On an escarpment high above the Euphrates River in eastern Syria sit the ruins of Dura-Europos, one of the most important archeological finds of the twentieth century. Founded in 303 BC by the Seleucid successors of Alexander the Great, this ancient caravan city of some 8,000 to 10,000 people was occupied by the Romans from 165 AD until it was destroyed by an invading Persian army in 256 AD. Sadly, in recent years it has been “destroyed” once again, this time by ISIS, which has looted and sold the treasures of Dura-Europos in order to finance its murderous regime.
Those words began a piece by Timothy George at the blog at First Things. You can read it all for yourself. His blog post continues on another theme but I think his opening words are worth their own consideration. Antiquities present us with resources that cannot be replaced, with a tie to our past (whether good or evil), and a significant resource to help us explain the present. Whenever ideology presumes to destroy such antiquities, the loss is not merely local or regional.
While in this case ISIS has effectively looted and sold off treasures instead of destroying them, it has in other cases destroyed and laid waste to the richest of archaeological and cultural resources. They are not the first and will not be the last to do so. That said, until all of us insist that such destruction and looting is not to be tolerated, we will continue to see the treasures of the past, both great and small, discarded as so much rubbish and we will all the poorer for it.
I can clearly understand the desire to remove from public display those things which are deemed offensive to a particular religion and people. Christians face this kind of thing every day. Yet we as a people have decided to preserve even those markers of our greatest failures if for no other reason than to prevent such atrocities in the future. Here I think of the Nazi death camps. As horrible as it is to remember such offenses, it is even more horrible to fail to remember them and thus create the potential for others to follow in their footsteps.