Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition


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In his Presidential Address before the British Association at
Newcastle,[1] Sir Arthur Evans emphasized the part which recent
archaeology has played in proving the continuity of human culture from
the most remote periods. He showed how gaps in our knowledge had been
bridged, and he traced the part which each great race had taken in
increasing its inheritance. We have, in fact, ample grounds for
assuming an interchange, not only of commercial products, but, in a
minor degree, of ideas within areas geographically connected; and it
is surely not derogatory to any Hebrew writer to suggest that he may
have adopted, and used for his own purposes, conceptions current among
his contemporaries. In other words, the vehicle of religious ideas may
well be of composite origin; and, in the course of our study of early
Hebrew tradition, I suggest that we hold ourselves justified in
applying the comparative method to some at any rate of the ingredients
which went to form the finished product. The process is purely
literary, but it finds an analogy in the study of Semitic art,
especially in the later periods. And I think it will make my meaning
clearer if we consider for a moment a few examples of sculpture
produced by races of Semitic origin. I do not suggest that we should
regard the one process as in any way proving the existence of the
other. We should rather treat the comparison as illustrating in
another medium the effect of forces which, it is clear, were operative
at various periods upon races of the same stock from which the Hebrews
themselves were descended. In such material products the eye at once
detects the Semite's readiness to avail himself of foreign models. In
some cases direct borrowing is obvious; in others, to adapt a metaphor
from music, it is possible to trace extraneous /motifs/ in the
design.[2] [1] "New Archaeological Lights on the Origins of Civilization in
Europe," British Association, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1916.

[2] The necessary omission of plates, representing the slides shown in
the lectures, has involved a recasting of most passages in which
points of archaeological detail were discussed; see Preface. But
the following paragraphs have been retained as the majority of the
monuments referred to are well known.

Some of the most famous monuments of Semitic art date from the Persian
and Hellenistic periods, and if we glance at them in this connexion it
is in order to illustrate during its most obvious phase a tendency of
which the earlier effects are less pronounced. In the sarcophagus of
the Sidonian king Eshmu-`azar II, which is preserved in the Louvre,[1] we have indeed a monument to which no Semitic sculptor can lay claim.
Workmanship and material are Egyptian, and there is no doubt that it
was sculptured in Egypt and transported to Sidon by sea. But the
king's own engravers added the long Phoenician inscription, in which
he adjures princes and men not to open his resting-place since there
are no jewels therein, concluding with some potent curses against any
violation of his tomb. One of the latter implores the holy gods to
deliver such violators up "to a mighty prince who shall rule over
them", and was probably suggested by Alexander's recent occupation of
Sidon in 332 B.C. after his reduction and drastic punishment of Tyre.
King Eshmun-`zar was not unique in his choice of burial in an Egyptian
coffin, for he merely followed the example of his royal father,
Tabnîth, "priest of `Ashtart and king of the Sidonians", whose
sarcophagus, preserved at Constantinople, still bears in addition to
his own epitaph that of its former occupant, a certain Egyptian
general Penptah. But more instructive than these borrowed memorials is
a genuine example of Phoenician work, the stele set up by Yehaw-milk,
king of Byblos, and dating from the fourth or fifth century B.C.[2] In
the sculptured panel at the head of the stele the king is represented
in the Persian dress of the period standing in the presence of
`Ashtart or Astarte, his "Lady, Mistress of Byblos". There is no doubt
that the stele is of native workmanship, but the influence of Egypt
may be seen in the technique of the carving, in the winged disk above
the figures, and still more in the representation of the goddess in
her character as the Egyptian Hathor, with disk and horns, vulture
head-dress and papyrus-sceptre. The inscription records the dedication
of an altar and shrine to the goddess, and these too we may conjecture
were fashioned on Egyptian lines.

[1] /Corp. Inscr. Semit./, I. i, tab. II.

[2] /C.I.S./, I. i, tab. I.

The representation of Semitic deities under Egyptian forms and with
Egyptian attributes was encouraged by the introduction of their cults
into Egypt itself. In addition to Astarte of Byblos, Ba`al, Anath, and
Reshef were all borrowed from Syria in comparatively early times and
given Egyptian characters. The conical Syrian helmet of Reshef, a god
of war and thunder, gradually gave place to the white Egyptian crown,
so that as Reshpu he was represented as a royal warrior; and Qadesh,
another form of Astarte, becoming popular with Egyptian women as a
patroness of love and fecundity, was also sometimes modelled on
Hathor.[1] [1] See W. Max Müller, /Egyptological Researches/, I, p. 32 f., pl.
41, and S. A. Cook, /Religion of Ancient Palestine/, pp. 83 ff.

