What's so striking about the ruins of Persepolis in southern Iran, an ancient capital of the Persian Empire that was burned down after being conquered by Alexander the Great, is the absence of violent imagery on what's left of its stone walls. Among the carvings there are soldiers, but they're not fighting; there are weapons, but they're not drawn. Mainly you see emblems suggesting that something humane went on here instead—people of different nations gathering peacefully, bearing gifts, draping their hands amiably on one another's shoulders. In an era noted for its barbarity, Persepolis, it seems, was a relatively cosmopolitan place—and for many Iranians today its ruins are a breathtaking reminder of who their Persian ancestors were and what they did.
One of the great crimes committed against the people of Iraq was the looting of the Baghdad Museum and the destruction of many important ancient sites inside Iraq.
As the drums beat for more war in Iran, there is a valid concern that Iran's ancient archeological sites face risk of destruction. I agree. And more to the point, I think that destruction of ancient sites is deliberate policy.
Egypt is literally littered with the ruins of the ancient temples and palaces of her rulers. As much as has been found, it is estimated that only 1/3 of Egypt's archeological wonders have been uncovered. A newly discovered temple was uncovered while digging a sewer line, and a cache of finely preserved mummies was literally stumbled over by a cow in a pasture.
Iraq's ancient heritage was enshrined in its ancient sites and museum. As a result of the war, many of those sites have been damaged or destroyed. Part of the ancient city or Ur now lies underneath a US air base runway. The treasures of the museum have only partly been recovered. The treasures from the looted archaeological sites have been scattered to the world.
Now we take aim at Persia, and as the illustrations in this National Geographic article show, there is a rich cultural heritage of artifacts and ancient sites facing the bombs.
All of this wealth of archaeological treasures must of course annoy Israel. We are raised from birth with Old Testament tales of the greatness of the ancient Israelites, of the powerful kingdoms of Solomon and David and the first temple. Yet Israel, while rich in antiquities, is almost totally devoid of artifacts from this supposedly glorious time in her history. The existence of the fabled First Temple was supported with just two artifacts, a carved staff ornament in the shape of a pomegranate and the Jehoash tablet. Both of these artifacts have been exposed as frauds. We are told that once there was a magnificent temple on that hill, but it "all went away." The wonders emerging from the soil of Egypt, Iraq, and Iran serve as a constant reminder that ancient buildings of such a scale as we are told the First Temple was simply do not vanish without a trace.
There is considerable reason to suspect that the tales told in the Old Testament are just that; tales. The Bible is not science, it is the collected stories of a primitive tribal people telling each other how important they are. And like fishermen talking about the won that got away, or Ramses with his temple carvings of the did-not-really-happen victory over the Hittites at Kadesh, the writers of the ancient testaments assumed that the people they were telling stories to had no way to verify the claims for themselves. So "embellishment" was a low-risk activity.
We do know from the available archaeological evidence that the Exodus probably actually happened to the Hyksos, not the Israelites. We know that the story of Moses is suspect because no Egyptian princess would hide a Hebrew child inside Pharaoh's household, then give the kid a Hebrew name ("Moses" is actually an Egyptian title meaning "Prince" and is included in the names of many Pharaoh's names such as Tut-Moses, Ah-Moses, Ra-Moses (Ramses) etc.) But a good story is a good story and the writers of the ancient texts were probably not thinking much further into the future than the guys who pen the "Celebrity dates space alien" stories you see at supermarket checkout lines. The fact that the celebrity is a real person does not prove the space alien exists. It's just a story.
But, over time, entire religions with attendant wealth and power structures have been built on the premise that these stories really happened exactly as written. And today, here in the 21st century world, technology has started to catch up with these ancient legends and call many of them into doubt.
So, for a nation that justifies its existence on the writings of the Old Torah, the plethora of sites and artifacts confirming the ancient histories of Egypt, Iraq, Iran, etc. etc. etc. must seem a dire political threat for a nation whose own ancient history seems to have left little if any traces.
In that context, the strange behavior of the US military which posted guards around the Iraq oil ministry while leaving the Baghdad museum unguarded suddenly starts to make sense, if the supporters of a very insecure nation decide that leveling the archaeological playing field is preferable to allowing the obvious disparity in archaeological proofs of claimed ancient histories to stand clear in the world's view!