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This is not the place to suggest, even in the roughest outline, the social, ethical, and religious implications that were bound inseparably with the revolutionary conception as to man's creation. It may not be amiss to add, however, that in establishing the broad fact of man's antiquity, prehistoric archæology as yet falls short of the power to estimate, even roughly, in terms of years the periods with which it deals; and history, in the narrower sense, can hardly be said to exist without chronology. On the other hand, some of the most remarkable advances for which the historian must thank the archæologist have to do with the chronology of the early periods of Oriental history. Indeed, the greatest feat of the archæologist has been the opening up to our observation, and the bringing within the scope of the historian, of long periods which, without his aid, must still have belonged to the vague realms of the prehistoric.
If we go back in imagination to the beginning of the Victorian Era and ask what was then known of the history of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, we find ourselves confronted with a startling paucity of knowledge. The key to the mysteries of Egyptian history had indeed been found, thanks to the recent efforts of Thomas Young and Champollion, but the deciphering of inscriptions had not yet progressed far enough to give more than a vague inkling of what was to follow. It remained, then, virtually true, as it had been for two thousand years, that for all that we could learn of the history of the Old Orient in pre-classical days, we must go solely to the pages of the Bible and to a few classical authors, notably Herodotus and Diodorus. A comparatively few pages summed up, in language often vague and mystical, all that the modern world had been permitted to remember of the history of the greatest nations of antiquity. To these nations the classical writers had ascribed a traditional importance, the glamour of which still lighted their names, albeit revealing them in the vague twilight of tradition rather than in the clear light of history. It would have been a bold, not to say a reckless, dreamer who dared predict that any future researches could restore to us the lost knowledge that had been forgotten for more than two millenniums.
Yet the Victorian Era was scarcely ushered in before the work of rehabilitation began, which was to lead to the most astounding discoveries and to an altogether unprecedented extension of historical knowledge. Early in the 'forties the Frenchman Botta, quickly followed by Sir Henry Layard, began making excavations on the site of ancient Nineveh, the name and fame of which were a tradition having scarcely more than mythical status. The spade of the discoverer soon showed that all the fabled glories of the ancient Assyrian capital were founded on realities, and evidence was afforded of a state of civilization and culture such as few men supposed to have existed on the earth before the Golden Age of Greece. Not merely were artistic sculptures and bas-reliefs found that demonstrated a high development of artistic genius, but great libraries were soon revealed, — books consisting of bricks of various sizes, or of cylinders of the same material, inscribed while in the state of clay with curious characters, which became indelible when baking transformed the clay into brick. No one was able to guess, even in the vaguest way, the exact interpretation of these odd characters; but, on the other hand, no one could doubt that they constituted a system of writing, and that the piles of inscribed tablets were veritable books. There were numerous sceptics, however, who did not hesitate to assert' that the import of the message so obviously locked in these curious inscriptions must for ever remain an absolute mystery. Here, it was said, were inscriptions written in an unknown character and in a language that for at least two thousand years had been absolutely forgotten. In such circumstances nothing less than a miracle could enable human ingenuity to fathom the secret. Yet the feat pronounced impossible by mid-century scepticism was accomplished by contemporary scholarship, amidst the clamour of opposition and incredulity. Its success contains at once a warning to those doubters who are always crying out that we have reached the limitations of knowledge, and an encouragement and stimulus to would-be explorers of new intellectual realms.
In a few words the manner of the discovery was this. It appears at a glance that the Assyrian written character consists of groups of horizontal, vertical, or oblique strokes. The characters thus composed, though so simple as to their basal unit, are appallingly complex in their elaboration. The Assyrians, with all their culture, never attained the stage of analysis which demonstrates that only a few fundamental
sounds are involved in human speech, and hence that it is possible to express all the niceties of utterance with an alphabet of little more than a score of letters. Halting just short of this analysis, the Assyrian ascribed syllabic values to the characters of his script, and hence, instead of finding twenty odd characters sufficient, he required about five hundred. There was a further complication in that each one of these characters had at least two different phonetic values; and there were other intricacies of usage which, had they been foreknown by inquirers in the middle of the 19th century, might well have made the problem of decipherment seem an utterly hopeless one.
