ISIS are within 10 miles of Nahum’s shrine

The jihadists of IS (ISIS – Da’esh) are within ten miles of the shrine of the Prophet of Nahum at al-Kosh on the plains of Nineveh in Iraq . Its Christian caretaker may not be there much longer. Haaretz reports (with thanks: Lily):

Al Qosh, IRAQ – Nahum the Prophet warned the world about the
impending end of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of its capital,
Nineveh. More than 2,600 years later, his tomb, inside an ancient
synagogue in the Iraqi city of Al Qosh, may face the same fate, courtesy
of ISIS.

Smooth domes topped with crucifixes rise slightly
above the beige stone houses in Al Qosh, the modern town built on the
ancient Nineveh plain. The town is a treasure trove of history from the
Assyrian empire and the beginnings of Christianity. Less well known is
the town’s Hebrew heritage, emblemized by the Prophet Nahum.

A Hebrew inscription on the tomb of Prophet Nahum of Elkoshi, in Al Qosh, Iraq. Photo Abed al Qaisi

The crumbling stone walls of one of Iraq’s last
synagogues remain mostly standing, nestled in the center of the small
town, against the backdrop of the Bayhidhra Mountains. Inside
purportedly lies the tomb of “Nahum the Elkoshite” – meaning, of the
town of Al Qosh – the Hebrew prophet who vividly predicted the fall of
Nineveh in the 7th century BCE.

Asir Salaam Shajaa, an Assyrian Christian born and
raised in Al Qosh, dusts off the green cloth that lies over the ancient
tomb in the center of the run-down synagogue. He is adamant that resting
under the heavy stones are really the remains of Prophet Nahum.

Like his father and his grandfather before him,
Shajaa takes care of the site dutifully, fulfilling a promise made more
than 60 years ago to the fleeing Jewish residents of the town.

The hand-sewn green cloth used to cover Nahum’s Tomb. Photo by Abed al Qaisi

Al Qosh’s Jewish population fled in the early 1950s
after the Iraqi government began pursuing policies – often violent – to
purge the country of its Jews, to punish the faith for the declaration
of an independent Jewish state. Between 1949 (the year after Israel’s
establishment) and 1953, around 77 percent of Iraq’s Jewish population
fled, including the last Jews of Al Qosh.

“When the last Jewish people in Al Qosh left, they
asked my grandfather to watch over the tomb, to keep it safe. I don’t
know much more than that,” Shajaa explains, straightening the tomb’s
cover. “Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must
respect that. He’s a prophet, it is simple.”

Before the Jewish exodus of Iraq, Nahum’s tomb was
reportedly visited by thousands of worshippers every year, particularly
during the Shavuot holiday.

A
Hebrew inscription, reading roughly as follows: “I have built a
synagogue here, an institute for you to dwell in for eternity, in the
year 1675” (the number is gematriya). Photo by Abed al Qaisi

 

Not much is known about Nahum, the seventh in the
order of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible. It does say that he
lived in Al Qosh, sometimes written as Al Qush or Elkosh, in the Nineveh
Plains of what is now Iraq.

Nahum is frequently referred to as “The Elkoshite,”
adding some credence to the postulation that the tomb indeed belongs to
the prophet.  (That said, Not all scholars agree that the modern town of
Al Qosh is the same one associated with Nahum.)

The beige hand-laid walls of the old synagogue are
crumbling, but many still stand. Some are adorned with legible Hebrew
script carved into large stone plaques that remain firmly embedded.

Through two walls that have partially crumbled,
Shajaa has a direct view into the building from his living room window.
“I keep an eye on this place. My wife comes and sweeps the floors every
week, and when we have a visitor who wishes to see or worship at the
tomb, they are told to come to my house,” Shajaa says proudly. “I open
the gates for them and let them in. We don’t get many visitors, though,”
he says.

In an attempt to save the site from further
weathering, the Iraqi government installed a corrugated metal awning
that shields the synagogue. Visiting the site however, has been
discouraged due to safety concerns: the walls are surrounded with barbed
wire. But Shajaa, who continues to hold the sole keys to the sturdy
metal gates to the building, disregards safety concerns. He has never
turned down a visitor, he says.

“No
one can decide what to do with the place. There were people who came a
few years ago, some wealthy Jewish people who wanted to rebuild the
fallen walls with the same stones,” Shajaa says, pointing to the fairly
even-sized jagged stones that lay at the foot of one of the gaps in the
wall. “The government didn’t like that though, they didn’t want them to
use the same materials because they think it isn’t safe. But then
Islamic State came and we are close to the fighting here, so nothing
will happen now.”

Shajaa is certain ISIS can’t conquer Al Qosh, but
the risk has affected pilgrimages. While barely a dozen Jewish pilgrims
could be expected at the site each year, now with the threat of the
Islamic State extremist group nearby that number has dwindled even
further.

“There’s someone coming in July,” Shajaa says after a
brief moment thinking about future pilgrims. “Mainly it is Peshmerga
that have visited recently,” he adds, in reference to the Iraqi Kurdish
fighters who have been staving off an ISIS advance around Al Qosh since
August.

With ISIS just ten miles away from Al Qosh, any
plans for the crumbling walls of Nahum’s tomb remain on hold. Shajaa,
who like many other Iraqi Christians wants to leave battle-scarred Iraq,
worries what the future may hold for the synagogue and the tomb, a
place that his family has cared after for decades with little to no
outside help.

“I’m not sure how long my family will continue to
stay in Iraq, we want to leave, most of the Christians want to leave,”
Shajaa says. “My brother says he will stay though, if my family gets to
leave Iraq my brother and his children will look after the tomb. It will
stay in the family, God willing.”

Read article in full 

Londoner visits  Nahum’s tomb

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