Iraq: erasing Jewish identity at Tomb of Ezekiel?

The Jerusalem Post of Jan. 15 is the latest outlet to cite claims in Iraq's Ur news agency that the Iraqi Antiquities and Heritage Authority is planning to build a huge mosque on top of the Shrine of Al-Kifi—thought to be the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel—and that ancient Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments are being covered or removed from the site south of Baghdad under the guise of renovations.

The JP writes that Prof. Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, winner of the 1999 Israel Prize in Middle Eastern studies and chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, "confirmed the report." But the quotes presented reveal that he does so entirely via unnamed secondary sources (e.g. "a German scholar"), and did not actually visit the shrine himself. His purported sources indicate "that some of the inscriptions are now hidden by a layer of plaster."

Prof. Moreh also says he contacted Shelomo Alfassa, US director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, and alerted him about this situation. But nothing readily apparent about it appears on the group's website.

The astute blog Bartholomew's Notes on Religion links to the original Ur report as well as a Google translation, and warns that "some caution is required"—the original report was also apparently based on unnamed secondary sources.

Bartholomew notes contested claims to the site: For Muslims, the tomb belongs to Dhul-Kifl, "a prophet who is identified with Ezekiel but who also seems to have a separate identity." He also conjectures that a lamp at the site supposedly burning since it was lit by Ezekiel (long gone today, but described by the twelfth-century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela) suggests that the shrine was built on a more ancient Zoroastrian sacred site.

Yigal Schleifer of the Israel bi-weekly Jerusalem Report visited the shrine in the immediate aftermath of the US invasion in 2003. He met with the Shi'ite family that has been charged with overseeing the site since Ottoman times, and noted that missiles fell ominously close to the shrine during the bombing campaign. The tomb itself was narrowly spared damage, he wrote.

Schleifer also noted that another tomb attributed to Ezekiel is located in Dezful, in southwestern Iran.

See our last posts on Iraq and the Middle East's indigenous Jews.

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