lips and part of her face black. “But in reality we are a very serious religion, with our own shared narrative, culture and symbols, a code of ethics — our Seven Tenets — and worship in the form of activism.”

The national movement is attempting to establish a dozen After School Satan Clubs across the country. Local chapters have applied for space at public grade schools in cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Los Angeles.

The clubs are all seeking school district approval, with the Atlanta-area club saying it hopes to hold its first meeting by Halloween.

The Los Angeles Unified School District appears to be the only school district to outright reject the club. In response to a Los Angeles Times inquiry Monday, the district issued a statement stating the club proposed for Chase Elementary School in Panorama City “does not meet the minimum requirement of having the school’s approval and, therefore, will not be offered at the school.”

That rejection could lead to a legal challenge. The Christians may have the force of Heaven behind them, but the Satanists have the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2001 high court ruling in a civil case brought by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Missouri held that when a government operates a “limited public forum” such as after-school clubs, it can’t discriminate against the kind of speech that takes place.

The victory permitted the clubs to proselytize in public classrooms after hours. It also opened the school door for students of any faith, or no faith, to be taught the ways of Satanism.

Fifteen years later, with the Christian-based Good News Club having expanded to hundreds of schools across the U.S., the Satanists are responding.

Starr’s temple originally planned to open its first club at a grade school in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle. The school board’s attorney said the district had no choice but to approve the request due to court rulings.

But with space unavailable there until April, Starr said, the temple is now targeting Point Defiance Elementary in Tacoma, where the Satanists will compete with a Good News Club there. A school district spokesperson confirms the application has been made, but the school board has made no decision yet.

Starr has an English degree from Harvard and a master’s in journalism from Stanford. She says she battled depression, she confesses in a web bio, to “eventually losing her marriage, her house, her job and her friends due to an out-of-control addiction to nitrous oxide,” or laughing gas.

She remarried and found Satanism reading her husband’s Satanic Bible, eventually forming the Seattle temple in 2014. She said the group, which now has 78 members, meets every other week in libraries, an occult bookshop and other locations, always closing sessions with a “Hail Satan” invocation.

Among their advocacy efforts was an appearance at a high school football game across Puget Sound in Bremerton. Dressed in black robes, the Satanists milled about in counterpoint to Bremerton High’s assistant football coach, Joe Kennedy, who liked to lead his players kneeling in prayer on the 50-yard-line after the game. Though much of the Navy town’s community supported him — so did Donald Trump at one of his campaign appearances — the school board ended up firing Kennedy for his refusal to stop, and he has taken the dispute to federal court. [Read more here…]

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Landmark ruling from South Korean appeals court

A South Korean appeals court on Tuesday overturned the convictions of two conscientious objectors in an unprecedented ruling hailed as a key victory by opponents of mandatory military service.

The judges also rejected prosecutors’ calls to overturn a rare not-guilty verdict on a third conscientious objector — also a Jehovah’s Witness.

It was the first time an appeals court has ruled against the government in such cases. The timing and language of the judgement will provide a huge boost for advocates of reforming military service regulations.

More than 60 years after the end of the Korean War, nearly every able-bodied South Korean man between the ages of 18 and 35 must still complete around two years of military service. There is currently no alternative community service option for conscientious objectors, and anyone refusing the call-up faces up to two years in jail. But the appeals court in the southwestern city of Gwangju overturned the convictions and 18-month jail terms handed down by a lower court on two Jehovah’s Witnesses, arguing they had genuinely been motivated by religious convictions in refusing to serve.

“Religious and personal conscience is guaranteed by the constitution and cannot be restrained by criminal punishment,” Yonhap news agency quoted the court as saying.

“The international community is recognising conscientious objectors,” it said, while noting that “a consensus is shaping in our society on the need for an alternative service”.

The main rationale behind the continuation of mandatory military service is the threat posed by North Korea, given that the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty and left the two Koreas technically at war.

Amnesty International welcomed Tuesday’s ruling and said providing an alternative form of service was “long overdue... The government needs to act on the ruling and stop punishing young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience,” said its East Asia researcher Hiroka Shoji.

Every year, hundreds of conscientious objectors in South Korea — mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses — are put on trial for defying the draft.

Some 12,000 South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed as conscientious objectors over the past six decades, and the movement’s South Korean branch applauded the court ruling. [Read more here…]

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

Monday, October 17, 2016

Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

On January 8, 2005, Prince Harry attended a costume party. The then-20-year-old decided to go as a Nazi. While that may seem like a really stupid choice, to him it was simply a humorous costume, perhaps like something from a movie.

