|Vol. VII, No. 3
Sivan 5609, June 1849
Nineveh and its Remains, by Austin Henry Layard, esq., D. C. L., 2 vols. 8vo. New York, George P. Putnam, 1849. (Received from Carey & Hart.)—Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria! what emotions pass over the mind of the believer in Scripture, and the lover of research in ancient things, when contemplating the theme. To think, that upwards of two thousand years ago, before the conquest of Persia by Alexander, Nineveh was no more, and now to behold its ruins reopened, its sculptures exposed to view, and its remains transported first to India, and then to the shores of distant Albion, an island unknown when Assyria flourished, when Nineveh was alive with a multitude of men, with kings and conquerors dwelling in its palaces! See an adventurer coming from the west to contemplate the mounds which are the sepulchres of an ancient empire, and then, behold him removing with patient industry, directed by skill and science, the accumulated earth which form the tomb of former greatness. It is curious, it is marvelous, and nevertheless true, that the feat has been accomplished, and this by the adventurous, roving spirit, who feels himself at home amidst the Arab’s tents, and the worshippers of the spirit of evil, no less than among the mountaineers who profess the same faith with himself. It would please us much, could our magazine afford us space enough to comment on the contents of these two beautiful volumes, as they deserve. But, our readers are all as well aware, as we ourself, that a monthly periodical of so circumscribed a nature as ours, is not the proper vehicle for long reviews; so we must rest content with the usual <<165>> brief space which we can give to literary articles. Let it, however, not be imagined that the volumes before us, have only antiquarian value; far from it, they have an important bearing on Scripture and Scripture history, and they afford another evidence that where the contents of our blessed Bible are brought in comparison with historical events correctly ascertained, and where the ethnographic descriptions alluded to, are subjected to a searching investigation, the book of books is always triumphantly vindicated as true, in fact and theory. This must afford a consoling reflection to the tribes of the weary foot and distressed spirit, who have roamed, and wandered, and suffered all the evils which the conquered have to endure, merely, that they might preserve the legacy of truth, which they originally received from Abraham. It must console them, we say, that they always find, that they have not laboured for the preservation of a cunning falsehood, for an instrument of oppression and mental slavery; but, that they have toiled and suffered for what is true in itself, and priceless in its value.
We are apt to consider, that the expressions of the Bible, are figurative, when employing large numbers. For instance, when we are told that Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a city which was great before God, and three days’ journey in extent, we suppose that this could not be so; but, that the extent may have been large indeed, but hardly as large as here indicated. Now, however, the researches of Mr. Layard go to confirm the idea, that the dimensions in Jonah, are accurate, not supposititious. He says, in a note to vol. ii. p. 196—“From the northern extremity of Kouyunjik to Nimroud is about eighteen miles; the distance from Nimroud to Karamles, about twelve; the opposite sides of the square the same: these measurements correspond accurately with the elongated quadrangle of Diodorus. Twenty miles is a day’s journey of the East, and we have, consequently, the three days’ journey of Jonah, for the circumference of the city.”
If Mr. Layard had brought us no other illustration of Scripture, we should be gratified with this single fact; but he has, in his somewhat desultory narrative, added much more than he, perhaps, himself supposed, to elucidate the word of God. It will be perceived, that in his first chapter, he speaks of the accidental discovery, by Mr. Botta, the French consul at Mosul, some time in the year 1842 or ‘43, of the ruins at Khorsabad, a village to the north of Mosul. And, after saying, how he had been led thither, whilst excavating the mound at Kouyunjik, opposite Mosul, to Khorsabad, Mr. L. continues: “He directed a wider trench to be formed, and to be carried in the direction of the wall, (which had been discovered previously in sinking a well in the mound.) He soon found that he had opened a <<166>>chamber, which was connected with others, and constructed of slabs of gypsum, covered with sculptured representations of battles, sieges, and similar events. His wonder may be imagined, a new history had been suddenly opened to him—the records of an unknown people were before him. He was equally at a loss to account for the age and the nature of the monument. The art shown in the sculptures; the dresses of the figures; their arms and the objects accompanying them, were all new to him, and afforded no clue to the epoch of the erection of the edifice, and to the people who were its founders. Numerous inscriptions were cut between the bas-reliefs, and evidently contained the explanation of the events there recorded, in sculpture. They were in cuneiform, or, arrow-head character. The nature of these inscriptions afforded, at least, evidence that the building was of a period preceding the conquest of Alexander; for it was generally admitted, that after the subjugation of the west of Asia, by the Macedonians, the cuneiform writing ceased to be employed. But too little was then known of these characters, to enable Mr. Botta to draw any inference from the peculiar arrangement of the wedges, (the letters formed by the arrow-head or wedge,) which distinguished the varieties used in different countries. However, it was evident, that the monument appertained to a very ancient, and very civilized people; and it was natural from its position to refer it to the inhabitants of Nineveh, a city, which, although it could not have occupied a site so distant from the Tigris, must have been in the vicinity of the place. Mr. Botta had discovered an Assyrian edifice, the first, probably which had been exposed to the view of man, since the fall of the Assyrian empire.”
“Mr. Botta was not long in perceiving, that the building, which he had thus partly excavated, unfortunately owed its destruction to fire; and that the gypsum slabs, reduced to lime, were rapidly falling to pieces on exposure to the air. No precaution could arrest this rapid decay; and it was to be feared that this wonderful monument had only been uncovered to complete its ruin. The records of victories and triumphs, which had long attested the power, and swelled the pride of Assyrian kings, and had resisted the ravages of ages, were now passing away for ever. They could scarcely be held together until an inexperienced pencil could secure an imperfect evidence of their former existence. Almost all that was first discovered thus speedily disappeared; and the same fate has befallen nearly every thing subsequently found at Khorsabad. A regret is almost felt, that so precious a memorial of a great nation should have been thus exposed to destruction, when no precaution could keep entire and secure the greatest part of <<167>> it; but, as far as the object of the monument, is concerned, the intention of its founders will be amply fulfilled, and the records of their might, will be more widely spread, and more effectually preserved, by modern art, than the most exalted ambition could have contemplated.”
So far the account. Now however we may differ from the conclusion of Mr. L., that though the fabric of the Assyrian king crumbled into dust at its first exposure to the light of day, his ambition will be more gratified by the diffusion of his fame, through modern art, that is, always provided the inscriptions will be deciphered, which hitherto they have not been: there can be no doubt of the accomplishment of prophecy, and of prophecy verified by the discovery. We refer our readers to the prediction of Nahum respecting Nineveh, of which Khorsabad doubtless formed a portion or dependency. The prophet says, (iii. 13,) “Behold thy people, in the midst of thee, are women; unto thy enemies are opened the gates of thy land; fire hath devoured thy bars.” He next speaks of the manners of the Assyrians:—“Water for the siege draw unto thyself; fortify thy strongholds; tread the clay, stamp the mortar, lay hold of the brick-mould. There the fire shall devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off; it shall consume thee like the canker-worm. Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Asshur; thy mighty ones shall rest, thy people are scattered on the mountains, and there is none to gather them.” The fire, the prophet said, should reach the strongholds of the mighty kings of Assyria, the heroes should perish, the people be scattered; and the discoveries of the burnt remains, the calcified walls of Khorsabad, without one being able for centuries to decipher the inscriptions on the monuments, had they even been known to exist, prove how utter must have been the destruction, how overpowering the overthrow which befell the kingdom of Judah’s oppressors and Israel’s captors, the mighty monarchy of Assyria.
