James Kendall Hosmer.

The Jews, ancient, mediæval, and modern online

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into Mesopotamia, refreshing the soil and wafting its
vast commerce. On the banks stand machines for
irrigation, so that every rood of ground teems with
fruitfulness. In the useful arts the Assyrians have
made considerable progress. Copper and lead are
mined and wrought with skill. Iron is worked in
various forms and manufactured into excellent steel.
Glass is made of various degrees of fineness, from
that fitted for coarse utensils, to the crystal lens
through which the lapidary is to trace microscopic


engraving. The potters furnish a variety of ware,
from the rude vessel for the use of the captive, to
the elegant vase, enamelled and gilded with tasteful
designs, intended for the palace of the satrap or the
Great King. The textile fabrics of Assyria have
been famous from an early day. In part the ma-
terials of their manufacture are produced at home, in
part imported from distant lands. Rich stuffs of
cotton, wool, and silk come from the looms. Dyes
of a brilliancy, perhaps, surpassing any now used by
Europeans are employed, and the splendor of the
more costly fabrics is still further increased by weaving
in threads of gold. The Assyrians are acquainted with
many mechanical contrivances, — the roller, the lever,
the pulley, the wheel, and, it may be certain, engines
now lost. An art resembling printing was in general
use. In most of the structures built of brick, each
brick is stamped with the same inscription, consisting
often of several words, and sometimes of a series of
sentences. The stamping is believed to have been
performed by means of a single engraved plate.
The process was, therefore, quite similar to modern
stereotyping, except that the impression was re-
ceived upon clay instead of paper.

Does the reader think, that the Jews are forsaken,
as we occupy ourselves in this way with the details
of Assyrian industry? It must be remembered that
in this time there was no industry but that of slaves,
and that a vast multitude of captive Hebrews were
already in servitude on the Tigris. The instruments
just described were in the hands of enslaved Jews, —
the accomplishments narrated were the achievements


of their toil. Our story only follows them into
thraldom, as we dwell thuc upon the details of
Assyrian civilization.

The commerce of Assyria was immense. Meso-
potamia was a great mart between the East and the
West from immemorial antiquity down to the dis-
covery of the passage around the Cape of Good
Hope. Up the Tigris from the Southern Ocean
came silk and cotton from India and China, and pre-
cious metals from regions unknown. From Southern
Arabia, by caravans, came spices and perfumes. The
Phoenician cities to the west sent the produce of
trading voyages extended even to Britain and the
shores of the Baltic. From the mountains on the
north great rafts of lumber were floated down upon
the Tigris by the winter floods. Fine wool and
droves of cattle and horses were sent from the pas-
tures of Armenia and the Syrian uplands.

Concerning the state of the Great King one hardly
dares to speak. The reader will think that the "Ara-
bian Nights," or the vagaries of some mad hashish-
eater have crept in among the authorities ; but only
the statements of matter-of-fact modern scholars and
artists are followed. We are far removed in all our
tastes and institutions from that ancient life. In the
blood of the cold Northern races there is no especial
passion for splendor ; in the strong and civilized na-
tions of the world to-day, any considerable accumu-
lation of power by single individuals, to be exercised
without let or hindrance, is impossible. Even in
Russia, despotism is hemmed in by many restraints.
In Assyria, however, a race of princes of marvellous


energy, possessed to an inordinate degree of that
passion for magnificence which has always character-
ized the Orientals, sat upon the throne. Their im-
mediate subjects, a warlike people, knew no law but
the sovereign's will. A long course of victory had
put a hundred powerful nations under their absolute
control. If the Great King saw fit, and he often did,
he could draw from a tributary the last ounce of
treasure, or utterly depopulate a vast district to fur-
nish workmen for any given undertaking. It was
unmitigated despotism, exercised by a wonderfully
vigorous, unscrupulous, and splendor-loving dynasty.
Assassination was the only restraint. No wonder
the results of such conditions are almost incredible.
The Great King sat on his ivory throne, a true Alad-
din ; and the genii, controlled by his signet-ring,
were all the opulent and industrious states of the
East. What phantom world could furnish a mightier

