Old texts saved behind a wall at the Mar Behnam monastery

When one knows that modern-day Syria in the past was occupied  by the Romans and before them the Assyrians, Persians and Akkadians and when one considers that the country was home to ancient Paleolithic fossils, some of the earliest evidence of agriculture and one of the largest troves of cuneiform tablets ever discovered, are hearts can only shed tears over the many beautiful historical remains which have been destroyed this last five years.

As part of the Fertile Crescent, the land that is now Syria has been occupied for tens of thousands of years.
Syria contains some of the world’s most beautiful Roman cities, Apamea (on the Orontes River, northwest of Hama, Syria, a former Roman provincial capital and Metropolitan Archbishopric) and Palmyra also called Tadmur, Tadmor, or Tudmur, ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, as well as a stunning Crusader-era castle called Krak des Chevaliers. Archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets in the ancient city of Ebla. The country houses the tombs of several of Mohammed’s relatives, and its cities of Aleppo and Damascus have been continuously occupied for thousands of years. [The Most Iconic Archaeological Sites in Syria]

Mina Bulić wrote

The human cost of war can be so unimaginably large that it seems unfeeling to speak about the damage to cultural and natural heritage, yet it is important to acknowledge that cost as well. The disaster in Syria will be felt not just by a few generations, but for the rest of time. After World War II, the international community recognized the need to protect cultural and natural heritage in times of conflict, and UNESCO was formed. As in all human history, it seems like all those conferences, petitions, international declarations, talks and meetings failed to come up with a decisive way to prevent the destruction of life and heritage. Unfortunately, Syria is just one of the many cases of failed attempts. {Apamea, Syria: Roman Ruins in a Warzone}

We do not know yet what the looting may have caused, because it seems that there have also been people who took away some ancient artefacts to hide them or to bring them in safety.


Entrance of the monastery of the Sahade Mar Behnam and Marth Sara

Luckily some people were clever enough to think beforehand to protect some very old texts from the Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq in the village Khidr Ilyas close to the town of Beth Khdeda, so that they would not become destroyed by the fundamentalist jihad fighters of ISIS.

Built in the 4th century by an Assyrian king named Senchareb as a penance for killing his son Behnam and daughter Sarah after they converted to Christianity, under the care of the Syriac Orthodox Church the monks of the monastery established contact with Rome in the 18th century, which led to the gradual conversion of the inhabitants of Beth Khdeda to the Syriac Catholic Church. Thousands of Christians and Muslims came to visit this place which offered lots of ancient treasures.

In 2014 came the treat for this monument, by the invasion of ISIL/ISIS.

ISIS militants destroy two statues of kings from the ancient city of Hatra in the Mosul Museum. (Credit: YouTube)

More than 400 texts, written between the 13th and 20th centuries, were hidden behind a wall that was constructed just a few weeks before ISIS occupied and partly destroyed the Christian monastery, according to Amir Harrak, a professor at the University of Toronto who studied the texts before they were hidden away.

We in the west could only see how over the past few years those members of Islamic State destroyed so many historical monuments and beautiful sites. They ransacked Mosul (the ancient Nineveh)and managed to destroy one of the most important museums in Iraq. Problem of Nineveh or Mosul is that it is constructed on a fault line and, consequently, suffered already many times damage from earthquakes. On February the 26th, weeks after they had already destroyed an important library collection in Mosul, we could see how ancient Mesopotamian sculptures and other artifacts were being smashed inside northern Iraq’s Mosul Museum and how ISIS destroyed so much of what was caled one of the most beautiful cities in the Near East, with its gardens, temples, and splendid palaces.

Satellite images show how much destruction has happened in Syria between December 2011 and July 2014. The Ministry of Justice building (red arrow) is damaged, as is the Khusriwiye Mosque (green arrow). The Carlton Citadel Hotel (blue arrow) is destroyed. (Credit: Credit: Images ©2014, DigitalGlobe|Analysis AAAS.Coordinates 36.19N, 37.16E.)

The five years this seemingly never ending war has taken a toll on Syria’s archaeological treasures. Five of the country’s six World Heritage sites are significantly damaged, and of some old cities which in the past were so beautiful and had reason enough to attract visitors from all over the world to admire all those treasures, are now reduced to ruins, just rubble and dust everywhere. Not only on high-resolution satellite images we can see the terrible damage over huge areas, but also images of drones lately have offered us the damage which was done to so many “masterpieces of human creative genius.”

