Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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In 1867 Smith received an appointment in the Assyriology Department of the British Museum, and a few years later became famous throughout Christendom as the translator of fragments of the Babylonian Deluge Legend from tablets sent to London by Rassam. Sir Edwin Arnold, the poet and Orientalist, was at the time editor of the Daily Telegraph, and performed a memorable service to modern scholarship by dispatching Smith, on behalf of his paper, to Nineveh to search for other fragments of the Ancient Babylonian epic. Rassam had obtained the tablets from the great library of the cultured Emperor Ashur-bani-pal, "the great and noble Asnapper" of the Bible,[5] who took delight, as he himself recorded, in

The wisdom of Ea,[6] the art of song, the treasures of science.

This royal patron of learning included in his library collection, copies and translations of tablets from Babylonia. Some of these were then over 2000 years old. The Babylonian literary relics were, indeed, of as great antiquity to Ashur-bani-pal as that monarch's relics are to us.

The Emperor invoked Nebo, god of wisdom and learning, to bless his "books", praying:

Forever, O Nebo, King of all heaven and earth,
Look gladly upon this Library
Of Ashur-bani-pal, his (thy) shepherd, reverencer of thy divinity.[7]

Mr. George Smith's expedition to Nineveh in 1873 was exceedingly fruitful of results. More tablets were discovered and translated. In the following year he returned to the ancient Assyrian city on behalf of the British Museum, and added further by his scholarly achievements to his own reputation and the world's knowledge of antiquity. His last expedition was made early in 1876; on his homeward journey he was stricken down with fever, and on 19th August he died at Aleppo in his thirty-sixth year. So was a brilliant career brought to an untimely end.

Rassam was engaged to continue Smith's great work, and between 1877 and 1882 made many notable discoveries in Assyria and Babylonia, including the bronze doors of a Shalmaneser temple, the sun temple at Sippar; the palace of the Biblical Nebuchadrezzar, which was famous for its "hanging gardens"; a cylinder of Nabonidus, King of Babylon; and about fifty thousand tablets.

M. de Sarzec, the French consul at Bassorah, began in 1877 excavations at the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash (Shirpula), and continued them until 1900. He found thousands of tablets, many has reliefs, votive statuettes, which worshippers apparently pinned on sacred shrines, the famous silver vase of King Entemena, statues of King Gudea, and various other treasures which are now in the Louvre.

The pioneer work achieved by British and French excavators stimulated interest all over the world. An expedition was sent out from the United States by the University of Pennsylvania, and began to operate at Nippur in 1888. The Germans, who have displayed great activity in the domain of philological research, are at present represented by an exploring party which is conducting the systematic exploration of the ruins of Babylon. Even the Turkish Government has encouraged research work, and its excavators have accumulated a fine collection of antiquities at Constantinople. Among the archaeologists and linguists of various nationalities who are devoting themselves to the study of ancient Assyrian and Babylonian records and literature, and gradually unfolding the story of ancient Eastern civilization, those of our own country occupy a prominent position. One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years has been new fragments of the Creation Legend by L.W. King of the British Museum, whose scholarly work, The Seven Tablets of Creation, is the standard work on the subject.