Semitic colonists on the Egyptian border were ever ready to adopt
Egyptian symbolism in delineating the native gods to whom they owed
allegiance, and a particularly striking example of this may be seen on
a stele of the Persian period preserved in the Cairo Museum.[1] It was
found at Tell Defenneh, on the right bank of the Pelusiac branch of
the Nile, close to the old Egyptian highway into Syria, a site which
may be identified with that of the biblical Tahpanhes and the Daphnae
of the Greeks. Here it was that the Jewish fugitives, fleeing with
Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem, founded a Jewish colony beside a
flourishing Phoenician and Aramaean settlement. One of the local gods
of Tahpanhes is represented on the Cairo monument, an Egyptian stele
in the form of a naos with the winged solar disk upon its frieze. He
stands on the back of a lion and is clothed in Asiatic costume with
the high Syrian tiara crowning his abundant hair. The Syrian
workmanship is obvious, and the Syrian character of the cult may be
recognized in such details as the small brazen fire-altar before the
god, and the sacred pillar which is being anointed by the officiating
priest. But the god holds in his left hand a purely Egyptian sceptre
and in his right an emblem as purely Babylonian, the weapon of Marduk
and Gilgamesh which was also wielded by early Sumerian kings.

[1] Müller, op. cit., p. 30 f., pl. 40. Numismatic evidence exhibits a
similar readiness on the part of local Syrian cults to adopt the
veneer of Hellenistic civilization while retaining in great
measure their own individuality; see Hill, "Some Palestinian Cults
in the Graeco-Roman Age", in /Proceedings of the British Academy/,
Vol. V (1912).

The Elephantine papyri have shown that the early Jews of the Diaspora,
though untrammeled by the orthodoxy of Jerusalem, maintained the
purity of their local cult in the face of considerable difficulties.
Hence the gravestones of their Aramaean contemporaries, which have
been found in Egypt, can only be cited to illustrate the temptations
to which they were exposed.[1] Such was the memorial erected by Abseli
to the memory of his parents, Abbâ and Ahatbû, in the fourth year of
Xerxes, 481 B.C.[2] They had evidently adopted the religion of Osiris,
and were buried at Saqqârah in accordance with the Egyptian rites. The
upper scene engraved upon the stele represents Abbâ and his wife in
the presence of Osiris, who is attended by Isis and Nephthys; and in
the lower panel is the funeral scene, in which all the mourners with
one exception are Asiatics. Certain details of the rites that are
represented, and mistakes in the hieroglyphic version of the text,
prove that the work is Aramaean throughout.[3] [1] It may be admitted that the Greek platonized cult of Isis and
Osiris had its origin in the fusion of Greeks and Egyptians which
took place in Ptolemaic times (cf. Scott-Moncrieff, /Paganism and
Christianity in Egypt/, p. 33 f.). But we may assume that already
in the Persian period the Osiris cult had begun to acquire a tinge
of mysticism, which, though it did not affect the mechanical
reproduction of the native texts, appealed to the Oriental mind as
well as to certain elements in Greek religion. Persian influence
probably prepared the way for the Platonic exegesis of the Osiris
and Isis legends which we find in Plutarch; and the latter may
have been in great measure a development, and not, as is often
assumed, a complete misunderstanding of the later Egyptian cult.

[2] /C.I.S./, II. i, tab. XI, No. 122.

[3] A very similar monument is the Carpentras Stele (/C.I.S./, II., i,
tab. XIII, No. 141), commemorating Taba, daughter of Tahapi, an
Aramaean lady who was also a convert to Osiris. It is rather later
than that of Abbâ and his wife, since the Aramaic characters are
transitional from the archaic to the square alphabet; see Driver,
/Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel/, pp. xviii ff.,
and Cooke, /North Semitic Inscriptions/, p. 205 f. The Vatican
Stele (op. cit. tab. XIV. No. 142), which dates from the fourth
century, represents inferior work.

If our examples of Semitic art were confined to the Persian and later
periods, they could only be employed to throw light on their own
epoch, when through communication had been organized, and there was
consequently a certain pooling of commercial and artistic products
throughout the empire.[1] It is true that under the Great King the
various petty states and provinces were encouraged to manage their own
affairs so long as they paid the required tribute, but their horizon
naturally expanded with increase of commerce and the necessity for
service in the king's armies. At this time Aramaic was the speech of
Syria, and the population, especially in the cities, was still largely
Aramaean. As early as the thirteenth century sections of this
interesting Semitic race had begun to press into Northern Syria from
the middle Euphrates, and they absorbed not only the old Canaanite
population but also the Hittite immigrants from Cappadocia. The latter
indeed may for a time have furnished rulers to the vigorous North
Syrian principalities which resulted from this racial combination, but
the Aramaean element, thanks to continual reinforcement, was
numerically dominant, and their art may legitimately be regarded as in
great measure a Semitic product. Fortunately we have recovered
examples of sculpture which prove that tendencies already noted in the
Persian period were at work, though in a minor degree, under the later
Assyrian empire. The discoveries made at Zenjirli, for example,
illustrate the gradually increasing effect of Assyrian influence upon
the artistic output of a small North Syrian state.

