International team works to save Nahum’s tomb

Emergency work has been carried out to save the tomb of Nahum in northern Iraq by Cheryl Bernard with a team from the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage. But the restoration work will only prolong the shrine’s life for another two years. Seth Frantzman reports for the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Lily) 

 “I was struck by the beauty but it looked like it might be too late,” recalls Cheryl Benard.

 The tomb of the Prophet Nahum lies in the ancient Christian town of Al-Qosh overlooking Nineveh Plains. Nahum was one of the minor prophets who predicted the destruction of the city of Nineveh located in the outskirts of modern-day Mosul.

The tomb is on the border between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Mosul.

For centuries the tomb was a major site of Jewish pilgrimage and many Kurdish Jews would come to the tomb and synagogue around it, which is thought to date back more than 800 years. In the 1940s and 1950s Jews of the region moved to Israel, and the town’s Christian residents took care of the tomb as best they could.

 “It’s noteworthy, the community there is amazing, it has been a place of sanctuary,” says Benard. “They are proud of their shrine but they were not in a position to maintain it.”

 After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was talk of restoring the tomb and the US Army Corp of Engineers even paid a visit.

In 2014, Islamic State conquered the plains below the tomb and threatened the site. Kurdish Peshmerga and the US-led coalition pushed the extremists back. I visited the tomb in 2015 and saw the tremendous state of disrepair. There was a rusted metal awning over the collapsing building to keep rain out. The tomb itself had a green blanket over it and showed signs that some pilgrims still



The tomb of Nahum has now been stabilised (Photo: Lisa Kiara/Springs of Hope)

 In 2017, conservation experts told Benard that it looked worse than it had been a few years before and might not survive another winter. Benard, who holds a PhD in international relations and has worked at the RAND Corporation, hoped the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage could help save the site.

“The structural integrity was imperiled and they explained that the way it was constructed, the columns and arches were connected so that if the outermost ones collapsed, then it could destroy the others.

Benard and her team rushed to get funding. There happened to be a Czech firm working on preserving the ancient citadel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. Called Gema Art Group, the Czechswere experts in construction and preservation and had experience not only in the Kurdistan Region but also in preserving religious buildings.

About an-hour-and-a-half drive south of Nahum’s Tomb, the Czech experts were also familiar with Al-Qosh and said they could help stabilize Nahum’s tomb and would do it for the cost of the materials.However, hurdles remained.

In September 2017, the Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum and Baghdad punished the Kurds by ordering the Erbil international airport closed. Suddenly the equipment the Czechs wanted to bring in couldn’t come directly to Erbil but had to go through Baghdad on a local airline.

“They were concerned for their equipment but they went ahead with it and you can see the results,” says Benard.

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