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Sayce, A. H. (Archibald Henry) / Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments
Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments

A Sketch of the Most Striking Confirmations of the Bible, From Recent
Discoveries in:

Egypt. Palestine. Assyria. Babylonia. Asia Minor.


Archibald Henry Sayce, M.A.

Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology, Oxford.

Hon. LL.D., Dublin.

Second Edition.


The Religious Tract Society.

36, Paternoster Row; 65, St. Paul’s Churchyard.



Chapter I. Introduction.
Chapter II. The Book of Genesis.
Chapter III. The Exodus out of Egypt.
Chapter IV. The Moabite Stone and the Inscription of Siloam.
Chapter V. The Empire of the Hittites.
Chapter VI. The Assyrian Invasions.
Chapter VII. Nebuchadrezzar and Cyrus.
Appendix I.
Appendix II.



Monument of a Hittite king, accompanied by an inscription in Hittite
hieroglyphics, discovered on the site of Carchemish and now in the British

The object of this little book is explained by its title. Discovery after
discovery has been pouring in upon us from Oriental lands, and the
accounts given only ten years ago of the results of Oriental research are
already beginning to be antiquated. It is useful, therefore, to take stock
of our present knowledge, and to see how far it bears out that “old story”
which has been familiar to us from our childhood. The same spirit of
scepticism which had rejected the early legends of Greece and Rome had
laid its hands also on the Old Testament, and had determined that the
sacred histories themselves were but a collection of myths and fables. But
suddenly, as with the wand of a magician, the ancient eastern world has
been reawakened to life by the spade of the explorer and the patient skill
of the decipherer, and we now find ourselves in the presence of monuments
which bear the names or recount the deeds of the heroes of Scripture. One
by one these “stones crying out” have been examined or more perfectly
explained, while others of equal importance are being continually added to

What striking confirmations of the Bible narrative have been afforded by
the latest discoveries will be seen from the following pages. In many
cases confirmation has been accompanied by illustration. Unexpected light
has been thrown upon facts and statements hitherto obscure, or a wholly
new explanation has been given of some event recorded by the inspired
writer. What can be more startling than the discovery of the great Hittite
Empire, the very existence of which had been forgotten, and which yet once
contended on equal terms with Egypt on the one side and Assyria on the
other? The allusions to the Hittites in the Old Testament, which had been
doubted by a sceptical criticism, have been shown to be fully in
accordance with the facts, and their true place in history has been
pointed out.

But the account of the Hittite Empire is not the only discovery of the
last four or five years about which this book has to speak. Inscriptions
of Sargon have cleared up the difficulties attending the tenth and
eleventh chapters of Isaiah’s prophecies, and have proved that no “ideal”
campaign of an “ideal” Assyrian king is described in them. The campaign,
on the contrary, was a very real one, and when Isaiah delivered his
prophecy the Assyrian monarch was marching down upon Jerusalem from the
north, and was about to be “the rod” of God’s anger upon its sins. Ten
years before the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army his father, Sargon, had
captured Jerusalem, but a “remnant” escaped the horrors of the siege, and
returned in penitence “unto the mighty God.”

Perhaps the most remarkable of recent discoveries is that which relates to
Cyrus and his conquest of Babylonia. The history of the conquest as told
by Cyrus himself is now in our hands, and it has obliged us to modify many
of the views, really derived from Greek authors, which we had read into
the words of Scripture. Cyrus, we know now upon his own authority, was a
polytheist, and not a Zoroastrian; he was king of Elam, not of Persia. It
was Elam, and not Persia, as Isaiah’s prophecies declared, which invaded
Babylon. Babylon itself was taken without a siege, and Mr. Bosanquet may
therefore have been right in holding that the Darius of Daniel was Darius
the son of Hystaspes.

Hardly less interesting has been the discovery of the inscription of
Siloam, which reveals to us the very characters used by the Jews in the
time of Isaiah, perhaps even in the time of Solomon himself. The discovery
has cast a flood of light on the early topography of Jerusalem, and has
made it clear as the daylight that the Jews of the royal period were not
the rude and barbarous people it has been the fashion of an unbelieving
criticism to assume, but a cultured and literary population. Books must
have been as plentiful among them as they were in Phœnicia or Assyria; nor
must we forget the results of the excavations undertaken last year in the
land of Goshen. Pithom, the treasure-city built by the Israelites, has
been disinterred, and the date of the Exodus has been fixed. M. Naville
has even found there bricks made without straw.

