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- The Babylonian Story of the Deluge - 1/8 -


Produced by Jeroen Hellingman

The Babylonian Story of the Deluge as Told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh.

By E. A. Wallis Budge.

The Discovery of the Tablets at Nineveh by Layard, Rassam and Smith.

In 1845-47 and again in 1849-51 Mr. (later Sir) A. H. Layard carried out a series of excavations among the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh, "that great city, wherein are more than sixteen thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and also much cattle" (Jonah iv, II). Its ruins lie on the left or east bank of the Tigris, exactly opposite the town of Al-Mawsil, or Msul, which was founded by the Sassanians and marks the site of Western Nineveh. At first Layard thought that these ruins were not those of Nineveh, which he placed at Nimrd, about 20 miles downstream, but of one of the other cities that were builded by Asshur (see Gen. x, 11, 12). Thanks, however, to Christian, Roman and Muhammadan tradition, there is no room for doubt about it, and the site of Nineveh has always been known. The fortress which the Arabs built there in the seventh century was known as "Kal'at-Nnaw, i.e., "Nineveh Castle," for many centuries, and all the Arab geographers agree in saying that tile mounds opposite Msul contain the ruins of the palaces and walls of Nineveh. And few of them fail to mention that close by them is "Tall Nabi Ynis," i.e., the Hill from which the Prophet Jonah preached repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh, that "exceeding great city of three days' journey" (Jonah iii, 3). Local tradition also declares that the prophet was buried in the Hill, and his supposed tomb is shown there to this day.

The Walls and Palaces of Nineveh.

The situation of the ruins of the palaces of Nineveh is well shown by the accompanying reproduction of the plan of the city made by Commander Felix Jones, I.N. The remains of the older palaces built by Sargon II (B.C. 721-705), Sennacherib (B.C. 705-681), and Esarhaddon (B.C. 681-668) lie under the hill called Nabi Ynis, and those of the palaces and other buildings of Ashur-bani-pal (B.C. 681-626) under the mound which is known locally as "Tall al-'Armshyah," i.e., "The Hill of 'Armsh," and "Kuynjik." The latter name is said to be derived from two Turkish words meaning "many sheep," in allusion to the large flocks of sheep that find their pasture on and about the mound in the early spring. These two great mounds lie close to the remains of the great west wall of Nineveh, which in the time of the last Assyrian Empire was washed by the waters of the river Tigris. At some unknown period the course of the river changed, and it is now more than a mile distant from the city wall. The river Khausur, or Khoser, divides the area of Nineveh into two parts, and passing close to the southern end of Kuynjik empties itself into the Tigris. The ruins of the wails of Nineveh show that the east wall was 16,000 feet long, the north wall 7,000 feet long, the west wall 13,600 feet, and the south wall 3,000 feet; its circuit was about 13,200 yards or 7 1/2 miles.

Discovery of the Library of the Temple of Nebo at Nineveh.

In the spring of 1852 Layard, assisted by H. Rassam, continued the excavation of the "South West Palace" at Kuynjik. In one part of the building he found two small chambers, opening into each other, which he called the "chamber of records," or "the house of the rolls." He gave them this name because "to the height of a foot or more from the floor they were entirely filled" with inscribed baked clay tablets and fragments of tablets. Some tablets were complete, but by far the larger number of them had been broken up into many fragments, probably by the falling in of the roof and upper parts of the walls of the buildings when the city was pillaged and set on fire by the Medes and Babylonians. The tablets that were kept in these chambers numbered many thousands. Besides those that were found in them by Layard, large numbers have been dug out all along the corridor which passed the chambers and led to the river, and a considerable number were kicked on to the river front by the feet of the terrified fugitives from the palace when it was set on fire. The tablets found by Layard were of different sizes; the largest were rectangular, flat on one side and convex on the other, and measured about 9 ins. by 6 1/2 ins., and the smallest were about an inch square. The importance of this "find" was not sufficiently recognized at the time, for the tablets, which were thought to be decorated pottery, were thrown into baskets and sent down the river loose on rafts to Basrah, whence they were despatched to England on a British man o' war. During their transport from Nineveh to England they suffered more damage from want of packing than they had suffered from the wrath of the Medes. Among the complete tablets that were found in the two chambers several had colophons inscribed or scratched upon them, and when these were deciphered by Rawlinson, Hincks and Oppert a few years later, it became evident that they had formed part of the library of the Temple of Nebo at Nineveh.

Nebo and His Library at Nineveh.