Very bad also, is that lots of people do not seem to understand that this group which labels itself “Islamic,” have been destroying both Islamic and Christian holy sites along with sites that predate the founding of both religions. Though so called Muslims, they have destroyed beautiful mosques and burned lots of Qurans, the holy scripture of the real Muslim.

You may imagine how precious certain texts where copied throughout the ages. Many scribes beautifully illustrated several texts and created documents which contains lengthy colophons [notes] written by the scribes, telling historical and social, and religious events of their times — a fact that makes them precious sources.

The texts are written in a variety of languages, including Syriac (widely used in Iraq in ancient and medieval times), Arabic, Turkish and NeoAramaic, said Harrak, who is an expert in Syriac. [See Photos of the Monastery and Saved Historical Texts] According to SIL Ethnologue, there were an estimated 550,000 native ethnic Assyrian speakers of Neo-Aramaic dialects in 1994. (a.o. Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Surayt/Turoyo) (Christ Jesus is one of the most well known Aramaic speakers).

In November 2016 the monastery was recaptured by an Iraqi Christian unit that is working with the government to fight against ISIL. Photos and a news report published by the Agence France-Presse shortly after the monastery was recaptured show that ISIS militants destroyed some of the monastery’s buildings (it has multiple buildings), burned what texts they could find, defaced and destroyed the monastery’s artwork and inscriptions, and wrote graffiti over the surviving structures.

A young priest named Yousif Sakat placed more than 400 texts in large metallic cans and built a wall in a storage room, 40 days before ISIS invaded the Plain of Nineveh near Mosul, so that no one would suspect there was anything, and he succeeded.

Sakat, who was forced to flee the monastery,

“kept his undertaking in secret even after the liberation of the Plain, out of fear the manuscripts would be uncovered, until he felt the Plain [was] secure — and he divulged the secret,”

said Harrak, a native of Mosul, who now lives in Toronto, but has returned to Iraq often to study ancient texts, inscriptions and artwork. [See Photos of ISIS Destruction of Iraq Historical Sites] {Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery}

This text, also copied in A.D. 1653, describes the genealogy of Jesus Christ. This photo was also taken before the texts were hidden away, just weeks before ISIS occupied the Mar Behnam monastery. (Credit: Amir Harrak)

  1. ISIS, Mosul Dam and threatening lives of those who want to live in freedom
  2. Iraqi Christians flee homes amid Islamic militant rampage
  3. Islamic State forcing the West to provide means for Kurdistan
  4. Wrong choices made to get rid of Assad
  5. Rampaging, demolishing sacred sites and cultural heritage
  6. From the Ramadan into the eid


Further reading

  1. Nimrud: ISIS ‘Tried to Destroy the Identity of Iraq’
  2. Canadian military teams aid overseas efforts to topple ISIS in Mosul
    Two Canadian military teams are in Lebanon and Jordan as the international community searches for ways to keep the so-called Islamic State group from spreading once the city of Mosul falls.
  3. RAF Typhoons bomb a Daesh bunker in western Iraq
    Video posted on the Ministry of Defence’s YouTube channel today. On Wednesday December 7th 2016, RAF Typhoon FGR.4s operating out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus attacked a Daesh bunker in western Iraq and a
  4. ‘If you turned in a Kurdish family, they gave you a car’: Under ISIL rule, Mosul descended into darkness
    The first and second stones did not kill her. But the woman accused of adultery by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant would not survive the third
  5. Report: Islamic State manufacturing arms on industrial scale
    The findings show that IS maintained a “robust and reliable” supply chain between Turkey and Iraq that allowed the fighters to produce tens of thousands of weapons.
  6. ISIL making weapons on industrial scale with parts purchased from Turkey, report says
    The findings show that ISIL maintained a ‘robust and reliable’ supply chain between Turkey and Iraq that allowed them to produce tens of thousands of weapons
  7. Which way to run from war-torn Mosul? How desperate do you have to be to flee across the border into Syria?!
    Syria seems the very opposite of safety or sanctuary. But as aid agencies in Iraq steel themselves for a possible outpouring from Mosul, ShelterBox and its partners find that even Syrian camps are now becoming boltholes

