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ARTICLE VIII.-NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
THEOLOGICAL, PHILOSOPHICAL, AND RELIGIOUS. THE CHALDEAN ACCOUNT OF GENESIS * is another volume from Mr. George Smith of the British Museum," the greatest of Assyrian scholars.” It illustrates, in connection with his last preceding volume, the extent to which the cuneiform inscriptions have been unburied and deciphered, and the possibilities of future discovery. At the risk of repeating what is familiar to many readers, we may briefly describe the store-house of materials on which Mr. Smith is expending his learned ingenuity, and his marvellous industry.
Assurbanipal, (the Sardanapalus of the Greeks) son of Esarhaddon, and grandson of Sennacherib, was the greatest, as he was the last, of the great Assyrian monarchs. In his reign (about 670 B. C.) Nineveh was the capital of an empire extending" from Egypt and Lydia on the west to Media and Persia on the east.” He renewed the palaces and temples which his father and grandfather had built; and the mound of Kouyunjik is filled with the ruins of his magnificence. The great palace of Sennacherib, in the southern portion of that mound, appears to have been the greatest of the Assyrian palaces. It contained, among other riches, the royal library, consisting of books (if they may be so-called) written not with pen and ink on parchment or papyrus, but, with such an instrument as the Roman stilus, on tablets of clay afterwards hardened. Large additions to the library were made by Assurbanipal, the great patron of Assyrian literature, and indeed it was in his reign that most of those terra-cotta books were inanufactured. When, in the reign of a later Sardanapulus, the Assyrian empire was overthrown by the Medes and Babylonians, and when Nineveh after a long seige, was taken, its king, unwilling to survive his empire, “made a pile of all his valuables in the palace, and setting fire to it perished himself in the flames.” In that conflagration, the royal library, instead of being dissolved into ashes, like the more famous one of Alexandria, fell from its place in the upper story of the palace into the apartments below and was buried in the ruins.
* The Chaldean Account of Genesis, containing the Description of the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, the Times of the Patriarchs and Nimrod : Babylonian Fables, and Legends of the Gods; from the Cuneiform Inscriptions. By GEORGE SMITH, of the Department of Oriental Antiquities, British Museum, &c. With illustrations. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co. 1876.
The excavations of Mr. Layard at Kouyunjik, not many years ago, opened one of the rooms in which the royal library of Nineveh had been buried for more than twenty centuries. Mr. Layard sent home to the British Museum many boxes full of the broken tablets; and large quantities were afterwards gathered up and sent. The fragments were of all sizes from half an inch to a foot in length; and the task of clearing each fragment from its coating of dirt, and of joining fragment to fragment as children put together the pieces of a dissected map, till one tablet and another, and then another should begin to be intelligible--a task at wbich patience herself might fold her hands in despair-was that to which Mr. George Smith addressed himself. Nor bas his labor been in vain. His success in reconstructing tablets from the mass of debris in the Museum, and in deciphering the fragmentary inscriptions, was such that he longed for more material to work upon, and was sure that the pieces he wanted could yet be found in the ruined palace of Sennacherib. Twice he has traveled from London to Nineveb-once in 1873, and again in 1874, and twice has he brought home a new supply of materials for his work. The result is that already the Assyrian literature, buried 2,200 years ago, has been in a large measure recovered, and the history of those primeval monarchies on the Euphrates and the Tigris, from a date almost two thousand years before the Christian era,
is better ascertained than the early history of Rome-as well perhaps as the early history of Rome might have been if its records had not perished in the destruction of the city by the Gauls.
Among the facts that seem to be established concerning that great mass of Assyrian literature which Mr. Smith is piecing out and deciphering, some may be mentioned as interesting to the general reader.
First, Though most of the tablets in the royal library of Nineveh were inscribed in the reign of Assurbanipal the munificent patron of learning, very many of the inscriptions are copies of much older records,-as an edition of Chaucer's poems printed in the reign of Victoria gives us poems that were actually written five hundred years earlier; or as the Sinaitic manuscript of the New Testament, though made in the fourth century, was copied from
other manuscripts which had been made in the second century and which were themselves copies, directly or indirectly, from the originals written in the first century.
Secondly, Assyria received its civilization and its cuneiform alphabet from Babylonia ; and the fact has become "evident that the Assyrians copied their literature largely from Babylonian sources.” The history, the poetry, and the mythological legends of “ Babylon, the glory of kingdoms and the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency," were laid up by Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, as the history and the literature of ancient Rome and earlier Greece are found to-day in the libraries of Britain and America.
