Dissertation 20.


Daniel 12:13

We now conclude these our Dissertations by a further allusion to the subject which occupied our attention in the Preface. -- the marble commentary on the inspired text presented by the Nineveh monuments. Three thousand years have passed over the Assyrian mounds, and at length, while we are closing our volume, the grave is giving up its dead at the call of the intellect of modern Europe. The crusted earth, beneath which Nineveh has been so long inhumed, has now revealed the monumental history of its grandeur, the imperishable witness of its incomparable renown. We must leave the interesting narrative of the discovery of these unrivaled treasures, and the description of these singular sculptures; our attention must be directed solely to the inscriptions, by the reading of which alone these monuments become available for our purpose. Had we been unable to read them, "all the excavations must have been to no purpose, and the sculptured monuments would have been worthless as the dust from which they have been torn." Well may we ask, in the language of an able review of Layard's second series of monuments of Nineveh, May 16, 1853, "By what splendid accidents, then, has it happened that illumination has been thrown into the heaps, and that art, inferred for 3000 years, becomes, when brought to light, in an instant as familiar to us all as though it were but the dainty work of yesterday? How comes it that these arrow-headed, or, as they are, more generally styled, cuneiform characters, which bear no analogy whatever to modern writing of any kind, and which have been lost to the world since the Macedonian conquest, are read by our countrymen with a facility that commands astonishment, and a correctness that admits of no dispute? The history is very plain, but certainly as remarkable as it is simple. Fifty years ago the key that has finally opened the treasure-house was picked up, unawares, by Professor Grotefend of Gottingen. In the year 1802 this scholar took it into his head to decipher some inscriptions which were, and still are to be found on the walls of Persepolis, in Persia. These inscriptions, written in three different languages, are all in the cuneiform (or wedge-like) character, and were addressed, as it now appears, to the three distinct races acknowledging, in the time of Darius, the Persian sway -- viz., to the Persians proper, to the Scythians, and to the Assyrians. It is worthy of remark that although the cuneiform character is extinct, the practice of addressing these races in the language peculiar to each still prevails on the spot. The modern governor of Bagdad, when he issues his edicts, must, like the great Persian king, note down his behest's in three distinct forms of language, or the Persian, the Turk, and the Arab who submit to his rule will find it difficult to possess themselves of his wishes. When Grotefend first saw the three kinds of inscription, he concluded the first to be Persian, and proceeded to his task with this conviction. He had not studied the writing long before he discerned that all the words of all the inscriptions were separated from each other by a wedge, placed diagonally at the beginning or end of each word. With this slight knowledge for his guide, he went on a little further. He next observed that in the Persian inscription one word occurred three or four times over, with a slight terminal difference. This word he concluded to be a title. Further investigation and comparison of words induced him to guess that the inscription recorded a genealogy. The assumption was a happy one. But to whom did the titles belong? With no clue whatever to help him, how should he decide? By an examination of all the authorities, ancient and modern, he satisfied himself at least of the dynasty that had founded Persepolis, and then he tried all the names of the dynasty in succession, in the hope that some would fit. He was not disappointed. The names were Hystaspes, Darius, and Xerxes. Although the actual pronunciation of these names had to be discovered, yet by the aid of the Zend (the language of the ancient Persians) and of the Greek, the true method of spelling was so nearly arrived at that no doubt of the accuracy of the guess could reasonably be entertained. The achievement had been worth the pains, for twelve characters of the Persian cuneiform inscription were now well secured. Twenty-eight characters remained to be deciphered before the inscriptions could be mastered. Grotefend here rested.

"The next step was taken by M. Bournouf, a scholar intimately acquainted with the Zend language. In 1836 he added considerably to the Persian cuneiform alphabet by reading twenty-four names on one of the inscriptions at Persepolis; but a more rapid stride was made subsequently by Professor Lassen of Bonn, who, between the years 1836 and 1844, to use the words of Mr. Fergusson, the learned and ingenious restorer of the palaces of Nineveh and Persepolis, 'all but completed the task of alphabetical discovery.'

