Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

[1] /Sendschirli/, IV (1911), pl. lxvii. Attitude and treatment of
robes are both Assyrian, and so is the arrangement of divine
symbols in the upper field, though some of the latter are given
under unfamiliar forms. The king’s close-fitting peaked cap was
evidently the royal headdress of Sam’al; see the royal figure on a
smaller stele of inferior design, op. cit., pl. lxvi.

[2] Op. cit. pp. 257, 346 ff., and pl. lx. The general style of the
sculpture and much of the detail are obviously Assyrian. Assyrian
influence is particularly noticeable in Bar-rekub’s throne; the
details of its decoration are precisely similar to those of an
Assyrian bronze throne in the British Museum. The full moon and
crescent are not of the familiar form, but are mounted on a
standard with tassels.

The detailed history and artistic development of Sam’al and Ya’di
convey a very vivid impression of the social and material effects upon
the native population of Syria, which followed the westward advance of
Assyria in the eighth century. We realize not only the readiness of
one party in the state to defeat its rival with the help of Assyrian
support, but also the manner in which the life and activities of the
nation as a whole were unavoidably affected by their action. Other
Hittite-Aramaean and Phoenician monuments, as yet undocumented with
literary records, exhibit a strange but not unpleasing mixture of
foreign /motifs/, such as we see on the stele from Amrith[1] in the
inland district of Arvad. But perhaps the most remarkable example of
Syrian art we possess is the king’s gate recently discovered at
Carchemish.[2] The presence of the hieroglyphic inscriptions points to
the survival of Hittite tradition, but the figures represented in the
reliefs are of Aramaean, not Hittite, type. Here the king is seen
leading his eldest son by the hand in some stately ceremonial, and
ranged in registers behind them are the younger members of the royal
family, whose ages are indicated by their occupations.[3] The
employment of basalt in place of limestone does not disguise the
sculptor’s debt to Assyria. But the design is entirely his own, and
the combined dignity and homeliness of the composition are
refreshingly superior to the arrogant spirit and hard execution which
mar so much Assyrian work. This example is particularly instructive,
as it shows how a borrowed art may be developed in skilled hands and
made to serve a purpose in complete harmony with its new environment.

[1] /Collection de Clercq/, t. II, pl. xxxvi. The stele is sculptured
in relief with the figure of a North Syrian god. Here the winged
disk is Egyptian, as well as the god’s helmet with uraeus, and his
loin-cloth; his attitude and his supporting lion are Hittite; and
the lozenge-mountains, on which the lion stands, and the technique
of the carving are Assyrian. But in spite of its composite
character the design is quite successful and not in the least

[2] Hogarth, /Carchemish/, Pt. I (1914), pl. B. 7 f.

[3] Two of the older boys play at knuckle-bones, others whip spinning-
tops, and a little naked girl runs behind supporting herself with
a stick, on the head of which is carved a bird. The procession is
brought up by the queen-mother, who carries the youngest baby and
leads a pet lamb.

Such monuments surely illustrate the adaptability of the Semitic
craftsman among men of Phoenician and Aramaean strain. Excavation in
Palestine has failed to furnish examples of Hebrew work. But Hebrew
tradition itself justifies us in regarding this /trait/ as of more
general application, or at any rate as not repugnant to Hebrew
thought, when it relates that Solomon employed Tyrian craftsmen for
work upon the Temple and its furniture; for Phoenician art was
essentially Egyptian in its origin and general character. Even Eshmun-
`zar’s desire for burial in an Egyptian sarcophagus may be paralleled
in Hebrew tradition of a much earlier period, when, in the last verse
of Genesis,[1] it is recorded that Joseph died, “and they embalmed
him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt”. Since it formed the subject
of prophetic denunciation, I refrain for the moment from citing the
notorious adoption of Assyrian customs at certain periods of the later
Judaean monarchy. The two records I have referred to will suffice, for
we have in them cherished traditions, of which the Hebrews themselves
were proud, concerning the most famous example of Hebrew religious
architecture and the burial of one of the patriarchs of the race. A
similar readiness to make use of the best available resources, even of
foreign origin, may on analogy be regarded as at least possible in the
composition of Hebrew literature.

[1] Gen. l. 26, assigned by critics to E.

