Thursday, 21 February 2013


Ever since Mr. Layard's wonderful discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh, public attention has been repeatedly directed to the subject of Oriental antiquities; and there can be no doubt that the recent researches of scholars have been rewarded beyond all  expectation. Such men as the Rawlinsons, Professors Lassen and Max Muller, Mr. Sayce, and Mr. George Smith, with many others of great reputation and learning, have conducted their investigations with an almost incredible amount of patience and industry, and have succeeded in throwing a flood of light upon the history and customs of the peoples who formed the monarchies of the ancient world. And one satisfactory result of their labours is the conviction on their part that for careful and accurate students there is a rich harvest of discovery in the future. The history of the human race has many gaps, but little by little they are being filled in. In the light which has been thrown back into the dim regions of a far-off past we are beginning to perceive how men lived and thought from day to day, what languages they spoke and how these originated, and what religious beliefs and ideas influenced the course of their lives. All this is in itself of immense importance. Whatever concerns human life, acted out under any of its varied conditions, must have permanent interest for every age. These discoveries of Mr. Smith, however, have a special bearing upon the Book of Genesis, which gives an account of certain great facts, supposed to form the basis of all history, and to account for phenomena which are in existence at the present time. Into such questions as those which concern the authority of this Book, and its other than historical claims upon our belief, it is not necessary to enter. It professes to be a real history, and though some of its language may be that of allegory and poetry rather than of strict science, it is quite clear that, so far as its underlying facts are concerned, it must be submitted to the rigorous methods of historical criticism. The facts to which reference is more particularly made are the creation of the world, the sin and fall of man, and the deluge. The account of these in the Book of Genesis is simple and clear, and evidently the work of a man who had not the slightest idea that be was in a region of mere myths and legends. The literature of the Jewish people, however, is not the only one which contains references to those far-off events. The Persians have their legend of man's creation and fall,in which Ormuzd, the good principle places the creatures which he has made in a garden containing a tree of life and immortality, after which comes Ahriman, the evil principle, and with the fruit of a tree of his own making beguiles the unhappy mortals to their ruin. In India there are the myths of Krishna's contests with the serpent, and the naming of Manu by a great fish to make a ship and escape from an impending deluge. The Greeks have their legends of the floods of Oxyges and Deucalion ; while the Chinese cherish among their traditions that of the founder of their civilisation, Fa-he, who, with his wife, three sons, and three daughters, was saved from a terrible deluge. But we are now in possession of the Chaldean myths, which are of much greater importance than any yet brought to light. It was well known, from the historian Berosus, that the Babylonians had traditions of the events narrated in Genesis, but as he wrote about s a. 300, long after the Hebrew people had been carried away into the land of their conquerors, it was supposed that these traditions might have been in part borrowed from the exiled race, though certainly his account of Oannea and Xisuthrus differs very materially from the earlier chapters of Genesis. Mr. Smith has now proved that the Babylonians at a very early period had distinct legends of their own, and the history of his discoveries is a wonderful record of work which, though interesting, must have required endless patience, and, at times, had a tendency to become tedious and irksome,

Out of the many fragments of tablets containing cuneiform inscriptions which had been placed in the British Museum as the result of Mr. Layard's discovery of the Royal Assyrian Library, scholars were able to decipher narratives belonging to the reigns of Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon, Sennacherib, and other monarchs whose names are connected with the history of Israel. It was already known that Assyria, with its great capital of Nineveh, had borrowed its written characters from the older and more southern kingdom of Babylonia, and the idea suggested itself that its literature had been borrowed in like manner, and that, among the inscriptions, allusions might be found to the events in Genesis. Mr. Smith accordingly set to work, and came upon a fragment, in which reference was made to a ship resting on the mountain of Nizir, and to a dove which had been sent forth from the ship, but had returned. Once on the track, the eager student began a more thorough search. Thousands of fragments were examined, and at last he was able to make out parts of a series of legends regarding a certain hero named Izdubar (or Nimrod), which had evidently been written on 12 tablets, one of them containing a tolerably full account of the Deluge. The discovery caused considerable discussion at the time it was made, three or four years ago, and the proprietors of the London Daily Telegraph, who have shown a praiseworthy interest in scientific research, made arrangements by which Mr. Smith was enabled to proceed to Assyria, for the purpose of fresh excavations. At Kouyunjik, on the site of King Assurbanipal's great palace, he found fragments which belonged to the Izdubar series, and others which had reference to the creation and fall of man. On a second visit he made discoveries in the same direction, and the book under notice gives the results of his labours so far as they have gone, both among the fragments brought to England by himself, and those already in the Museum. The inscriptions are very far from complete, but happily one of the best is that which gives the Chaldean account of the Deluge. . . .
This famous library was commenced by Sargon, the founder of the last Assyrian dynasty (B.C. 722), but to Assurbauipal (B.C. 678) belonged the credit and glory of having completed one of the most famous literary collections of the ancient world. He was a great patron of literature, and conceived the idea of copying all the old inscriptions. Literary treasures were sought and obtained from all quarters, and the result, as we have seen, was the preparation of thousands of tablets containing information regarding mythology and history, politics and science ; hymns, also, and prayers, legends and songs. On the destruction of Nineveh (B C. 621) and her Royal palace, it seemed as if the library were ruined for ever, and a whole literature irrevocably lost. The tablets were broken and burned, the fragments being scattered all over the ruins. They were further broken by those who were intent upon obtaining treasures of a less valuable kind. The chemical action of the rain, too, after it had soaked through the overlying soil, caused numberless cracks, in which crystals formed and completed the destruction already begun. But Mr. Smith was eager as a miner in search of gold, and secured many important fragments, though he believes that there are still 20,000 among the d├ębris.