Viollet le Due and Fergusson, the historians of
architecture, have paralleled in their department the
feat of the naturalist, who from a bone or a scale, con-
structed with exactness, as it was afterwards proved,
the form of an extinct animal. From the broken
fragments of the palaces, they have constructed their
former grandeur. In the midst of the level landscape
rose, in the first place, an immense artificial hill. The
excavations from which the soil came may still be dis-
tinctly traced in depressions and vast swamps. On
all sides this elevation was faced with solid masonry,
while upon the lofty platform on the summit was
built the palace. Fortifications like cliffs rose near


it an hundred feet high, and wide enough for three
chariots abreast. At frequent intervals towers shot
up to a still loftier elevation. The platform was as-
cended by a stately stair. The foot of the visitor
trod upon slabs carved or inlaid with handsome
designs. Sculptured portals, by which stood silent
guardians, colossal figures in white alabaster, the
forms of men and beasts, winged and of majestic
mien, admitted him to the magnificence within.
The facade of the palace at its base was covered
with graven images. Upward, tier above tier into
the blue heavens, ran lines of colonnades, pillars of
costly cedar, cornices glittering with gold, capitals
blazing with vermilion, and between them voluminous
curtains of silk, purple and scarlet, interwoven with
threads of gold. The wind from over Media came
breathing through these aerial pavilions, and far
down to the alabaster lions and the plumed divinities
in the court beneath, they whispered of the glory of
the Great King. In the interior, stretching for
miles, literally for miles, the builder of the palace
ranged the illustrated record of his exploits. The
inscriptions were deeply cut in the cuneiform char-
acter, and parallel with them in scarlet and green,
gold and silver, ran the representations of the scenes
themselves. There were commemorated the exploits
of the chase, the building of palaces, and scenes of
feasting. More numerous, however, were the pic-
tures of war, the battle, the siege, the torture, the
long procession of captives. In places of honor, the
portrait of the monarch himself was set, with his foot
upon the neck of some tributary prince or worship-


ping before his gods. Through Hon-guarded portals
admission was gained to still other halls, lined every-
where by the endless record. The mind grows dizzy
with the thought of the splendor, — the processions of
satraps and eunuchs and tributary kings winding up
the stair and pouring in a radiant stream through
the halls, — the gold and embroidery, — the ivory and
the sumptuous furniture, — the pearls and the hang-
ings. Nor let it be supposed it was merely barbaric
splendor. In modern times, in Italy, memorials
have been discovered of a refined people who were
precursors of the Roman power, — delicate vases, and
gold and silver chased in forms of grace, for which
the beholder finds no word but perfect. The old
Etruscan art is believed to-day to have been trans-
planted from Assyria. Architecture found in the
balconies of Nineveh the beautiful Ionic column.
Highest distinction of all, it is believed that sculp-
ture, the art of arts, — the white Phidian blossom, so
pure and peerless in the chaplet of ancient Greece,
budded in the chambers of the Assyrian kings.







IB ifl8iiJ^i.^o£ Jii














Let us imagine ourselves, for the moment, vice-
roys or princes, personages of sufficient dignity to be
guests of the mighty Sennacherib, and that we have
ascended with him, the possessor of all this pomp,
to the carven roof of the towering palace, where
stand altars for sacrifice. Hundreds of feet below, the
Tigris washes the foundations, and shoots its waters
into the artificial channels v»dnding everywhere
through the land. From an unfinished temple close
at hand comes the hum of uncounted captives, the
keen eye and hawk nose of the Jew appearing among
them, slaves since the subjugation, in the previous
reigns, of Northern Palestine. In the distance, along
the river, in gay barges, approaches the train of
some subjugated prince bearing offerings. Meso-
potamia, as it were in bondage too, bound under the
silvery watercourses beneath the eye, as if by an in-
terlacing net, prepares for the master her punctual
tribute of corn and wine. The Great King turns his
haughty, bearded face to the southward, where the
messengers of Hezekiah, King of Judah, approach,
bearing thrones and couches. There are camel-trains
from Solomon's seaport of Ezion-Gebir with the


