Friday, May 14, 2010

Tomb of Ezekiel undamaged after all

THE TOMB OF EZEKIEL (traditional) in Kifl, Iraq, is reportedly undamaged after all:
Ezekiel unscathed!

By JONAH MANDEL (Jerusalem Post)
14/05/2010 06:27

Anglican vicar confirms tomb won’t become mosque.

“Hello Sheila, I’m in Ezekiel’s Tomb, how are you doing?” Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, said over the phone. “Everything here is intact, glorious and beautiful.”

The short exchange this week between White and his longtime friend Sheila Regev, stuck in traffic in her hometown of Jerusalem when she received the call, brought an end to months of concern over the fate of the tomb, following reports in Iraqi media outlets that Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority planned to build a mosque there.

The tomb is located in Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad. As part of the renovations, according to the rumors set off by the report, ancient Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments were being removed.

“I went to make sure that the rumors were not true, and they weren’t,” White told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Regev had recently written to White, with whom she has been in close contact since he was in Israel in 2000, to express her concern over the condition of the holy site. White said he doubted that the local mullahs, the ruling Shi’ite religious authorities, would indeed allow such a desecration, but told Regev he’d personally check things out.

The three-hour journey from Baghdad, where White resides, to the Al-Kifl site is considered highly dangerous and necessitated an escort of 30 security personnel. But for White, who also tends to the needs of the eight-member Jewish community of Iraq, “my No. 1 priority in Iraq is maintaining Jewish sites.”

At Ezekiel’s Tomb, White met with the local mullahs, who ensured him that they wanted to maintain the Jewish holy site in its current form while enabling Christians and Muslims, who also consider Ezekiel one of their prophets, to visit the site. White’s photographs of the tomb, which he sent to Regev, show remnants of whitewash at the bottom of some of the Hebrew inscriptions, most likely left over from Saddam Hussein’s era, and minor damage caused by the efforts to clean the dirt that had accumulated over the years.

The earlier report was that the Hebrew inscriptions in the tomb had already been plastered over and the tomb was slated to be turned into a mosque. I could find no denials of the plastering in earlier reports. In fact, the response from Iraq was that the inscriptions were accidentally erased by untrained workers during renovations. The "remnants of whitewash" below some of the inscriptions may suggest that the botched renovations were undone once the international protests (noted also here and here) started. In any case, the new report, assuming it is accurate, is very good news indeed. It appear that the tomb is undamaged and that it is safe for now from alteration. Kudos in particular to Prof. Shmuel Moreh and to Ayatollah Shaykh Ayad al-Rikabi for speaking out on the situation and making it into a national and international issue.