We shall see that the problems we have to face concern the possible
influence of Babylon, rather than of Egypt, upon Hebrew tradition. And
one last example, drawn from the later period, will serve to
demonstrate how Babylonian influence penetrated the ancient world and
has even left some trace upon modern civilization. It is a fact,
though one perhaps not generally realized, that the twelve divisions
on the dials of our clocks and watches have a Babylonian, and
ultimately a Sumerian, ancestry. For why is it we divide the day into
twenty-four hours? We have a decimal system of reckoning, we count by
tens; why then should we divide the day and night into twelve hours
each, instead of into ten or some multiple of ten? The reason is that
the Babylonians divided the day into twelve double-hours; and the
Greeks took over their ancient system of time-division along with
their knowledge of astronomy and passed it on to us. So if we
ourselves, after more than two thousand years, are making use of an
old custom from Babylon, it would not be surprising if the Hebrews, a
contemporary race, should have fallen under her influence even before
they were carried away as captives and settled forcibly upon her

We may pass on, then, to the site from which our new material has been
obtained–the ancient city of Nippur, in central Babylonia. Though the
place has been deserted for at least nine hundred years, its ancient
name still lingers on in local tradition, and to this day /Niffer/ or
/Nuffar/ is the name the Arabs give the mounds which cover its
extensive ruins. No modern town or village has been built upon them or
in their immediate neighbourhood. The nearest considerable town is
Dîwânîyah, on the left bank of the Hillah branch of the Euphrates,
twenty miles to the south-west; but some four miles to the south of
the ruins is the village of Sûq el-`Afej, on the eastern edge of the
`Afej marshes, which begin to the south of Nippur and stretch away
westward. Protected by its swamps, the region contains a few primitive
settlements of the wild `Afej tribesmen, each a group of reed-huts
clustering around the mud fort of its ruling sheikh. Their chief
enemies are the Shammâr, who dispute with them possession of the
pastures. In summer the marshes near the mounds are merely pools of
water connected by channels through the reed-beds, but in spring the
flood-water converts them into a vast lagoon, and all that meets the
eye are a few small hamlets built on rising knolls above the water-
level. Thus Nippur may be almost isolated during the floods, but the
mounds are protected from the waters’ encroachment by an outer ring of
former habitation which has slightly raised the level of the
encircling area. The ruins of the city stand from thirty to seventy
feet above the plain, and in the north-eastern corner there rose,
before the excavations, a conical mound, known by the Arabs as /Bint
el-Emîr/ or “The Princess”. This prominent landmark represents the
temple-tower of Enlil’s famous sanctuary, and even after excavation it
is still the first object that the approaching traveller sees on the
horizon. When he has climbed its summit he enjoys an uninterrupted
view over desert and swamp.

The cause of Nippur’s present desolation is to be traced to the change
in the bed of the Euphrates, which now lies far to the west. But in
antiquity the stream flowed through the centre of the city, along the
dry bed of the Shatt en-Nîl, which divides the mounds into an eastern
and a western group. The latter covers the remains of the city proper
and was occupied in part by the great business-houses and bazaars.
Here more than thirty thousand contracts and accounts, dating from the
fourth millennium to the fifth century B.C., were found in houses
along the former river-bank. In the eastern half of the city was
Enlil’s great temple Ekur, with its temple-tower Imkharsag rising in
successive stages beside it. The huge temple-enclosure contained not
only the sacrificial shrines, but also the priests’ apartments, store-
chambers, and temple-magazines. Outside its enclosing wall, to the
south-west, a large triangular mound, christened “Tablet Hill” by the
excavators, yielded a further supply of records. In addition to
business-documents of the First Dynasty of Babylon and of the later
Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian periods, between two and three
thousand literary texts and fragments were discovered here, many of
them dating from the Sumerian period. And it is possible that some of
the early literary texts that have been published were obtained in
other parts of the city.

No less than twenty-one different strata, representing separate
periods of occupation, have been noted by the American excavators at
various levels within the Nippur mounds,[1] the earliest descending to
virgin soil some twenty feet below the present level of the
surrounding plain. The remote date of Nippur’s foundation as a city
and cult-centre is attested by the fact that the pavement laid by
Narâm-Sin in the south-eastern temple-court lies thirty feet above
virgin soil, while only thirty-six feet of superimposed /débris/
represent the succeeding millennia of occupation down to Sassanian and
early Arab times. In the period of the Hebrew captivity the city still
ranked as a great commercial market and as one of the most sacred
repositories of Babylonian religious tradition. We know that not far
off was Tel-abib, the seat of one of the colonies of Jewish exiles,
for that lay “by the river of Chebar”,[2] which we may identify with
the Kabaru Canal in Nippur’s immediate neighbourhood. It was “among
the captives by the river Chebar” that Ezekiel lived and prophesied,
and it was on Chebar’s banks that he saw his first vision of the
Cherubim.[3] He and other of the Jewish exiles may perhaps have
mingled with the motley crowd that once thronged the streets of
Nippur, and they may often have gazed on the huge temple-tower which
rose above the city’s flat roofs. We know that the later population of
Nippur itself included a considerable Jewish element, for the upper
strata of the mounds have yielded numerous clay bowls with Hebrew,
Mandaean, and Syriac magical inscriptions;[4] and not the least
interesting of the objects recovered was the wooden box of a Jewish
scribe, containing his pen and ink-vessel and a little scrap of
crumbling parchment inscribed with a few Hebrew characters.[5] [1] See Hilprecht, /Explorations in Bible Lands/, pp. 289 ff., 540
ff.; and Fisher, /Excavations at Nippur/, Pt. I (1905), Pt. II

[2] Ezek. iii. 15.

