The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Jonah, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)
After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 (ESV)
In July 2014, members of ISIS destroyed a tomb in Mosul, Iraq, but uncovered something else in the process. The mosque, believed to have been the Shrine of Jonah, has been closed to Christians since 1902. But was being used as a Muslim shrine. While it is not entirely clear why the Islamic State militants sought to destroy the mosque, it is possible that they did so as part of the Salafi movement. An attempt to destroy mosques where people worship because of a belief that rejects the concept of worshipping at shrines. The site is also believed by some to hold the tomb of the prophet Jonah and possibly a piece of Noah’s Ark.
Well known for the often told story in Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths; Jonah was sent to Nineveh by God to prophesy to the people. Refusing and sailing off in the opposite direction, the sea only calmed when the other reluctant sailors threw Jonah overboard as he instructed. Saved by a great fish swallowing him, Jonah prayed for three days and nights to God – begging at first, then thankful, and finally vowing to fulfill what God required of him. God commanded the fish to spit him out. (Jonah 1:1-2:10)
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” – Jonah 4:11 (ESV)
The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Jonah, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq.. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)
This month, after ISIS was driven out in a military offensive, beneath the ruins of the tomb, archaeologists have found the remains of an ancient palace that they believe either belonged to King Sennacherib or his successor Esarhaddon, both mentioned in the Bible. According to scholars, these kings reigned from 705 BC to 669 BC. During their reigns, the Babylonians rebelled against them, which caused Sennacherib to destroy their capital city, which his son rebuilt. Some of these campaigns are recorded in the Bible’s Book of Kings. Sennacherib was the Assyrian king who tried but failed to conquer Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and is thought to have been located on the outskirts of modern Mosul. It is widely believed, and supported by archeological records, that the palace was partially destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 BC that subsequently led to the end of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. – 2 Kings 19:36-37 (ESV)
At the site of the Tomb, archaeologists discovered a system of tunnels verging on collapse. They believe the Islamist militants dug the tunnels to loot the ancient artifacts still left in the palace ruins. All of the items that would have been easy to carry out have been removed by the militants. However, there are still large structures, reliefs and wall carvings that will be studied. Archaeologists are working diligently, as they are afraid the tunnels could collapse.
Layla Salih, head of antiquities for the province of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, stands next to archeological findings. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
As reported in Breaking Israel News, “The destructive efforts did bring some benefit to archaeologists. The site was largely unexplored, and though two previous efforts at excavation were carried out, the most recently in the 1950s, archaeologists had never reached as far as the palace.” Layla Salih, Iraqi archaeologist supervising the team, stated “The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so [ISIS’s] destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.”
Salih went on to say, “There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones, it is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”
Sebastian Rey, The lead archaeologist at the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Programme at the British Museum, expressed, “So far we have only seen poor quality photographs – but they are extremely exciting.” Archaeologists and scholars eagerly await better photographs of the remaining carvings and artifacts for further study, Rey also said that, “The reliefs are unique, they have features which we have not seen anywhere else – they are not at all like the well-known Assyrian hunting and banqueting scenes such as we have in the museum.” He was especially excited about the discovery of inscriptions that have been found. The Assyrian rulers liked to record descriptive and detailed accounts that included names, dates and achievements.
An Iraqi troop stands next to archeological findings inside an underground tunnel in east Mosul. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
While it is unknown how much was looted when the ISIS militants looted the palace; there is still much to discover here. Recovery of some of the artifacts is also possible. It has already been reported by Layla Salih, that more than 100 pieces of pottery in good conditions believed to have been looted from the tunnels have been recovered from a house in Mosul.
Just as last week’s story reminded us, the need to tread lightly on what is known of ancient history was made clear again this month, with this chance find showing that there is much more buried in the rock and sands of biblical lands… more patterns of evidence waiting to be discovered.