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ISIS' Destruction of Biblical Tomb of Jonah Uncovers Inscriptions on Assyrian King, 'Great Gods'

ISIS' Destruction of Biblical Tomb of Jonah Uncovers Inscriptions on Assyrian King, 'Great Gods'

Archaeologist Musab Mohammed Jassim shows artifacts and archaeological pieces in a tunnel network running under the Mosque of Prophet Jonah, Nabi Yunus in Arabic, in eastern Mosul, Iraq March 9, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

Ancient 2,700-year-old inscriptions have been uncovered underneath the biblical Tomb of Jonah, which was destroyed by Islamic State terror group militants in 2014 in Iraq. The inscriptions mention "great gods" belonging to the Assyrian tradition.

The latest archaeological digs beneath the tomb have discovered inscriptions describing the rule of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, who is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, LiveScience reported.

"The palace of Esarhaddon, strong king, king of the world, king of Assyria, governor of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the kings of lower Egypt, upper Egypt and Kush [an ancient kingdom located south of Egypt in Nubia]," one of the deciphered engravings reads.

Esarhaddon is also said to have "reconstructed the temple of the god Aššur [the chief god of the Assyrians]," another inscription reads. It adds that Esarhaddon also rebuilt the ancient cities of Babylon and Esagil, and "renewed the statues of the great gods."

Iraqi archaeologists, who gained access to the tunnels dug by IS, have in the past also found "winged bulls and lions" belonging to Esarhaddon, who ruled the Neo-Assyrian empire in 7th century B.C.

IS originally destroyed the shrine, which is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, while searching for artifacts to loot. The radicals were pushed out of the city of Nineveh in the beginning of 2017, and have lost the majority of their captured territory in Iraq and Syria.

Esarhaddon is also said to have renovated a palace built for King Sennacherib, whose military rule is described in II Chronicles 32:1 in the Old Testament, reading: "After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself."

Archaeologist Layla Salih has said about the findings: "I can only imagine how much Daesh (IS) discovered down there before we got here."

"We believe they took many of the artifacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period."

Archaeologists have found stone sculptures of other ancient deities, such as an Assyrian demi-goddess believed to sprinkle "water of life" to protect humans in her care.

"There's a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones," Salih added. "It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world's first great empire, from the period of its greatest success."

Jonah is the biblical prophet who, as the Bible describes, was swallowed by a large fish, possibly a whale.

"In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one," scholars Joel S. Baden, a professor at Yale Divinity School, and Candida Moss, a professor at University of Birmingham, have noted.

"Jonah's descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus."

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