But the old records of Egypt and Assyria have a further interest than a
merely historical one. They tell us what were the religious doctrines and
aspirations of those who composed them, and what was their conception of
their duty towards God and man. We have only to compare the hymns and
psalms and prayers of these ancient peoples—seeking “the Lord, if haply
they might feel after Him and find Him”—with the fuller lights revealed in
the pages of the Old Testament, to discover how wide was the chasm that
lay between the two. The one was seeking what the other had already found.
The Hebrew prophet was the forerunner and herald of the Gospel, and the
light shed by the Gospel had been reflected back upon him. He saw already
“the Sun of Righteousness” rising in the east; the psalmist of Shinar or
the devout worshipper of Asshur were like unto those “upon whom no day has


_How the Cuneiform Inscriptions were deciphered.—Grotefend’s
guess.—Lassen and Rawlinson’s studies.—Discoveries of Botta,
Layard, George Smith, and Rassam.—Certainty of our present

The decipherment of the cuneiform or wedge-shaped inscriptions of Assyria
has been one of the most marvellous achievements of the present century.
It has often been asked how Assyrian scholars have been enabled to read an
Assyrian text with almost as much certainty as a page of the Old
Testament, although both the language and the characters in which it is
written were utterly unknown but a few years ago. A brief history of the
origin and progress of the decipherment will best answer the question.

Travellers had discovered inscriptions engraved in cuneiform, or, as they
were also termed, arrow-headed, characters on the ruined monuments of
Persepolis and other ancient sites in Persia. Some of these monuments were
known to have been erected by the Achæmenian princes—Darius, the son of
Hystaspes, and his successors—and it was therefore inferred that the
inscriptions also had been carved by order of the same kings. The
inscriptions were in three different systems of cuneiform writing; and,
since the three kinds of inscription were always placed side by side, it
was evident that they represented different versions of the same text. The
subjects of the Persian kings belonged to more than one race, and just as
in the present day a Turkish pasha in the East has to publish an edict in
Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, if it is to be understood by all the
populations under his charge, so the Persian kings were obliged to use the
language and system of writing peculiar to each of the nations they
governed, whenever they wished their proclamations to be read and
understood by them.

It was clear that the three versions of the Achæmenian inscriptions were
addressed to the three chief populations of the Persian Empire, and that
the one which invariably came first was composed in ancient Persian, the
language of the sovereign himself. Now this Persian version happened to
offer the decipherer less difficulties than the two others which
accompanied it. The number of distinct characters employed in writing it
did not exceed forty, while the words were divided from one another by a
slanting wedge. Some of the words contained so many characters that it was
plain that these latter must denote letters, and not syllables, and that
consequently the Persian cuneiform system must have consisted of an
alphabet, and not of a syllabary. It was further plain that the
inscriptions had to be read from left to right, since the ends of all the
lines were exactly underneath one another on the left side, whereas they
terminated irregularly on the right; indeed, the last line sometimes ended
at a considerable distance from the right-hand extremity of the

The clue to the decipherment of the inscriptions was first discovered by
the successful guess of a German scholar, Grotefend. Grotefend noticed
that the inscriptions generally began with three or four words, one of
which varied, while the others remained unchanged. The variable word had
three forms, though the same form always appeared on the same monument.
Grotefend, therefore, conjectured that this word represented the name of a
king, the words which followed it being the royal titles. One of the
supposed names appeared much oftener than the others, and as it was too
short for Artaxerxes and too long for Cyrus, it was evident that it must
stand either for Darius or for Xerxes. A study of the classical authors
showed Grotefend that certain of the monuments on which it was found had
been constructed by Darius, and he accordingly gave to the characters
composing it the values required for spelling "Darius" in its old Persian
form. In this way he succeeded in obtaining conjectural values for six
cuneiform letters. He now turned to the second royal name, which also
appeared on several monuments, and was of much the same length as that of
Darius. This could only be Xerxes; but if so, the fifth letter composing
it (_r_) would necessarily be the same as the third letter in the name of
Darius. This proved to be the case, and thus afforded the best possible
evidence that the German scholar was on the right track.

