Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

Powered by iSpeech

[1] See G. A. Smith, /Historical Geography of the Holy Land/, pp. 5
ff., 45 ff., and Myres, /Dawn of History/, pp. 137 ff.; and cf.
Hogarth, /The Nearer East/, pp. 65 ff., and Reclus, /Nouvelle
Géographie universelle/, t. IX, pp. 685 ff.

The great trunk-roads of through communication run north and south,
across the eastern plateaus of the Haurân and Moab, and along the
coastal plains. The old highway from Egypt, which left the Delta at
Pelusium, at first follows the coast, then trends eastward across the
plain of Esdraelon, which breaks the coastal range, and passing under
Hermon runs northward through Damascus and reaches the Euphrates at
its most westerly point. Other through tracks in Palestine ran then as
they do to-day, by Beesheba and Hebron, or along the `Arabah and west
of the Dead Sea, or through Edom and east of Jordan by the present
Hajj route to Damascus. But the great highway from Egypt, the most
westerly of the trunk-roads through Palestine, was that mainly
followed, with some variant sections, by both caravans and armies, and
was known by the Hebrews in its southern course as the "Way of the
Philistines" and farther north as the "Way of the East".

The plain of Esraelon, where the road first trends eastward, has been
the battle-ground for most invaders of Palestine from the north, and
though Egyptian armies often fought in the southern coastal plain,
they too have battled there when they held the southern country.
Megiddo, which commands the main pass into the plain through the low
Samaritan hills to the southeast of Carmel, was the site of Thothmes
III's famous battle against a Syrian confederation, and it inspired
the writer of the Apocalypse with his vision of an Armageddon of the
future. But invading armies always followed the beaten track of
caravans, and movements represented by the great campaigns were
reflected in the daily passage of international commerce.

With so much through traffic continually passing within her borders,
it may be matter for surprise that far more striking evidence of its
cultural effect should not have been revealed by archaeological
research in Palestine. Here again the explanation is mainly of a
geographical character. For though the plains and plateaus could be
crossed by the trunk-roads, the rest of the country is so broken up by
mountain and valley that it presented few facilities either to foreign
penetration or to external control. The physical barriers to local
intercourse, reinforced by striking differences in soil, altitude, and
climate, while they precluded Syria herself from attaining national
unity, always tended to protect her separate provinces, or "kingdoms,"
from the full effects of foreign aggression. One city-state could be
traversed, devastated, or annexed, without in the least degree
affecting neighbouring areas. It is true that the population of Syria
has always been predominantly Semitic, for she was on the fringe of
the great breeding-ground of the Semitic race and her landward
boundary was open to the Arabian nomad. Indeed, in the whole course of
her history the only race that bade fair at one time to oust the
Semite in Syria was the Greek. But the Greeks remained within the
cities which they founded or rebuilt, and, as Robertson Smith pointed
out, the death-rate in Eastern cities habitually exceeds the birth-
rate; the urban population must be reinforced from the country if it
is to be maintained, so that the type of population is ultimately
determined by the blood of the peasantry.[1] Hence after the Arab
conquest the Greek elements in Syria and Palestine tended rapidly to
disappear. The Moslem invasion was only the last of a series of
similar great inroads, which have followed one another since the dawn
of history, and during all that time absorption was continually taking
place from desert tribes that ranged the Syrian border. As we have
seen, the country of his adoption was such as to encourage the Semitic
nomad's particularism, which was inherent in his tribal organization.
Thus the predominance of a single racial element in the population of
Palestine and Syria did little to break down or overstep the natural
barriers and lines of cleavage.

[1] See Robertson Smith, /Religion of the Semites/, p. 12 f.; and cf.
Smith, /Hist. Geogr./, p. 10 f.

These facts suffice to show why the influence of both Egypt and
Babylon upon the various peoples and kingdoms of Palestine was only
intensified at certain periods, when ambition for extended empire
dictated the reduction of her provinces in detail. But in the long
intervals, during which there was no attempt to enforce political
control, regular relations were maintained along the lines of trade
and barter. And in any estimate of the possible effect of foreign
influence upon Hebrew thought, it is important to realize that some of
the channels through which in later periods it may have acted had been
flowing since the dawn of history, and even perhaps in prehistoric
times. It is probable that Syria formed one of the links by which we
may explain the Babylonian elements that are attested in prehistoric
Egyptian culture.[1] But another possible line of advance may have
been by way of Arabia and across the Red Sea into Upper Egypt.

