First Papal Visit to Iraq: Sons of Abraham But Where Is Jacob
On March 5, Pope Francis will make history as the first pope to visit the country of Iraq. During his four-day visit, he will hold an inter-religious prayer service at a ziggurat, an ancient Mesopotamian site built in the 21st century BCE. Next week, the Pope will hold a service the Vatican has named “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham”. Reuters reported that the “inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities present in Iraq.” There is no mention of Jews, descendants of Jacob, being included in the “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham.”
The Jewish community in Iraq dates back 2,500 years. The Tomb of the Prophet Nahum is located in Iraq. In 2020 the synagogue beside Ezekiel’s Tomb was converted into a mosque. The Jewish community was targeted throughout history by periodic violence culminating in the second half of the 20th Century. In 1951, Israel carried out Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, airlifting between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel via Iran and Cyprus. Only about 5,000 Jews remained. In 1968 there were only 2,000 Jews left. In 2020 the Jewish Population in Iraq stood at four.
Iraq declared war on the newly established Jewish state in 1948 and since then the two countries have technically been in a state of war. Iraqi forces participated in wars against Israel in 1967 and 1973.
The plight of the Christians in the Muslim country is not much better. Twenty years ago, Pew Research Center reported there were 1.4 million professing Christians in Iraq, but today there are only about 270,000.
Despite the oppression of Christians and suppression of Christianity, Iraq seems to hold a fascination for the Vatican. Pope John Paul II, planned a trip to Iraq in 1999 but his visit was canceled when negotiations with the government of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down.
The focus of the prayer service next week will be on harmony between religious groups focus of the prayer will be on harmony between religious groups.
The Birthplace of Abraham…Or Is It?
The Bible specifically mentions Ur as the beginning of Abraham’s travels to Israel.
Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Avram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. Genesis 11:31
When God commanded Abraham to leave Ur and go to Israel, he does so by telling him to leave his “birthplace.” For this reason, some, though not all, Biblical scholars understand that Ur of Chaldean is Abraham’s birthplace.
The Talmud associated Ur with Warka, today identified as Uruk. Traditional Jewish authorities, such as Maimonides and Josephus, placed Ur Kaśdim at various Upper Mesopotamian or at other southeast Anatolian sites.
Nearby the ziggurat is a complex of brick structures dated to circa 1900 BC, including one that is touted by Iraqi authorities as being the traditional house of Abraham.
Prayer at Site of Idolatrous Human Sacrifice
The pyramidic ziggurat, located about 200 miles south of the capital Baghdad, is a Neo-Sumerian structure located in what was the city of Ur near Nasiriyah, in present-day Dhi Qar Province. In ancient times, this ziggurat served as a religious center as it was part of a temple complex dedicated to idolatry. The recovery of about 2,000 burials by archaeologists indicates that the site, excavated about 100 years ago by Leonard Woolley, was used for the practice of human sacrifice on a large scale. The bodies were buried in elaborate graves nearby. The sacrificial murders were carried out by a sharp instrument being driven into their heads after which they were buried in elaborate funerals. Their bodies were usually arranged neatly, the women in an elaborate headdress, the men with weapons at their side.
Pope Francis is due to hold an inter-religious prayer service at the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur when he visits Iraq next week, an event local archaeologists hope will draw renewed attention to the site https://t.co/brFjXFsucE pic.twitter.com/PSfBpazaSh
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 22, 2021
Ziggurat: Fascinating to Despots
The ziggurat also holds great significance to modern despots. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein restored the façade of the massive lower foundation of the ziggurat, insisting that his own name be stamped on all of the modern bricks used in the reconstruction. He also built his personal palace to mirror the ziggurat. In 1981, the site was where celebrations took place to commemorate the first anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Iran, with officials using the slogan, Nebuchadnasar al-ams Saddam Hussein al-yawm (yesterday Nebuchadnezzar, today Saddam Hussein). During the war led by American and coalition forces, Saddam Hussein parked his MiG fighter jets next to the Ziggurat.
Auspicious Timing: Purim, Daniel’s Vision
The timing of the papal visit is auspicious and perhaps even prophetic. It will come right after the Jewish holiday of Purim commemorating the salvation of the Jews of Iraq from Haman, the descendent of Agag, King of Amalek and whose connection to the future war of Gog is hinted at by the Prophet Ezekiel.
As those who traverse the country make their rounds, any one of them who sees a human bone shall erect a marker beside it, until the buriers have interred them in the Valley of Gog’s Multitude. Ezekiel 39:15
The Hebrew word for ‘multitude’ is הֲמוֹן (Hamon, similar to the name Haman). Haman is known as an Agagite, also connecting him at least etymologically with Gog.
The visit also comes a few weeks before the “twenty-fourth day of the first month (Nisan)”, the day on which Daniel had his vision, described in chapter 10, that took place on the Mesopotamian River Tigris. In his enigmatic vision, Daniel saw, “a man dressed in linen, his loins girt in fine gold,” and the “sound of his speech was like the noise of a multitude.” The man in the vision gave Daniel a message:
“Do you know why I have come to you? Now I must go back to fight the prince of Persia. When I go off, the prince of Greece will come in. Daniel 10:20
Many modern interpretations of prophecy identify Persia as Iran and Greece, a country founded by the offspring of Esav, as Catholicism.
Esau and Ishmael Coming Together Against Israel at the End of Days
Since ascending to the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has been working openly to bring Esau and Ishmael together by enhancing Christian-Muslim relations. On the return flight from a recent visit to Morocco, where the official state religion is Islam, the Pope spoke with journalists about his vision for uniting the descendants of Esau and the descendants of Ishmael.
In 2016, Pope Francis hosted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Vatican.
These efforts by Pope Francis culminated in 2019 when he signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azha, an agreement that was harshly criticized by Catholics and Muslims alike.
Jewish tradition contains a prophecy that the children of Esau (today’s Western nations) and the children of Ishmael (today’s Arab nations) will unite against the Jewish people at the End of Days.
This alliance was forged at the very beginning of the Bible when Esau married Ishmael’s daughter, Mahalath, whose name means ‘disease’.
So Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. (Genesis 28:9)
This is explained by Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman explains in his book The Ishmaelite Exile “During the End of Days, Ishmael and Esau will join forces to seek the destruction of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Weitzman concluded his introduction to the End of Days alliance with good news. “At the very outset of their history, Ishmael and Esau forged a bond through marriage. And so it shall be at the End of Days. This alliance between them will bring history to its culmination in the redemption.”