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documents were discovered which were compared with the primeval narratives of the Book of Genesis ; especially that relating the story of the Flood, translated and published by George Smith, in 1872. The principal points of comparison between the cuneiform inscriptions and the Bible found up to a certain date, have been collected by Professor Schrader in his work on “ The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament,” afterwards translated into English.
But Assyriology is a progressive science. Not only does the material already brought to light require the study of many years before its philological and historical difficulties can be mastered; but there is also a constant addition of new material, the result of fresh excavations on the ancient sites of Mesopotamia and Chaldæa. During the last few years the Americans and Germans have been conducting researches among the mounds that mark the place of former cities, but the difficulties placed in the way are so great that it is only occasionally that success has attended these efforts.
If only the numerous ruins of Assyria and Babylonia could be fully and systematically laid bare, a work of enormous labour and expense, requiring the co-operation of the Turkish Government, it is certain that the result would richly repay the undertaking, in spite of the destruction that has been wrought upon the ancient monuments by the natives. Even now the mounds of Nineveh, after the labours of Sir H. Layard and Mr. Rassam, which produced such marvellous fruit, must conceal immense treasures ; while the ruins of Babylon can only have yielded a very small part of their hidden wealth. Besides the capitals, there were formerly flourishing cities scattered over the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, and still represented by the numerous artificial hills that dot the plains and await excavation.
In consequence of the constant accessions to our knowledge which follow the arrival of new materials and the interpretation of materials already acquired, every decade and even every year must throw new light, if only a few dim rays, on some corner of the vast field of Biblical research. Thus, during the last ten years the study of the monuments discovered by M. de Sarzec have already taught us something about the earliest civilization of the district from whence Abraham, according to the Book of Genesis, migrated to the land of Canaan : about the state of the arts, and incidentally about the religious and political condition of that region at a very remote period. The subsequent excavations of M. Dieulafoy have added much to our knowledge of the architecture of the Achæmenian period in Persia, and of the minor arts which accompany that principal branch of art; at the same time the reconstruction, which is now possible, of the dwelling of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, the remains of which have been laid bare by the French expedition, illustrates those passages
in the Bible which refer to “ Shushan the palace,” and is of much general interest on that account. But the principal discovery of the last few years
has undoubtedly been that of the Tell el-Amarna tablets. These documents create a new chapter of history; they
tell us for the first time what was the condition of Syria during the period immediately preceding the Exodus of the Israelites, when the Canaanite was still in the land; for the indications derived from Egyptian sources were too scanty to afford a clear idea of the state of Western Asia under the supremacy of the Pharaohs.
Professor Sayce was the first to detect the name of Jerusalem on one of the Tell el-Amarna tablets, which were subsequently found to include half a dozen letters, written by the representative of the Egyptian power in that city to his suzerain. According to Josephus, Jerusalem was founded, in the year B.C. 2107, by Melchisedech, whom the historian calls a
prince of the Canaanites ; ” but without accepting this date, we may be sure that when the kings of the eighteenth dynasty added Jerusalem to the list of tributary towns, she must already have been for several centuries in existence. Nevertheless, this was still the period of the childhood of Jerusalem, alluded to by the prophet Ezekiel, who reminds the city of her early history : “ Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite."
According to the letters found at Tell el-Amarna, the Hittites and the Amorites were still in possession of the country around Jerusalem, although they were, from time to time reduced by their powerful neighbours from the Nile into a state of partial submission, and obliged to pay tribute to the Pharaoh.
It is evident, from the documents of which we are speaking, that even the payment of tribute and the recognition of the supremacy of Egypt was not long endured without resistance by the turbulent tribes of Canaan. The yoke placed upon their necks by the earlier kings of the eighteenth dynasty seems to have been thrown off under the later monarchs of the same line; and the way was made ready for the conquest of the Israelites, who found no power able to restrain their march through the country, and no mighty suzerain to whom appeal could be made for help by the vanquished inhabitants. Even the letters from Tell elAmarna show us that such appeals were made in vain, under similar circumstances, to Amenophis IV., and that in his reign the Hittites and other tribes overran the Egyptian possessions without much resistance.
The letters from various princes of Western Asia found at Tell el-Amarna disclose a state of advanced civilization in that region, and show the great wealth and luxury of the Courts at that early period. The art of working in metals, in particular, appears already to have arrived at a high degree of perfection. The commercial intercourse of the kingdoms of Western Asia with one another, and with the valley of the Nile, is proved to have reached a state of much activity. We hear of the merchants of the King of Babylon, who frequently passed through the land of Canaan on their way to Egypt, just as the merchants of Solomon carried on their traffic with the neighbouring centres of trade. After this there is no reason to be surprised when we find proofs of trade between Babylon and Canaan at the time of the Israelitish invasion : the Babylonish garment, dipped in the scarlet dye for which the land of Shinar was famous, had been sold at Jericho by a merchant from the Euphrates, passing through the land as his fellows had done for many years—perhaps ever since the conquests of Thothmes I. had begun to bring the Egyptian kings into close relations with the regions of Mesopotamia.
Babylon was, throughout her history, a great commercial centre. She was, as Ezekiel says, a city of merchants, situated in a land of traffic. In the Tell elAmarna tablets we see her exchanging her wares with the Egyptians in return for the gold which the mines of Eastern Africa poured into the valley of the Nile, until it became “like dust” in that region, and was sought for from thence by all the most civilised monarchs of the time.
The geographical results of the Tell el-Amarna tablets are already important. We acquire information from them concerning many cities and countries, well known in later times, but of which the period to which our documents belong had hitherto yielded no memorial. Further study will, perhaps, lead to the identification of some names which occur here, but which are not yet certainly connected with names known to us from other sources. Such is the land of Mitâni, a powerful and highly cultivated State, the king of which writes on terms of equality to the Pharaoh, who on his side shows his friendship by allying himself