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Wednesday, June 1, 2016



When Christians acted like the Taliban and ISIS & "Took a Hammer to Civilization"

Despite strong protests from the international community, the Afghan Taliban destroyed the two UNESCO World Heritage giant Buddhas of Bamyam in 2001. Throughout the last millennium, others had a these central Afghanistan 6th century relics, which were from the 500-year period when Buddhism flourished in the region. Once Islam swept through Asia, many Muslim leaders saw the Buddhas as idols that could lead the faithful astray.

Considering non-Sunni religious shrines as idolatrous, whether they are ancient or modern, is also the reason ISIS has given for destroying churches, Shia mosques and cultural antiquities in the Mosul museum in Iraq, the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, and more recently the 2000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin at the UNESCO World Heritage site at Palmyra in Syria. UNESCO calls the annihilation of the Palmyra temple a “war crime” and the Mail Online refers to how “ISIS Thugs take a Hammer to Civilisation”.

Would the early Christians have attracted similar condemnation? In the Isis Temple from Philae in Upper Egypt, there is clear evidence of how the early Christians from the late third century defaced images of the Egyptian gods and their protégés, the Pharaohs. As these Christians didn’t have explosives, power hammers or power drills, they used chisels and hammers in a more precise way to take out the features of the gods and sometimes replaced these with an image of the cross as shown in the photo I recently took at the Isis Temple.

In 330 AD, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Byzantine Empire. After Emperor Justinian I’s pro-Christian edicts around a century later and the persecution of the dwindling numbers of followers of other religions, including the Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Nabataean and other pagan gods, as well as Christian heretics, these religions had effectively died by 550AD. Christians pillaged materials from former pagan temples to build Byzantine Churches, such as those at Jerash, Umm Qais and Petra in Jordan. In the 8th Century, after the locals converted to Islam, these sites became mosques.

During the 8th and 9th centuries, both Byzantine Christian and Muslim iconoclasts destroyed Christian statues and images. Some Protestant reformers in the 16th century also destroyed or removed sacred artwork from churches and replaced these with a simple cross.

Was what these Christians and Muslims did also a “crime” against cultural antiquity? And should we view them as “Thugs who took a hammer to civilisation”? Or should we view these iconoclasts, like those of ISIS, as part of a the progression through history, however painful this is for modern archaeologists, scholars of antiquity and those who revere ancient relics or gain from tourism?
Graeme J Davidson More comments


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