The third name, which was much longer than the other two, differed from
the second chiefly at the beginning, the latter part of it resembling the
name of Xerxes. Clearly, therefore, it could be nothing else than
Artaxerxes, and that it actually was so, was rendered certain by the fact
that the second character composing it was that which had the value of

Grotefend now possessed a small alphabet, and with this he proceeded to
read the word which always followed the royal name, and therefore probably
meant “king.” He found that it closely resembled the word which signified
“king” in Zend, the old language of the Eastern Persians, which was spoken
in one part of Persia at the same time that Old Persian, the language of
the Achæmenian princes, was spoken in another. There could, consequently,
be no further room for doubt that he had really solved the great problem,
and discovered the key to the decipherment of the cuneiform texts.

But he did little further himself towards the completion of the work, and
it was many years before any real progress was made with it. Meanwhile,
the study of Zend had made great advances, more especially in the hands of
Burnouf, who eventually turned his attention to the cuneiform
inscriptions. But it is to Burnouf’s pupil, Lassen, as well as to Sir
Henry Rawlinson, that the decipherment of these inscriptions owes its
final completion. The discovery of the list of Persian satrapies in the
inscription of Darius at Naksh-i-Rustem, and above all the copy of the
long inscription of Darius on the rock of Behistun, made by Sir H.
Rawlinson, enabled these scholars independently of one another to
construct an alphabet which differed only in the value assigned to a
single character, and, with the help of the cognate Zend and Sanskrit, to
translate the language so curiously brought to light. The decipherment of
the Persian cuneiform texts thus became an accomplished fact; what was
next needed was to decipher the two versions which were inscribed at their

But this was no easy task. The words in them were not divided from one
another, and the characters of which they were composed were exceedingly
numerous. With the assistance, however, of frequently recurring proper
names even these two versions gradually yielded to the patient skill of
the decipherer; and it was then discovered that while one of them
represented an agglutinative language, such as that of the Turks or Fins,
the other was in a dialect which closely resembled the Hebrew of the Old
Testament. The monuments found almost immediately afterwards in Assyria
and Babylonia by Botta and Layard soon made it clear to what people this
dialect must have belonged. The inscriptions of Nineveh turned out to be
written in the same language and form of cuneiform script; and it must
therefore have been for the Semitic population of Assyria and Babylonia
that the kings of Persia had caused one of the versions of their
inscriptions to be drawn up. This version served as a starting-point for
the decipherment of the texts which the excavations in Assyria had brought
to light.

It might have been thought that the further course of the decipherment
would have presented little difficulty, now that the values of many of the
Assyrian characters were known, and the close resemblance of the language
they concealed to Hebrew had been discovered. But the complicated nature
of the Assyrian system of cuneiform—the great number of characters used in
it, the different phonetic values the same character might have, and the
frequent employment of ideographs, which denoted ideas and not
sounds—caused the progress of decipherment to be for some time but slow.
Indeed, had the Assyrian inscriptions been confined to those engraved on
the alabaster bulls and other monuments of Nineveh, our knowledge of the
language would always have remained comparatively limited. But,
fortunately, the Assyrians, like the Babylonians before them, employed
clay as a writing material, and established libraries, which were filled
with a literature on baked bricks.

