Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Denigrating Cultural Heritage Not Worthy of the NY Times

I was very irritated by this article in the NY Times.

First of all, I don’t see anything wrong with recreating a significant historical structure for the purpose of promoting culture heritage. I am a financial supporter of Colonial Williamsburg and isn’t that the same type of thing? Just like reenactment is a vibrant way to teach history, I think “living history” exhibits are interesting and educational. Perhaps the author of the article felt compelled to denigrate this effort to revive a people’s pride in their cultural heritage because Saddam Hussein was the proponent of the project.

I also don’t know what was to be gained by labeling Nebuchadnezzar a despot. One of the definitions of despot in the online dictionary is “a person who wields power oppressively; a tyrant.” Is this label applied because he captured Jerusalem and enslaved the Hebrews? That activity was common practice throughout the ancient world so if that is the criteria, you would have to say most of the rulers of the ancient world were despots.
According to the Catholic encyclopedia, “During the last century of Ninive's existence Babylon had been greatly devastated, not only at the hands of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, but also as a result of her ever renewed rebellions. Nabuchodonor, continuing his father's work of reconstruction, aimed at making his capital one of the world's wonders. Old temples were restored; new edifices of incredible magnificence (Diodor. of Sicily, II, 95; Herodot., I, 183) were erected to the many gods of the Babylonian pantheon; to complete the royal palace begun by Nabopolassar, nothing was spared, neither "cedar-wood, nor bronze, gold, silver, rare and precious stones"; an underground passage and a stone bridge connected the two parts of the city separated by the Euphrates; the city itself was rendered impregnable by the construction of a triple line of walls. Nor was Nabuchodonosor's activity confined to the capital; he is credited with the restoration of the Lake of Sippar, the opening of a port on the Persian Gulf, and the building of the famous Median wall between the Tigris and the Euphrates to protect the country against incursions from the North: in fact, there is scarcely a place around Babylon where his name does not appear and where traces of his activity are not found. These gigantic undertakings required an innumerable host of workmen: from the inscription of the great temple of Marduk (Meissner, "Assyr. Studien", II, in "Mitteil. der Vorderas. Ges.", 1904, III), we may infer that most probably captives brought from various parts of Western Asia made up a large part of the labouring force used in all his public works.

From Nabuchodonosor's inscriptions and from the number of temples erected or restored by this prince we gather that he was a very devout man. What we know of his history shows him to have been of a humane disposition, in striking contrast with the wanton cruelty of most of the iron-souled Assyrian rulers. It was owing to this moderation that Jerusalem was spared repeatedly, and finally destroyed only when its destruction became a political necessity; rebel princes easily obtained pardon, and Sedecias himself, whose ungratefulness to the Babylonian king was particularly odious, would, had he manifested less stubbornness, have been treated with greater indulgence (Jer., xxxviii, 17, 18); Nabuchodonosor showed much consideration to Jeremias, leaving him free to accompany the exiles to Babylon or to remain in Jerusalem, and appointing one of the Prophet's friends, Godolias, to the governorship of Jerusalem; he granted likewise such a share of freedom to the exiled Jews that some rose to a position of prominence at Court and Baruch thought it a duty to exhort his fellow-countrymen to have the welfare of Babylon at heart and to pray for her king.”

This doesn’t sound like a despot to me. It makes me think even more that the purpose of the article was to denigrate the historical culture of Iraq (and therefore its people) – very unworthy of a publication with the general respect of the New York Times.