It has been an unusually wet year in Québec. So wet it got me thinking Noah's Flood would be an appropriate theme for this blog.
In their book, Noah’s Flood, William Ryan and Walter Pitman illustrate ‘the new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history’ with fascinating accounts of Henry C. Rawlinson and George Smith and their tremendous contribution to historical data.
Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, aged 17, volunteered as a cadet to the East India Company in1827. On the four month voyage by clipper ship from England to India, young Rawlinson enjoyed much stimulating discourse with the Governor of Bombay. The Governor aroused a passion for Persia’s history, religion and ancient languages in Henry. From his new friend Henry also obtained a detailed account of the studies on ancient Hindu history and religious texts written in archaic Sanskrit made by the English High Court judge, Sir William Jones, while he was serving in Calcutta.
The oldest of these texts, the Rig-Veda, depicted the history of Manu, an Aryan. Manu was warned a deluge would cover the earth and that therefore he should prepare a ship which would carry him, his family, and livestock to safety on a high mountain. During his intensive studies Sir William noted a link in some common words and in syntax between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Welsh, early German, and Persian.
Rawlinson was struck by the similarity between the age-old Hindu text and the Biblical account in Genesis of a great flood and of one man building a huge ship three storeys high in which he housed two of every species. But what really excited Henry was the judge’s discovery of the link in all those ancient tongues – did they have a common wellspring? What treasures from the earliest history of man might lie buried beneath the desert sands?
Fresh from studying the classics, Henry easily became fluent in Persian, Arabic, and Hindustani. He took a post with the First Grenadier Guards Regiment which was stationed in Bombay and in March, 1835, as an officer with the company, he was sent to Kermanshah, Persia, to act as military advisor to the Shah’s brother.While in Kermanshah he visited Persepolis and strolled amidst the tombs of the ancient kings. Seized by the thought one of them could be that of King Darius l, the Great, Rawlinson hired a Kurdish boy as a guide to help him find it.
The lad led him to the great Behistun Rock, the first time anyone from the western world had even heard about the rock’s existence, let alone seen the great vertical slab. Here, in ancient cuneiform script, was the proclamation of Darius the Great. One can only imagine the electric thrill which shot through young Henry as he viewed the writing in the massive rock.
Desperate to examine and copy the script into his notebook, and then to interpret it, Henry had himself lowered down the sheer face by a daring means of ropes and ladders. Though an experienced climber, he nearly lost his life at one point. However, over the course of two years he interpreted enough of the inscriptions on the rock to send his findings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London where he was acclaimed as the first person to crack the cuneiform code.
In that same autumn of 1835, Charles Darwin finished five weeks of observing the Galapagos Finches. His observations on these, and his assertion that man and animal shared a common ancestry electrified Victorian society; he shocked the religious Victorians and delighted the scientists. Rawlinson’s discovery of the Behistun Rock and Darwin’s theories were both major talking points. Which was truth, the Biblical story or evolution from amoeba?
In 1840, the levees along the banks of the Tigris collapsed under torrential rain. The resultant flood buried the streets of Baghdad under a layer of mud several feet thick, and houses and walls crumbled under the rushing waters. Around this time a young English adventurer, Austen Henry Layard, visited Kermanshah, saw the Behistun Rock, the as-yet undeciphered Babylonian and Elamite scripts, and Rawlinson’s translations.
Fired by the desire to recover ruins of antiquity himself, Layard returned to Mosul a year or so later and with thirty Bedouin labourers uncovered the city of Nimrud, the second ruling capital of Assyria. They unearthed huge sculptured slabs and frescoes, but perhaps the most breathtaking find for Layard were two immense winged bulls with human heads – the guardians of the city gates. However, his poor awestruck workers fled in terror at sight of the monstrous beasts, as did the crowd of onlookers!
Great were the ancient treasures Layard unearthed and shipped back to England. When he had finished his dig at Nimrud, he returned to Mosul, still filled with the desire to seek the ancient cities buried in the sand. In particular, he wanted to investigate Kuyunjik but he needed caution, since the site was an Islamic shrine and cemetery.
He was rewarded. At the north gate the diggers uncovered a pair of winged creatures that dwarfed even the gigantic bulls of Nimrud. After coming on the limestone slabs of a great palace, with Rawlinson’s help translating, Layard learned he had discovered the fabled Nineveh of Sennacherib. Theyprotégé, the gifted linguist George Smith, who determined the writing was Akkadian, a Semitic tongue.
The fragments George Smith assembled with painstaking care revealed a heathen hand had, two and a half thousand years earlier, recounted the story of Noah almost exactly as given in Genesis Obsessed by the scriptures since he could read, this was treasure beyond George's wildest dreams. The history of modern man!