[1] Cf. /Sumer and Akkad/, pp. 322 ff.; and for a full discussion of
the points of resemblance between the early Babylonian and
Egyptian civilizations, see Sayce, /The Archaeology of the
Cuneiform Inscriptions/, chap. iv, pp. 101 ff.

The latter line of contact is suggested by an interesting piece of
evidence that has recently been obtained. A prehistoric flint knife,
with a handle carved from the tooth of a hippopotamus, has been
purchased lately by the Louvre,[1] and is said to have been found at
Gebel el-`Arak near Naga` Hamâdi, which lies on the Nile not far below
Koptos, where an ancient caravan-track leads by Wâdi Hammâmât to the
Red Sea. On one side of the handle is a battle-scene including some
remarkable representations of ancient boats. All the warriors are nude
with the exception of a loin girdle, but, while one set of combatants
have shaven heads or short hair, the others have abundant locks
falling in a thick mass upon the shoulder. On the other face of the
handle is carved a hunting scene, two hunters with dogs and desert
animals being arranged around a central boss. But in the upper field
is a very remarkable group, consisting of a personage struggling with
two lions arranged symmetrically. The rest of the composition is not
very unlike other examples of prehistoric Egyptian carving in low
relief, but here attitude, figure, and clothing are quite un-Egyptian.
The hero wears a sort of turban on his abundant hair, and a full and
rounded beard descends upon his breast. A long garment clothes him
from the waist and falls below the knees, his muscular calves ending
in the claws of a bird of prey. There is nothing like this in
prehistoric Egyptian art.

[1] See Bénédite, "Le couteau de Gebel al-`Arak", in /Foundation
Eugène Piot, Mon. et. Mém./, XXII. i. (1916).

Perhaps Monsieur Bénédite is pressing his theme too far when he
compares the close-cropped warriors on the handle with the shaven
Sumerians and Elamites upon steles from Telloh and Susa, for their
loin-girdles are African and quite foreign to the Euphrates Valley.
And his suggestion that two of the boats, flat-bottomed and with high
curved ends, seem only to have navigated the Tigris and Euphrates,[1] will hardly command acceptance. But there is no doubt that the heroic
personage upon the other face is represented in the familiar attitude
of the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh struggling with lions, which formed
so favourite a subject upon early Sumerian and Babylonian seals. His
garment is Sumerian or Semitic rather than Egyptian, and the mixture
of human and bird elements in the figure, though not precisely
paralleled at this early period, is not out of harmony with
Mesopotamian or Susan tradition. His beard, too, is quite different
from that of the Libyan desert tribes which the early Egyptian kings
adopted. Though the treatment of the lions is suggestive of proto-
Elamite rather than of early Babylonian models, the design itself is
unmistakably of Mesopotamian origin. This discovery intensifies the
significance of other early parallels that have been noted between the
civilizations of the Euphrates and the Nile, but its evidence, so far
as it goes, does not point to Syria as the medium of prehistoric
intercourse. Yet then, as later, there can have been no physical
barrier to the use of the river-route from Mesopotamia into Syria and
of the tracks thence southward along the land-bridge to the Nile's

[1] Op. cit., p. 32.

In the early historic periods we have definite evidence that the
eastern coast of the Levant exercised a strong fascination upon the
rulers of both Egypt and Babylonia. It may be admitted that Syria had
little to give in comparison to what she could borrow, but her local
trade in wine and oil must have benefited by an increase in the
through traffic which followed the working of copper in Cyprus and
Sinai and of silver in the Taurus. Moreover, in the cedar forests of
Lebanon and the north she possessed a product which was highly valued
both in Egypt and the treeless plains of Babylonia. The cedars
procured by Sneferu from Lebanon at the close of the IIIrd Dynasty
were doubtless floated as rafts down the coast, and we may see in them
evidence of a regular traffic in timber. It has long been known that
the early Babylonian king Sharru-kin, or Sargon of Akkad, had pressed
up the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, and we now have information
that he too was fired by a desire for precious wood and metal. One of
the recently published Nippur inscriptions contains copies of a number
of his texts, collected by an ancient scribe from his statues at
Nippur, and from these we gather additional details of his campaigns.
We learn that after his complete subjugation of Southern Babylonia he
turned his attention to the west, and that Enlil gave him the lands
"from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea", i.e. from the Mediterranean to
the Persian Gulf. Fortunately this rather vague phrase, which survived
in later tradition, is restated in greater detail in one of the
contemporary versions, which records that Enlil "gave him the upper
land, Mari, Iarmuti, and Ibla, as far as the Cedar Forest and the
Silver Mountains".[1] [1] See Poebel, /Historical Texts/ (Univ. of Penns. Mus. Publ., Bab.
Sect., Vol. IV, No. 1, 1914), pp. 177 f., 222 ff.

