The Spectacle Blog

Biblical Treasures on the Chopping Block in Iraq

By on 7.7.14 | 3:28PM

Arguably the Bible's most successful evangelizer was the prophet Jonah, whose story is told in the biblical book of the same name. Despite a brief bout of cowardice and disobedience that ended in repentance thanks to the belly of a large she-fish, Jonah preached to the wicked people of Ninevah. Every inhabitant of Ninevah heeded Jonah's warning of certain destruction within forty days, and "that great city" was spared (Jonah 3:2).

Whether the city of Ninevah, located in what we now call Iraq, will find similar salvation today is questionable.

It's not only the fruits of American taxpayers that ISIS stands to destroy, nor even the lives of men and women who God made "a little lower than the angels," but also the gold and silver that help tell the story of some of God's earliest dealings with His people (Psalm 8:5). Ninevah, one of the regions that the Sunni terrorist group ISIS currently occupies, is one of the great success stories of modern archaeology. Much of the grandeur of the Old Testament world has been housed in the Mosul Museum, which was finally preparing to reopen after it was damaged in the looting of 2003. The invasion by ISIS has cancelled those plans, reports the Daily Beast:

So the risk now—the virtual certainty, in fact—is that irreplaceable history will be annihilated or sold into the netherworld of corrupt and cynical collectors. And it was plain when I met with [Iraqi National Museum Director Qais Hussein] Rashid and his colleagues that they are desperate to stop it, but have neither the strategy nor the resources to do so.

“We as Iraqis are incapable of controlling the situation by ourselves,” Abbas Qureishi, director of the “recovery” program for the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told me. It’s not just a matter of the museums, he said. Mosul is in the middle of 1,791 registered archeological sites, including four capitals of the Assyrian empire. “The Iraqi army will be obliged to conduct operations next to these archeological sites,” said Qureishi. The jihadists “will destroy them and say the Iraqi army bombed these sites.

This is not the first time Islamic extremists have asserted their authority over a conquered people by destroying its ancient artifacts. The Taliban smashed giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Wahabis—the ideologues who established the current regime in Saudi Arabia—angered Muslims worldwide by destroying shrines at the tomb of Mohamed. Reports say that ISIS has already sold ancient Assyrian artifacts on the black market in yet another of its fundraising efforts.

ISIS has not harmed the Mosul Museum for now, but only because it has been busy toppling statues of famous poets, tombs of popular Arab historians, and Shiite shrines throughout the city of Mosul. They will soon be back, the curators fear, and are simply awaiting the notice of an opportune moment from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-named Caliph with a flourish for the dramatic.

Destruction of biblical proportions may await this city of biblical importance.

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