Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Where's Jonah?

Church leaders in Iraq have called for a day of prayer on August 6th for Iraqi Christians who have been forced to leave Mosul, where the Islamic State (ISIS) issued an ultimatum: convert, leave, pay the jizya, or die. An estimated two million Christians lived in Iraq in the 1990s and church leaders estimated that figure plunged to around 200,000 by last year. The figure now may be zero, at least in Mosul.

Mosul is located on the Tigris River, opposite the former site of Nineveh, most populous city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was located at the intersection of important north-south and east-west trade routes. The Prophet Jonah preached to the Ninevites during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). The penitence of the Ninevites was not enduring; about a century later Nahum prophesied their destruction and, in 612 B.C., the city was destroyed.

On June 10, ISIS entered Iraq’s second largest city and declared an Islamic Caliphate. On July 19, the Sunni Muslim insurgent group ordered Christians to leave. ISIS leader Caliph Ibrahim declared possessions of the unbelievers “property of the Islamic State” and confiscated cars, cell phones, cash, and even wedding rings. These were some of the last Christians to speak Aramaic, the native language of Jesus.

Around 30 churches were seized, with some turned to mosques or burned. Other religious sites were destroyed. The Vatican reported that the Orthodox Christian community successfully spirited away the relics of Thomas the Apostle who, it is said, introduced Christianity to Nineveh. The Kurdish Regional Government issued a statement welcoming the Christian exiles and calling on Kurds to assist those who have been displaced. The last Christians in Nineveh may have turned out the light.

1. Eve Conant, “Q&A: Why Sunni Extremists Are Destroying Ancient Religious Sites in Mosul”, National Geographic online, 2 Aug 2014.
2. Jonathan Krohn, “Has Last Christian Left Iraqi City of Mosul After 2,000 Years?”, NBC News, 27 July 2014.
3. Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, “The Islamic State Ends the Centuries-Old Christian Presence in Mosul, Iraq”, Right Side News, 4 Aug 2014.
4. “Nineveh”, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, updated 4 Apr 2014, accessed 4 Aug 2014.