The date of most of these tablets is about B.C. 670, but, as we have pointed out, they were only copies. Unhappily, the dates of the originals have not been preserved. The subject of chronology is proverbially difficult. It seems probable, however, that certain of the inscriptions were earlier than 2,000B C. that the Izdubar legends belong to a period about that date ; and that the others, referring to the Genesis history, are somewhat later. Long before this date, however, the traditions were known over the whole country of Babylonia.

The 12 tablets which give the Chaldean account of creation are in a very mutilated state, but the fragments show a general resemblance to the opening chapter of the Bible. The following is Mr. Smith's translation of the first fragment :—

" When above were not raised the heavens,
and below on the earth a plant had not grown up ;
the abyss also had not broken open their boundaries ;
The chaos (or water) Tiamat (the sea) was the producing-mother of the whole of them.
Those waters at the beginning were ordained ; but a tree had not grown, a flower had not unfolded.
When the gods had not sprung up, any one of them ;
a plant had not grown, and order did not exist ;
were made also the great gods,
the gods Sahmu and Sahamu they caused to come . . . . . . and they grew. . . . . .
the gods Sar and Kisar were made. . . . . .
A course of days and a long time passed. . . . . .
the god Anu. . . . . .
the gods Sar and. . . . . ."

Here we have the old Babylonian idea, that the sea was the originator of all things, Sabma is the god of force or growth ; Sar, of the upper expanse of creation ; Kisar, of the lower expanse, while Anu corresponds with Jupiter or Zeus, and seems to be the father of the gods of the Chaldean mythology. It is remarkable that the word used for the chaos of waters which in both accounts preceded creation, is precisely the same as that in Genesis.

On the fifth tablet of the series there is an inscription which evidently corresponds with the Genesis account of the fourth day of creation. It tells how the great gods arranged the stars in figures of animals in order that the year and the months might be fixed through the observation of them, When the world, according to the Chaldean theory, had been brought up out of the chaos of waters, strong fastenings and mighty gates were used to keep the floods of the abyss from rushing forth and overwhelming the new creation. These gates the gods opened that the moon might be drawn out of the vast deep to take her place as ruler of the night. "The God Uru"(the moon), says the inscription, "he caused to rise out, the night he overshadowed, to fix it also for the light of the night until the shining of the day, that the month might not be broken, and in its amount be regular. At the beginning of the month, at the rising of the night, his horns are breaking through to shine on the heaven. On the seventh day to a circle he begins to swell, and stretches towards the dawn further." On another fragment there is an account of a very imperfect kind regarding the creation of the human race by the God Hea, the son of Anu, and also what appears to be an address to the newly-created pair upon their religious duties. They are exhorted to approach the God with sacrifice, prayer, and humility, "and in the fear also of God thou shalt be holy, . . . the fear of God thou shalt not leave, the fear of the angels thou shalt live in."

It is striking to notice that in one of the fragments the race of human beings spoken of is the "dark race," and that they are frequently called Admi or Adami in various other parts of the tablets, while in the Book of Genesis the word Adam is not only used as a proper name, but also as a general term for mankind. The dragon, too, who is the Chaldean account tempts man to his evil doom, is represented as the offspring of Chaos, and the embodiment of physical and moral disorder. It would be easy to multiply quotations, but without entering further into the details of these creation legends, it will be sufficiently apparent that " in the period from B.C. 2,000 to B.C. 1,500, the Babylonians believed in a similar story to that in Genesis."

