News From Nineveh
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!