wealth of Ophir ; trains, too, from Southern Arabia,
laden with spice, frankincence, and myrrh, caravan
upon caravan, until all the robber winds of the des-
ert, from rifling their bales, fling perfumes every-
where through the wilderness. Sennacherib turns
his face to the east, and in his dark Assyrian eye
there is a light as he thinks of the Mede scourged
into servitude. Northward rise peaks covered with
snow. He calls to mind, perhaps, how as his chariot
bands swept past the base of one of them, down
upon them, shroud and sepulchre at once, an ava-
lanche swept over their purple pennons. But what
mattered it in so great a multitude ! It was a trifle,
and the cymbals of the spearmen clashed on loud as
ever through the narrow defiles. The Great King looks
westward long and thoughtfull}^ His breast heaves
under its covering of gems, and new pride sits in his
haughty face. Was it not there, with the dash of
the Mediterranean in his ear, that he pressed his foot
upon the necks of the great Phoenician princes, lords
of the continuous city stretching northward from
Acre two hundred miles to Aradus? Was it not
there that the laboring galleys put to sea out from
Sidon, to bear even to distant Tarshish, and the still
more distant amber-coasts, the fame of his might ?
Was it not there, too, that the ships of the rich
Tyrian captains swept past him as he sat on his
throne ; their mighty oars, in the words of Ezekiel,
made of tough oak from Bashan, their planks of fir-
trees from Senir, their tall masts cedars of Lebanon,
their sails of embroidered linen, the rowers, as they
swept the deep, seated upon benches of ivory carved


in his own Nineveh? How, as the pageant rushed
through the waters, even the sea threw off its blue
that it might assume the purple light of their sides
and the glitter of the shields on their prows ! By
the side of the Great King, upon an altar set about
with beryl and chrysolite, burns eternal fire, kindled
in Chaldea once by sages who had looked upon the
face of Noah. Well may he bow and worship the
gods of Asshur, who have set their favored son on
such a pinnacle.

It is scarcely possible to make too brilliant the
picture. It was a nation not much behind the modern
world in many of the useful arts; and in those which
contribute to luxury and splendor, the arts among
them especially cultivated, they were perhaps far
before. The people, whose prowess and magnificence
have just been hinted at, the Jew was called to con-
front, when at its mightiest. It is for us to see how
he bore himself. The good King Hezekiah labored to
restore the ancient usages and glory of the Jewish
nation, whose power had languished since the reign
of Solomon. The old polity was restored, and
the sceptre of Judah stretched over several of the
neighboring countries. At length growing bolder,
and relying upon the support of Egypt, Hezekiah
dared to throw off the yoke of Assyria, of which he
had been a tributary. Presently from his high throne
came rushing the insulted sovereign. The passes in
the mountains to the north are choked with his host.
The waters of the Jordan in its lower course trickle
feebly in a diminished stream, so great is the multi-
tude of men and animals who drink at its source.


Samaria is crossed already desolate ; the frontiers of
the tribe of Benjamin are invaded, and like trees, one
by one isolated and consumed by a flood of lava,
city after city is enveloped and crushed by the red
and glittering array. Hezekiah strips the very temple
of its treasures, giving up the sacred utensils, and
tearing from the pillars their heavy golden plates in
order to appease Sennacherib ; but the imperious
monarch is determined to establish the altars of
Asshur in the soil of Mt. Zion.

" Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen," —

for the resources of Sennacherib have been stretched
to the utmost. When this insignificant handful of
Jews has been crushed, there is to be an invasion of
Africa. From the sculptures which in our day have
come to be an object of study, we may behold in
detail the battle order.

The host is in array, for scouts in the van bring
tidings of the approach of a hostile army from the
southward. The light-armed troops are slingers and
archers. They are dressed in short embroidered
tunics, with their hair surrounded by bands. Like
the Saxon bowmen, the archers draw their arrows to
the ear. Their weapons are handsomely decorated.
The heavy infantry carry spears and shields ; on their
heads they wear helmets of burnished brass ; cross-
belts support small-arms at the side, and shining
discs of metal cover their breasts. They stand in
regular ranks, file behind file. To-morrow, when the
host of Judah makes its onset, the first rank kneel-