We can only allude here to those discoveries of Mr. Smith which belong to the realm of pure mythology. There is the story of the God Zu, who, for some sin committed against Anu, the father of the gods, was expelled from the number of the Immortals ; of Subara, too, the god of pestilence, who, when mortals had offended against heaven, was sent forth to scatter disease and death broadcast over the land. There are stories likewise of animals that speak and act after the manner of the creatures that are introduced into numerous Oriental fables. Among the other miscellaneous fragments there is a reference to the Tower of Babel, which confirms the general opinion that it was built upon the great pile of Birs Nimroud, near Babylon.

But the most important result of Mr. Smith's labours is the finding of the series of legends, which narrate the story of a certain Izdubar, who seems, on good grounds, to be identified with Nimrod, the most famous hero in Oriental traditions. The tablets used are 12 in number, and the date of the originals from which they were copied is conjectured to be about B.C. 2000. The most perfect is the 11th, which gives the Chaldean account of the Deluge. The narrative is a strange mixture of fact and myth. When it opens, probably about B.C. 2250, Babylonia is under the dominion of foreigners, who oppress the people with grievous wrongs. Suddenly Izdubar appears upon the scene. A man of gigantic stature and invincible prowess, he speedily becomes the leader of a band of heroes, and with the assistance of Heabain, his prophet or seer, kills Humbaba, the last of the tyrant kings, and feasts with his companions in the royal halls. He is then proclaimed king over all the country between the Red Sea and the mountains of Armenia, the seat of his government being Erech, the city of the goddess Ishtar or Venus. After his brilliant achievements, the goddess becomes enamoured of the hero, and determines to have him as her husband. "For the favour of Izdubar the  princes Ishtar lifted her eyes : I will take thee Izdubar as husband, thy oath to me shall be thy bond ; thou shalt be husband and I will be thy wife. Thou shalt drive in chariot of skin stone and gold, on which the body is gold and splendid the pole. Thou shalt acquire days of great conquests. . . . There shall be under thee kings, lords, and princes." But Izdubar refuses all her advances, his rejection being in all probability typical of his opposition to the worship of Ishtar, which had become one of the worst features of the Chaldean mythology. Great was the wrath of the goddess that a mortal should spurn her love. To Anu she made her complaint—" Izdubar despises my beauty, my beauty and my charms," and the father of the gods created for her a large bull which was to attack and destroy Izdubar ; but the hero, aided by Heabnain, killed the monster, only to intensify the hatred which filled the heart of the rejected lover, who now resolves to seek help among the dwellers of the Infernal Regions. To those drear abodes of the lost "I turn myself; I spread like a bird my wings. I descend, I descend to the house of darkness, to the dwelling of the god Irkalla ; to the house entering which there is no exit ; to the road the course of which never returns ; to the house in which the dwellers long for light, the place where dust is their nourishment and their food mud. Its chiefs also are like birds covered with feathers, and light is never seen ; in darkness they dwell." But while Ishtar sought the Queen of Hades there was no one to preside over the loves of mortals, and she was soon compelled to retrace her steps to upper air. Eventually, however, Anatu satisfies her daughter's longing for revenge by smiting Izdubar with a loathsome disease. The poor hero, further afflicted by the death of Heabain, goes forth in his desolation to seek for his ancestor Hasisdra (or Noah). He wanders into a strange weird land, inhabited by gigantic monsters who control the rising and the setting of the sun, and by whom he is directed across a tract of barren sand towards the abodes of the blessed. At length he comes to a goodly country with jewel-laden trees, and there he meets the boatman Urhamsi, who rows him across the waters of death, which encircle the Happy Regions, and conducts him to his ancestor, who narrates the story of the deluge. The old man, Hasisdra, tells how, warned by Shamas, the sun-god, that the sins of mortals were to be punished by a great deluge, he built a large ship for the safety of himself, his family, and his servants. As soon as he had entered it, the gods arose in fury and anger, causing a flood which reached as high as heaven and turned the earth into a waste. "It destroyed all life from the face of the earth . . . the strong deluge over the people reached to heaven. Brother saw not his brother, they did not know the people. In heaven the gods feared the tempest and sought refuge ; they ascended to the heaven of Anu." For six days and nights the storm raged furiously, but on the seventh day the rain ceased and the work of ruin and destruction was complete. " I perceived the sea making a tossing, and the whole of mankind turned to corruption ; like reeds the corpses floated, I opened the window and the light broke over my face. It passed, I sat down and wept. Over my face flowed my tears." The ship then rests on the mountain of Nizir, in the country of Nizir, and Hasisdra sends forth a dove, which speedily returns. A swallow likewise is despatched, but that too comes back. Then a raven, which does not return. Hasisdra and his family now leave the ship and sacrifice to the gods, who, at the good savour of the victims, appear to the mortals and enter into covenant with them. The remaining fragments of the tablets are obscure, but Izdubar seems to have returned with Urhamsi to Erech, cured of his grievous disease.

