St Elijah’s Comes Down

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The Obama Administration and the Vatican condemned the Islamic State group Wednesday for razing Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, a 1400-year-old structure that survived assaults by nature and man for centuries before it was deliberately destroyed by extremists.

At the United Nations, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said reducing St. Elijah’s monastery in Mosul to a field of rubble was malicious and misguided. The Associated Press confirmed the news with exclusive satellite images published early Wednesday.

“Despite their relentless crimes, extremists will never be able to erase history,” said Bokova, who called the demolition a war crime. “It also reminds us how terrified by history the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance.”

St. Elijah’s monastery on the outskirts of Mosul was a place of worship recently for U.S. troops, who worked to restore it. In earlier centuries, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches and prayed in the cool chapel. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance.

During a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama Administration condemned the destruction by IS. “They continue to carry out these kinds of depraved acts, and it really symbolizes or exemplifies their bankrupt ideology,” he said.

In his office in exile in Irbil, Iraq, the Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, 39, stared quietly at before- and after-images of the monastery that once perched on a hillside above his hometown of Mosul. Shaken, he flipped back to his own photos for comparison.

“I can’t describe my sadness,” he said in Arabic. “Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.