One of the most important results of Sir A. H. Layard’s explorations at
Nineveh was the discovery of the ruined library of the ancient city, now
buried under the mounds of Kouyunjik. The broken clay tablets belonging to
this library not only furnished the student with an immense mass of
literary matter, but also with direct aids towards a knowledge of the
Assyrian syllabary and language. Among the literature represented in the
library of Kouyunjik were lists of characters, with their various phonetic
and ideographic meanings, tables of synonymes, and catalogues of the names
of plants and animals. This, however, was not all. The inventors of the
cuneiform system of writing had been a people who preceded the Semites in
the occupation of Babylonia, and who spoke an agglutinative language
utterly different from that of their Semitic successors. These Accadians,
as they are usually termed, left behind them a considerable amount of
literature, which was highly prized by the Semitic Babylonians and
Assyrians. A large portion of the Ninevite tablets, accordingly, consists
of interlinear or parallel translations from Accadian into Assyrian, as
well as of reading books, dictionaries, and grammars, in which the
Accadian original is placed by the side of its Assyrian equivalent. It
frequently happens that the signification of a previously unknown Assyrian
word can be ascertained by our finding it given as the rendering of an
Accadian word, with the meaning of which we are already acquainted. The
bilingual texts have not only enabled scholars to recover the
long-forgotten Accadian language; they have also been of the greatest
possible assistance to them in their reconstruction of the Assyrian
dictionary itself.

The three expeditions conducted by Mr. George Smith, as well as the later
ones of Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, have added largely to the stock of tablets
from Kouyunjik originally acquired for the British Museum by Sir A. H.
Layard, and have also brought to light a few other tablets from the
libraries of Babylonia. Although, therefore, only one of the many
libraries which now lie buried beneath the ground in Babylonia and Assyria
has, as yet, been at all adequately explored, the amount of Assyrian
literature at the disposal of the student is already greater than that
contained in the whole of the Old Testament. Apart from the help afforded
by the old dictionaries and lists of words and characters, he has more
facilities for determining the meaning of a word by a comparison of
parallel passages than the student of Biblical Hebrew; and in many
instances, accordingly, Assyrian has made it possible to fix the
signification of a Hebrew word, the sense of which has hitherto been

The Assyrian student, moreover, possesses an advantage which is not shared
by the Hebraist. Owing to its hieroglyphic origin, the cuneiform system of
writing makes large use of what are called determinatives, that is to say,
of characters which have no phonetic value, but which determine the class
to which the word they accompany belongs. It is, therefore, always
possible to tell at a glance whether the word with which we are dealing is
the name of a man, of a woman, of a deity, of a river, of a country, or of
a city; or, again, whether it denotes an animal, a bird, a vegetable, a
stone, a star, a medicine, or the like. With all these aids, accordingly,
it is not wonderful that the study of Assyrian has made immense progress
during the last few years, and that an ordinary historical text can be
read with as much certainty as a page from one of the historical books of
the Old Testament. Indeed, we may say that it can be read with even
greater certainty, since it presents us with the actual words of the
original writer; whereas the text of the Old Testament has come to us
through the hands of successive generations of copyists, who have
corrupted many passages so as to make them grammatically unintelligible.

At the same time, the hieroglyphic origin of the cuneiform mode of writing
has been productive of disadvantages as well as of advantages. The
characters which compose it may express ideas as well as sounds; and
though we may know what ideas are represented, we may not always know the
exact pronunciation to be assigned to them. Thus, in English, the
ideograph + may be pronounced “plus,” “added to,” or “more,” according to
the pleasure of the reader. The Assyrian scribes usually attached one or
more phonetic characters to the ideographs they employed, in order to
indicate their pronunciation in a given passage; but these “phonetic
complements,” as they are termed, were frequently omitted in the case of
well-known proper names, such as those of the native kings and deities.
Hence the exact pronunciation of these names can only be settled when we
find them written phonetically; and there are one or two proper names,
such as that of the hero of the great Chaldean epic, which have never yet
been met with phonetically spelt.

Another disadvantage due to the hieroglyphic origin of the Assyrian
syllabary is the number of different phonetic values the same character
may bear. This caused a good deal of trouble in the early days of Assyrian
decipherment; but it was a difficulty that was felt quite as much by the
Assyrians themselves as it is by us. Consequently they adopted various
devices for overcoming it; and as these devices have become known the
difficulty has ceased to be felt. In short, the study of Assyrian now
reposes on as sure and certain a basis as the study of any ancient
language, a knowledge of which has been traditionally handed down to us;
and the antiquity of its monuments, the copiousness of its vocabulary, the
perfection of its grammar, and the syllabic character of the writing—which
expresses vowels as well as consonants—all combine to make it of the
highest importance for the study of the Semitic languages. Its recovery
has not only shed a flood of light on the history and antiquities of the
Old Testament, it has served to illustrate and explain the language of the
Old Testament as well.