ing, the second stooping, will form with their spears
a bristling hedge, and from behind, the bowmen will
discharge their arrows. In a similar way, twenty-five
centuries hence, the brigades of Napoleon, at the
battle of Mt. Tabor, not far distant, will receive the
charge of the Mamelukes. But the strength of the
host is in the swarming cavalry and chariots. The
horses are spirited steeds from Arabia and Armenia.
The riders sit upon decorated saddles, clad in armor,
with helmets and lances. The chariot bands are the
chivalry and flower of Asshur. The coursers are
caparisoned with purple silk and embroidered cloth ;
from their heads hang plumes and heavy tassels. As
they hurry to and fro, flashing behind them with
gold and jasper, with ivory and enamel, roll the for-
midable vehicles. The warriors within, the veterans
of many wars, are clad from head to foot in steel ;
embossed upon their shields are the heads of lions ;
lofty standards of precious stuffs, embroidered, hang
over their plumed helmets, and all along the line
hover pennons of scarlet. In the rear are the rams
and other warlike engines, the ladders for escalading,
the steel tools for the mines, already battered and
blunt with hard service before the fenced cities of
Judah. In tents of costly and gaudy stuffs, the
concubines and eunuchs of the Great King and the
Ninevite nobles outnumber even the soldiers. Every-
where, from fertile Jericho to the sea-coast of old
Philistia, range the foragers, and innumerable as a
locust swarm, the beasts collected for burden and
provision consume the pastures. Here and there
some great officer- -the chief cup-bearer, or the inso-

y|i7"'" ' ::j^^^-^ ,^*:i"4f!!'!



lent Rabshakeh, or perhaps even Sennacherib him-
self — goes by in his canopied chariot attended by-
stately body-guards.

Doubtless that eve there was panic in Jerusalem ;
but all true Israelites, confident in having the Lord
upon their side, surveyed from the battlements with
contempt even this array, so magnificent and appal-
ling. The youth of true Hebrew fire, from his high
watch-tower as the sun descended, looked down
upon the scene. Into his mind came crowding the
grand traditions of Judaea — how Jephthah smote the
Ammonites hip and thigh from Aroer even unto
Minnith ; how Caleb slew the Anakim in the fast-
nesses of Hebron ; and how the mighty Joshua had
said in the sight of Israel : " Sun, stand thou still on
Gibeon, and thou. Moon, in the valley of Ajalon,"
and the sun stood still and the moon stayed until
the people had avenged themselves on their enemies.
When from the glittering Assyrian lines the drums
and dulcimers throbbed out upon the still air of
twilight, clear and far out of the height from a
Jewish trumpet rang a blast of defiance. The Lord's
chosen people would abide the battle !

By the side of Hezekiah as counsellor stands a
venerable figure. In the year that King Uzziah
died, half a century before (this is his own account
of himself), he had seen the Lord sitting upon a
throne high and lifted up, with a train that filled the
temple ; and while he looked an attendant seraph,
seizing a coal from off the altar, had laid it upon his
lips, and the voice of the Lord liad bidden him go
forth and speak his will until the land was utterly


desolate. Now this interpreter of the Lord's mes-
sages, the great prophet Isaiah, determines the
counsels of the king. Thus he speaks :

" This is the word that the Lord hath spoken con-
cerning Sennacherib : ' The virgin, the daughter of
Zion hath despised thee and laughed thee to scorn.
The daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at
thee. By thy messengers thou hast reproached the
Lord, and hast said, with the multitude of my
chariots I have come up to the height of the moun-
tains, to the side of Lebanon, and will cut down the
tall trees thereof, and the choice fir-trees thereof, and
the forest of his Carmel. With the sole of my foot
I have dried up all the rivers of besieged places.
But the house of David shall take root downward
and bear fruit upward.' Therefore, thus saith the
Lord concerning the King of Assyria : ' He shall not
come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor
come before it with a shield, nor cast a bank against
it. By the way that he came by the same shall he
return, and shall not come into this city,' saith the

That was the prophecy which Isaiah poured forth
with hot utterance, and according to the old Hebrew
story this was its fulfilment : " And it came to pass
that night that the angel of the Lord went out and
smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and
four score and five thousand, and in the morning,
behold, they were all dead corpses.

" And there lay the rider, distorted and pale.

With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail ;


And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.
For the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Had melted like snow in the glance of the Lord."