An eighty-five-year-old Englander would never have done such a thing. Growing up with real live nazi atrocities - air-raid sirens, buzz bombs, buildings collapsing, food rationing - he would never have considered anything about the Nazis to be amusing.

The chairman of Britain's Holocaust Educational Trust, Greville Janner, commented on Prince Harry’s gaff:
"There are too many people in Britain and elsewhere whose lives have been wrecked by the Nazis, whose families have been murdered by the Nazis, whose sons were killed by the Nazis. It is too close to the war, too close to the Holocaust, and really a senseless way to behave."
Does that mean that after another generation or two have died off that it will be okay for a person to wear a swastika for fun? The fact that there is such a thing as a Holocaust Educational Trust indicates that forgetting is a bad thing.

What does any of this have to do with Halloween?

The term Jack o’lantern first appeared in print in Ireland in 1750. It refers to a story of an undead person who, having outwitted the devil, was condemned to wander the earth eternally, using for light an ember of Hell, protected inside a carved turnip. It’s been so long we’ve all forgotten, but think about it before you send your kiddies out as the Devil’s representatives this Halloween.

Halloween itself stretches back at least 2,000 years. The Celts, who lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France celebrated their new year on November 1. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, even to their own homes, and treats were put out to appease them. Since it was believed these spirits could cause trouble and damage crops, people built huge bonfires as offerings to their god of light, Lug. People gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. Apples or hazelnuts, both viewed as products of sacred trees, were used to divine information concerning marriage, sickness, and death. For example, apples with identifying marks were placed in a tub of water. By seizing an apple using only the mouth, a young man or woman was supposed to be able to identify his or her future spouse. Thus bobbing for apples was born.

Samhain was also characterized by drunken revelry and a casting aside of inhibitions. Interestingly, The Encyclopedia of Religion describes modern-day Halloween as “a time when adults can also cross cultural boundaries and shed their identities by indulging in an uninhibited evening of frivolity. Thus, the basic Celtic quality of the festival as an evening of annual escape from normal realities and expectations has remained."

In the bible God condemns fortune-telling (Deuteronomy 18:10), uninhibited revelries (Romans 13:13), and worshipping other gods (Exodus 20:2). He also assures us that the dead cannot harm us (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Psalms 146:4). The druid priests who used these superstitions to control the Celtic people would have been as disgusting to God as Prince Harry was to those who remembered Nazis. But it was so long ago, surely God has forgotten what these symbols mean by now...

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints' Day. It is believed that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows Day so the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. The church later would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor all the dead (rather than just dead saints). It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.

The macabre roots of Halloween may extend back even further. In his book The Worship of the Dead, writer J. Garnier notes that cultures the world over have some sort of festival for the dead at this same time of year, and he makes a connection to the flood of Noah’s day. The bible gives us the date of the flood: “the seventeenth day of the second month.” (Genesis 7:11) The calendar in use back then seems to have started with the first new moon after the fall equinox, so the 17th day of the second month could easily have been around October 31.

Why should we care? The bible tells us that, prior to the Flood, other angels had joined Satan in his rebellion against God (Genesis 6:2-4; Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4). These came to the earth and married women and had offspring. At the flood, the wives and children all died. The materialized angels undoubtedly dropped their human forms and went back to being spirits to avoid drowning. And, according to J. Garnier, human society has been helping those wicked spirits mourn their loss every Halloween since.

If pleasing God is important to you and you’re planning to celebrate Halloween, you'd better hope God has as short a memory as Prince Harry.

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including three novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-sellers Resurrection Day and Unbroken. His latest book is 99 ways to Fire Your Boss. All are available at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

South Korea, security and conscience

This year, South Korea’s Constitutional Court is supposed to rule - again - on the constitutionality of the Military Service Act, which requires the prosecution of conscientious objectors.

This is the third time that the court has heard the case. While the court upheld the constitutionality of the law in 2004 and 2011, there are some cautious predictions that things may turn out differently this time. 

In March, a lawyer went to prison. Every day, he faces a gray wall in a cramped room, about 4.61 square meters in area. The prisoner is Baek Jong-geon, 32, who passed South Korea’s bar exam in 2008, enrolled in the 40th class at the Judicial Research and Training Institute and was on his way to becoming a lawyer.

Baek had violated Article 88 of the Military Service Act, which states that individuals who have been instructed to report for military service and refuse to serve without “justifiable grounds” are to be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison. Baek was the first lawyer to break this law – which is not what you would expect of someone who by profession has to eat, sleep and breathe the law.