"While progress was thus making in Europe, Colonel Rawlinson, stationed at Kermanshah, in Persia, and ignorant of what had already been done in the west, was arriving at similar results by a process of his own. He, too, had begun to read the Persian cuneiform character on two inscriptions at Hamarian, the ancient Ecbatana. This was in 1835. In 1837 he had been able to decipher the most extensive Persian cuneiform inscription in the world. On the high road from Babylonia to the east stands the celebrated rock of Behistun. It is almost perpendicular, and rises abruptly to the height of 1700 feet. A portion of the rock, about 300 feet from the plain, and still very perfect, is sculptured, and contains inscriptions in the three languages already spoken of. The sculpture represents King Darius and the vanquished chiefs before him -- the inscriptions detail the victories obtained over the latter by the Persian monarch. This monument, at least 2350 years old, deciphered for the first time by Colonel Rawlinson, gave to that distinguished Orientalist more than eighty proper names to deal with. It enabled him to form an alphabet. Between the Colonel and Professor Lassen no communication whatever had taken place, yet when their alphabets were compared they were found to differ only in one single character. The proof of the value of their discoveries was perfect.

"Thus far the Persian cuneiform character! To decipher it was to take the first essential step towards reading the cuneiform inscriptions on the walls at Nineveh. But for the Persepolis walls, the Behistun rock, and Colonel Rawlinson, it would have been a physical impossibility to decipher one line of the AssyriaI1 remains. In the Persian text only forty distinct characters had to be arrived at; and when once they were ascertained, the light afforded by the Zend, the Greek, and other aids, rendered translation not only possible, but certain to the patient and laborious student. The Assyrian alphabet, on the other hand, has no fewer than 150 letters; many of the characters are ideographs or hieroglyphics, representing a thing by a non-phonetic sign, and no collateral aids whatever exist to help the student to their interpretation. The reader will at once apprehend, however, that the moment the Persian cuneiform character on the Behistun rock was overcome, it must have been a comparatively easy task for the conqueror to break the mystery of the Assyrian cuneiform inscription, which, following the Persian writing on the rock, only repeated the same short history. Darius, who carved the monument in order to impress his victories upon his Assyrian subjects, was compelled to place before their eye the cuneiform character which they alone could comprehend. The Assyrian characters on the rock are the same as those on the bas-reliefs in the Assyrian palaces. Rawlinson, who first read the Persian inscriptions at Behistun, and then by their aid made out the adjacent Assyrian inscriptions, has handed over to Layard the first-fruits of his fortunate and splendid discovery, and enabled him for himself to ascertain and fix the value of the treasures he has so unexpectedly rescued from annihilation. As yet, as may readily be imagined, the knowledge of the Assyrian writing is not perfect; but the discovery has already survived its infancy. All other year or two of scholastic investigation, another practical visit to the ancient mounds, and the decipherment will be complete! Fortunate Englishmen! Enviable day-laborers in the noblest vocation that can engage the immortal faculties of man! What glory shall surpass that of the enterprising, painstaking, and heroic men who shall have restored to us, after the lapse of thousands of years, the history and actual stony presence of the world-renowned Nineveh, and enabled us to read with our own eyes, as if it were our mother tongue, the language suspended on the lips of men for ages, though written to record events in which the prophets of Almighty God took a living interest!"