And Sennacherib returned and dwelt in Nineveh,
and it came to pass as he was worshipping in the
house of Nisroch, his god, that Adrammelech and
Sharezar, his sons, smote him with the sword, and
Esarhaddon, his son, reigned in his stead.

Such was Assyria at its height, but a rapid de-
cadence ensued, and at length, seven hundred years
before Christ, Cyrus the Mede smote her with the
sword and lighted her funeral pyre. Until the late
discoveries, the tale of the splendor of ancient
Oriental nations was believed to be enormously
exaggerated, if not fabulous. But after all it was
not so far short of the truth. Grant that the records
of the kings are boastful, yet the vast artificial
mounds, crumbling so long, but so mountain-like,
the palaces covering acres, the leagues of sculptured
masonry, are testimony to the power and state of
the kings not to be invalidated. They are remains
of a nation, not much behind the modern, in the
useful arts; and in those which contribute to luxury
and splendor, the arts among them especially cher-
ished, they were perhaps far before.

It is not strange that the modern world becomes
somewhat dizzy with the spectacle, and feels inclined
to recall some of its claims to increase of power and
knowledge. Think, — it may be that this venerable
empire will be remembered when the fame of modern
nations has quite passed away. The slabs in the


British Museum have already held their sculptured
record twenty-five hundred years. Which has the
best chance to-day of enduring to a remote future,
that imperishable rock, or the paper and paste-board
books in the library close at hand, to which we have
entrusted our annals ? Do you know the story of the
great library of Alexandria into which had been gath-
ered the parchments and books of antiquity? Its
treasures of learning were disposed on countless
shelves, and quite untold. Not the Caliph Omar, as
has been believed, but a mob of Christian monks,
infuriated with fanaticism, set the library on fire.
While the frail receptacles perished, one can imagine
the temple-fronts of the Pharaohs, the pyramids, and
the obelisks, looming up in the glare, crowded thick
with the inscriptions of an older time. In the bright
light appeared the deep-cutting, low relief, the indeli-
ble tints, — monuments like those to which the mon-
archs of Nineveh entrusted the story of their grandeur.
Literature had lost her frailer page, but high on her
ancient strongholds, she defied, from those imperish-
able tablets, as they flushed red from line to line in
the midnight blaze, the impotent torches of man.

If we follow one school of geologists, we know that
a time may come when this present geological era,
amidst the rush of oceans or the bursting forth of
volcanic fires, may come to an end. In that case how
quickly will these perishable memorials of ours which
we know as books, shrivel and disappear. But that
old literature, entrenched securely within its rocky
tablets, will mock the very forces of nature, as it
defied in Egypt the torches of the Arabs ; and new


orders of beings, searching among the fossils and
deposits of a by-gone age, may read there the story
of the Assyrian kings.

But what use in being long remembered unless we
can be remembered with blessing ! The red and
shining characters in which is written the story of
Nineveh, repeat a terrible tale of violence and wrong.
The glory of the old empire beams like the pearl in-
deed, but, like the pearl, too, it is no normal or healthy
growth. The glitter upon her ivory and jasper is
from the tears of captives. Her scarlet and vermil-
ion dyes are from the life-stream of crushed nations.
" The stone cries out of the wall and the beam out
of the timber shall answer it : Woe to him that build-
eth a tower with blood and establisheth a city by
inquity ! "



The kingdom of Judah escaped destruction at
the hands of Sennacherib, but its respite was short.
Soon afterwards Babylon, closely related to Assyria,
and the heir of its dominion, swept into captivity in
distant Mesopotamia nearly all that were left of
Hebrew stock. For a time the nation seemed to
have been wiped from the face of the earth. The
ten tribes of Israel that had been first dragged forth
never returned to Judea, and their ultimate fate,
after the destruction of Nineveh, whose splendor
they had in their servitude done so much to enhance,
was that of homeless wanderers. The harp of Judah,
silent upon the devastated banks of the Jordan, was
hung upon the Babylonian willows, for how could
the exiles sing the Lord's song in a strange land !
But the cry went forth at length that Babylon had
fallen in her turn, just as destruction had before
overtaken Nineveh. In the middle of the sixth

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Online LibraryJames Kendall HosmerThe Jews, ancient, mediæval, and modern → online text (page 4 of 23)