Mari was a city on the middle Euphrates, but the name may here signify
the district of Mari which lay in the upper course of Sargon's march.
Now we know that the later Sumerian monarch Gudea obtained his cedar
beams from the Amanus range, which he names /Amanum/ and describes as
the "cedar mountains".[1] Doubtless he felled his trees on the eastern
slopes of the mountain. But we may infer from his texts that Sargon
actually reached the coast, and his "Cedar Forest" may have lain
farther to the south, perhaps as far south as the Lebanon. The "Silver
Mountains" can only be identified with the Taurus, where silver mines
were worked in antiquity. The reference to Iarmuti is interesting, for
it is clearly the same place as Iarimuta or Iarimmuta, of which we
find mention in the Tell el-Amarna letters. From the references to
this district in the letters of Rib-Adda, governor of Byblos, we may
infer that it was a level district on the coast, capable of producing
a considerable quantity of grain for export, and that it was under
Egyptian control at the time of Amenophis IV. Hitherto its position
has been conjecturally placed in the Nile Delta, but from Sargon's
reference we must probably seek it on the North Syrian or possibly the
Cilician coast. Perhaps, as Dr. Poebel suggests, it was the plain of
Antioch, along the lower course and at the mouth of the Orontes. But
his further suggestion that the term is used by Sargon for the whole
stretch of country between the sea and the Euphrates is hardly
probable. For the geographical references need not be treated as
exhaustive, but as confined to the more important districts through
which the expedition passed. The district of Ibla which is also
mentioned by Narâm-Sin and Gudea, lay probably to the north of
Iarmuti, perhaps on the southern slopes of Taurus. It, too, we may
regard as a district of restricted extent rather than as a general
geographical term for the extreme north of Syria.

[1] Thureau-Dangin, /Les inscriptions de Sumer de d'Akkad/, p. 108 f.,
Statue B, col. v. 1. 28; Germ. ed., p. 68 f.

It is significant that Sargon does not allude to any battle when
describing this expedition, nor does he claim to have devastated the
western countries.[1] Indeed, most of these early expeditions to the
west appear to have been inspired by motives of commercial enterprise
rather than of conquest. But increase of wealth was naturally followed
by political expansion, and Egypt's dream of an Asiatic empire was
realized by Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty. The fact that Babylonian
should then have been adopted as the medium of official intercourse in
Syria points to the closeness of the commercial ties which had already
united the Euphrates Valley with the west. Egyptian control had passed
from Canaan at the time of the Hebrew settlement, which was indeed a
comparatively late episode in the early history of Syria. Whether or
not we identify the Khabiri with the Hebrews, the character of the
latter's incursion is strikingly illustrated by some of the Tell
el-Amarna letters. We see a nomad folk pressing in upon settled
peoples and gaining a foothold here and there.[2] [1] In some versions of his new records Sargon states that "5,400 men
daily eat bread before him" (see Poebel, op. cit., p. 178); though
the figure may be intended to convey an idea of the size of
Sargon's court, we may perhaps see in it a not inaccurate estimate
of the total strength of his armed forces.

[2] See especially Professor Burney's forthcoming commentary on Judges
(passim), and his forthcoming Schweich Lectures (now delivered, in

The great change from desert life consists in the adoption of
agriculture, and when once that was made by the Hebrews any further
advance in economic development was dictated by their new
surroundings. The same process had been going on, as we have seen, in
Syria since the dawn of history, the Semitic nomad passing gradually
through the stages of agricultural and village life into that of the
city. The country favoured the retention of tribal exclusiveness, but
ultimate survival could only be purchased at the cost of some
amalgamation with their new neighbours. Below the surface of Hebrew
history these two tendencies may be traced in varying action and
reaction. Some sections of the race engaged readily in the social and
commercial life of Canaanite civilization with its rich inheritance
from the past. Others, especially in the highlands of Judah and the
south, at first succeeded in keeping themselves remote from foreign
influence. During the later periods of the national life the country
was again subjected, and in an intensified degree, to those forces of
political aggression from Mesopotamia and Egypt which we have already
noted as operating in Canaan. But throughout the settled Hebrew
community as a whole the spark of desert fire was not extinguished,
and by kindling the zeal of the Prophets it eventually affected nearly
all the white races of mankind.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 | View All | Next -»