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Aramaic. The second fragment of the language occurs near Damascus,7 which is described in the Bible as the ancient Aramaic centre.8
In language the Hebrews were so nearly allied to the Canaanites, and to the Phoenicians in particular, that Phoenician inscriptions may be readily deciphered by the aid of Hebrew.9 In the year 400 B.C., Hebrew became extinct as a national language, and was supplanted by Syriac, or Aramaic, while Samaritan, a hybrid language between Aramaic and Hebrew, still for a time found a link between the two. The third North Semitic branch is the Assyrio-Babylonian, the language of cuneiform characters of the "third genus," for the deciphering of which a reliable key has been secured by the discovery of the explanatory tablet at Nineveh Koyyunchik. This character is not invariably a phonetic character, nor when it is, is it always a syllabic character. Like the hieroglyphic and hieratic writing, it possesses determinative signs, but they are conventional and not symbolic; and it has also a number of difficult idiograms, many of which, however, are now explained, and which were probably old verbal emblems or symbols, abridged in the cuneiform characters. There is now no doubt that the Assyrians and Babylonians spoke a common language, and that this language was Semitic." It was less like Aramaic than the Hebrew-Canaanite, and formed a link between the northern and southern Semitic groups.'
The genealogical table in Genesis, which describes Nimrod, the founder of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, as the son of Cush, has long been recognized as a later intercalation. 13 The
Ritter, Erdkunde, vol. ix. p. 679; vol. xi. p. 211.
' Friedr. Müller, Reise der Fregatte Novara.
8 2 Sam. viii. 5, and Knöbel, Völkertafel.
Whitney, Language and the Study of Language, pp. 295-297.
10 Eberhard Schrader, Die assyrisch-babylonischen Keilinschriften. 1872. 11 Ibid.
12 Eberhard Schrader in the Zeitschrift der D. Morgenland. Gesellschaft. 1873. A. H. Sayce (An Assyrian Grammar, 1872) arrived at the same conclusion without knowing the work of Schrader.
13 A. Knöbel, Die Völkertafel der Genesis, p. 339. Giessen, 1850.
statements in Genesis are the only evidence that Semite immigrants mingled in Babylon with an older Hamite population, and the circumstance is therefore not free from doubt. The Assyrian inscriptions testify that at least 900 years before Christ the inhabitants of Babylon were called Kaldi (Chaldeans).14
But before Semitic Chaldeans founded their supremacy in Babylon in the 18th century B.C., an empire existed near the mouth of the Euphrates, of which Ur was the capital, and whose kings did not bear Semitic names.15 There the oldest form of the cuneiform character was invented, which is called by some Accadian and by others Sumeric, but from which, without doubt or dispute, the Assyrio-Babylonian character was first derived. The language of this ancient people was first called Turanian by J. Oppert, or, to use plainer words, Ural-Altaic, and as far as words of number and pronouns are concerned, is more nearly allied to the Finnish branch thản to the Turkish.16 But, strangely enough, although the words are otherwise always formed by a loose attachment of suffixes, as is the case in the Altaic group, the verb forms its definitions chiefly by prefixes,17 and is thus completely alien to the type of North Asiatic languages. Unfortunately, the investigation of the Accadian or Sumeric language is entirely dependent on the progress made in the study of the Assyrio-Babylonian character. We shall therefore long remain without full certainty, but in due time we shall undoubtedly solve this most attractive problem of ethnology.
The Southern Semites separated themselves from the common stock as a second branch. In ancient historical times they spoke Pre-Arabic, which separated again into the Arabic of the Ishmaelites, whence are descended the old language of the Scriptures and the modern Arabic dialects, and, secondly, into the language of the Qahtanîtes, which was again subdivided into Himyaritic, whence originated the present Ehkyly of Southern Arabia and ancient Ethiopian, whence are derived the extinct Gabez, or state language,
14 Schrader, Zeitschrift der D. Mgld. Ges. p. 398.
17 J. Oppert, Journal asiatique. Paris, 1837.
and the still extant Amharic in Habesh. 18 Thus, previous to the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs, Southern Semites had already. crossed the Red Sea from Yemen and Hadhramaut, and peopled Abyssinia. These events certainly took place in pre-Christian centuries, the date of which cannot as yet be accurately determined. As we noticed in the last chapter, the language of Arabia has now spread into Nubia among Hamite tribes, who are therefore inclined to attribute to themselves a Semitic origin. 19 The only ones who appear justified in so doing are the Shua, or Shiwa, and the Jalin and Shukurich. 20
All Europeans must honour the Semites as well as the Hamite Egyptians as more ancient civilized nations to whom we owe innumerable intellectual spurs and aids to civilization, even in comparatively recent times. The invasion of the Arabs first dispelled the monkish darkness which threatened to overwhelm Europe, and fresh light illuminated our quarter of the world from the inventions and valuable knowledge which the crusaders brought home from Palestine. According to the foregoing explanations, the Chaldeans of the land of Sinjar (Shinar), one of the oldest civilized nations of Western Asia, belonged to the Semites. Like the Egyptians they inhabited a desert; as the former made use of the Nile so did they use the overflow of the Mesopotamian rivers. especially of the Euphrates, for artificial irrigation.21 In the upper and middle part of its course this river is so rapid that now, as in old days, the leathern boats are only used down stream, and having reached their destination, are carried back on beasts of burden to their starting-point. Further south the Euphrates becomes more tranquil, and approaches the Persian Gulf as a still but deep river. In April it overflows its right bank and leaves lakes and marshes behind it in the hollows, in which grow tall rushes eight or nine feet high. From May to November a brazen sky overarches Sinjar, the temperature rises to 39° Reaumur, and even behind thick walls to 30°, without producing any relaxing
