The Scriptural Museum —

Inaugural Lecture by Sir H. Rawlinson.

Notes of the Month.

Bible Treasury, 2nd Edition, Volume 1, March 1857.

(1st. Edition, February [01 1857 149])

[01 1857 161]

The lectures of this new Museum were opened on the evening of January 8th, by the well known Oriental explorer. On the platform were a model of Nebuchadnezzar's temple, and a slab inscribed with cuneiform characters. The Subject was — "Recent Oriental discoveries in relation to the Bible." Sir H. Rawlinson began by urging the great value of the visible and tangible illustrations of scripture history, which recent researches had brought to light.

For 2000 years the Bible had rested chiefly on internal evidence, and that evidence was, indeed, sufficient for all earnest and truth-seeking people. But there were others who would not be at the pains to examine internal evidence, and to them these extraneous corroborations of Biblical statements might speak powerfully. The cuneiform inscriptions, the key to deciphering which had only been discovered within the last twenty years, had brought to light a great variety of Assyrian and Babylonian historic records, running contemporaneously with scripture narrative, and affording innumerable points of contact; and wherever such contact occurred, there was always found to be a coincidence between the two, showing incontestably the genuineness and authenticity of scripture. Coming to details, he adduced proofs of correspondence between the statements of the inspired volume and the deductions from monumental inscriptions in several leading particulars, under the heads of ethnology, mythology, geography, and history. The earliest period, to which the inscriptions on the cylinders and tablets he had found positively referred, was about 2000 years before Christ, though there were some indications of the time before the Flood. Thus, Babylonia, to which the early portion of scripture history refers, was called the country of the four rivers, and those rivers he believed to signify the Tigris and Euphrates, with their two principal branches. The whole country of Assyria had been excavated in the course of his researches, and cylinders, tablets, and prisms had been extracted from the ruins of the ancient temples, filled with inscriptions, which had now been deciphered; and in many instances, they served not only to verify scripture, but to throw light upon and explain passages which had hitherto been obscure. It appeared from these inscriptions, that, in the earliest time, a colony had been led by Nimrod from Egypt into Mesopotamia. [?] Nimrod was a Cushite, and belonged to the family of Ham. He was afterwards worshipped as a divinity, by the name of Nergal, (2 Kings 17:30,) whose attributes were equivalent to those of Mars. The inscriptions enabled Sir H. to explain the meaning of many names of early scripture history, all of which were significant. Thus, Shem, Ham, and Japheth signified the parts of the country they inhabited. The meaning of Ham was the right hand, indicating that he lived in Arabia; Shem signified the left, or Assyria; and Japbeth was the intermediate country. The names of Europe and Asia are purely Babylonian, meaning the setting and the rising of the sun, which names were afterwards adopted by the Greeks. The name Shinar was really a Hammite name of the country; and after the people of Nimrod had been driven into the mountains they took the name of Shinar with them. Sir H. said that the descendants of Ham were in the habit of counting by sixties. They divided day and night into sixty hours instead of twenty-four hours . . . . . . It is a remarkable fact, he observed, that the Indians also reckoned by sixties, which indicated a connection between the Chaldees and Indians of which there are no records. The inscriptions throw light on the meaning of the names of the gods of Babylon, and show, by the functions assigned to their gods, their representatives in the mythology of the Greeks and Romans. The names of the gods sometimes signified sentences, of which the first syllable was the name, the second was the verb, and the third the object.

The inscriptions, he said, present a complete tableau of ancient Assyria, by which the name and situation of every town of note mentioned in the Bible can be identified. Sir Henry addressed himself specially to the historical coincidences extending over a period of 2000 years. He had found the record of a king corresponding with the Chedorlaomer of Gen. 14, 1900 years B.C., and who was described by the epithet "the ravager of Syria." For about 1000 years after this there was no point of contact between profane and sacred history, but this Sir Henry accounted for from the circumstance that, during that period, there was no inducement for intercourse between the Assyrians and the Jews. The circumstances disclosed relating to the mode of government of Northern Arabia verified the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, for it appeared that that country was ruled by queens, and not by kings. One of the most interesting periods in relation to which coincidences had been discovered related to that of Sennacherib and Hezekiah. The explorations had brought to light the annals of Sennacherib, written by himself, or by his direction, occupying 800 lines; and the account they gave of his first campaign, when he was pacified by a tribute, corresponded in the most striking manner with 2 Kings 18. To illustrate this Sir Henry read passages from the chapter, and then from the annals, showing minute correspondences in the names of places, especially Lachish, the amount of tribute received from the Jewish king, "three hundred talents of silver and thirty pieces of gold" (ver. 14), and so forth. It appeared from this inscription, however, that upwards of 200,000 Jews were taken into captivity by Sennacherib after that first campaign, and Sir Henry Rawlinson expressed the opinion that there were four distinct captivities of the Jews. There occurs in Sennacherib's account of his wars with Hezekiah, the remarkable passage, "Then I prayed to God," which is the only instance in the whole of the inscriptions in which the Deity is mentioned without some heathen adjunct. One of the latest excavations brought to light inscriptions referring to the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It was made in the ruins of the Tower of Nimrod, which was supposed by some to be the Tower of Babel. These cylinders, besides other interesting records, threw light on a point regarding Belshazzar which had hitherto appeared obscure, for no such name occurs in any ancient history but that of the Bible. It appeared, however, that Belshazzar was joint king with his father Minus, and that he shut himself in Babylon, whilst the other king, his father, took refuge elsewhere. Profane historians have not mentioned Belshazzar, because he was considered subordinate to his father. Sir Henry, having mentioned other numerous facts, concluded by a renewed expression of his sense of the importance of these discoveries, viewed more especially as a practical refutation of the mythical theories of German Neologians. We had by this means evidence at once visible and convincing to verify the statements of holy writ, and it was not the language of pride or boasting to say that he felt great satisfaction in being, with others, an humble instrument under God in strengthening the authority of His word, so far as external evidence could go.


At the recent Meeting of the Asiatic Society, Sir H. Rawlinson exhibited twenty-four sheets of cuneiform inscriptions, as part of a great work he was editing for the British Museum. The legend belonged to Tiglath-Pileser, and dated from the twelfth century (B.C.), referring to a restored temple in the city, carrying back the Chaldean Chronology to the eighteenth century (B.C.), together with an enumeration of the four immediate ancestors of the king, and a record of his conquest of Egypt and of the submission of the Chismonians, who inhabited Phoenicia before the Semitic colonisation of the country. The second inscription, it was stated, would contain the annals of the great Sardanapalus, recovered from the temple of Hercules on the great mound of Nimrud, which is now known to represent the Calneh of the Bible. The third inscription exhibited was a copy of the famous cylinder or hexagonal prism of Sennacherib, found at Nineveh, and now deposited in the British Museum. He gave it as his opinion that there was as much accuracy in his system of interpretation as in that by which Latin and Greek texts were read.