The Baghdad Museum

On April 10, the world helplessly stood by as it witnessed the wanton destruction of Iraq’s National Museum, no doubt one of the world’s greatest repositories of cultural trea­sures. Only weeks before, I had walked its corridors, marveling at the wealth of material on display. Standing alone in a corridor on the second floor of the Iraq Museum of Antiquities was a copy—the original is in the Louvre—of a stone stele depicting Hammurabi, the eighteenth-century b.c. ruler of Babylon, receiving one of the first-known codes of law from the sun god and god of justice, Shamash. Shamash instructs Hammurabi: “To cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong may not oppress the weak.” Proudly, Hammurabi took as his title, “king of justice.”

The parallel with Abraham, said to have been born in Mesopotamia centuries later, receiving his laws from the Hebrew god Yahweh was too striking to miss. I passed gigantic Assyrian wall carvings, some 15 meters long and about five meters tall, showing ceremonies in ancient Nineveh and Ashur. Giant, human-headed, winged bulls that had once guarded the gates of the Assyrian capitals loomed overhead.

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