Nothing is known of the early history of the Library [1] of the Temple of Nebo at Nineveh. There is little doubt that it was in existence in the reign of Sargon II, and it was probably founded at the instance of the priests of Nebo who were settled at Nimrd (the Calah of Gen. X, 11), about 20 miles downstream of Nineveh. Authorities differ in their estimate of the attributes that were assigned to Nebo ( Nabu) in Pre-Babylonian times, and cannot decide whether he was a water-god, or a fire-god, or a corn-god, but he was undoubtedly associated with Marduk, either as his son or as a fellow-god. It is certain that as early as B.C. 2000 he was regarded as one of the "Great Gods" of Babylonia, and about 1,200 years later his cult was general in Assyria. He had a temple at Nimrd in the ninth century B.C., and King Adad-Nirari (B.C. 811-783) set up six statues in it to the honour of the god; two of these statues are now in the British Museum. Under the last Assyrian Empire he was believed to possess the wisdom of all the gods, and to be the "All-wise" and "All-knowing." He was the inventor of all the arts and sciences, and the source of inspiration in wise and learned men, and he was the divine scribe and past master of all the mysteries connected with literature and the art of writing (, duppu sharrute). Ashur-bani-pal addresses him as "Nebo, the beneficent son, the director of the hosts of heaven and of earth, holder of the tablet of knowledge, bearer of the writing-reed of destiny, lengthener of days, vivifier of the dead, stablisher of light for the men who are troubled" (see tablet R.M. 132) In the reign of Sargon II the temple library of Nebo was probably housed in some building at or near Nabi Ynis, or, as George Smith thought, near Kuynjik, or at Kuynjik itself. As Layard found the remains of Nebo's Library in the South West Palace, it is probable that Ashur-bani-pal built a new temple to Nebo there and had the library transferred to it. Nebo's temple at Nineveh bore the same name as his very ancient temple at Borsippa (the modern Birs-i-Nimrd), viz., "E-Zida."

Discovery of the Palace Library of Ashur-bani-pal.

In the spring of 1852 Layard was obliged to close his excavations for want of funds, and he returned to England with Rassam, leaving all the northern half of the great mound of Kuynjik unexcavated. He resigned his position as Director of Excavations to the Trustees of the British Museum, and Colonel (later Sir) H. C. Rawlinson, Consul-General of Baghdd, undertook to direct any further excavations that might be possible to carry out later on. During the summer the Trustees received a further grant from Parliament for excavations in Assyria, and they dispatched Rassam to finish the exploration of Kuynjik, knowing that the lease of the mound of Kuynjik for excavation purposes which he had obtained from its owner had several years to run. When Rassam arrived at Msul in 1853, and was collecting his men for work, he discovered that Rawlinson, who knew nothing about the lease of the mound which Rassam held, had given the French Consul, M. Place, permission to excavate the northern half of the mound, i.e., that part of it which he was most anxious to excavate for the British Museum. He protested, but in vain, and, finding that M. Place intended to hold Rawlinson to his word, devoted himself to clearing out part of the South West Palace which Layard had attacked in 1852. Meanwhile M. Place was busily occupied with the French excavations at Khorsabad, a mound which contained the ruins of the great palace of Sargon II, and had no time to open up excavations at Kuynjik. In this way a year passed, and as M. Place made no sign that he was going to excavate at Kuynjik and Rassam's time for returning to England was drawing near, the owner of the mound, who was anxious to get the excavations finished so that he might again graze his flocks on the mound, urged Rassam to get to work in spite of Rawlinson's agreement with M. Place. He and Rassam made arrangements to excavate the northern part of the mound clandestinely and by night, and on 20th December, 1853, the work began. On the first night nothing of importance was found; on the second night the men uncovered a portion of a large bas-relief; and on the third night a huge mass of earth collapsed revealing a very fine bas-relief, sculptured with a scene representing Ashur-bani-pal standing in his chariot. The news of the discovery was quickly carried to all parts of the neighbourhood, and as it was impossible to keep the diggings secret any longer, the work was continued openly and by day. The last-mentioned bas-relief was one of the series that lined the chamber, which was 50 feet long and 15 feet wide, and illustrated a royal lion hunt. [2] This series, that is to say, all of it that the fire which destroyed the palace had spared, is now in the British Museum (see the Gallery of the Assyrian Saloon).

Whilst the workmen were clearing out the Chamber of the Lion Hunt they came across several heaps of inscribed baked clay tablets of "all shapes and sizes," which resembled in general appearance the tablets that Layard had found in the South West Palace the year before. There were no remains with them, or near them, that suggested they had been arranged systematically and stored in the Chamber of the Lion Hunt, and it seems as if they had been brought there from another place and thrown down hastily, for nearly all of them were broken into small pieces. As some of them bore traces of having been exposed to great heat they must have been in that chamber during the burning of the palace. When the tablets were brought to England and were examined by Rawlinson, it was found from the information supplied by the colophons that they formed a part of the great Private Library of Ashur-bani-pal, which that king kept in his palace. The tablets found by Layard in 1852 and by Rassam in 1853 form the unique and magnificent collection of cuneiform tablets in the British Museum, which is now commonly known as the "Kuynjik Collection." The approximate number of the inscribed baked clay tablets and fragments that have come from Kuynjik and are now in the British Museum is 25,073. It is impossible to over-estimate their importance and value from religious, historical and literary points of view; besides this, they have supplied the material for the


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