Fortunately it chanced that another people, the Persians, had adopted the Assyrian wedge-shaped stroke as the foundation of a written character, but, making that analysis of which the Assyrians had fallen short, had borrowed only so many characters as were necessary to represent the alphabetical sounds. This made the problem of deciphering Persian inscriptions a relatively easy one. In point of fact this problem had been partially solved in the early days of the 19th century, thanks to the sagacious guesses of the German philologist Grotefend. Working with some inscriptions from Persepolis which were found to contain references to Darius and Xerxes, Grotefend had established the phonetic values of certain of the Persian characters, and his successors were perfecting the discovery just about the time when the new Assyrian finds were made. It chanced that there existed on the polished surface of a cliff at Behistun in Western Persia a tri-lingual inscription which, according to Diodorus, had been made by Queen Semiramis of Nineveh, but which, as is now known, was really the work of King Darius. One of the languages of this inscription was Persian ; another, as it now appeared, was Assyrian, the language of the newly discovered books from the libraries of Nineveh. There was reason to suppose that the inscriptions were identical in meaning; and fortunately it proved, when the inscriptions were made accessible to investigation through the efforts of Sir Henry Rawlinson, that the Persian inscription contained a large number of proper names.
It was well known that proper names are usually transcribed from one language into another with a tolerably close retention of their original sounds. For example, the Greek names Ptolemaios and Kleopatra became a part of the Egyptian language and appeared regularly in Egyptian inscriptions after Alexander's general became King of Egypt. Similarly, the Greek names Kyros, Darios, and Xerxes were as close an imitation as practicable of the native names of these Persian monarchs. Assuming, then, that the proper names found in the Persian portion of the Behistun inscription occurred also in the Assyrian portion, retaining virtually the same sound in each, a clue to the phonetic values of a large number of the Assyrian characters was obviously at hand. Phonetic values known, Assyrian was found to be a Semitic language cognate to Hebrew.
These clues were followed up by a considerable number of investigators, with Sir Henry Rawlinson in the van.
Thanks to their efforts, the new science of Assyriology came into being, and before long the message of the Assyrian books had ceased to be an enigma. Of course this work was not accomplished in a day or in a year, but, considering the difficulties to be overcome, it was carried forward with marvellous expedition. In 1857 the new scholarship was put to a famous test, in which the challenge thrown down by Sir George Cornewall Lewis and Ernest Renan was met by Rawlinson, Hincks, Oppert, and Fox Talbot in a conclusive manner. The sceptics had declared that the new science of Assyriology was itself a myth : that the investigators, self-deceived, had in reality only invented a language, and read into the Assyrian inscriptions something utterly alien to the minds of the Assyrians themselves. But when a committee of the Royal Asiatic Society, with George Grote at its head, decided that the translations of an Assyrian text made independently by the scholars just named were at once perfectly intelligible and closely in accord with one another, scepticism was silenced, and the new science was admitted to have made good its claims.
Naturally the early investigators did not fathom all the niceties of the language, and the work of grammatical investigation has gone on continuously under the auspices of a constantly growing band of workers. Doubtless much still remains to be done, but the essential thing, from the present standpoint, is that a sufficient knowledge of the Assyrian language has been acquired to ensure trustworthy translations of
the cuneiform texts. Meanwhile, the material found by Botta and Layard, and other successors, in the ruins of Nineveh has been constantly augmented through the efforts of companies of other investigators, and not merely Assyrian, but much earlier Babylonian and Chaldæan texts in the greatest profusion have been brought to the various museums of Europe and America. The study of these different inscriptions has utterly revolutionized our knowledge of Oriental history. Many of the documents are strictly historical in their character, giving full and accurate contemporary accounts of events that occurred some thousands of years ago.
Exact dates are fixed for long series of events that previously were quite unknown. Monarchs whose very names had been forgotten are restored to history, and the records of their deeds inscribed under their very eyes are before us,—contemporary documents such as neither Greece nor Rome could boast, nor any other nation, with the single exception of Egypt, until strictly modern times.
There are, no doubt, gaps in the record; there are long periods for which the chronology is still uncertain. Naturally there is an increasing vagueness as one recedes further into the past, and for the earlier history of Chaldæa there is great uncertainty. Nevertheless, the Assyriologist speaks with a good deal of confidence of dates as remote as 3800 B.C., the time ascribed to King Sargon, who was once regarded as a mythical person, but is now known to have been an actual monarch. Indeed, there are tablets in the British Museum labelled 4500 B.C.; and later researches, particularly those of the expedition of the University of Pennsylvania at Nippur, have brought us evidence which, interpreted with the aid of estimates as to the average rate of accumulation of dust deposits, leads to the inference that a high state of civilization had been attained in Mesopotamia at least 9000 years ago.
