“The Burden of Nineveh. the book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” (Nahum 1:1)
On May 17th, Islamic State (ISIS) forces conquered the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in Iraq. This conquest, which was the first ISIS capture of a major city since US led airstrikes began against the terrorist group a year ago, put ISIS forces within 10 miles of the ancient site of Nineveh, one of Iraq’s most ancient cities. Among many other historical treasures from the Babylonian era, it is home to a tomb attributed to the prophet Nahum.
ISIS sees this tomb, as well as many other historical sites of the pre-Muslim era, in Nineveh and beyond, as targets. The extremist group is committed to wiping out any ‘non-Islamic’ history and idolatrous icons and carvings that are present at such locations.
However the tomb of Nahum does not stand alone in the face of this threat. Asir Salaam Shajaa, an Assyrian Christian, and his family are preparing to defend the 2,700 year old tomb, in order to fulfill a promise made by Shajaa’s grandfather over 60 years ago.
The tomb is located in the northern Iraqi town of Al Qosh, which is the site of the ancient city of Nineveh. When the Jewish inhabitants left the region for good in 1950, due to the government mandated expulsion of Jews from Iraq, the community tasked the Shajaa family with guarding the tomb, according to Asir. The Shajaa family promised their Jewish countrymen that they would guard the site. However, that task is appearing to be more difficult now than ever before with the threat of ISIS looming not too far away.
Shajaa told The Christian Post, “’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.
Nahum is not our prophet, but he is a prophet, so we must respect that. He’s a prophet, it is simple.
‘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. 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,” he added.
Al Qosh is a treasure trove of history and along with its Hebrew heritage, it contains relics from the early origins of Christianity, as well as those from the Assyrian empire.
The prophet Nahum is known for his predictions of the fall of ancient Nineveh in the seventh century BCE, and his remains are believed to be buried at the tomb of ‘Nahum the Elkoshite’ in the city.
Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the world for its time, boasting a population of 150,000 people in 700 BCE. Today the city lies in ruins, but is still surrounded by an almost entirely intact 7.5-mile brick rampart.
Shajaa’s family have guarded the tomb for two generations now, and hope to continue to do so. Shajaa believes that although ISIS has conquered other Iraqi cities, they will not manage to conquer Nineveh.
The group threatened to tear down Nineveh’s wall this past January, and militants in the group have vandalised and stolen countless artifacts from conquered cities, museums, and historical sites in Iraq and Syria. Last year, the group destroyed the tomb of Jonah the prophet.