The Prophet Nahum
February 9th, 2009 by Shahriar





Nahum lived about 2600 years ago. He was a native of Elkosh (about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem). The Bible’s book of Nahum is short in length and consists almost entirely of a prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction. It is believed that Nahum wrote his book about two years before Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC. Nineveh at that time was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which was one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world. The Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel in about 722 BC, about 2700 years ago.

Nahum explains that because of Assyria’s pride and cruelty in their destruction of Israel, and because of their idolatry, treachery, superstition, and injustice, their empire would be destroyed as punishment. In 612 BC (about 2600 years ago), a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians and Medes conquered Nineveh. Nahum said that Nineveh’s destruction would be final, and that the city would never again regain the greatness that it once had, and that Nineveh would never again be able to cause problems for Israel.
Nineveh was never again a world power. And today, it is little more than an archaeological site. In contrast, Israel is again a nation, and a relatively prosperous one at that.

God’s holiness, justice and power are the foundation of the Nahum’s prophetic book. God rules over all the earth, even over those who do not acknowledge Him. Along with Nahum’s writings about the destruction of Nineveh, there is also a message of hope shines through. God is slow to anger (Nahum 1:3) and good (Nahum 1:7) and offers good tidings to those who want His blessings (Nahum 1:15). Nahum, means “Comforted”. His book is the seventh of the twelve minor prophets.

Tomb of Prophet Nahum - Outside

Tomb of Prophet Nahum - Outside

Although there have been Jews in Assyria and Babylonia since the beginning of the eighth century BCE, no report concerning venerated tombs and associated pilgrimage rites are dated from before the Muslim conquest of Iraq in the seventh century CE. Traditions and customs relating to the holy tombs of Babylonian Jews have evolved under the influence of Muslim saint worship, which included in its veneration the tombs of Jewish saints of the Hebrew Bible. Some of the tombs are identified by both Jews and Muslims as belonging to one and the same person, while others are considered by each religion to belong to a different man.During the thousand years and more, of the customs of veneration, associated with holy tombs under Muslim rule in Iraq there have been cases of Jewish saints whose tombs have been relegated to Muslim control.

Tomb of Nahum - Entrance to the ancient synagogue

Tomb of Nahum - Entrance to the ancient synagogue

At the beginning of the period in question Babylonian Jews would go on pilgrimage to the tombs of saints during the High Holidays. But in the sixteenth century this changed. The favored time of pilgrimage became the Feast of Pentecost, which the Jews of Iraq called id al-ziyara – the holiday of visiting. The pilgrimage season lasted for about a month. Jews would come from all over Iraq, from the neighboring countries, and even from distant lands, to pray at the tombs, hold feasts, make requests, pay off vows, give to charity, and hold mass festivities involving prayer, singing and feasting. How frequently a site was visited and by how many pilgrims would depend on the saint’s religious and national importance; the political and security situation; and on how easy or difficult it was to gain access to the tomb in question.

The tombs of saints which Babylonian Jews used to visit until the mass exodus from the country which occurred in the mid-twentieth century were: The tomb of prophet Ezekiel in the town of al-Kifil; the tomb of Ezra the Scribe in al-Uzayr; the tomb of Joshua The High Priest in Baghdad; the tomb of Shaykh Ishaq Gaon in Baghdad; the tombs of the prophet Daniel and his companions in Kirkuk; the tomb of the prophet Jonah near Mosul and the tomb of the prophet Nahum in Elkosh.

As long as considerable numbers of Jews lived in Iraq they took care of the tombs which they venerated, and raised the funds needed for their upkeep. However, this stopped when the Jews of Iraq left. The Iraqi authorities have neglected these tombs, except for that of the tomb of the prophet Jonah which is located inside a mosque, just as they have let synagogues, schools and other Jewish communal institutions to fall into ruin. Everything they owned was looted, some of the structures fell into ruin and others are in a state of decay.

From 1930 onwards, the Jews throughout Iraq were subjected to increasingly oppressive laws, and in 1948 the last of the Jewish population left Al Qush, the rabbi handing the keys of the synagogue to the next-door neighbour of the synagogue. Al Qush now almost exclusively comprises Chaldean Christians. The Jewish Quarter of Al Qush, including the synagogue, is in a poor state of repair. The remains of this quarter are, in parts, more than two thousand years old. In the centre of the synagogue – on the edge of the quarter – is a simple tomb topped by a green silken coverlet. This tomb is purportedly the tomb of Nahum himself. There are inscriptions and plagues of varying antiquity whose readings are certain to shed more light on the tomb and the history of Jewish community in al-Qoush.

The Iraqi Azzaman news service reported the Iraqi Antiquities Department to renovate synagogue holding Nahum’s tomb and has included an ancient synagogue where Biblical prophet Nahum is purportedly buried in its 2008 renovation plans. “The Antiquities Department has added the tomb of Prophet Nahum, peace be on him, to its 2008 preservation plan. The synagogue and the tomb are situated in the northern Christian Iraqi town of al-Qoush, 40 kilometers north of Mosul. Al-Qoush, a major Christian center in northern Iraq, had a large Jewish community before the Jewish exodus to Israel in 1948.

The renovation of the synagogue and the tomb, archaeologists say, is an urgent matter. Some scientists say the synagogue might be irreparably damaged. The department has put off the renovation of the tomb mainly because it lacked the right expertise and resources to have it refurbished and reconstructed. Prophet Nahum is venerated by all faiths and sects in Iraq, including Muslim Shiites and Sunnis. The tomb is not important to Iraqis only. It is of an international character and can turn into a tourist attraction.The start of renovation is bound to attract considerable media interest and perhaps reveal more information about the prophet of whom the Bible says very little beyond the fact that a reference to the town of al-Qoush from which he hailed. Scientists accompanying the renovation team will examine the tomb to determine its age. The earliest traces of the synagogue itself are believed to be more than 400 years old.

Closeup of the Tomb of Nahum

Closeup of the Tomb of Nahum

Iraq while struggling is concerned about restoring its ancient Jewish heritage. Since the mid-east has spawned the three great religions, historical sights sacred to all three are intertwined. It is often almost impossible to clearly identify when one stopped and the other began. While respect and preservation of religious sights by locals is traditional in the mid-east, total disregard for them by militants in times of violence is sadly also true. This also shows what Muslims who no longer fear their militant leaders and are free of their leader’s venomous rhetoric can and will do. This sparks tremendous hope. This boost of confidence is thanks to our men and women participating in the surge, the Iraqi forces we have trained is having a grass roots effect on the security of Baghdad. This sprawling city of almost five million is proving a very tough nut to crack, but it is yielding as Baghdadis are joining in.



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