BLOG 287 January 25, 2016

The antiquity of the Middle East reaches to the beginning of history. Consequently, the treasures of distant millenniums still wait to be found. These possibilities raise a million fascinating stories of intrigue that stretch from Julius Caesar and Moses to Abraham. One of the most recent tales of mystery is the loss of an ancient manuscript called the Cairo Codex.

The fascinating history of this legendary Hebrew manuscript stretches to the origins of the Karaites, an ancient Jewish sect that began in the century after Jerusalem was sacked and the Second Temple destroyed, In Baghdad, a group of Jews rebelled against the authority of the prevailing rabbi’s view of scripture. The original originalists strove to be faithful to the meanings understood by the ancient Israelites. The remnant of this period is the Cairo Codex supposedly written by Moshe ben Asher in 894 which would make it the earliest known Hebrew manuscript. It was supposedly kept for over a thousand years in the Dar’l Synagogue in Abbasiyah, Cairo.

The manuscript has now disappeared and no one (except some insider) knows whether it is in Egypt, Israel, or the hands of a collector. The hunt is on for this invaluable piece of the past. The whole story can be found in this month’s January/February Moment magazine. Makes a fascinating read.

However, one of the tragedies of the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS has been the destruction of such important ancient sites. One of the most significant edifices in Iraq was destroyed sometime between this Fall and 2014. St. Elijah’s Monastery had been a major Christian place of worship for over 1,400 years. Generations of monks had spent their lives praying in the chapel, worshiping at the altar, and burning candles into the night. As one approached the entrance the Greek letters chi and rho marked the door. This marking is still used as an abbreviated symbol of the name of Jesus Christ.

Standing on a hill above Mosul, the 27,000 square-foot rock monastery had 26 distinct rooms even though the roof was gone. The creation of the monastery began in 590 when the monastic movement swept across the Middle East and Europe. This was long before there were any divisions in Christianity. Consequently, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike reverenced this site. In 1743, at least 150 monks were massacred by a Persian general because they refused to convert to Islam.

Recent high resolution aerial photographs revealed the monastery had been reduced to a pile of rubble. ISIS troops, bulldozers, and men with pickaxes continue to destroy everything they consider contrary to their understanding of Islam. From his office in exile, Catholic priest Paul Thabit Habib said, “Our Christian history is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.” Roman Catholic Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who celebrated Mass on the monastery’s altar ,was grief-stricken. He said, “Elijah the prophet must be weeping.”

Weeping indeed!

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Filed under Catholics, Christians, middle east

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