The ancient tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum, located in the Nineveh region of Iraq and guarded for decades by local Christians, is in serious danger of damage from local warfare, warned an Israeli MK recently.
“As Iraqi forces approach the town of Al Qosh, the danger to the historic tomb of Prophet Nahum is growing,” Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, chair of a Knesset group tasked with protecting Jewish culture and heritage in Arab and Muslim countries, was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post.
“I’m concerned that the warfare in the region between the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga will result in a destruction of the tomb that was once a center for Jewish pilgrimage from all parts of Iraq.”
For the past week, Iraqi forces have been battling Kurdish troops for control of strategic border territories containing oil fields near the ancient Christian town of Al Qosh, the location of the already vulnerable tomb. The 2,700-year-old tomb was first endangered by warfare in 2014, when ISIS conquered the Nineveh plains and expelled the region’s Christian communities.
As an ancient non-Muslim site of religious importance, the tomb was an obvious target for ISIS, which has destroyed a significant number of ancient Jewish and Christian archaeological religious sites in its territory in Iraq, including the Tomb of Jonah.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was able to protect Al Qosh for three years, holding ISIS off until the Islamic State began to lose its footing in Iraq. Meanwhile, the tomb remained under the care of the Assyrian Christian Shajaa family, which has guarded it for over 60 years.
Al Qosh’s Jewish population left the region for good when the Iraqi government expelled the country’s Jews in 1950. Before leaving, the community asked the Shajaa family to watch over the precious tomb of the Prophet Nahum, identified as an “Elkoshite” (one who hails from Al Qosh) in the Bible.
“When the last Jewish people in Al Qosh left, they asked my grandfather to watch over the tomb, to keep it safe,” Asir Salaam Shajaa told the Christian Post in 2015. “Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that.”
The prophet Nahum is best known for his predictions of the fall of ancient Nineveh in the seventh century BCE. Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the world during Nahum’s time, with a population of about 150,000 people. Today, it lies in ruins, but it is still surrounded by an almost intact massive 7.5-mile long brick rampart.
But despite efforts by conservationists, Jewish donors, activists, and the KRG, the tomb has never been officially recognized or protected as a historical site. It was in a state of partial collapse during a visit in 2015, and now once more faces the threat of destruction.
MK Svetlova urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to add the tomb to its list of protected historical sites in 2016, but without success. In the wake of the recent fighting in the region, Svetlova has turned to the American government to ask for assistance.
“I urge the American authorities to protect the Jewish shrine of the Prophet Nahum at Al Qosh before it is too late,” she said.