[3] Ezek. i. 1, 3; iii. 23; and cf. x. 15, 20, 22, and xliii. 3.

[4] See J. A. Montgomery, /Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur/,

[5] Hilprecht, /Explorations/, p. 555 f.

Of the many thousands of inscribed clay tablets which were found in
the course of the expeditions, some were kept at Constantinople, while
others were presented by the Sultan Abdul Hamid to the excavators, who
had them conveyed to America. Since that time a large number have been
published. The work was necessarily slow, for many of the texts were
found to be in an extremely bad state of preservation. So it happened
that a great number of the boxes containing tablets remained until
recently still packed up in the store-rooms of the Pennsylvania
Museum. But under the present energetic Director of the Museum, Dr. G.
B. Gordon, the process of arranging and publishing the mass of
literary material has been “speeded up”. A staff of skilled workmen
has been employed on the laborious task of cleaning the broken tablets
and fitting the fragments together. At the same time the help of
several Assyriologists was welcomed in the further task of running
over and sorting the collections as they were prepared for study.
Professor Clay, Professor Barton, Dr. Langdon, Dr. Edward Chiera, and
Dr. Arno Poebel have all participated in the work. But the lion’s
share has fallen to the last-named scholar, who was given leave of
absence by John Hopkins University in order to take up a temporary
appointment at the Pennsylvania Museum. The result of his labours was
published by the Museum at the end of 1914.[1] The texts thus made
available for study are of very varied interest. A great body of them
are grammatical and represent compilations made by Semitic scribes of
the period of Hammurabi’s dynasty for their study of the old Sumerian
tongue. Containing, as most of them do, Semitic renderings of the
Sumerian words and expressions collected, they are as great a help to
us in our study of Sumerian language as they were to their compilers;
in particular they have thrown much new light on the paradigms of the
demonstrative and personal pronouns and on Sumerian verbal forms. But
literary texts are also included in the recent publications.

[1] Poebel, /Historical Texts/ and /Historical and Grammatical Texts/
(Univ. of Penns. Mus. Publ., Bab. Sect., Vol. IV, No. 1, and Vol.
V), Philadelphia, 1914.

When the Pennsylvania Museum sent out its first expedition, lively
hopes were entertained that the site selected would yield material of
interest from the biblical standpoint. The city of Nippur, as we have
seen, was one of the most sacred and most ancient religious centres in
the country, and Enlil, its city-god, was the head of the Babylonian
pantheon. On such a site it seemed likely that we might find versions
of the Babylonian legends which were current at the dawn of history
before the city of Babylonia and its Semitic inhabitants came upon the
scene. This expectation has proved to be not unfounded, for the
literary texts include the Sumerian Deluge Version and Creation myth
to which I referred at the beginning of the lecture. Other texts of
almost equal interest consist of early though fragmentary lists of
historical and semi-mythical rulers. They prove that Berossus and the
later Babylonians depended on material of quite early origin in
compiling their dynasties of semi-mythical kings. In them we obtain a
glimpse of ages more remote than any on which excavation in Babylonia
has yet thrown light, and for the first time we have recovered genuine
native tradition of early date with regard to the cradle of Babylonian
culture. Before we approach the Sumerian legends themselves, it will
be as well to-day to trace back in this tradition the gradual merging
of history into legend and myth, comparing at the same time the
ancient Egyptian’s picture of his own remote past. We will also
ascertain whether any new light is thrown by our inquiry upon Hebrew
traditions concerning the earliest history of the human race and the
origins of civilization.

In the study of both Egyptian and Babylonian chronology there has been
a tendency of late years to reduce the very early dates that were
formerly in fashion. But in Egypt, while the dynasties of Manetho have
been telescoped in places, excavation has thrown light on predynastic
periods, and we can now trace the history of culture in the Nile
Valley back, through an unbroken sequence, to its neolithic stage.
Quite recently, too, as I mentioned just now, a fresh literary record
of these early predynastic periods has been recovered, on a fragment
of the famous Palermo Stele, our most valuable monument for early
Egyptian history and chronology. Egypt presents a striking contrast to
Babylonia in the comparatively small number of written records which
have survived for the reconstruction of her history. We might well
spare much of her religious literature, enshrined in endless temple-
inscriptions and papyri, if we could but exchange it for some of the
royal annals of Egyptian Pharaohs. That historical records of this
character were compiled by the Egyptian scribes, and that they were as
detailed and precise in their information as those we have recovered
from Assyrian sources, is clear from the few extracts from the annals
of Thothmes III’s wars which are engraved on the walls of the temple
at Karnak.[1] As in Babylonia and Assyria, such records must have
formed the foundation on which summaries of chronicles of past
Egyptian history were based. In the Palermo Stele it is recognized
that we possess a primitive chronicle of this character.

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