Recent discoveries, especially in Babylonia and Assyria, have
thrown much light on Genesis.—The Accadians.—An Assyrian account
of the Creation.—The Babylonian Sabbath.—Traces of an account of
the Fall.—Site of Paradise.—“Adam” a Babylonian word.—The Chaldean
story of the Deluge.—This compared with the record in Genesis.—The
Babylonian account of the building of Babel.—The light thrown by
the Assyrian inscriptions on the names in Gen. x.—Gomer; Madai;
Javan; Cush and Mizraim; Phut; Canaan; Elam; Asshur; Arphaxad;
Aram; Lud; Nimrod.—The site of Ur.—Approximate date of the rescue
of Lot by Abraham.—Egypt in the time of Abraham.—Records of
famines.—The date of Joseph’s appointment as second ruler in
Egypt.—The Tale of the Two Brothers.—Goshen.

There is no book in the world about which more has been written than the
Bible, and perhaps there is no portion of the Bible which has given rise
to a larger literature than the Book of Genesis. Every word in it has been
carefully scrutinised, now by scholars who sought to discover its deepest
meaning or to defend it against the attacks of adversaries, now again by
hostile critics anxious to expose every supposed flaw, and to convict it
of error and inconsistency. Assailants and defenders had long to content
themselves with such evidence as could be derived from a study of the book
itself, or from the doubtful traditions of ancient nations, as reported by
the writers of Greece and Rome. Such reports were alike imperfect and
untrustworthy; historical criticism was still in its infancy in the age of
the classical authors, and they cared but little to describe accurately
the traditions of races whom they despised. It was even a question whether
any credit could be given to the fragments of Egyptian, Babylonian, and
Phœnician mythology or history extracted by Christian apologists from the
lost works of native authors who wrote in Greek. The Egyptian dynasties of
Manetho, the Babylonian stories of the Creation and Flood narrated by
Berossus, the self-contradicting Phœnician legends collected by Philo
Byblius, were all more or less suspected of being an invention of a later
age. The earlier chapters of Genesis stood almost alone; friends and foes
alike felt the danger of resting any argument on the apparent similarity
of the accounts recorded in them to the myths and legends contained in the
fragments of Manetho, of Berossus, and of Philo Byblius.

All is changed now. The marvellous discoveries of the last half-century
have thrown a flood of light on the ancient oriental world, and some of
this light has necessarily been reflected on the Book of Genesis. The
monuments of Egypt, of Babylonia, and of Assyria have been rescued from
their hiding-places, and the writing upon them has been made to speak once
more in living words. A dead world has been called again to life by the
spade of the excavator and the patient labour of the decipherer. We find
ourselves, as it were, face to face with Sennacherib, with Nebuchadnezzar,
and with Cyrus, with those whose names have been familiar to us from
childhood, but who have hitherto been to us mere names, mere shadowy
occupants of an unreal world. Thanks to the research of the last
half-century, we can now penetrate into the details of their daily life,
can examine their religious ideas, can listen to them as they themselves
recount the events of their own time or the traditions of the past which
had been handed down to them.