  8. Aleppo Bleeds
    As tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in Aleppo on an increasingly shrinking patch of land besieged by violence all around and bombardment from the air, the situation is descending into a bloodbath. Civilian blood
  9. How and What for Does the West Use ISIS in Palmyra?
    On December 10, the world media reported that IS terrorists started an offensive on Palmyra liberated by the SAA in spring. According to Syrian MoD, the total number of fighters exceeded 4,000, they used tanks,
  10. US statistics on humanitarian conditions in Syria and Iraq cause serious doubts
    A US military official told CNN on Dec. 9, that the international coalition in Iraq led by the United States has killed at least 50,000 Islamic State fighters since the beginning of operations in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
  11. Iraqi police say ready to join assault on east Mosul
    (SOURCE) Several thousand Iraqi federal police are ready to join the assault against Islamic State in east Mosul, a spokesman said on Monday, reinforcing troops who have faced weeks of fierce counter-attacks from the militants.
  12. More than 2,000 ISIL fighters killed or seriously wounded in battle for Mosul, U.S. officials say
    ‘I am confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered,’ the U.S. Defence Secretary said, though he did not predict how long it might take for Iraqi forces to prevail
  13. US-Led Coalition’s Mosul Strategy Allows Daesh Terrorists to Swarm Central Syria
    On Sunday Russia’s Center for Syrian reconciliation reported that the Daesh terror group was making plans to transfer up to 5,000 fighters from Mosul to the regions of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa in Syria.
  14. Obama And Erdogan Move ISIS from Iraq to Syria, to Weaken Assad
    A 12 August 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warning that the Obama Administration’s strategy might drive ISIS from Mosul in Iraq to Der Zor in Syria, is now being actually carried out as a plan instead of a
  15. US commander: Over 2,000 jihadists killed, gravely wounded in Mosul fight
    QAYYARAH AIR BASE, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi and US-led coalition forces have killed or gravely wounded more than 2,000 Islamic State fighters in the battle for Mosul since October, the top US commander in Iraq said Sunday.
  16. Arab World: Why hasn’t the Iraqi army taken Mosul?
    On December 2, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released casualty figures for the month of November. A total of 1,959 members of the Iraqi Security Forces had been killed and 450 wounded. The figures
  17. Iraqi troops retreat after Mosul hospital battle
    By Reuters – Dec 08,2016 – Jordan Times
    Iraqi internally displaced groom Jassim Mohammed walks with his bride, Amena Ali, during their wedding ceremony at a camp for internally
  18. Aleppo almost retaken but Mosul must wait for a while
    The ongoing downfall of ISIS really only began with the Russian intervention in Syria. Even in Iraq, the gradual success against ISIS only really took hold once the Russians showed the resolve in Syria.
  19. Mother of 5, nicknamed ‘Tigris lioness,’ takes up arms in fight against ISIS
    As Sunni tribesmen and the Iraqi army prepare for a battle to capture a village south of Mosul, Miaad al-Jibbouri, the only female member of the Lions of the Tigris, clutches an AK-47 assault rifle and vows to defeat
  20. US To send up to 2,000 troops to Iraq to fight ISIS
    The US Army announced on Wednesday 1,700 American soldiers to be deployed in Iraq to assist the national forces in their fight against ISIS in Mosul.
  21. Analysis – How Iran closed the Mosul ‘horseshoe’ and changed Iraq war

  22. Islamic State shifts defenses to east Mosul: coalition commander
    Islamic State has brought its forward defenses from western Mosul towards the east as it fights against Iraqi forces in the battle to liberate the city, a coalition commanding general said.
  23. UN refugee agency hands out aid to those uprooted from Mosul
    By AP – Dec 05,2016 – JORDAN TIMES
  24. Iraqis who fled the fighting between Iraqi security forces and the Daesh terror group militants settle at a camp for internally displaced people in
  25. Daesh tank destroyed by RAF Tornado using Brimstone missile
    Video posted on the Ministry of Defence’s YouTube channel today. On Tuesday 29th November 2016, a Tornado GR.4 scored a direct hit with a Brimstone missile on one of the few main battle tanks (MBTs)
  26. The Battle for Mosul: Concept Versus Reality
    Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq, after Baghdad. It is a city of 1.5 million people (according to UN estimates). It is a city where Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, Yezidis, Armenians, Assyrians, Turkmens,
  27. U.S. and allies such as Canada need to be in Iraq over the long term, says U.S. defense secretary
    U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is making a pitch for American and allied forces to stay in Iraq, even after the expected defeat of the Islamic State group. Carter said the U.S. and its coalition partners must not stop
  28. ‘Chaotic scenes in Mosul: Scuffles for food, warning shots as govt aid arrives’
    Chaotic scenes in eastern Mosul as hundreds of civilians overwhelmed trucks distributing food and water on Sunday. The Iraqi govt sent truckloads of food, heating oil and drinking water to residents in areas


3 thoughts on “Old texts saved behind a wall at the Mar Behnam monastery

  1. Pingback: Coming together in dark days | From guestwriters

  2. Pingback: Damage to Archaeological Sites and pursuit of profit | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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