The following narrative of discoveries which have been made since our Preface was written, will most appropriately close our attempt to illustrate in every possible way these valuable Lectures: -- "When Mr. Layard returned to the scene of operations in 1848, he lost no time in proceeding with his excavations. During his absence a small number of men had been employed at Kouyunjik by Mr. Rassam, the English vice-consul, who, as the agent of the British Museum, had carried on the works suspended by Mr. Layard, though rather with the view of preventing interference on the part of others than of prosecuting excavations to any great extent. Mr. Rassam's labors, limited as they were, had not been fruitless. He had dug his way to new chambers, and had exposed additional sculptures. The latter were of great interest, and portrayed more completely than any yet discovered the history of an Assyrian conquest, from the going out of the monarch to battle to his triumphal return after a complete victory. The opinion formerly entertained by Mr. Layard with respect to this palace was now confirmed. He was convinced that the ruins at Kouyunjik constituted one great building, built by one and the same king. He was still further satisfied that Kouyunjik and Khorsabad were contemporary structures, and that the north-west palace at Nimroud had a much higher antiquity than either."

That portion of the subject which applies most to our purpose is the result obtained from the inscriptions with which the sculptures are accompanied. In the language of the review already quoted -- "The king of Assyria himself is represented superintending the building of the mounds upon which the palace with its bulls is to be built. This king, as the cuneiform inscription shews, is Sennacherib; and the sculptures, as Rawlinson and the initiated are permitted to read, celebrate the building at Nineveh of the great palace and its adjacent temples -- the work of this great king. The inscriptions on the bulls at Kouyunjik record most minutely the manner in which the edifice was built, its general plan, and the various materials employed in decorating the halls, chambers, and roofs. Some of the inscriptions have a thrilling interest. They indicate that the Jews, taken in captivity by the Assyrian king, were compelled to assist in the erection of the palaces of their conquerors, and that wood for the building was brought from Mount Lebanon, precisely as Solomon had conveyed its cedars for the choice woodwork of the temple of the Lord. There is an awful strangeness in thus being brought face to face, as it were, with the solemn mysteries of the Bible and with our own earliest sacred recollections.

"During the month of December (1848) the treasure-seekers were rewarded with a rare harvest. A facade of the south-east side of the palace at Kouyunjik, forming apparently the chief entrance to the building, was discovered. It was 180 feet long, and presented no fewer than ten colossal bulls, with six human figures of gigantic proportions. The bulls were more or less injured; some of them were even shattered to pieces, but fortunately the lower parts of all remained untouched, and consequently the inscriptions were preserved. Two of these inscriptions contained the annals of six years of the reign of Sennacherib, 'besides numerous particulars connected with the religion of the Assyrians, their gods, their temples, and the erection of their palaces.' There can be no reasonable doubt of the accuracy of the translation made of these writings, and now given in Mr. Layard's volume. 1 The very differences and variations that occur when the cuneiform character is submitted to more than one translator attest to the correctness of the general interpretation. Colonel Rawlinson has translated into English the particular inscriptions of which we speak; and Dr. Hincks, an equally competent scholar, has done the same -- both independently of each other; and there is no material discrepancy in their views. The inscription informs us that in the first year of his reign Sennacherib defeated Berodach-Baladan, king of Car-Duniyas, a city and country frequently mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions. It is not for the first time that the reader hears of this king, for he will remember how, When Hezekiah was sick, 'at that time Berodach-Baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah,' who boastfully shewed to the messengers all the treasures of his house. The Assyrian monument and holy writ thus begin to reflect light upon each other. But this is only a gleam of the illumination that follows. In the third year of his reign, according to the inscriptions, Sennacherib overran with his armies the whole of Syria. 'Hezekiah,' so runs the cuneiform writing, 'king of Judah, who had not submitted to my authority, forty-six of his principal cities, and fortresses and villages depending upon them of which I took no account, I captured, and carried away their spoil. I shut up himself within Jerusalem, his capital city.' The next passage, says Mr. Layard, is somewhat defaced, but enough remains to shew that he took from Hezekiah the treasure he had collected in Jerusalem -- thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, besides his sons, his daughters, and his slaves. The reader has not waited for us to remind him that in the 2nd Book of Kings it is written how 'in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib, king of Assyria, come up against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them ... And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah, king of Judah, three hundred talents of silver and Thirty Talents of Gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house.' It is something to have won from the earth such testimony on behalf of inspired Scripture. It is also something to have obtained from holy writ such evidence in favor of the monumental records of long-buried Nineveh.

1Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. Being the result of a Second Expedition, undertaken for the Trustees of the British Museum. By Austin H. Layard, M.P. London: Murray, 1853.Layard's Monuments of, Nineveh. Second Series. London: Murray, 1853.

"At a later period a chamber was discovered in which the sculptures were in better preservation than any before found at Kouyunjik. The slabs were almost entire, and the inscription was complete. The bas-reliefs represented the siege and capture, by the Assyrians, of a city of great extent and importance. 'In no other sculptures were so many armed warriors seen drawn up in array before a besieged city.' The sculptures occupied thirteen slabs, and told the whole narrative of the attack, the conquest, and the destruction of the enemy. The captives, as they appear in the bas-reliefs, have been stripped of their ornaments and fine raiment, are barefooted and half-clothed. But it is impossible to mistake the race to which they belong. They are Jews; for the stamp is on the countenance as it is impressed upon the features of their descendants at this very hour. The Assyrian sculptor has noted the characteristic lines and drawn them with surprising truth. To what city they belong we likewise know, for, above the figure of the king, who commands in person, it is declared, that 'Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment before the city of Lachish, gives permission for its slaughter.' That it was slaughtered we have good reason to believe, for is it not written in the Bible that Sennacherib had quitted Lachish, having vanquished it, before his generals returned with the tribute extorted from Hezekiah?

"If evidence were still wanting to prove the identity of the king who built Kouyunjik with the Sennacherib of the Old Testament, it would be sufficient to call attention to one other most remarkable discovery that has been made in these mysterious mounds. In a passage in the south-west corner of the Kouyunjik palace, Mr. Layard stumbled upon a large number of pieces of fine clay, bearing the impressions of seals, which there can be no doubt had been affixed, like modern official seals of wax, to documents written on leather or parchment. The writings themselves have, of course, decayed, but, curiously enough, the holes for the string by which the seal was fastened are still visible; and in some instances the ashes of the string itself may be seen, together with the unmistakable marks of the finger and thumb. Four of these seals are purely Egyptian. Two of them are impressions of a royal signet. 'It is,' says Mr. Layard, 'one well known to Egyptian scholars, as that of the second Sabaco, the AEthiopian of the twenty-fifth dynasty. On the same piece of clay is impressed an Assyrian seal, with a, device representing a priest ministering before the king, probably a royal signet.' We entreat the reader's attention to what follows. Sabaco reigned in Egypt at the end of the seventh century before Christ, the very time at which Sennacherib ascended the throne. 'He is probably the So mentioned in the 2 Kings 17:4 as having received ambassadors from Hoshea, king of Israel, who, by entering into a league with the Egyptians, called down the vengeance of Shalmaneser, whose tributary he was, which led to the first great captivity of the people of Samaria. Shalmaneser we know to have been an immediate predecessor of Sennacherib, and Tirhakah, the Egyptian king, who was defeated by the Assyrians near Lachish, was the immediate successor of Sabaco II. It would seem, that a peace having been concluded between the Egyptians and one of the Assyrian monarchs, probably Sennacherib, the royal signets of the two kings, thus found together, were attached to the treaty, which was deposited among the archives of the kingdom.' The document itself has perished, but the proof of the alliance between the two kings remains, and is actually reproduced from the archive-chamber of the old Assyrian king. The illustration of Scripture-history is complete, and the testimony in favor of the correct interpretation of the cuneiform character perfect."