“I still have a vivid memory of what happened,” Baek said, recalling his memories. When a Hankyoreh reporter met him in July, he was sitting on the other side of the glass partition in the visiting room.

Baek was four years old when he met his father in the visiting room of the Daegu Prison in 1988. His father, Baek Seung-u, 57, had been court-martialed and imprisoned for insubordination. The elder Baek was a doctor – and a Jehovah’s Witness.

Baek continued in a steady voice. “I deeply respect the hard work and sacrifices of young people who serve in the military. I want to serve my country as they do, just in a different manner. I fought this for six years in the courts, calling for the introduction of an alternative form of civil service, but I eventually lost, and here I am,” he said.

Instead of the word “prison,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses use the word “neutral,” meaning that they are maintaining their military neutrality. Instead of saying that they “go to prison,” they say they “go neutral.” Baek is in prison not so that he can shirk his military service, but rather with the belief that he is staying neutral in military affairs.

“The prison guards tell us they know we can’t help being here and that we didn’t commit any crimes,” Baek said. The conscience that put him in prison earns him consideration instead of condemnation. Conscientious objectors are generally given work assignments in the prison where help is needed. They are put in charge of looking after and nursing the elderly and those with dementia and of cleaning the offices used by prison staff. Thus, a sort of alternative service is being practiced inside the prison.

Conscientious objectors receive a relatively heavy sentence of 1.5 years

According to the 2015 judicial almanac published by the Supreme Court, 14% of people who are tried each year are sentenced to at least one year in prison, and 6% are sentenced to at least three years in prison (in terms of district court rulings). Conscientious objectors receive a relatively heavy sentence of one year and six months. This one year and six months is the desperate measure that judges take to prevent conscientious objectors from receiving another order to report for duty.
A few judges exonerate conscientious objectors on the grounds of the “judge’s conscience.” This year alone, judges issued two not guilty verdicts. These are strictly lower-court rulings that do not follow Supreme Court precedent.

A judge at one district court described the situation as follows: “All of us feel uncomfortable with these rulings. The issue could be solved by simply creating an alternative service system, but since there’s no law in place, we have to keep convicting conscientious objectors. Whatever preventive effect the punishment once had has vanished long ago. We keep convicting conscientious objectors, and more keep coming. It’s been the same for decades now. That means that the government should get involved and set up a program.”

Some prosecutors apologize to conscientious objectors when bringing charges against them, and some judges even shed tears when reading the sentence. Last year, 493 cases were brought against conscientious objectors; as of August of this year, there were 141. Baek is supposed to be released from prison in September of next year.

Lim was the student body president at a university in Seoul. Hearing about the innocent people dying in the US invasion of Iraq – including a South Korean, Kim Seon-il – further confirmed his decision to refuse to serve in the military.

When he was sentenced to one year and six months in prison, Lim remembers the judge addressing him in the following words: “You argue that your refusal to serve in the military is the way to stop war, but there has never been a time in human history without war. Preparing for war is the way to keep the peace.”

After prison, becoming a lawyer to help fellow conscientious objectors

Lim went to prison in Jan. 2005. After being released, he graduated from university and became a lawyer at Haemaru Law Firm in April 2015. The man who broke the law has now become a lawyer defending others who intend to defy the Military Service Act.

“In my spare time, I represent conscientious objectors on a pro bono basis. The Busan District Court is currently trying Kim Jin-man [29-years-old] for breaking the Military Service Act. Just like me, Kim says that he is refusing to serve in the military because of his beliefs about peace,” Lim said.
“I’m not defending him so much as I’m giving him plenty of chances to talk in court. For their entire life, conscientious objectors are pestered about why they refused to serve in the military. Having had the chance to speak his mind in court will provide him some consolation when he goes to prison.”
At first, Lim’s mother couldn’t understand why he was refusing to do his military service, and for a while she didn’t visit him in prison. But as she was putting away the tofu that friends had given Lim upon his release from prison (according to a Korean custom), she said, “You didn’t commit a crime, so why should you eat tofu? If the government had made a law, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Lim plans to remain involved in the peace movement inside the legal establishment. He believes that that’s the right thing to do for his mother and for his country. [Read more here...]

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

God's Jigsaw puzzle

Note: This page does NOT use Google Adsense. All the sponsors were personally selected by me. Please continue to support this page by clicking on the ads. To see other products I endorse, click here. 
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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here