The parts of the Middle East experiencing horrific turmoil and bloodshed are, of course, steeped in rich history dating back centuries. Parts of Egypt and Syria are among the oldest, holiest locations in the globe as they date back to biblical times.
It isn't very surprising, then, that the internet has become a flurry with references to Old Testament passages ripe with references to hot-button locations in ancient history and predictions about the "end of time" and the "second coming" of the Messiah. While these parallels are inherently troubling given their temporally removed and entirely speculative nature as a lens through which to view real human suffering, they highlight how entrenched the area of the world experiencing such heartbreaking bloodshed is in the expansive backdrop of religious history.
"Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin," reads Isaiah 17 from the Book of Isaiah, a prophecy some fear is coming fruition centuries later in modern day.
Damascus, the capital and second largest city in Syria, has gotten the brunt of violence during the Syrian civil war. The city is home to state administrative offices, and its metropolitan area is home to an estimated 2.6 million people with a rich history dating back to the second millennium B.C. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. While the city has experienced tumult and violence before, episodes of violence in Syria today are some of the worst in history. 1,429 Syrians were killed in the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus that sent the world spinning with outcry for some sort of international response. Hundreds of innocent victims in August's attack were women and children.
Another passage in Isaiah 19 addresses civil conflict in Egypt and the rise of a "fierce king," leading some to draw parallel's to the brutal reigns of Egypt's recently fallen leaders Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Morsi. Egypt is, of course, a location commonly referenced throughout the Bible (some accounts reference it almost 600 times).
Many religious leaders give great weight to elements of prophecy in the Bible, but are careful to underline the nuance of teaching prophecy in modern religious practice and the problematic ways in which prophecy can be misused. Pastor Gary Cristofaro of the First Assembly of God in Melbourne, Fla., for example, says he references biblical prophecy as an important element of worship, particularly during bible study sessions. "The situation in Syria as it relates to scripture could be something that we're witnessing, but we should be cautious," he said. "What prophecy really is about is the faithfulness of God's word.''
"What you have to decide is whether the prophet Isaiah was dealing with the ancient nation of Israel or foretelling the future. You can have a dualistic approach and see the way it was written and the time," says Ralph Nygard, pastor of the Eau Gallie First Baptist Church in Fla.