18 Von Maltzan in the Introduction to A. von Wrede's Journey in Hadhra
19 Hartmann, Nilländer, p. 269.
20 W. Münzinger, Ostafrikanische Studien, p. 563.
21 Herodotus, lib. i. cap. 194. Comp. also Ritter, Erdkunde, part xi. p. 64.
effects on the intellectual power of the population, as is also the case in Egypt, India, and Yucatan. From November to December light showers fall again. Trees only grow on the margins of the shores, and then only tamarisks, acacias, poplars, pomegranates with their brilliant flowers, and palms laden with branches of amber-coloured dates. Throughout large districts, the Euphrates, once so flourishing, is now terribly still. The wind raises up clouds of sand, and smothers the prolific soil of the marshes without hindrance from any one.22 High above the plain tower strangely shaped hills, which on nearer approach are recognized as huge ruins made of baked bricks. There was nowhere any want of clay for making unbaked bricks, and an excellent mortar was supplied by the still existing bitumen wells near Hit. These ruins are the remains of the first and oldest towns known to the writers of Genesis, namely, the Chaldaic Ur, now Mugheir; Erech, now Warka; Nipur, or Calneh, in the language of the Bible, now called Niffer; and, lastly, Babel, now Hilah and Borsippa, the "tower of languages.” 23
These towns were founded under the second ruling dynasty of Berosus, to which the date of 2286 B.C. is assigned,24 though the imperfect chronology has been supplemented by artificial additions. The great structures of Ur rose in terraces. The surfaces of its walls were decorated with blue enamel, polished agates, alabaster, pieces of marble, mosaics, copper nails, and gold plates. Rafters of palm-wood supported the roof, though there were also early attempts at arched vaults. In the tombs we come upon sarcophagi, which consist of two earthenware vessels fitted together; and at the side of the dead we find polished flint utensils, bronze implements, gold ear-rings, and brass armlets. 25 One of the oldest records is the cylindrical signet of the ancient king Uruch, the value of which depends not so much on the fact that it preserves to us the fashion of the court of those times, as because the use of a seal indicates the existence of a written character. Even if the inventors of this oldest form of writing did not belong
22 Pauline von Nostiz. Helfer's Reisen, vol. i. p. 256.
J. Oppert, Inscription de Nabuchodonosor, pp. 13-15. 1866.
24 G. Rawlinson, The Five Great Monarchies, vol. i. p. 153.
25 See above, p. 179.
to the Semitic family, the meteorological achievements of the Chaldeans are beyond dispute. Even now the face of every dial is a witness to their wisdom. 26 The first metrical weight was determined by the Euphrates, for the Babylonian talent corresponded exactly with a Babylonian cubic foot of water at the mean temperature of that country.2 27 We owe to the Chaldeans the division of the year into months and week, and the names of our seven days. They divided the circle into 360 degrees, and these again into sixty fractions. Their figures reached to a hundred, yet they also had special signs for sixty or a Sossos, as well as for the Saros, or square of the Sossos. Earthenware tablets found near Senkareh actually contain directions for distinguishing the unit and the Sossos by their position from right to left; in other words, the invention of the positional value of figures is due to these people. The Chaldeans even had a mode of writing which was essentially like our expressions for decimal fractions. Let us add that, with their sexagesimal division, the Babylonians originated the talents, minæ, and shekels, which became the monetary standard of Western Asia. Bars of silver had however to be weighed and tested when used in commercial transactions. To give to money an easily recognizable value, to stamp gold and silver into coins, was reserved for the Greeks of Asia Minor, while the Semites and the nations descended from them continued the use of bars long after this invention.
To other Semitic nations the West is indebted for its religious training. These creations have already been under consideration, so it only remains for us to examine the share which the type of the language had in the institution of monotheism. The old Aryans designated natural phenomena, or the forces of nature, according to the impressions made by these on their senses; and as in these languages the radical and significant phonetic elements were very soon effaced, the name, as we have already shown, became incomprehensible and gave rise to endless myths. The Semites, on the contrary, gave to their gods names referring to
27 J. Brandis. metres in length.
26 J. Brandis, Münz- Mass- und Gewichtsystem, p. 20. Berlin, 1866. According to J. Oppert the Babylonian foot was 315 milliJournal Asiatique. 1872.