Long as this extract is, it gives but a slight specimen of the surprising amount of scriptural illustration derived from this new and unexpected source. We add a last and final one: -- "Ten years have scarcely elapsed since the first discovery of ruins on the site of Nineveh was made, and already there lies before us an amount of information, having regard to the history of the old Assyrian people, of which we had previously not the most distant conception. When Mr. Layard published, in 1849, the account of his first Assyrian researches, the monuments recovered were comparatively scanty, and the inscriptions impressed upon them could not be deciphered. Now, a completed history can be traced in the sculptured remains, and the inscriptions may be followed with the same facility as the Greek or any other character. That they may be read with immense profit and instruction is evident from the startling facts which they have hitherto revealed. Some of these facts we venture briefly to place before the reader. We have previously hinted that the earliest king of whose reign we have any detailed account is the builder of the north-west palace at Nimrod, the most ancient edifice yet beheld in Assyria. His records, however, furnish the names of five, if not seven, of his predecessors, some of whom it is believed founded palaces, afterwards erected by their successors. The son of this king, it is certain, built the center palace of Nimroud, and raised the obelisk, now in the British Museum, upon which the principal events of his reign are inscribed. Upon that obelisk are names corresponding to names that are found in the Old Testament. The fortunate coincidence furnishes at once the means of fixing specific dates, and enables Mr. Layard to place the accession of the Assyrian monarch who built the oldest Nimroud palace at the latter part of the tenth century before Christ. The builder of the palace of Khorsabad is proved to have been the Sargon mentioned by Isaiah. The ruins of his palace supply the most complete details of his reign; and from the reign of Sargon a complete list has been obtained of all the kings down to the fall of the empire. The son of Sargon was Sennacherib, who ascended the throne in the year 703 b.c. We know from the Bible that Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon, and we now ascertain from the monuments that one of the palaces at Nimroud was the work of his reign. The son of Esarhaddon built; the south-east palace on the mound of Nimroud; and, although no part of his history has been as yet recovered, there is good reason for concluding him to have been the Sardanapalus who, conquered (b.c. 606) by the Medes and Babylonians under Cyaxares, made one funeral pile of his palace, his wealth, and his wives.

"While it is certain that there is no mention of Nineveh before the 12th century b.c. Mr. Layard is still of opinion that the city and empire existed long before that period. Egyptian remains found at Karnak refer to a country called Assyria, and the enterprising explorer is not without hope that further investigation will supply him with still more ancient records than any he now possesses. The monuments of Nineveh, as far as they go, corroborate all extant history in describing the monarch as a thorough Eastern despot, 'unchecked by popular opinion, and having complete power over the lives and property of his subjects; rather adored as a god than feared as a man, and yet himself claiming that authority and general obedience in virtue of his reverence for the national deities and the national religion.' The dominion of the king, according to the inscriptions, extended to the central provinces of Asia Minor and Armenia northward; to the western provinces of Persia eastward; to the west as far as Lydia and Syria; and to the south to Babylonia and the northern part of Arabia. 'The empire appears to have been at all times a kind of confederation formed by many tributary States, whose kings were so far independent that they were only bound to furnish troops to the supreme lord in time of war, and to pay them yearly a certain tribute.' The Jewish tribes, it is now proved, held their dependent position upon the Assyrian king from a very early period; and it is curious to observe that, wherever an expedition against the kings of Israel is mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, it is invariably stated to have been undertaken on the ground that they had not paid their customary tribute.

"At every step sacred history is illustrated, illuminated, and explained by the speaking stones of Nineveh; and in this regard alone the Assyrian discoveries have a significance beyond any revelation that has been made in modern times. Even the architecture of the sacred people may be rendered visible to the eye by comparing it with that of the Assyrian structures; and certainly not the least instructive result of all Mr. Layard's labors is the ingenious analogy drawn by Mr. Fergusson in his 'Palaces of Nineveh and Persepolis Restored,' between the temple of Solomon and the palace of the Assyrian king."

1 Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. Being the result of a Second Expedition, undertaken for the trustees of the British Museum. By Austin H. Layard, M.P. London: Murray, 1853.

Layard's Monuments of Nineveh. Second Series. London: Murray, 185