While the Assyriologists have been making these astonishing revelations, the Egyptologists have not been behindhand. Such scholars as Lepsius, Brugsch, de Rougé, Lenormant, Birch, Mariette, Maspero, and Erman have perfected the studies of Young and Champollion ; while at the same time these and a considerable company of other explorers, most notable of whom are Gardner Wilkinson and Professor Flinders Petrie, have brought to light a vast accumulation of new material, much of which has the highest importance from the standpoint of the historian. Lists of kings found on the temple wall at Abydos, in the fragments of the Turin papyrus and elsewhere, have cleared up many doubtful points in the lists of Manetho, and at the same time, as Professor Petrie has pointed out, have proved to us how true a historian that much-discussed writer was. Manetho, it will be recalled, was the Egyptian who wrote the history of Egypt in Greek in the time of the Ptolemies. His work in the original unfortunately perished, and all that we know of it we learn through excerpts made by a few later classical writers. These fragments have until recently, however, given us our only clue to the earlier periods of Egyptian history. Until corroboration was found in the Egyptian inscriptions themselves, not only were Manetho's lists in doubt, but scepticism had been carried to the point of denying that Manetho himself had ever existed. This is only one of many cases where the investigations of the archæologist have proved not iconoclastic but reconstructive, tending to restore confidence in classical traditions which the scientific historians of the age of Niebuhr and George Cornewall Lewis regarded with scepticism.
As to the exact dates of early Egyptian history there is rather more of vagueness than for the corresponding periods of Mesopotamia. Indeed, approximate accuracy is not attained until we are within sixteen hundred years of our own era; but the sequence of events of a period preceding this by two thousand years is well established, and the recent discoveries of Professor Petrie carry back the record to a period which cannot well be less than five thousand, perhaps not less than six thousand years B.C. Both from Egypt and Mesopotamia, then, the records of the archæologist have brought us evidence of the existence of a highly developed civilization for a period exceeding by hundreds, perhaps by thousands, of years the term which had hitherto been considered the full period of man's existence.
We may note at once how these new figures disturb the historical balance. If our forerunners of eight or nine thousand years ago were in a noonday glare of civilization, where shall we look for the
much-talked-of “dawnings of history”? By this new standard the Romans seem our contemporaries in latter-day civilization ; the “Golden Age" of Greece is but of yesterday, the pyramid-builders are only relatively remote. The men who built the temple of Bel at Nippur, in the year (say) 5000 B.C., must have felt themselves at a pinnacle of civilization and culture. As Professor Mahaffy has suggested, the era of the Pyramids may have been the veritable autumn of civilization. Where, then, must we look for its springtime ? The answer to that question must come, if it come at all, from what we now speak of as prehistoric archæology; the monuments from Memphis and Nippur and Nineveh, covering a mere ten thousand years or so, are records of recent history.
Archeology and Bible History. The efforts of the students of Oriental archæology have been constantly stimulated by the fact that their studies brought them more or less within the field of Bible history. A fair proportion of the workers who have delved so enthusiastically in the fields of Egyptian and Assyrian exploration would never have taken up the work at all but for the hope that their investigations might substantiate the Hebrew records. For a long time this hope proved illusory, and in the case of Egyptian archæology the results have proved disappointing even up to the very present. Considering the important part played by the Egyptian sojourn of the Hebrews, as narrated in the Scriptures, it was certainly not an over-enthusiastic prediction that the Egyptian monuments when fully investigated would divulge important references to Joseph, to Moses, and to the all-important incidents of the Exodus; but half a century of expectant attention in this direction has led only to disappointment. It would be rash, considering the buried treasures that may yet await the future explorer, to assert that such records as those in question can never come to light. But, considering the fulness of the contemporary Egyptian records of the XIXth dynasty that are already known, it becomes increasingly doubtful whether the Hebrews in Egypt played so important a part in history, when viewed from the Egyptian standpoint, as their own records had seemed to imply. As the forgotten history of Oriental antiquity has been restored to us, it has come to be understood that, politically speaking, the Hebrews were a relatively insignificant people, whose chief importance from the standpoint of material history was derived from the geographical accident that made them a sort of buffer between the greater nations about them. Only once, and for a brief period, in the reigns of David and Solomon did the Hebrews rise to anything like an equal plane of political importance with their immediate neighbours. What gave them a seeming importance in the eyes of posterity was the fact that the true history of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Arabians, and Hittites had been well-nigh forgotten. The various literatures of these nations were locked from view for more than two thousand years, while the literature of Israel had not merely been preserved, but had come to be regarded as inspired and sacred among all the cultured nations of the Western world. Now that the lost literatures have been restored to us, the status of the Hebrew writings could not fail to be disturbed. Their very isolation had in some measure accounted for their seeming importance.
All true historical perspective is based upon comparison, and where only a single account has been preserved of any event or of any period of history, it is extremely difficult to judge that account with historical accuracy.
An illustration of this truth is furnished in profane history by the account which Thucydides has given us of the Peloponnesian War. For most of the period in question Thucydides is the only source; and despite the inherent merits of a great writer, it can hardly be doubted that the tribute of almost unqualified praise that successive generations of scholars have paid to Thucydides must have been in some measure qualified if, for example, a Spartan account of the Peloponnesian War had been preserved to us. Professor Mahaffy has pointed out that many other events in Greek history are viewed by us in somewhat perverted perspective because the great writers of Greece were Athenians rather than Spartans or Thebans. Even in so important a matter as the great conflict between Persia and Greece it has been suggested more than once that we should be able to gain a much truer view were Persian as well as Greek accounts accessible.
Not many years ago it would have been accounted a heresy to suggest that the historical books of the Old Testament had conveyed to our minds estimates of Oriental history that suffered from this same defect; but to-day no one who is competent to speak with authority pretends to doubt that such is really the fact Even conservative students of the Bible urge that its historical passages must be viewed precisely in the light of any other historical writings of antiquity; and the fact that the oldest Hebrew manuscript dates only from the 8th century A.D., and therefore of necessity brings to us the message of antiquity through the fallible medium of many generations of copyists, is far more clearly kept in mind than it formerly was. Every belief of mankind is in the last analysis amenable to reason, and finds its origin in evidence that can appeal to the arbitrament of common sense. This evidence may in certain cases consist chiefly of the fact that generations of our predecessors have taken a certain view regarding a certain question ; indeed most of our cherished beliefs have this foundation. But when such is the case, mankind has never failed in the long-run to vindicate its claim to rationality by showing a readiness to give up the old belief whenever tangible evidence of its fallaciousness was forthcoming. The case of the historical books of the Old Testament furnishes no exception. These had been sacred to almost a hundred generations of men, and it was difficult for the eye of faith to see them as other than absolutely infallible documents. Yet the very eagerness with which the champions of the Hebrew records searched for archæological proofs of their validity, was a tacit confession that even the most unwavering faith was not beyond the reach of external evidence. True, the believer sought corroboration with full faith that he would find it; but the very fact that he could think such external corroboration valuable implied, however little he may have realized it, the subconscious concession that he must accept external evidence at its full value, even should it prove contradictory. If, then, an Egyptian inscription of the XIXth dynasty had come to hand in which the names of Joseph and Moses, and the deeds of the Israelites as a subject people who finally escaped from bondage by crossing the Red Sea, were recorded in hieroglyphic characters, such a monument would have been hailed with enthusiastic delight by every champion of the Pentateuch, and a wave of supreme satisfaction would have passed over all Christendom.
It is not too much, then, to say that failure to find such a monument has caused deep disappointment to Bible scholars everywhere. It does not follow that faith in the Bible record is shaken, although in some quarters there has been a pronounced tendency to regard the history of the Egyptian sojourn as mythical; yet it cannot be denied that Egyptian records, corroborating at least some phases of the Bible story, would have been a most welcome addition to our knowledge. Some recent finds have, indeed, seemed to make inferential reference to the Hebrews, and the marvellous collection of letters of the XVIIIth dynasty found at Tel el-Amarna—letters to which we shall refer later—have the utmost importance as proving a possible early date for the Mosaic accounts. But such inferences as these are but a vague return for the labour expended, and an almost cruelly inadequate response to seemingly well-founded expectations.
When we turn to the field of Babylonian and Assyrian archæology, however, the case is very different. Here we have documents in abundance that deal specifically with events more referred to in the Bible. The records of kings whose names hitherto were known to us only through Bible references have been found in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, and personages hitherto but shadowy now step forth as clearly into the light of history as an Alexander or a Cæsar. Moreover, the newly discovered treasures deal with the beliefs of the people as well as with their history proper. The story of the books now spoken of as the “Creation” and “Deluge” tablets of the Assyrians, in the British Museum, which were discovered in the ruins of Nineveh by Layard and by George Smith, has been familiar to everyone for a good many years. The acute interest which they excited when George Smith deciphered their contents in 1872 has to some extent abated, but this is only because scholars are now pretty generally agreed as to their bearing on the corresponding parts of Genesis. The particular tablets in question date only from about the 7th century B.C., but it is agreed among Assyriologists that they are copies of older texts current in Babylonia for many centuries before, and it is obvious