[1] Cf. Bevan, /House of Seleucus/, Vol. I, pp. 5, 260 f. The artistic
influence of Mesopotamia was even more widely spread than that of
Egypt during the Persian period. This is suggested, for example,
by the famous lion-weight discovered at Abydos in Mysia, the town
on the Hellespont famed for the loves of Hero and Leander. The
letters of its Aramaic inscription (/C.I.S./, II. i, tab. VII, No.
108) prove by their form that it dates from the Persian period,
and its provenance is sufficiently attested. Its weight moreover
suggests that it was not merely a Babylonian or Persian
importation, but cast for local use, yet in design and technique
it is scarcely distinguishable from the best Assyrian work of the
seventh century.

This village in north-western Syria, on the road between Antioch and
Mar`ash, marks the site of a town which lay near the southern border
or just within the Syrian district of Sam'al. The latter is first
mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions by Shalmaneser III, the son and
successor of the great conqueror, Ashur-nasir-pal; and in the first
half of the eighth century, though within the radius of Assyrian
influence, it was still an independent kingdom. It is to this period
that we must assign the earliest of the inscribed monuments discovered
at Zenjirli and its neighbourhood. At Gerjin, not far to the north-
west, was found the colossal statue of Hadad, chief god of the
Aramaeans, which was fashioned and set up in his honour by Panammu I,
son of Qaral and king of Ya'di.[1] In the long Aramaic inscription
engraved upon the statue Panammu records the prosperity of his reign,
which he ascribes to the support he has received from Hadad and his
other gods, El, Reshef, Rekub-el, and Shamash. He had evidently been
left in peace by Assyria, and the monument he erected to his god is of
Aramaean workmanship and design. But the influence of Assyria may be
traced in Hadad's beard and in his horned head-dress, modelled on that
worn by Babylonian and Assyrian gods as the symbol of divine power.

[1] See F. von Luschan, /Sendschirli/, I. (1893), pp. 49 ff., pl. vi;
and cf. Cooke, /North Sem. Inscr./, pp. 159 ff. The characters of
the inscription on the statue are of the same archaic type as
those of the Moabite Stone, though unlike them they are engraved
in relief; so too are the inscriptions of Panammu's later
successor Bar-rekub (see below). Gerjin was certainly in Ya'di,
and Winckler's suggestion that Zenjirli itself also lay in that
district but near the border of Sam'al may be provisionally
accepted; the occurrence of the names in the inscriptions can be
explained in more than one way (see Cooke, op. cit., p. 183).

The political changes introduced into Ya'di and Sam'al by Tiglath-
pileser IV are reflected in the inscriptions and monuments of
Bar-rekub, a later king of the district. Internal strife had brought
disaster upon Ya'di and the throne had been secured by Panammu II, son
of Bar-sur, whose claims received Assyrian support. In the words of
his son Bar-rekub, "he laid hold of the skirt of his lord, the king of
Assyria", who was gracious to him; and it was probably at this time,
and as a reward for his loyalty, that Ya'di was united with the
neighbouring district of Sam'al. But Panammu's devotion to his foreign
master led to his death, for he died at the siege of Damascus, in 733
or 732 B.C., "in the camp, while following his lord, Tiglath-pileser,
king of Assyria". His kinsfolk and the whole camp bewailed him, and
his body was sent back to Ya'di, where it was interred by his son, who
set up an inscribed statue to his memory. Bar-rekub followed in his
father's footsteps, as he leads us to infer in his palace-inscription
found at Zenjirli: "I ran at the wheel of my lord, the king of
Assyria, in the midst of mighty kings, possessors of silver and
possessors of gold." It is not strange therefore that his art should
reflect Assyrian influence far more strikingly than that of Panammu I.
The figure of himself which he caused to be carved in relief on the
left side of the palace-inscription is in the Assyrian style,[1] and
so too is another of his reliefs from Zenjirli. On the latter
Bar-rekub is represented seated upon his throne with eunuch and scribe
in attendance, while in the field is the emblem of full moon and
crescent, here ascribed to "Ba`al of Harran", the famous centre of
moon-worship in Northern Mesopotamia.[2]

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