The tomb of Nahum the Elkoshi, who foresaw the end of the Assyrian Empire, is the latest piece of history in danger by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The terrorist group destroys anything that promotes idolatry.
Nahum’s tomb lies in “an ancient synagogue in the Iraqi city of Al Qosh.” Asir Salaam Shajaa, an Assyrian Christian, cares for 2,600 year old site after his grandfather promised the fleeing Jews to preserve the prophet’s tomb.
“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,” he told Haaretz. “Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that. He’s a prophet, it is simple.”
The Iraqi government slowly eliminated Jews from the public after World War II. They passed a law that made Judaism illegal and then pushed out all Jews who held public office. People eventually formed Operation Ezra and Nehemiah to help Jews escape persecution. Almost 130,000 Jews escaped to Israel during this time. Now, no one truly knows how many Jews remain in Iraq.
The building around the tomb is already falling apart. National Geographic reported that officials “erected a makeshift metal awning to shield it from the fierce winds” and also “strung rusty coils of barbed wire around its perimeter to discourage worship.” One side of the wall is collapsing inside the building. It is one of the sites targeted by ISIS, although it’s in such horrible shape. People believe it is because of its roots in Judaism.
“No one dares take care of this place because they are scared of being accused of taking money from Israel,” explained Sami Bello, the district mayor’s brother.
Those concerns do not bother Shajaa. He is proud to own the only keys to the historic building.
“I keep an eye on this place,” he exclaims. “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. I open the gates for them and let them in. We don’t get many visitors, though.”
Yet, buildings are not the only ones in danger by ISIS. The terrorist group targets Christians and those who do not abide by their strict interpretation of Islam. They expelled all the Christians from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. For the first time in 2,000 years, no Christians reside in the city. Shajaa does not know if he will stay or leave.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Not much is known about Nahum. He is considered a minor prophet whose prophecy about the Assyrian Empire is chronicled in the Hebrew Bible.