Mr. Layard has for his motto the 14th and 15th verses of the twenty-third of Ezekiel, which describe the images of Chaldeans drawn, or engraved on the walls of houses, as he found them actually represented in the ruins of the palaces discovered by him in the great mound at Nimroud, which, as we have said already, is undoubtedly the remains, the sepulchre rather, of ancient Nineveh. Mr. L. simply places on the title page the English version; but, in his second volume, page 239, note, he endeavours to give a new and better translation, and what is singular, he makes it almost identical with the translation of Hyman Arnheim, whose views are generally followed in our new version of the Pentateuch. The English version is:—“She saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldeans, portrayed in vermilion.<<168>> Girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity.”
Mr. Layard renders it:—“She saw men of sculptured (or painted) workmanship upon the wall, likenesses of the Chaldeans, pictured (or sculptured) in shashar; girded with girdles on their loins, with coloured flowing head-dresses upon their heads, with the aspect of princes all of them, the likeness of the sons of Babel-Chaldea, the land of their nativity.” Mr. Arnheim has it:—“She saw men painted on the wall, images of the Casdim, painted with vermilion,* girded with girdles on their loins, with hanging down turbans on their heads, all appearing as champions in chariots,† according to the likenesses of the sons of Babel-Casdim, the land of their birth.”
We say Mr. A.’s version is curious, because twelve years ago, when it was first written, no such pictures of Chaldean and Assyrian warriors, sculptured on the walls, dressed in the style described by Ezekiel, were then discovered, as far as known to us; and hence the deviation ventured by him on the usual version is not a little curious. That Mr. Layard should do it after seeing the very objects before his eyes is not very remarkable; and slight as may appear the improvement upon the English Bible, it is important, nevertheless, that a corrected version of the two verses before us should tally so much better with the actual discoveries lately made, besides reading so much more harmoniously than what so many think the perfection of harmony, that even Jews look with distrust upon any attempt by mien of their own nation to give them a new version of the word of God.
We find that we have already written a long article, suggested more by Mr. L.’s book than indicting a review thereof. But the purpose of our magazine is the elucidation of the Jewish religion, and whatever tends to that is our legitimate province. We do not deny ourself the anticipation of again recurring to the volumes before us more than once, if our space will permit us. But, in the mean time, we recommend them to the curious and intelligent, who want something more than light reading to fill up their leisure hours. We cannot say that we share all Mr. L’s. conclusions; but he has afforded us many hours of instruction already in going through the greater part of his volumes; and we are pleased to see by the papers of the day on which we write this, that he has been appointed an attaché to the British Embassy at Constantinople, <<169>> and that the British Museum have granted him a large sum to pursue his researches, which he left scarcely half finished. We may mention that figures of a colossal winged bull, with human heads; of a winged human-headed lion, with many sculptures in ivory, bas-reliefs and other curiosities, have already been gathered up by him and sent to the British Museum; and no doubt, should he be spared, he will enrich yet farther his country with astonishing remains of antiquity, to a greater extent than Mr. Botta has done for France. The monuments of Nineveh are to be, or have been engraved under the direction of the British Museum, and will therefore soon become accessible to the learned, who will thus have an opportunity of endeavouring to decipher the writing of a dead language, of which no other remains are left than are found in the monuments of Persia, Assyria, and Babylonia, of which those of Assyria are supposed to be the oldest by Mr. Layard.
We regret that we are not enough of an antiquary to value to the fullest extent the labours of Mr. L.; but this much we know, that he has opened a new vista into the history of a long-forgotten people, and one which had the most important bearing on the event of our own nation; and we shall with pleasure hail him again, should he give at a future day the fruits of his labour in the land which sheltered the first promoters of civilization, and where, perhaps, our progenitor Abraham taught his priceless view of the unity of God; though we differ from Mr. L. in supposing that Abraham was, perhaps, domesticated at Nineveh; because he is represented as having come from the other side of the river, which is always meant for Euphrates, and the Assyrian capital was on the east of the Tigris. Nevertheless, the same doctrines probably prevailed on both the east and west side of that river, and the fame of the great reformer, no doubt, spread over the land which then was a stranger to the worship of the true God.