|Tomb of St. Philip|
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation.... The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."The movie "the Exorcist" (the original 1973 one) begins with a scene where a talisman is unearthed in an archeological dig. This faithfully follows the story in the book. It's never made clear in the movie that this unleashes an evil spirit which then demonizes the young girl who is the subject of the movie.
– Luke 11:29-32
[You can watch part of that opening sequence here. I wasn't able to embed it which may be just as well because it brought chills up my spine -- the bad kind.]
The scene takes place in Nineveh, which was once the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire. The Bible tells us that the prophet Jonah was sent by God to warn the people of Nineveh of a coming judgement. Jonah refused. That's how sinful the city was that a prophet would dare refuse a direct command from God. In fact Nineveh was a center for the worship of the goddess Ishtar, which involved sacred prostitution. There was even a god named Sin that was the mythological father of Ishtar and who was depicted as riding a winged bull.
Jonah got on a boat to flee as far away as he could. But God caused a storm to threaten the boat. Jonah finally surrendered and was cast into the ocean and swallowed by a great fish.
After the fish vomited him up on the shore, Jonah finally obeyed God and went to the city of Nineveh to warn the people. Amazingly, they all heeded his warning. They covered themselves with ashes and repented and asked forgiveness. And their city was spared.
But this salvation was only temporary because in 612 B.C. the city was totally destroyed by the Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) and their allies and has lain in ruins ever since. The site where the city stood was completely abandoned as if a curse lay upon it. Eventually a new city was built across the Tiber river. This is the city of Mosul which we have heard so much about during the Iraq war.
[The Chaldeans were in turn conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C. Comparing this with modern nations the Assyrians can be associated with the Syrians, the Chaldeans with the Iraqis and the Persians with the Iranians.]
Recently the tomb of the Apostle Philip was uncovered in the ancient city of Hierapolis in what is now Turkey. Philip -- along with Andrew and his brother Simon Peter -- was one of the first disciples of Jesus.
“Even in Asia, great stars repose, who will rise again on the last day of the Parousia [Second Coming] of the Lord…(among these) Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell to his sleep in Hierapolis.” So wrote the Bishop of Ephesus, Polycratus, around the year 190, in a letter sent to the Bishop of Rome, Vittore.Let us hope that this is a sign of good things to come. At least for those who repent. It could not have come at a time when the world needs redemption more than today. And let's not forget the lesson of Nineveh. It is not enough to repent for a short while and then return to our evil ways.
Pray for the Christians of Nineveh. They are under heavy persecution and have been forgotten. Ethnically they are Assyrians. They are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Asyrrian Church of the East. Some of them still speak Aramaic the native language of Jesus Christ and many of his followers from Galilee. They have been targeted by Arabs, Turks and Kurds alike.
There is more information in this interview with the film's director, Andre Anton, whose family is from this area of Iraq. But one warning, I noticed something strange about his interview. He seems to have an Assyrian nationalistic (or ethnic) agenda. He doesn't emphasize that the people being persecuted are Christians, but rather that they are Assyrians. Notice the symbol that he uses for his film company is a winged Assyrian god which is in conflict with Christianity.
St. Philip, Apostle of the LORD, pray for us.