Showing posts with label Max Von Sydow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Max Von Sydow. Show all posts

Friday, 13 March 2020


Northern Iraq… 

THE BLAZE OF sun wrung pops of sweat from the old man’s brow, yet he cupped his hands around the glass of hot sweet tea as if to warm them. He could not shake the premonition. It clung to his back like chill wet leaves. 

The dig was over. The tell had been sifted, stratum by stratum, its entrails examined, tagged and shipped: the beads and pendants; glyptics; phalli; ground-stone mortars stained with ocher; burnished pots. Nothing exceptional. An Assyrian ivory toilet box. And man. The bones of man. The brittle remnants of cosmic torment that once made him wonder if matter was Lucifer upward-groping back to his God. And yet now he knew better. The fragrance of licorice plant and tamarisk tugged his gaze to poppied hills; to reeded plains; to the ragged, rock-strewn bolt of road that flung itself headlong into dread. Northwest was Mosul; east, Erbil; south was Baghdad and Kirkuk and the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. He shifted his legs underneath the table in front of the lonely roadside chaykhana and stared at the grass stains on his boots and khaki pants. He sipped at his tea. The dig was over. What was beginning? He dusted the thought like a clay-fresh find but he could not tag it. 

Someone wheezed from within the chaykhana: the withered proprietor shuffling toward him, kicking up dust in Russian-made shoes that he wore like slippers, groaning backs pressed under his heels. The dark of his shadow slipped over the table. 

"Kaman chay, chawaga?” 

The man in khaki shook his head, staring down at the laceless, crusted shoes caked thick with debris of the pain of living. The stuff of the cosmos, he softly reflected: matter; yet somehow finally spirit. Spirit and the shoes were to him but aspects of a stuff more fundamental, a stuff that was primal and totally other. 

The Shadow shifted. The Kurd stood waiting like an ancient debt. The old man in khaki looked up into eyes that were damply bleached as if the membrane of an eggshell had been pasted over the irises. Glaucoma. Once he could not have loved this man. He slipped out his wallet and probed for a coin among its tattered, crumpled tenants: a few dinars; an Iraqi driver’s license; a faded plastic Catholic calendar card that was twelve years out of date. It bore an inscription on the reverse: WHAT WE GIVE TO THE POOR IS WHAT WE TAKE WITH US WHEN WE DIE. He paid for his tea and left a tip of fifty fils on a splintered table the color of sadness. 

He walked to his jeep. The rippling click of key sliding into ignition was crisp in the silence. For a moment he paused and stared off broodingly. In the distance, shimmering in heat haze that made it look afloat like an island in the sky, loomed the flat-topped, towering mound city of Erbil, its fractured rooftops poised in the clouds like a rubbled, mud-stained benediction. 

The leaves clutched tighter at the flesh of his back. 

Something was waiting. 

“Allah ma’ak, chawaga.” 

Rotted teeth. The Kurd was grinning, waving farewell. The man in khaki groped for a warmth in the pit of his being and came up with a wave and a mustered smile. It dimmed as he looked away. He started the engine, turned in a narrow, eccentric U and headed toward Mosul. The Kurd stood watching, puzzled by a heart-dropping sense of loss as the jeep gathered speed. What was it that was gone? What was it he had felt in the stranger’s presence? Something like safety, he remembered; a sense of protection and deep well-being. Now it dwindled in the distance with the fast-moving jeep. He felt strangely alone. 

By ten after six the painstaking inventory was finished. The Mosul curator of antiquities, an Arab with sagging cheeks, was carefully penning a final entry into the ledger on his desk. For a moment he paused, looking up at his friend as he dipped his penpoint into an inkpot. The man in khaki seemed lost in thought. He was standing by a table, hands in his pockets, staring down at some dry, tagged whisper of the past. Curious, unmoving, for moments the curator watched him, then returned to the entry, writing in a firm, very small neat script until at last he sighed, setting down the pen as he noted the time. The train to Baghdad left at eight. He blotted the page and offered tea. 

His eyes still fixed upon something on the table, the man in khaki shook his head. The Arab watched him, vaguely troubled. What was in the air? There was something in the air. He stood up and moved closer; then felt a vague prickling at the back of his neck as his friend at last moved, reaching down for an amulet and cradling it pensively in his hand. It was a green stone head of the demon Pazuzu, personification of the southwest wind. Its dominion was sickness and disease. The head was pierced. The amulet’s owner had worn it as a shield. 

“Evil against evil,” breathed the curator, languidly fanning himself with a French scientific periodical, an olive-oil thumb-print smudged on its cover. His friend did not move; he did not comment. The curator tilted his head to the side. “Is something wrong?” he asked. 

No answer. 

"Father Merrin?” 

The man in khaki still appeared not to hear, absorbed in the amulet, the last of his finds. After a moment he set it down, then lifted a questioning look to the Arab. Had he said something?

"No, Father. Nothing.” 

They murmured farewells. 

At the door, the curator took the old man’s hand with an extra firmness. 

“My heart has a wish: that you would not go.” His friend answered softly in terms of tea; of time; of something to be done. 

“No, no, no! I meant home!” 

