Monday, December 25, 2017

On the rescue of the Mar Benham manuscripts

THE MANUSCRIPTS MEN: The men saving history from ISIS. In the face of danger, a pair of padres are finding and protecting ancient religious books and manuscripts from terrorists (Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes).
We have come across an unlikely band of brothers on the battlefield against terrorism. They are men of the cloth, a pair of padres, who go into harm's way to find and protect ancient religious books and manuscripts.

We joined them in a region of Iraq that was once Mesopotamia where human culture and learning really began. It's believed to be the birthplace of mathematics, writing and agriculture and recently, the scene of some of the fiercest battles in the U.S.-backed war against ISIS.

Father Columba: I think it's the graffiti that's most horrifying to me.

Father Columba, a Benedictine monk from Minnesota and Father Najeeb Michaeel, a Dominican friar from Iraq decided to partner up to rescue what old documents they could from places like this monastery, Mar Behnam, in Northern Iraq that goes back to the 4th century. It was occupied and defaced by ISIS.

See also: The manuscripts saved by a monk. A monk from Minnesota travels the world to preserve ancient documents. Here's a look at what he's saved from war, weather and other forces of nature (60 Minutes Overtime). The monk is the abovementioned Father Columba Stewart, on whom more here.

PaleoJudaica followed this story as it was happening, although parts happened behind the scenes and only came to light later. Before the ISIS occupation, Father Yousef Sakat hid more than four hundred manuscripts at the site of the Mar Benham monastery and they remained hidden until the monastery was liberated. For details, see here and links.

It's good to see 60 Minutes taking notice of this story.

While we're on the topic, let's take note that here at the end of 2017, ISIS has been annihilated in the Middle East. Only its last pockets of resistance remain to be mopped up. That doesn't mean it can't still cause some trouble, there and elsewhere, but it is critically weakened.

I didn't see that coming. Things looked very grim in 2014 and 2015. But good riddance. Let's hope for better things for the people there in 2018.

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