US to donate additional $500K to restore tomb of biblical prophet Nahum in Iraq

The United States announced Friday that it would contribute an additional $500,000 to help restore the tomb believed to be the resting place of the biblical prophet Nahum in the town of Alqosh in northern Iraq.

“Chargé d’affaires Joey Hood and Consul General Steve Fagin visited the Tomb of Nahum, a site rich in cultural importance to the region’s Jews, Christians and Muslims,” the US Consulate General in Erbil announced.

“The chargé announced an additional $500,000 in US government funding to help preserve the historic site. This project helps safeguard history, revitalize the local economy, and bring tourists to the area,” the statement said.

Nahum was a minor prophet who wrote about the end of the Assyrian Empire, and its capital city, Nineveh.

In November 2018, the US also gave $500,000 to assist in restoring the tomb, according to Adam Tiffen, the deputy director of the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH), a US-based non-governmental organization overseeing efforts to repair the site.

Both private donors and the Prime Minister’s Office of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have made donations to help ensure the conservation of the tomb as well, Tiffen told The Times of Israel in a phone call.

Russian Orthodox icon of the Prophet Nahum, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia)

The 1,500-year-old building was for centuries the site of a major Jewish pilgrimage each year on the holiday of Shavuot.

When the majority of Kurdish Jews moved to Israel in 1951, the tomb was left in the hands of a Chaldean family that struggled to maintain it.

Tiffen said that the tomb has was in dire condition when he and other ARCH officials visited it three years ago.

“Despite the local community’s efforts to maintain it after the Jews left Kurdistan in the 1950s, the building fell into disrepair and over the last few decades has slowly collapsed in on itself,” Tiffen said. “When we found the building in 2016, the building itself was in danger of imminent collapse. We then had some engineers conduct assessments and they told us we probably had six months to rescue it. So we launched efforts to restore this important site and it is no longer at risk of collapse.”

Tiffen noted that ARCH along with GEMA, a Prague-based group that restores historical monuments and art work, had already commenced in January 2019 the process of repairing the site.

In 2016, Sherzad Omar Masmani, who was the Kurdish Jewry’s representative in the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in the KRG, also said the tomb was in a very poor state.

In a statement at the time, Masmani said his team “investigated the structure of the building, consulting experts, engineers and architects, and they report the building could completely fall apart within a couple of months.”

Hebrew writing at the grave of the prophet Nahum, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (photo credit: Times of Israel/Lazar Berman)

“This site does not only belong to Jews. It’s part of human history, therefore saving the site is everyone’s responsibility,” Masmani said.

In March 2018, the KRG dismissed Masmani from his role in the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs.

Tomb of the Jewish Prophet Nahum in Alqosh, Iraq (CC BY-SA, Chaldean/Wikipedia)

Alqosh is located 30 miles north of Mosul. The site has been protected by Peshmerga forces when the Islamic State rose to power.

The jihadists, who came within 10 miles of the shrine, destroyed countless archaeological and religious sites in Syria and Iraq.

Officials tour the Tomb of Nahum in northern Iraq on April 26, 2019, where US Chargé d’Affaires in Iraq Joey Hood pledged $500,000 to restore and preserve the site (Courtesy/US Consulate General in Erbil)

JTA contributed to this report

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