It is more especially in Babylonia and Assyria that we find illustrations
of the earlier chapters of Genesis, as, indeed, is only natural. The
Semitic language spoken in these two countries was closely allied to that
of the Old Testament, as closely, in fact, as two modern English dialects
are allied to each other; and it was from Babylonia, from Ur of the
Chaldees, now represented by the mounds of Mugheir, that Abraham made his
way to the future home of his descendants in the west. It is to Babylonia
that the Biblical accounts of the Fall, of the Deluge, and of the
Confusion of Tongues particularly look: two of the rivers of Paradise were
the Tigris and Euphrates, the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat, and
the city built around the Tower which men designed should reach to heaven
was Babel or Babylon. Babylonia was an older kingdom than Assyria, which
took its name from the city of Assur, now Kalah Sherghat, on the Tigris,
the original capital of the country. It was divided into two halves, Accad
(Gen. x. 10) being Northern Babylonia, and Sumir, the Shinar of the Old
Testament, Southern Babylonia. The primitive populations of both Sumir and
Accad were related, not to the Semitic race, but to the tribes which
continued to maintain themselves in the mountains of Elam down to a late
day. They spoke two cognate dialects, which were agglutinative in
character, like the languages of the modern Turks and Fins; that is to
say, the relations of grammar were expressed by coupling words together,
each of which retained an independent meaning of its own. Thus
_in-nin-sun_ is “he gave it,” literally “he-it-gave,” _e-mes-na_ is “of
houses,” literally “house-many-of.” At an early date, which cannot yet,
however, be exactly determined, the Sumirians and Accadians were overrun
and conquered by the Semitic Babylonians of later history, Accad being
apparently the first half of the country to fall under the sway of the
new-comers. It is possible that Casdim, the Hebrew word translated
“Chaldees” or “Chaldæans” in the Authorised Version, is the Babylonian
_casidi_, or “conquerors,” a title which continued to cling to them in
consequence of their conquest.

The Accadians had been the inventors of the pictorial hieroglyphics which
afterwards developed into the cuneiform or wedge-shaped system of writing;
they had founded the great cities of Chaldea, and had attained to a high
degree of culture and civilisation. Their cities possessed libraries,
stocked with books, written partly on papyrus, partly on clay, which was,
while still soft, impressed with characters by means of a metal stylus.
The books were numerous, and related to a variety of subjects. Among them
there were more particularly two to which a special degree of sanctity was
attached. One of these contained magical formulæ for warding off the
assaults of evil spirits; the other was a collection of hymns to the gods,
which was used by the priests as a kind of prayer-book. When the Semitic
Babylonians, the kinsmen of the Hebrews, the Aramæans, the Phœnicians and
the Arabs, conquered the old population, they received from it, along with
other elements of culture, the cuneiform system of writing and the
literature written in it. The sacred hymns still continued to serve as a
prayer-book, but they were now provided with interlinear translations into
the Babylonian (or, as it is usually termed, the Assyrian) language. Part
of the literature consisted of legal codes and decisions; and since the
inheritance and holding of property frequently depended on a knowledge of
these, it became necessary for the conquerors to acquaint themselves with
the language of the people they had conquered. In course of time, however,
the two dialects of Sumir and Accad ceased to be spoken; but the necessity
for learning them still remained, and we find accordingly that down to the
latest days of both Assyria and Babylonia the educated classes were taught
the old extinct Accadian, just as in modern Europe they are taught Latin.
From time to time, indeed, the scribes of Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar
attempted to write in the ancient language, and in doing so sometimes made
similar mistakes to those that are made now-a-days by a schoolboy in
writing Latin.

The Accadians were, like the Chinese, pre-eminently a literary people.
Their conception of chaos was that of a period when as yet no books were
written. Accordingly, a legend of the Creation, preserved in the library
of Cuthah, contains this curious statement: “On a memorial-tablet none
wrote, none explained, for bodies and produce were not brought forth in
the earth.” To the author of the legend the art of writing seemed to mount
back to the very beginning of mankind.

This legend of the Creation, however, is not the only one that has been
recovered from the shipwreck of Assyrian and Babylonian literature.
Besides the account given in the fragments of Berossus, there is another,
which bears a striking resemblance to the account of the Creation in the
first chapter of Genesis. It does not appear, however, that this last was
of Accadian origin; at all events, there is no indication that it was
translated into Assyrian from an older Accadian document, and there are
even reasons for thinking that it may not be earlier—in its present form
at least—than the seventh century B.C. We possess, unfortunately, only
portions of it, since many of the series of clay tablets on which it was
inscribed have been lost or injured. The account begins as follows:—

