Arab media last week reported that Islamist forces operating in the south of the country had seized control of an ancient shrine revered as the tomb of the biblical scribe and priest Ezra.
Pan-Arab news website Al-Araby reported that the militants had destroyed large portions of the shrine, which included both a synagogue and a mosque, and now intend to use it as their headquarters in southern Iraq.
According to Al-Araby, the terrorists had cut off all access to the Tomb of Ezra to prevent journalists from reporting on their conquest and destruction of the holy site.
It would seem those efforts were wasted, as news of this latest Muslim assault on Judaism was mentioned by not a single major media outlet. Only the Jewish blog Elder of Ziyon and the Israeli news website Israel National News bothered to carry the report.
After leading a major contingent of Jewish exiles back to the Land of Israel and instructing the people in the keeping of God’s Word, on the orders of the Persian emperor, the Bible makes no indication that Ezra returned to what is now Iraq.
Hundreds of years later, the Jewish historian Josephus recorded that Ezra had been buried in Jerusalem, which, along with Nehemiah, he had helped to rebuilt and re-sanctify.
But later traditions likely started by the large Jewish community remaining in Mesopotamia asserted that Ezra had been laid to rest along the banks of the Tigris river. A shrine revered by both Jews and local Muslims was erected at the location.
Even after the mass immigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel from 1951–1952, Ezra’s Tomb, complete with its many Hebrew inscriptions praising the God of Israel, continued to be a place of pilgrimage for Arabs living in the area.
PHOTO: Shot of the shrine believed to be the biblical Ezra’s resting place taken in 1916 by Gertrude Bell, a British explorer, spy and political officer influential in the region during and after the First World War.