The man in khaki fixed his gaze on a speck of boiled chickpea nestled in a corner of the Arab’s mouth; yet his eyes were distant. “Home,” he repeated. 

The word had the sound of an ending. 

“The States,” the Arab curator added, instantly wondering why he had. 

The man in khaki looked into the dark of the other’s concern. He had never found it difficult to love this man. “Good-bye,” he said quietly; then quickly turned and stepped out into the gathering gloom of the streets and a journey home whose length seemed somehow undetermined. 

“I will see you in a year!” the curator called after him from the doorway. But the man in khaki never looked back. The Arab watched his dwindling form as he crossed a narrow street at an angle, almost colliding with a swiftly moving droshky. Its cab bore a corpulent old Arab woman, her face a shadow behind the black lace veil draped loosely over her like a shroud. He guessed she was rushing to some appointment. He soon lost sight of his hurrying friend. 

The man in khaki walked, compelled. Shrugging loose of the city, he breached the outskirts, crossing the Tigris with hurrying steps, but nearing the ruins, he slowed his pace, for with every step the inchoate presentiment took firmer, more terrible form. 

Yet he had to know. He would have to prepare. 

A wooden plank that bridged the Khosr, a muddy stream, creaked under his weight. And then he was there, standing on the mound where once gleamed fifteen-gated Nineveh, feared nest of Assyrian hordes. Now the city lay sprawled in the bloody dust of its predestination. And yet he was here, the air was still thick with him, that Other who ravaged his dreams. 

The man in khaki prowled the ruins. The Temple of Nabu. The Temple of Ishtar. He sifted vibrations. At the palace of Ashurbanipal he stopped and looked up at a limestone statue hulking in situ. Ragged wings and taloned feet. A bulbous, jutting, stubby penis and a mouth stretched taut in feral grin. The demon Pazuzu. 

Abruptly the man in khaki sagged. 
He bowed his head. 
He knew. 
It was coming. 

He stared at the dust and the quickening shadows. The orb of the sun was beginning to slip beneath the rim of the world and he could hear the dim yappings of savage dog packs prowling the fringes of the city. He rolled his shirtsleeves down and buttoned them as a shivering breeze sprang up. Its source was southwest. 

He hastened toward Mosul and his train, his heart encased in the icy conviction that soon he would be hunted by an ancient enemy whose face he had never seen. 

But he knew his name.

Biblical Nineveh

In the Hebrew Bible, Nineveh is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11: “Ashur left that land, and built Nineveh”

Some modern English translations interpret “Ashur” in the Hebrew of this verse as the country “Assyria” rather than a person, thus making Nimrod, rather than Ashur, the founder of Nineveh. 

Sir Walter Raleigh’s notion that Nimrod built Nineveh, and the cities in Genesis 10:11–12, has also been refuted by scholars.

The discovery of the fifteen Jubilees texts found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, has since shown that, according to the Jewish sects of Qumran, Genesis 10:11 affirms the apportionment of Nineveh to Ashur. 

The attribution of Nineveh to Ashur is also supported by the Greek Septuagint, King James Bible, Geneva Bible, and by Historian Flavius Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews (Antiquities, i, vi, 4). 

Nineveh was the flourishing capital of the Assyrian Empire and was the home of King Sennacherib, King of Assyria, during the Biblical reign of King Hezekiah (יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ) and the lifetime of Judean prophet Isaiah (ישעיה). 

As recorded in Hebrew scripture, Nineveh was also the place where Sennacherib died at the hands of his two sons, who then fled to the vassal land of ’rrt Urartu. 

The book of the prophet Nahum is almost exclusively taken up with prophetic denunciations against Nineveh. Its ruin and utter desolation are foretold. Its end was strange, sudden, and tragic. 

According to the Bible, it was God’s doing, His judgment on Assyria’s pride (Isaiah 10:5–19). In fulfillment of prophecy, God made “an utter end of the place”. It became a “desolation”. 

The prophet Zephaniah also predicts its destruction along with the fall of the empire of which it was the capital. Nineveh is also the setting of the Book of Tobit.

The Book of Jonah, set in the days of the Assyrian empire, describes it as an “exceedingly great city of three days’ journey in breadth”, whose population at that time is given as “more than 120,000”. 

Genesis 10:11-12 lists four cities “Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, and Resen”, ambiguously stating that either Resen or Calah is “the great city.” 

The ruins of Kuyunjiq, Nimrud, Karamles and Khorsabad form the four corners of an irregular quadrangle. 

The ruins of the “great city” Nineveh, with the whole area included within the parallelogram they form by lines drawn from the one to the other, are generally regarded as consisting of these four sites. 

The description of Nineveh in Jonah likely was a reference to greater Nineveh, including the surrounding cities of Rehoboth, Calah and Resen. 

The Book of Jonah depicts Nineveh as a wicked city worthy of destruction. God sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites of their coming destruction, and they fasted and repented because of this. 

As a result, God spared the city; when Jonah protests against this, God states He is showing mercy for the population who are ignorant of the difference between right and wrong (“who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand”) and mercy for the animals in the city.

Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil can be found in the Hebrew Tanakh (aka the Old Testament and used by Christians Bible and Muslims Quran. To this day, Syriac and Oriental Orthodox churches commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. 

The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drink. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.