Archaeologists in Iraq are decrying the latest destruction of the nation's historic heritage by the Islamic State while celebrating an amazing discovery of biblical significance made possible only by the terror group's looting.
The slow recovery of Mosul by Iraqi forces, backed by an international coalition, has allowed archaeologists to examine ISIS' damage to artifacts at the site of ancient Nineveh. In 2014, shortly after taking control of Mosul, ISIS militants rigged the Nabi Younus shrine – the traditional burial site of the prophet Jonah – with explosives and blew it up.
It is now known that ISIS dug tunnels beneath the leveled shrine in search of artifacts to sell on the world market to fund its military activities. Those now-abandoned tunnels, archaeologist say, have revealed the palace of the seventh century B.C. Assyrian King Sennacherib and his son King Esarhaddon.
Sennacherib's invasion of the biblical kingdom of Judah in 701 B.C. is one of the most thoroughly documented historical events in the Bible, being recounted at 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-23, Isaiah 36:1-37:38, as well as in a marble bas-relief now in the British Museum and on an Assyrian clay prism proclaiming Sennacherib's "victory" over Judah's King Hezekiah.
The Bible recounts Hezekiah's preparations for the expected invasion after he carried out religious reforms. Sennacherib captured Lachish, Judah's second-most important city, exiling its inhabitants to Assyria, but was unable to capture Jerusalem, thanks to a miraculous destruction of much of the Assyrian army.
WND reported last September Israeli archaeologists discovered an ancient commode unearthed during excavation of the First Temple-era gate complex of the city of Lachish linked to the Bible's account of the invasion.
"So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh," reads the account in 2 Kings 19:36-37. "Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place."
Esarhaddon is mentioned only in passing in Scripture, but the Esarhaddon Prism, now in the British Museum, references Hezekiah's son, King Manasseh of Judah.
It reads: "I commanded the kings from the region of Hatti as well as the areas on the other side of the Euphrates, including Ba‘lu, king of Tyre, Manasseh, king of Judah ... ; a total of 22 kings from Hatti, the seashore and islands, all of them were given the difficult task of transporting building materials to my palace in Nineveh, the city over which I am king."
And now, that very palace may be the one uncovered by ISIS looters.
Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih, noting that the Nineveh site – once the largest city in the world – is "far more damaged than we expected," told Britain's Daily Telegraph she had found a "marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672 B.C.E."
Eleanor Robson, head of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, said the tragic destruction of the site had made possible a "fantastic find."
"The objects don't match descriptions of what we thought was down there," she said, according to the Telegraph report. "There's a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world's first great empire, from the period of its greatest success."
It remains to be seen how much of that history ISIS diggers managed to carry off.
"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," she said.
Interpol and other international organizations are attempting to find and recover artifacts taken by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.