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The cradle of civilization, known as Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigran and Euphrates rivers, what is now Syria and Iraq, is named as such because scholars and archaeologists agree that it was where “civilized societies” began. The Mesopotamians are credited with bringing various aspects of human culture together to create civilization including laws, agriculture, domestic labor and food animals, and more. It is also home to many important biblical sites.
Sadly, many of the ancient sites left behind have been looted, with the relics found deep within sold on the black market. Looting generally happens during war, times of natural disaster, and riots, but it isn’t limited to just those circumstances. With private collectors willing to pay a pretty penny for biblical artifacts, among other culturally significant relics, looting will likely continue well into the future unless governments do something to stop it. With that in mind, check out these biblical sites that have been looted in recent times.
This is the mystery of the biblical sites being plundered, but officials can’t figure out exactly where it is, although looters apparently have no problem finding it. This particular site is located somewhere in Mesopotamia, which now contains modern-day Iraq. Al-Yahudu is where some Jews relocated after King Nebuchadnezzar II from Babylon forced them out. The Hebrew Bible describes where the settlement is, and how the Babylonians forced the settlers out in 587 B.C.E., which was the same year they captured Jerusalem.
This is important because the tablets plundered from the site have appeared during the last two decades and appear to describe the lives of the Jews who resettled, albeit forcibly. Researchers know there are over 200 tablets in existence to date, and if they can find the settlement, they’ll probably find more, but likely not a complete set.
Probably one of the most important biblical sites, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, according to the Bible, Bethlehem is located in the West Bank. It and its surrounding areas contain tombs and archaeologically significant relics and other finds that date back more than 4,000 years. It even holds a once-complete necropolis. Sadly, that necropolis was destroyed over the years by construction and looting.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian antiquity service doesn’t have many resources with which to stop the looters. Compounding the issue is the state of the socio-economic climate in the area. High rates of unemployment and poverty are compounded by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With such high unemployment and poverty, some people turn to the spirits to guide them to archaeological sites containing gold called the jinn. According to the report, once possessed:
“…There is temporary loss of memory, but repeated possession by jinn may cause permanent negative impact on the behavior of the possessed person.”
This type of spirit possession is rife in the Bethlehem area, but to date, those who have seen it have yet to see it reward the looters with gold artifacts to sell.
Qumran, located in the West Bank, is home to a great many ancient caves. But these are no ordinary caves. These caves are where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These scrolls are important because they contain the writings of what’s called the “earliest copy of the Hebrew Bible” contained within 900 separate manuscripts from the books of Deuteronomy, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, and Kings. Most of the scrolls are made from various leathers, but one is made from copper, and this one purports to point readers in the direction of “buried treasure.” Other writings contained within the scrolls include various non-canonical (apocryphal) biblical works, community rules, hymns, psalms, and calendars.
Originally discovered in 1947, looters have plundered the caves ever since – and it was they who found most of the scrolls. According to the report, a new scroll was found in 2017 in a newly discovered cave, although this one was blank. However, archaeologists also found that particular cave was already plundered, as they found “modern-day pickaxes” inside it. They also found other caves since then, but they too were empty. This leads archaeologists to believe that other scrolls were housed inside the cave but were taken by the looters.
In existence since well before the 10th century B.C.E., the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre is one of the most important historical cities in the Mediterranean in what is now within Lebanese borders. It is also biblically important. Another site that King Nebuchadnezzar II was interested in, he and his army captured and ran Tyre for 13 years, during which time the people who lived there resettled in other areas. Eventually, Tyre became one of the most powerful Phoenician city-states, and it is currently listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
According to the Hebrew Bible, citizens from Tyre who worked as laborers “helped build the first temple, the holiest site in Judaism,” while working for Kings David and Solomon. Sadly, looters have pillaged the site on a large scale over the last five decades at least. Nothing is sacred to those who are affected by wars and bad economic situations, as the looters saw fit to blow up a sarcophagus into pieces, and sell off the pieces to collectors in 1989, while other looters decided to rob what archaeologists believe was a children’s cemetery in 1990.
The Temple Mount is one of the most important religious sites in Jerusalem, celebrated by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, with each religion taking control at various points over the millennia. Two schools of thought exist about the Temple Mount. One says that King Solomon had a hand in building the First Temple on the site during the 10th century B.C.E., while the other says that the Temple Mount wasn’t located inside Jerusalem and that the city was no more than a small village at the time.
Regardless of its history as one of the culturally significant biblical sites, the site was looted at least as recently as 2001. According to reports, one former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, allowed Palestinians to dig in the area. The diggers sold the relics they’ve found for millions of dollars. Some of the artifacts recovered and sold include shards of pottery inscribed in ink with ancient Hebrew called ostrakons, silver coins, a stone menorah, and more. Most of the artifacts mention Jerusalem by name. For more, see our second article: 4 Biblical sites destroyed and looted by ISIS.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons, CC-By-3.0