News From Nin­eveh

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook -

Shi­ite mil­i­tants and po­lice en­raged by mas­sive truck bomb­ings in Tal Afar went on a re­venge spree against Sunni res­i­dents . . . Wed­nes­day, killing as many as 60. . . . [T]he vic­tims were men be­tween the ages of 15 and 60, and they were killed with a shot to the back of the head. . . . Tal Afar is in the prov­ince of Nin­eveh . . . (AP)

There’s been an atroc­ity in Nin­eveh. You may rec­og­nize the name. Iraq’s his­tory is deep. And Nin­eveh has known atroc­i­ties be­fore. Jonah of the Bi­ble trav­eled there by whale. The Nin­eveh of his day, the cap­i­tal of Assyria, was among the great­est cities of the world. It was twice the size of Baby­lon. It had more than 100,000 in­hab­i­tants. Its 15-gated wall en­closed 1,730 acres and was 71⁄ miles long. Those de­fenses weren’t suf­fi­cient. In 612 B.C. that “ex­eed­ing great city” was ut­terly de­stroyed.

An army led by Medes (from what is now Iran) did the gory job. It took them months. The Old Tes­ta­ment’s Book of Nahum de­scribes what went on: Woe to the bloody city . . . No end to the plun­der! The crack of whip, and rum­ble of wheel, gal­lop­ing horse and

bound­ing char­iot! Horse­men charg­ing, flash­ing sword and glit­ter­ing spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bod­ies with­out end — they stum­ble over the bod­ies.

They “turned the city into a ruin heap,” re­ports a cu­nei­form tablet in the Bri­tish Mu­seum.

The few in­hab­i­tants who sur­vived moved across the Tigris River to Mo­sul, an­other city of­ten in the news from to­day’s Iraq. Mo­sul, too, was sacked, this time by the Mon­gols in the 13th cen­tury A.D.

Nin­eveh’s de­struc­tion was so ut­ter that it hasn’t been forgotten. Bri­tain’s Rud­yard Ki­pling, a man in­trigued by for­eign wars, cited it again in “Re­ces­sional (A Vic­to­rian Ode)” in 1897: Far-called our navies melt away — On dune and head­land sink the fire — Lo, all our pomp of yes­ter­day Is one with Nin­eveh and Tyre! Judge of the Na­tions, spare us yet, Lest we for­get — lest we for­get!


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