1. At that time the heavens above named not a name,

2. Nor did the earth below record one:

3. Yea, the deep was their first creator,

4. The flood of the sea was she who bore them all.

5. Their waters were embosomed in one place, and

6. The flowering reed was ungathered, the marsh-plant was ungrown.

7. At that time the gods had not issued forth, any one of them,

8. By no name were they recorded, no destiny (had they fixed).

9. Then the (great) gods were made,

10. Lakhmu and Lakhamu issued forth (the first),

11. They grew up....

12. Next were made the host of heaven and earth,

13. The time was long (and then)

14. The gods Anu (Bel and Ea were born of)

15. The host of heaven and earth.

It is not until we come to the fifth tablet of the series, which describes
the appointment of the heavenly bodies—the work of the fourth day of
creation, according to Genesis—that the narrative is again preserved. Here
we read that the Creator “made beautiful the stations of the great gods,”
or stars, an expression which reminds us of the oft-recurring phrase of
Genesis: “And God saw that it was good.” The stars, moon, and sun were
ordered to rule over the night and day, and to determine the year, with
its months and days. The latter part of the tablet, however, like the
latter part of the first tablet, is destroyed, and of the next tablet—that
which described the creation of animals—only the first few lines remain.
“At that time,” it begins, “the gods in their assembly created (the living
creatures). They made beautiful the mighty (animals). They made the living
beings come forth, the cattle of the field, the beast of the field, and
the creeping thing.” What follows is too mutilated to yield a connected

There is no need of pointing out how closely this Assyrian account of the
Creation resembles that of Genesis. Even the very wording and phrases of
Genesis occur in it, and though no fragment is preserved which expressly
tells us that the work of the Creation was accomplished in seven days, we
may infer that such was the case, from the order of events as recorded on
the tablets. But, with all this similarity, there is even greater
dissimilarity. The philosophical conceptions with which the Assyrian
account opens, the polytheistic colouring which we find in it further on,
have no parallel in the Book of Genesis. The spirit of the two narratives
is essentially different.

The last tablet probably contained an account of the institution of the
Sabbath. At all events, we learn that the seventh day was observed as a
day of rest among the Babylonians, as it was among the Jews. It was even
called by the same name of Sabbath, a word which is defined in an Assyrian
text as “a day of rest for the heart,” while the Accadian equivalent is
explained to mean “a day of completion of labour.” A calendar of saints’
days for the month of the intercalary Elul makes the seventh, fourteenth,
twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the lunar month Sabbaths, on which
certain works were forbidden to be done. On those days, it is stated,
“flesh cooked on the fire may not be eaten, the clothing of the body may
not be changed, white garments may not be put on, a sacrifice may not be
offered, the king may not ride in his chariot, nor speak in public, the
augur may not mutter in a secret place, medicine of the body may not be
applied, nor may any curse be uttered.” Nothing, in fact, that implied
work was allowed to be done. Where the Babylonian Sabbath differed from
the Jewish one was in its essentially lunar character. The first Sabbath
was the first day of a month, whatever might be the length of the month
that preceded it. While Sabbaths and new moons are distinguished from one
another in the Old Testament, they are found united in the Babylonian
ritual. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Babylonians were acquainted
with a week of seven days, each day of which was dedicated to one of the
seven planets; it was the space of time naturally marked out by the four
quarters of the moon.

No account of the Fall of Man, similar to that in Genesis, has as yet been
found among the fragments of the Assyrian libraries. Mr. George Smith,
indeed, supposed that he had discovered one, but the text which he
referred to the Fall, is really an ancient hymn to the Creator. It is,
nevertheless, pretty certain that such an account once existed. An archaic
Babylonian gem represents a tree, on either side of which are seated a man
and woman, with a serpent behind them, and their hands are stretched out
towards the fruit that hangs from the tree. A few stray references in the
bilingual (Accadian and Assyrian) dictionaries throw some light upon this
representation, and inform us that the Accadians knew of “a wicked
serpent,” “the serpent of night” and “darkness,” which had brought about
the fall of man. The tree of life, of which so many illustrations occur on
Assyrian monuments, is declared to be “the pine-tree” of Eridu, “the
shrine of the god Irnin;” and Irnin is a name of the Euphrates, when
regarded as the “snake-river,” which encircled the world like a rope, and
was the stream of Hea, “the snake-god of the tree of life.” The Euphrates,
we must remember, was one of the rivers of Paradise.

