Page images
PDF
EPUB

original matter. At present desirous of bringing before our readers such particulars of Mr. Rawlinson's work as may be deemed of distinctive merit, we shall now give our attention to the chronology and early history of the great Asiatic empires of Chaldæa, Assyria and Later Babylonia ;taking the occasion, as we leave the special subject, to acknowledge the evident and perhaps very great priority 2 of Egyptian over all other known histories, and also the priority and leading influence of Egypt in civilization, science and art.

Preliminary to a statement of the Chaldæan and Assyrian chronologies, we must remind the reader that Rawlinson and his co-laborers have completely revolutionized all former popular theories on the general subject. They have not simply corrected and improved the old chronologies, but have set them aside, substituting others almost entirely new. With a view therefore to the better appreciation of their labors, we will first submit a compendious statement of the formerly accepted chronologies and early history of the dynasties under consideration.

The former chronology, connecting Assyria with Babylonia, was based upon a particular interpretation of Gen. x. 10, 11 : “ And the beginning of his (Nimrod's) kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinah (Babylonia). Out of that land went forth Asshur [or, substituting in place of the words italicised, the translation given in the margin, and which has the preference with many of the learned, he (Nimrod) went out into Assyria] and builded Nineveh.” Now the popularly received Scripture chronology, as given in the margin of our English Bible, assigns the birth of Nimrod to about B. C. 2218. Accepting, then, as most Biblical archæologists do, the marginal translation of Gen. x. 11, thereby making Nimrod the builder of Nineveh as well as of Babel, or Babylon, it will be seen that both Assyria and Babylonia, each being recognised in connection with its capital city, have very nearly a contemporaneous origin in not far from B. C. 2200.

2 Authorities differ greatly in their opinions (and they claim to have nothing better than opinions) as to the time of Menes, the reputed founder of the first of the Egyptian dynasties. Bunsen places it at B. C. 3643; Lepsius at B. C. 3893; and Wilkinson, at first at B. C. 2950, though now he declines to name any date, on the ground that the chronology is too uncertain even for conjecture. He concludes, howerer, that Egyptian history precedes Babylonian by at least 500 years. See Rawlinson, vol. ii. pp. 1, 2. Wilkinson is, however, particular to state that the priority of Egyptian history does not imply a priority of the Egyptian race. The parent stock of the Egyptians he claims 10 have been Asiatic. “ Their skull,” he adds, " shows them to have been of the Caucassian stock, and distinct from the African tribes westward of the Nile; and they are evidently related to the oldest race of Central Asia.” See pp. 234—236.

Up to within a very recent period, the majority of antiquarians accepted this date, or one comparatively near it. Some, indeed, connecting with Babylon and Nineveh the three names of Nimrod, Ninus his son, and Semiramis, wife and successor of Ninus, and discarding the marginal reading of Gen. x. 11, make the chronology differ slightly. These represent Nimrod as building Babylon in about B. C. 2100, Ninus as building Nineveh in about B.C. 2000, and Semiramis, the great queen and conqueror, as either rebuilding or greatly adorning Babylon. It is important to keep in mind, that the authorities of which we are speaking recognized no political distinction between Assyria and Babylonia ; both are considered as making the Assyrian empire ; some kings making Nineveh, others, Babylon, the capital city. The same authorities, resting in part on the statements of Ctesius, and in part on a particular interpretation of Scripture, represent the empire as falling under the effeminate Sardanapalus ; according to some, before an attack by the Medes in about B. C. 888— according to others, before a combined attack by the Medes and Chaldæans in about B. C. 747. All authorities however are agreed that a second empire-more properly a second dynasty-followed, under which Assyria recovered for a brief period. Under the sway of a few enterprising monarchs, Assyria indeed more than rivalled its former greatness; soon however to be entirely destroyed by Chaldæans and Medes in about B. C. 605. Following the destruction of the second Assyrian empire,—which was final, for no third dynasty ever succeeded in Assyria, ---the power passes into the hands of the Babylonians ; and Babylon, the great capital—particularly under Nebuchadnezzar-rises to the pinnacle of greatness. This new supremacy, or Later Babylonian dynasty, in most of the old histories is distinguished as the Chaldæan-falsely, as will presently appear.

The term Chaldæan has very generally been assumed to have an ethnological signification; the Chaldæans being regarded as a distinct and dominant race, immigrating at some unknown period from the mountains of Armenia, and by their superior enterprise, skill, and learning, acquiring dominion over the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar, whose monster architectural achievements within and around Babylon are somewhat minutely described by Herodotus, is the leading monarch of this so-called Chaldæan dynasty. All are agreed that this dynasty, if not earlier displaced by the Medes, was certainly destroyed by the Persians, when Babylon yielded to Cyrus at the well-established historical date B. C. 538.

We do not forget or overlook the fact, that a minority of authors, following Herodotus and Berosus, have earnestly denied the reliability of the chronology which we have thus briefly sketched. We simply aver that this chronology has been the popular one, and the one which has had the approval of a majority of antiquarians.

