ISIS threatens the prophet Nahum's tomb near Nineveh

by Gregory Tomlin, |

QOSH, Iraq (Christian Examiner) – The tomb purported to belong to the biblical prophet Nahum in northern Iraq could soon fall into the hands of the Islamic State and be destroyed, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported.

Now 2,700 years old, the tomb rests inside an ancient synagogue on the plain of Nineveh in an area where ISIS is pressing its gains, the newspaper said.

Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that. He's a prophet, it is simple.

According to the Bible, Nahum "the Elkoshite," or Nahum of Al Qosh, received a revelation about the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the 7th century B.C. Jewish tradition claims the prophet was born in exile and died there, as well.

The Book of Nahum begins, "A jealous and avenging God is the Lord," and describes the case God had against the empire, which reached its height of power around 722 when it invaded Israel and killed or deported most of its population. Nahum was presumably among the people deported to the area around the ancient capital of the empire, Nineveh.

Today, the tomb of Nahum – which bears Hebrew inscriptions from 1675 indicating its use as a synagogue – is guarded by the Assyrian Christian family of Asir Salaam Shajaa, who insists Nahum really was buried at the site nearly three millennia ago. Shajaa's family agreed to care for the site when Jewish leaders fled the town 60 years ago.

Al Qosh had a strong Jewish community until 1950, when the Iraqi government began to purge the country of Jews – largely in retaliation for the founding of Israel. According to Haaretz, 77 percent of Iraq's Jewish population fled from 1949-53.

"Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that. He's a prophet, it is simple," Shajaa told Haaretz.

Should Islamic State forces approach the town, Shajaa and his family will have to leave the tomb unguarded. That most likely means it will be destroyed.

ISIS has a history of destroying ancient sites which challenge its harsh interpretation of Islam. Followers of the group have already destroyed ancient treasures in Mosul, the ancient city of Nineveh, and in July 2014 obliterated a site thought to be the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah.