In his 1821 play Almansor, Heinrich Heine wrote that wherever books are burned, eventually they will also burn people. This eerily prophetic quotation is now emblazoned on the site of the infamous Nazi book-burnings at the Bebelplatz in Berlin.
If we have come to accept that those with no respect for human accomplishments will in the end become equally disdainful of human life, it should come as no surprise that the reverse also holds true. Cue this week’s unhinged destruction of a museum at the historic Iraqi site of Nineveh by the ongoing jihadist frat party that calls itself Islamic State.
Among the priceless artefacts that were put to the sledgehammer and electric drill were two statues of human-headed bulls dedicated to the Mesopotamian God Nergal, built around 700 BC.
Among many other things, Nergal is known today as the Sumerian God of Sickness and Death, and the study of his worship therefore offers fascinating insights into the spread of infectious diseases across the ancient Near East.