In order to appreciate the bearing of the discoveries and interpretations of Sir Henry Rawlinson and others upon the old scheme of chronology and early history just described, we must ask the reader to distinguish the following five particulars :

1. The old chronology makes the origin of Assyria very nearly simultaneous with Babylonia.

2. It politically blends both Assyria and Babylonia in one empire generally termed Assyrian.

3. It gives the first dynasty of Assyrian kings a duration of about 1200 or 1300 years, tracing it as far back, at least, as B. C. 2000.

4. It recognizes as historical the names of Ninus, Semiramis, and the effeminate Sardanapalus.

5. It recognizes the dynasty in Babylonia which succeeded the fall of Assyria, as Chaldæan ; and it gives this word an ethnic meaning-Chaldæan supremacy being that of a distinct race over the Babylonian race.

If now Rawlinson and his co-laborers have shown that no one of these five positions rests on a particle of proof, and that some of them are positively disproved, it will be seen that the change they have wrought in the old scheme of chronology and history virtually amounts to the substitution of one almost entirely different; for, with the rejection

of each position specified, all the collateral and dependent particulars of the chronology are also rejected. And yet, thus much, at least, these authors claim has been accomplished.

As a help to the memory, and with a view to indicate in advance some of the leading features of the new scheme of Babylonian and Assyrian chronology, we will here classify the positions in opposition to those names above, which the Rawlinsons have shown to be either historically certain or historically probable ; though, as the establishment of one of the positions may involve, in part at least, one or more of the others, we shall not find it practicable in amplifying the several positions, to follow the order of our classification,-if indeed it should be convenient to follow any particular order.

We collect, then, from the notes to the first Book of Herodotus and the appended essays: 1. That there are strong grounds for doubt and none for belief, that Assyria had as early an origin as Babylonia, within several centuries ; 2.

That the two empires instead of being politically one, were in the earlier time, at one period, rival and mutually aggressive monarchies, and that at a later period, when the two were blended, one bore to the other the relation of a conquered territory ; 3. That there is no proof that the first Assyrian kingdom had a duration of more than 526 years ; 4. That Ninus, Semiramis, and the effeminate3 Sardnapalus are fabulous, unhistorical personages; and 5. That the term Chaldæan has a geographical and not an ethnological signification, and belongs to the very earliest epoch of the Babylonian monarchy, and not to the one of which Nebuchadnezzar is the great representative.

The authorities upon which the scheme of chronology, of which the above named particulars are comprehensive specimens, rests are Herodotus, Berosus, and in some cases the Hebrew Scriptures, as confirmed by recently decpihered inscriptions on the ruins discovered in the Mesopotamian valley bordering upon the Euphrates and the Tigris. As respects the chronological statements of Herodotus and Berosus, our authors, of course, give nothing new. Their

3 We affix this epithet to the monarch's name to distinguish him from the conquering Sardanapalus of a much later period, who is undoubtedly historical.

peculiar work has been to establish the reliability of these ancient historians, by showing that their statements are confirmed by the new witness summoned from the ancient inscriptions. A word in reference to these.

The reading world is familiar with the discoveries of Layard and others upon and near the probable sites of Nineveh and Babylon. The ruins of temples and palaces, thus recently discovered and explored, exhibit innumerable inseriptions, principally upon slabs and sculptures, though nearly every brick and piece of pottery is stamped with the mysterious characters. The general resemblance of these characters to the arrow-head, or wedge, gave rise to the cognomen Cuneiform. A most important point in the history of the old empire was thus reached. In this cuneiform writing, lay concealed the real history of Babylonia and Assyria, - the witness at whose word, should it ever become intelligible, must stand or fall the historic credibility, not alone of Herodotus, and the Babylonian priest Berosus, but of large portions of the Hebrew Scriptures! Providentially, contemporaries of Layard, Botta and their co-discoverers, by severally independent researches, were gradually gaining a clue to the cuneiform alphabet; and, one by one, the hitherto mute slab was made to speak in an intelligible language. Chief among these last named explorers is the name of Major, now Sir Henry Rawlinson, who, in the supplementary essays in the first volume of the new edition of Herodotus, gives the results, thus far reached, as bearing upon the chronology, early history, ethnology, language, and religion of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires.

It is our misfortune, that, except so far as the interpretations of the cuneiform writing may be tested by appeal to undoubted historic authorities (and the cases wherein such appeal is possible are rare), or the intrinsic probability of truth or untruth in the interpretations themselves, we are compelled to take the statements of Rawlinson and his confederates at their word. With the exception of a very small company of professional decipherers of the characters, no reader can confront Rawlinson on his own ground. Whatever reasons we may give for or against his readings of the inscriptions, must come from intrinsic sources — not from the source that would be most pertinent could we make it available. It is impossible to feel perfectly safe in

« PreviousContinue »