The site of Paradise is to be sought for in Babylonia. The garden which
God planted was in Eden, and Eden, as we learn from the cuneiform records,
was the ancient name of the “field” or plain of Babylonia, where the first
living creatures had been created. The city of Eridu, which the people of
Sumir called “the good” or “holy,” was, as we have seen, the shrine of
Irnin, and in the midst of a forest or garden that once lay near it grew
“the holy pine-tree,” “the tree of life.” The rivers of Eden can be found
in the rivers and canals of Babylonia. Two of them were the Euphrates and
Tigris, called by the Accadians _id Idikla_, “the river of Idikla,” the
Biblical Hiddekhel, while Pishon is a Babylonian word signifying “canal,”
and Gihon may be the Accadian Gukhan, the stream on which Babylon stood.
Even the word _cherub_ is itself of Babylonian derivation. It is the name
given to one of those winged monsters, with the body of a bull and the
head of a man, which are sometimes placed in the Assyrian sculptures on
either side of the tree of life. They stood at the entrance of a
Babylonian palace, and were supposed to prevent the evil spirits from
entering within. The word comes from a root which means “to approach” or
“be near,” and perhaps originally signified one who was near to God.

Like _cherub_, _Adam_ also was a Babylonian word. It has the general sense
of “man,” and is used in this sense both in Hebrew and in Assyrian. But as
in Hebrew it has come to be the proper name of the first man, so, too, in
the old Babylonian legends, the “Adamites” were “the white race” of
Semitic descent, who stood in marked contrast to “the black heads” or
Accadians of primitive Babylonia. Originally, however, it was this dark
race itself that claimed to have been “the men” whom the god Merodach
created; and it was not until after the Semitic conquest of Chaldea that
the children of Adamu or Adam were supposed to denote the white Semitic
population. Hence it is that the dark race continued to the last to be
called the Adamatu or “red-skins,” which a popular etymology connected
with _Adamu_ “man.” Sir H. Rawlinson has suggested a parallel between the
dark and white races of Babylonia and the “sons of God” and “daughters of
men” of Genesis. Adam, we are told, was “the son of God” (Luke iii. 38).
But nothing similar to what we read in the sixth chapter of Genesis has as
yet been met with among the cuneiform records, and though these speak of
giant heroes, like Ner and Etanna, who lived before the Flood, we know
nothing as yet as to their parentage.

The Babylonians, however, were well aware that the Deluge had been caused
by the wickedness of the human race. It has often been remarked that
though traditions of a universal or a partial deluge are found all over
the world, it is only in the Old Testament that the cause assigned for it
is a moral one. The Chaldean account of the Deluge, discovered by Mr.
George Smith, offers an exception to this rule. Here, as in Genesis,
Sisuthros, the Accadian Noah, is saved from destruction on account of his
piety, the rest of mankind being drowned as a punishment for their sins.

The story of the Deluge formed the subject of more than one poem among the
Accadians. Two of these were amalgamated together by the author of a great
epic in twelve books, which described the adventures of a solar hero whose
name cannot be read with certainty, but may provisionally be pronounced
Gisdhubar. The amalgamated account was introduced as an episode into the
eleventh book, the whole epic being arranged upon an astronomical
principle, so that each book should correspond to one of the signs of the
Zodiac, the eleventh book consequently answering to Aquarius. Sisuthros,
who had been translated without dying, like the Biblical Enoch, is made to
tell the story himself to Gisdhubar. Gisdhubar had travelled in search of
health to the shores of the river of death at the mouth of the Euphrates,
and here afar off in the other world he sees and talks with Sisuthros.
Fragments of several editions of the poem have been found, not only among
the ruins of Nineveh, but also in Babylonia; and by fitting these together
it has been possible to recover almost the whole of the original text. The
translations of it made by different scholars have necessarily improved
with the progress of Assyrian research, and though the first translation
given to the world by Mr. George Smith was substantially correct, there
were many minor inaccuracies in it which have since had to be corrected.
The latest and best version is that which has been published by Professor
Haupt. The following translation of the account is based upon it:—

(Col. I) “Sisuthros speaks to him, even to Gisdhubar: Let me reveal unto
thee, Gisdhubar, the story of my preservation, and the oracle of the gods
let me tell to thee.

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Library mainpage -> Sayce, A. H. (Archibald Henry) -> Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments