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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 Môsul, 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 Nimrûd, 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-Nînawî, i.e.,
"Nineveh Castle," for many centuries, and all the Arab geographers
agree in saying that tile mounds opposite Môsul contain the ruins
of the palaces and walls of Nineveh. And few of them fail to mention
that close by them is "Tall Nabi Yûnis," 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 Yûnis, 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-'Armûshîyah," i.e.,
"The Hill of 'Armûsh," and "Kuyûnjik." 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 Kuyûnjik 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 Kuyûnjik. 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 Nimrûd (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 Nimrûd 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
Yûnis, or, as George Smith thought, near Kuyûnjik, or at Kuyûnjik
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-Nimrûd), 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 Kuyûnjik 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 Baghdâd, 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 Kuyûnjik,
knowing that the lease of the mound of Kuyûnjik for excavation
purposes which he had obtained from its owner had several years to
run. When Rassam arrived at Môsul 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 Kuyûnjik. In this way a year
passed, and as M. Place made no sign that he was going to excavate at
Kuyûnjik 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 "Kuyûnjik Collection." The approximate number of the inscribed
baked clay tablets and fragments that have come from Kuyûnjik 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
decipherment of cuneiform inscriptions in the Assyrian, Babylonian
and Sumerian languages, and form the foundation of the science of
Assyriology which has been built up with such conspicuous success
during the last 70 years.


Ashur-bani-pal, Book-Collector and Patron of Learning.

Ashur-bani-pal (the Asnapper of Ezra iv, 10) succeeded his father
Esarhaddon B.C. 668, and at a comparatively early period of his reign
he seems to have devoted himself to the study of the history of his
country, and to the making of a great Private Library. The tablets that
have come down to us prove not only that he was as great a benefactor
of the Library of the Temple of Nebo as any of his predecessors, but
that he was himself an educated man, a lover of learning, and a patron
of the literary folk of his day. In the introduction to his Annals as
found inscribed on his great ten-sided cylinder in the British Museum
he tells us how he took up his abode in the chambers of the palace
from which Sennacherib and Esarhaddon had ruled the Assyrian Empire,
and in describing his own education he says:

"I, Ashur-bani-pal, within it (i.e., the palace) understood the wisdom
of Nebo, all the art of writing of every craftsman, of every kind,
I made myself master of them all (i.e., of the various kinds of
writing)." [3]

These words suggest that Ashur-bani-pal could not only read cuneiform
texts, but could write like a skilled scribe, and that he also
understood all the details connected with the craft of making and
baking tablets. Having determined to form a Library in his palace he
set to work in a systematic manner to collect literary works. He sent
scribes to ancient seats of learning, e.g., Ashur, Babylon, Cuthah,
Nippur, Akkad, Erech, to make copies of the ancient works that were
preserved there, and when the copies came to Nineveh he either made
transcripts of them himself, or caused his scribes to do so for
the Palace Library. In any case he collated the texts himself and
revised them before placing them in his Library. The appearance of
the tablets from his Library suggests that he established a factory
in which the clay was cleaned and kneaded and made into homogeneous,
well-shaped tablets, and a kiln in which they were baked, after they
had been inscribed. The uniformity of the script upon them is very
remarkable, and texts with mistakes in them are rarely found. How
the tablets were arranged in the Library is not known, but certainly
groups were catalogued, and some tablets were labelled. [4] Groups
of tablets were arranged in numbered series, with "catch lines," the
first tablet of the series giving the first line of the second tablet,
the second tablet giving the first line of the third tablet, and so on.

Ashur-bani-pal was greatly interested in the literature of the
Sumerians, i.e., the non-Semitic people who occupied Lower Babylonia
about B.C. 3500 and later. He and his scribes made bilingual lists
of signs and words and objects of all classes and kinds, all of
which are of priceless value to the modern student of the Sumerian
and Assyrian languages. Annexed is an extract from a List of Signs
with Sumerian and Assyrian values. The signs of which the meanings
are given are in the middle column; the Sumerian values are given in
the column to the left, and their meanings in Assyrian in the column
to the right. To many of his copies of Sumerian hymns, incantations,
magical formulas, etc., Ashur-bani-pal caused interlinear translations
to be added in Assyrian, and of such bilingual documents the following
extract from a text relating to the Seven Evil Spirits will serve as
a specimen. The 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc., lines are written in Sumerian,
and the 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc., lines in Assyrian.

The tablets that belonged to Ashur-bani-pal's private Library and
those of the Temple of Nebo can be distinguished by the colophons,
when these exist. Two forms of colophon for each class of the two
great collections of tablets are known, one short and one long. The
short colophon on the tablets of the King's Library reads: - "Palace
of Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of the country of Assyria"
and that on the tablets of the Library of Nebo reads: - "[Country
of ?] Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of the country of Assyria."
See on the Tablet of Astrological Omens, p. 22. The longer colophons
are of considerable interest and renderings of two typical examples
are here appended: -


I. Colophon of the Tablets of the Palace Library. (K. 4870.)

1. Palace of Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of the country
of Assyria,
2. who trusteth in the god Ashur and the goddess Bêlit,
3. on whom the god Nebo (Nabû) and the goddess Tasmetu
4. have bestowed all-hearing ears
5. and his possession of eyes that are clearsighted,
6. and the finest results of the art of writing
7. which, among the kings who have gone before,
8. no one ever acquired that craft.
9. The wisdom of Nebo [as expressed in] writing, of every kind,
10. on tablets I wrote, collated and revised,
11. [and] for examination and reading
12. in my palace I placed - [I]
13. the prince who knoweth the light of the king of the gods, Ashur.
14. Whosoever shall carry [them] off, or his name side by side
with mine
15. shall write may Ashur and Bêlit wrathfully
16. sweep away, and his name and his seed destroy in the land.


2. Colophon of the Tablets of the Library of Nebo. (RM. 132.)

1. To Nebo, beneficent son, director of the hosts of heaven and
of earth,
2. holder of the tablet of knowledge, he who hath grasped the writing
reed of destinies,
3. lengthener of days, vivifier of the dead, stablisher of light for
the men who are perplexed,
4. [from] the great lord, the noble Ashur-bani-pal, the lord, the
approved of the gods Ashur, Bêl and Nebo,
5. the shepherd, the maintainer of the holy places of the great gods,
stablisher of their revenues,
6. son of Esarhaddon, king of hosts, king of Assyria,
7. grandson of Sennacherib, king of hosts, king of Assyria,
8. for the life of his souls, length of his days, [and] well-being
of his posterity,
9. to make permanent the foundation of his royal throne, to hear
his supplications,
10. to receive his petitions, to deliver into his hands the rebellious.
11. The wisdom of Ea, the precious priesthood, the leadership,
12. what is composed for the contentment of the heart of the great
gods,
13. I wrote upon tablets, I collated, I revised
14. literally according to all the tablets of the lands of Ashur
and Akkad,
15. and I placed in the Library of E-Zida, the temple of Nebo my lord,
which is in Nineveh.
16. O Nebo, lord of the hosts of heaven and of earth, look upon that
Library joyfully for years (i.e., for ever).
17. Of Ashur-bani-pal, the chief, the worshipper of thy divinity,
daily the reward of the offering -
18. his life decree, so that he may exalt thy great godhead.


The tablets from both Libraries when unbroken vary in size from 15
inches by 8 5/8 inches to 1 inch by 7/8 inch, and they are usually
about 1 inch thick. In shape they are rectangular, the obverse being
flat and tile reverse slightly convex. Contract tablets, letter tablets
and "case" tablets are very much smaller, and resemble small pillows in
shape. The principal subjects dealt with in the tablets are history,
annalistic or summaries, letters, despatches, reports, oracles,
prayers, contracts, deeds of sale of land, produce, cattle, slaves,
agreements, dowries, bonds for interest (with impressions of seals,
and fingernails, or nail marks), chronography, chronology, Canons of
Eponyms, astrology (forecasts, omens, divinations, charms, spells,
incantations), mythology, legends, grammar, law, geography, etc. [5]


George Smith's Discovery of the Epic of Gilgamish and the Story of
the Deluge.

The mass of tablets which had been discovered by Layard and Rassam at
Nineveh came to the British Museum in 1854-5, and their examination
by Rawlinson and Norris began very soon after. Mr. Bowler, a skilful
draughtsman and copyist of tablets, whom Rawlinson employed in
making transfers of copies of cuneiform texts for publication by
lithography, rejoined a considerable number of fragments of bilingual
lists, syllabaries, etc., which were published in the second volume
of the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, in 1866. In that
year the Trustees of the British Museum employed George Smith to
assist Rawlinson in sorting, classifying and rejoining fragments,
and a comprehensive examination of the collection by him began. His
personal interest in Assyriology was centred upon historical texts,
especially those which threw any light on the Bible Narrative. But in
the course of his search for stories of the campaigns of Sargon II,
Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashur-bani-pal, he discovered among other
important documents (1) a series of portions of tablets which give
the adventures of Gilgamish, an ancient king of Erech; (2) An account
of the Deluge, which is supplied by the Eleventh Tablet of the Legend
of Gilgamish (in more than one version); (3) A detailed description
of the Creation; (4) the Legend of the Descent of Ishtar into Hades
in quest of Tammuz. The general meaning of the texts was quite clear,
but there were many gaps in them, and it was not until December, 1872,
that George Smith published his description of the Legend of Gilgamish,
and a translation of the "Chaldean Account of the Deluge." The interest
which his paper evoked was universal, and the proprietors of the
"Daily Telegraph" advocated that Smith should be at once dispatched
to Nineveh to search for the missing fragments of tablets which would
fill up the gaps in his texts, and generously offered to contribute
1,000 guineas towards the cost of the excavations. The Trustees
accepted the offer and gave six months' leave of absence to Smith,
who left London in January, and arrived in Môsul in March, 1873. In
the following May he recovered from Kuyûnjik a fragment that contained
"the greater portion of seventeen lines of inscription belonging to
the first column of the Chaldean account of the Deluge, and fitting
into the only place where there was a serious blank in the story." [6]
During the excavations which Smith carried out at Kuyûnjik in 1873
and 1874 he recovered many fragments of tablets, the texts of which
enabled him to complete his description of the contents of the Twelve
Tablets of the Legend of Gilgamish which included his translation
of the story of the Deluge. Unfortunately Smith died of hunger
and sickness near Aleppo in 1876, and he was unable to revise his
early work, and to supplement it with the information which he had
acquired during his latest travels in Assyria and Babylonia. Thanks
to the excavations which were carried on at Kuyûnjik by the Trustees
of the British Museum after his untimely death, several hundreds of
tablets and fragments have been recovered, and many of these have been
rejoined to the tablets of the older collection. By the careful study
and investigation of the old and new material Assyriologists have,
during the last forty years, been enabled to restore and complete
many passages in the Legends of Gilgamish and the Flood. It is now
clear that the Legend of the Flood had not originally any connection
with the Legend of Gilgamish, and that it was introduced into it by a
late editor or redactor of the Legend, probably in order to complete
the number of the Twelve Tablets on which it was written in the time
of Ashur-bani-pal.


The Legend of the Deluge in Babylonia.

In the introduction to his paper on the "Chaldean Account of the
Deluge," which Smith read in December, 1872, and published in 1873,
he stated that the Assyrian text which he had found on Ashur-bani-pal's
tablets was copied from an archetype at Erech in Lower Babylonia. This
archetype was, he thought, "either written in, or translated into
Semitic Babylonian, at a very early period," and although he could
not assign a date to it, he adduced a number of convincing proofs in
support of his opinion. The language in which he assumed the Legend
to have been originally composed was known to him under the name of
"Accadian," or "Akkadian," but is now called "Sumerian." Recent
research has shown that his view on this point was correct on the
whole. But there is satisfactory proof available to show that versions
or recensions of the Legend of the Deluge and of the Epic of Gilgamish
existed both in Sumerian and Babylonian, as early as B.C. 2000. The
discovery has been made of a fragment of a tablet with a small portion
of the Babylonian version of the Legend of the Deluge inscribed upon
it, and dated in a year which is the equivalent of the 11th year of
Ammisaduga, i.e. about B.C. 2000. [7] And in the Museum at Philadelphia
[8] is preserved half of a tablet which when whole contained a complete
copy of the Sumerian version of the Legend, and must have been written
about the same date. The fragment of the tablet written in the reign


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