The story is one of great beauty, and though the form it takes is somewhat peculiar, there can be no doubt that it has a distinctly historical value, and an important bearing upon the Book of Genesis. In the latter, we are told that Nimrod, the son of Cush, "began to be a mighty one in the earth," "a mighty hunter before the Lord," and that the beginning of his kingdom was " Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh in the land of Shinar," all of which agrees with the facts of Izdubar's history. Then, in the two accounts of the deluge, while the material differences as to the size of the ark, the duration of the flood, the number of persons saved, and the place where the ship rested, show that neither account was copied directly from the other, there are still many points of agreement which prove that both stories had the same original. Mr. Smith remarks, with great force, that, " with regard to the supernatural element introduced into the Chaldean story, it is similar in nature to many such additions to historical narratives, especially in the East ; but I would not reject those events which may have happened, because, in order to illustrate a current belief, or add to the romance of the story, the writer has introduced the supernatural. There is, I think, now too general a tendency to repudiate the earlier part of history because of its evident inaccuracies, and the marvellous element generally combined with it. The early poems and stories of almost every nation are, by some writers, resolved into elaborate descriptions of natural phenomena ; and in some cases, if this were true, the myth would have taken to create it a genius as great as that of the philosophers who explain it. The stories and myths given in the foregoing pages have, probably, very different values ; some are genuine traditions, some, compiled to account for natural phenomena, and some, pure romances."

But the chief question raised by Mr. Smith's book is this—"Did either of the two races, Jews or Babylonians, borrow from the other the traditions of these early times, and if so, when?" This at least is clear, that the traditions belong naturally to the valley of the Euphrates and the country of Babylonia, and were, so for as our knowledge goes, first put on record in these regions. Everything in the Book of Genesis supports this statement. But how the Hebrew people produced such a simple and precise account of the great first facts of the world's history is not so easily explained. No one can believe that it was evolved out of the inner consciousness of a divinely inspired man without any reference to traditions or other materials for history within his reach. But if the writer, or rather the compiler, of the Book of Genesis were not under the influence of inspiration in some sense, though not necessarily to the extent of strict verbal and scientific accuracy, it is difficult to understand how he could ever have produced such an extraordinary work. All external evidences go to show that he wrote, as we have already said, a real history. Many good critics assert that the earlier chapters are but the account of so many myths, designed to give poetic expression to such ideas as those of evil and retribution. But if this be so, it may well be asked how it is that in nations belonging to each of the great branches of the human race we have legends and traditions which relate, under some form of other, to the fall of man and the deluge. By for the most probable explanation is, in our opinion, to be found in the Book of Genesis. No sound critic can maintain that the similarity in all ancient mythologies is the result of mere chance. Another fact is remarkable. In the Chaldean, and in every other mythology, we have a large number of gods, among whom the standard of morality is of a painfully human kind. The fundamental idea of Hebrew religion, the great fact which marked off Israel from all other nations, was the supreme belief in one God, who, above all things, was a lover and door of "righteousness." It is hardly possible, even as a matter of literary form, that this idea should have been merely Israel's method of expressing its sense of the Unseen and the Right, and should have been as a whole maintained, while all other peoples developed their beliefs in the direction of polytheism, and made their gods a reflection of human virtues and human vices. Polytheism is no doubt the abuse of monotheism, but how came the latter to press so strongly upon Israel's consciousness ? 

We conclude this notice by commending Mr. Smith's book to all students of history who are more anxious to obtain facts than to uphold theories. They will find strong corroborative proof of the substantial accuracy of the early history given in Genesis, while the contrast between the Chaldean legends and the records of the Hebrew people will add another to the numerous arguments which go to prove the more than simply historical authority of the latter.

* The Chaldean Account of Genesis, from the Cuneiform Inscriptions. By George Smith, of the Department of Oriental Antiquities, British Museum. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. 1876

 The Argus 1 July 1876,

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