This spring, the restoration of the shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Alqosh that houses—according to tradition—the tomb of the prophet Nahum was completed. Also restored was the adjacent synagogue, which dates back at least to the Middle Ages and whose walls and columns bear extensive Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic inscriptions. The project, led by Israeli experts, has its origins in 2016, when, shortly after the area was liberated from Islamic State control, a Jewish officer in the Maryland National Guard saw the tomb, robbed of its former glory. Tal Schneider tells the story, the details of which have been kept secret until now:
[This] story . . . includes sneaking Israelis into Iraq to assess the damage to the building’s roof and the best way to restore it. It also involves tapping into the deep knowledge of the Kurdish-Jewish community and its unofficial doyen Mordechai Zaken, a scholar who was instrumental in planning the restoration of the tomb and who passed away just a few months ago.
It features the [Chaldean Christians] of Alqosh, who safeguarded the tomb after the area’s Jews fled the pogroms that followed the creation of the state of Israel, along with the tomb’s modern benefactors: a small group of donors, including oil and energy companies from Norway, the local Kurdish government, the U.S. embassy in Iraq, and a few private donors who raised $2 million.
The book of Nahum, the seventh of the twelve minor prophets found in the Hebrew Bible, tells of the destruction of the great Assyrian capital Nineveh, located on the outskirts of modern-day Mosul, an event that probably occurred circa 612 BCE. “And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say: ‘Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?’”
While some scholars place Nahum’s Elkosh in the Galilee, many others identify it with the Assyrian city of Alqosh. Jews in the area have identified the Alqosh shrine as Nahum’s tomb for centuries, if not millennia, and built a synagogue around it to host the many pilgrims who came there.