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the very existence of which was unknown to man for two thousand years and more, are now forced to reveal their story of the religion, politics, science, and life of not a few of the ancient and forgotten peoples.
These researches have resulted in astounding reve. lations. Israel, instead of being one of the foremost nations of antiquity, is now found to have been a small power which had thrived in the late pre-Christian centuries, and had occupied a comparatively insignificant position among the great nations of its age. Instead of the patriarch Abraham belonging to the beginning of time, it is now found that he occupies a middle chapter in the history of mankind.
But, above all else, one of the greatest surprises is that the earliest peoples, instead of being barbarous or uncultured, were civilized and possessed a culture of a high order. In fact, the greatest creations of the Babylonians in literature and art belong to the third and fourth, and perhaps earlier, millenniums before Christ.
Political and religious institutions were already ancient in the days of the patriarchs. What may be regarded as primitive is found, but it points to a still
а greater antiquity than the earliest periods now known.
IMPERISHABLE RECORDS Not only did the builders use brick instead of stone at Babel, but they also used clay for their writing material. Annual inundations deposited sand and clay of a fine quality in the valley, which was used for this purpose. The well-kneaded, but unbaked, inscription, lying perchance beneath the disintegrated abodes of the ruined building, though yearly and for millenniums saturated thoroughly by the winter rains or inundations, when carefully extracted from its resting place of from two to six thousand years and allowed to dry, often appears as if it had been written yesterday. The original plasticity or adhesiveness of the sun-dried tablets returns, and if properly preserved, will last indefinitely. The baked tablets, as would be naturally expected, on the whole are better preserved.
The well-kneaded clay, which had been washed to free it from grit and sand, while in a plastic condition was shaped into the form and size desired. As the style of the paper used at the present time is frequently an indication of the character of the writing, the same is true, in a general way, of an ancient Babylonian clay tablet or cylinder. In most instances the trained Assyriologist at a glance can determine the character, in a general way, of an inscription by its shape or appearance.
The stylus, which was made of metal or wood, was a very simple affair. In the earlier periods it was triangular and in the later it was quadrangular. By holding it beneath the hand between the thumb and second finger, with the index finger on top, and pressing the corner of it into the soft clay, the impression will be that of a wedge; hence the term cuneiform (from the Latin cuneus) writing.
The cuneiform script, written upon clay, was employed by many different peoples of western Asia.
EARLIEST KNOWN RECORDS
The date of the earliest known inscription is still undetermined. The chronology prior to 2400 B. C. is still in a chaotic state, and yet the recent discovery of a tablet giving several new dynasties, besides many other facts which have been ascertained, offer sufficient indications of a much greater antiquity for the earliest known inscriptions than have been credited them.
The illustration of the Hoffman tablet, in the General Theological Seminary, New York City, shows one of the few known archaic inscriptions. To assign it the date 5000 B. C. would be a modest reckoning. And yet the characters are so far removed from the original pictures that in most instances it is only by the help of the values they possess that the original pictures can be surmised. This tablet, tentatively translated by Professor Barton, of Bryn Mawr, reads as follows:
“3005 Bur of a field of clay in Ushu, of the land of the setting sun, belonging to the priest of Sallatur; 36050 cubits on its Akkadward side, the lower from the beginning; 36050 cubits running along the breadth of the ziggurrat of Shamash, the brilliant lady; 36000 cubits to the temple of Shamash, the messenger of Ab, the brilliant; 36050 cubits on the side of the mountain, the abode of Shukura, the pa-azag. May he give strength; may he bless."
BRONZE AND STONE INSCRIPTIONS While in all known periods clay was the writing material, important royal documents, votive and historical inscriptions, etc., are found on stone, and in some instances on bronze. In cutting such inscriptions the scribe imitated the characters made in clay with the stylus.
Not unlike other scripts, the cuneiform was originally pictorial; but, as in Egypt, the hieroglyphs became more and more simplified and conventionalized.
But, unlike the Egyptians, the Babylonian or Sumerian became conventionalized at a time prior to the known history of the land, and the hieroglyphs were not continued in use even for monumental purposes, but were practically lost sight of.
There are known over six hundred signs. Each of these has syllabic and ideographic values from one to more than a hundred. Combination of two and three signs have ideographic values, so that there are known at present twenty thousand values for the six hundred signs. Besides the characters are different in every age, due chiefly to the process of simplification that went on continually.
Practically every man of any standing in ancient Babylonia had a seal cylinder or seal, the impression
of which upon the document or letter served the purpose of his signature. Thousands of these have been found, cut out of all kinds of hard stones, which had been imported from distant lands, for Babylonia is an alluvial plane.
As a substitute for a seal the individual could make his thumb-nail mark upon the soft clay, or impress upon it a portion of his ziziktu, which was a cord attached to an undergarment. This, in all probability, is to be identified with the zizith mentioned in the Old Testament (Num. 15:38, 39), and even at the present time worn by orthodox Hebrews.
BABYLONIAN “STENOGRAPHERS In all periods scribes are very numerous. This is inferred from the fact that in some periods almost every document is found to have been written by a different scribe. In the Assyrian period women are known to have belonged to this profession. The scribes wrote the legal documents, as well as the private letters of individuals. They even placed the seal impression upon the legal document, in proximity to which they wrote the name of the person to whom it belonged, usually the obligor or the witness.
In the time of Hammurabi (about 2000 B. C.) there was at hand an officer called the Burgul, who was prepared to cut temporary seals upon a soft material for those who did not possess them. This is the custom in Oriental lands in the present day.
In Constantinople, for instance, the curbs of cer