Thirdly. A fact of much significance may be given in Mr. Smith's own words: “At an early period in Babylonian history, a great literary development took place, and numerous works were produced which embodied the prevailing myths, religion, and science, of that day. Written, many of them, in a noble style of poetry, and appealing to the strongest feelings of the people on one side, or registering the highest efforts of their science on the other, these texts became the standards for Babylonian literature, and later generations were content to copy these writings instead of making new works for themselves.” “By the veneration in which they were held these texts fixed and stereotyped the style of Babylonian literature, and the language in which they were written remained the classical style in the country down to the Persian conquest. Thus it happens that texts of Rimagu, Sargon, and Hammurabi, who were one thousand years before Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus, show the same language as the texts of these later kings, there being no sensible difference in style to match the long intervals between them. There is, however, reason to believe that although the language of devotion and literature remained fixed the speech of the bulk of the people was gradually modified, and in the time of Assurbanipal when the Assyrians copied the Genesis legends, the common speech of the day was in very different style. The private letters and despatches of this age which have been discovered differ widely from the language of the contemporary public documents and religious writings, showing the change the language had undergone since the style of these was fixed.” We may suggest, as parallel with this, the fact that the Latin continued to be, throughout Europe, the language of religion, of learning, and of diplomacy, long after it had ceased to be spoken by the people.
This last fact has some bearing on a difficulty which some have found concerning the antiquity of what we receive as the books of Moses. It has seemed to some impossible that the Hebrew of those books, if they were written in or near the time of Moses, should be so nearly identical with the Hebrew of Samuel, of the Psalms, and of Isaiah, written so many centuries later. But is the difficulty any greater than that which we encounter and overcome when Assyrian scholars tell us that texts of Babylonian kings who reigned a thousand years before Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus, “show the same language as the texts of these later kings, there being no sensible difference in style to match the long interval between them ?”
The discovered coincidences between certain Chaldean legends and the book of Genesis have a charm of their own, and may contribute somewhat to a reconsideration of the method in which that book is to be interpreted for the use of Christian theology. But if any have assumed that the authority of Moses is to be either confirmed or weakened by any such discovery, they must be disappointed. According to Mr. Smith those Chaldean legends are some of them older than the time of Abraham. Traditions concerning the world's beginning, and concerning a great deluge, are found in almost every country; and from long ago it has been known that the Babylonian story of the flood was strikingly similar to the narrative given by Moses. That story has now been recovered in the form in which it existed before Abraham emigrated westward from Ur of the Chaldees. We have no room to draw out the comparison here, but any reader of the volume now under notice, and of its predecessor, (“ Assyrian Discoveries ") can at his leisure compare the Chaldean traditions with the Mosaic story. The contrast between the two is more wonderful than the resemblance. Let it be supposed that Moses gives the story as Abraham, having received it from his fathers, brought it with him into Mesopotamia and thence into Palestine; and how shall we explain the difference between the Abrahamic tradition and the Babylonian legends which existed before Abraham ? The difference that stands out in the comparison is just the difference between a religion which knows and worships One God and a religion with “lords many and gods many;" on one side a God whose creative word called nature into being,-on the other side gods evolved from chaos and the abyss; on one side the religion which knows an only God terribly abhorrent of evil, yet mercifully calling his elect out of the world's ignorance and wickedness to live in friendship and intercourse with him,-on the other side a superstition which personifies the heavens, the earth, the elements and forces of nature, and pays to them its homage; on one side a religion holding the mysterious promise of a deliverer in whom “all families of the earth shall be blessed,”—on the other side a religion without hope. Whence the difference? Did Abraham inherit a simpler and purer tradition? Or was Abraham an inspired reformer of religion, a prophet, to whom as a forerunner and progenitor of the world's Redeemer and for the sake of the world to be redeemed, God had revealed himself?.
When Mr. Layard's Arab workmen, digging in one of the Assyrian mounds, had suddenly uncovered, to their surprise and awe, the majestic human head of a figure whose body was still buried beneath them, the messengers who met him with the tidings shouted, “Hasten, O Bey, hasten to the diggings, for they have found Nimrod himself! Wallah! it is wonderful, but it is true! We have seen him with our own eyes !” The most interesting, historically, of Mr. Smith's " discoveries” is his discovery and identification of that "mighty hunter before the Lord,” the Cushite who“ began to be a mighty one in the earth,” of whom it is written that “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar;" and that “out of that land he went forth into Assyria, and builded Nineveb, and the city Rehoboth, and Calab, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah." All these particulars Mr. Smith has identified and explained; and what is more, he “has found Nimrod himself !” Our own eyes have seen the sculptured form of the mighty hunter, whose Cushite head and face are so utterly unlike those of all other Assyrian kings and heroes. Transported by Botta from Khorsabad to Paris, he stands now in the Louvre, holding a huge serpent by the neck in his right hand and crushing a young lion under his left arm. The reader can see for himself the portrait of that Nimrod, facing p. 174 of the volume here noticed.
“Faith AND MODERN Thought”* is clearly written, closely argued, and puts such sharp points to adverse opinions that a constant interest is excited, and the discussion is made so profound
* Faith and Modern Thought. By RANSOM B. WELCH, D.D., LL.D., Union College, with Introduction by TAYLER LEWIS, LL.D. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 4th Avenue and 23d Street. 1876.