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The Story of the Deluge by Edward Page Mitchell



Interesting Particulars Respecting the Translations of the Assyrian Tablets in the British Museum--Newly Discovered Facts About the Flood and Noah, Together with Some Light on the History of the Senator from Maine and the Settlement of Brooklyn.

Boston, April 26--Mr. Jacob Rounds of London, one of the assistant curators of the British Museum, in a private letter to a distinguished Orientalist of this city, gives some interesting particulars regarding the progress which has been made in the arrangement and translation of the sculptured tablets and lateres coctiles brought from Assyria and Chaldea by Mr. George Smith. The results of the past three or four months are gratifying in the extreme. The work, which was begun three quarters of a century ago by Grotefend, and pursued by archaeologists such as Rask, St. Martin, Klaproth, Oppert, and the indefatigable Rawlinson, each of whom was satisfied if he carried it forward a single step, has been pushed far and fast by Mr. George Smith and his scholarly associates. The Assyrio-Babylonian cuneiforms, the third and most complicated branch of the trilogy, may fairly be said to have found their Oedipus.

The riddles of Accad and of Sumir are read at last. The epigraphs on tablets dug from the earth and rubbish of the Ninevite mounds are now translated by Mr. George Smith as readily as Professor Whitney translates Greek, or a fifth-term schoolboy, the fable of the man and the viper.

It is not many years since the learned Witte declared that these sphenographic characters, arranged so neatly upon the slabs of gray alabaster, or the carefully prepared surface of clay--like specimen arrowheads in the museum of some ancient war department--were entirely without alphabetic significance, mere whimsical ornaments, or perhaps the trail of worms! But their exegesis has been perfected. The mounds of Nimroud, and Kouyunjik, and Khorsabad, and Nebbi Yunus have yielded up their precious treasures, and are now revealing, page by page, the early history of our globe.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Rounds are both confirmed in the belief, first entertained by Westergaarde, that the cuneiform character is closely akin to the Egyptian demotic; and also that its alphabet--which contains over four hundred signs, some syllable, some phonetic, and some ideographic--is of the most complicated and arbitrary nature. As already intimated, the inscriptions which Mr. Smith and his colaborers have deciphered are in the primitive or Babylonian character, which is much more obscure than either of its successors and modifications, the so-called Persian and Median cunei.


The slabs of the greatest interest and importance were those found buried in the famous Kouyunjik mound, first opened in 1843 by M. Paul Emile Botta, and subsequently explored by Layard himself.

The inscriptions are mostly upon clay, and seem to have constituted the walls of the great library of Assurbanipal in Sennacherib's palace. Sennacherib was probably a monarch of a nautical turn of mind, for a large portion of the inscriptions illustrate the history of the flood and the voyage of Noah, or of Nyab, his Assyrian counterpart, who also corresponds, in some particulars, with the Deucalion of the Grecian myths. Piece by piece and fragment by fragment the diluvian narrative has been worked out, until it stands complete, a distinct episode in the vast epic which Mr. George Smith is engaged in reconstructing. Mr. Rounds may certainly be pardoned for the naturally enthusiastic terms in which he speaks of these labors.

And well may he be proud. These men in the British Museum are successfully compiling, brick by brick, what they claim to be a complete encyclopedia of sacred and profane history, beginning with the conception of matter and the birth of mind. Their extraordinary researches have placed them upon a pedestal of authority, from which they now gravely pronounce their approval of the Holy Scriptures, and even stoop to pat Moses on the head and to tell him that his inspired version was very nearly correct.

So graphic is the account of the adventures of Nyab, or Noah as he may more conveniently be called; so clear is the synopsis of his method of navigation; so startling are the newly discovered facts regarding the Ark and its passengers, that I am tempted to avail myself of the kind permission of the Boston savant who has the honor to be Mr. Rounds's esteemed correspondent, and to transcribe somewhat in detail, for the benefit of your readers, the extraordinary story of the flood as told by the Assyrian cuneiforms--cryptograms for four thousand years until the genius of a Smith unveiled the mystery of their meaning.


Mr. Smith ascertains from these inscriptions that when Noah began to build his Ark and prophesy a deluge, the prevailing opinion was that he was either a lunatic or a shrewd speculator who proposed, by his glowing predictions and appearance of perfect sincerity, so to depreciate real estate that he might buy, through his brokers, to any extent at prices merely nominal.

Even after the lowlands were submerged, and it was apparent that there was to be a more than usually wet season, Noah's wicked neighbors were accustomed to gather for no other purpose than to deride the ungainly architecture of the Ark and to question its sailing qualities. They were not wanting who asserted that the Thing would roll over at the first puff of wind like a too heavily freighted tub. So people came from far and near to witness and laugh at the discomfiture of the aged patriarch.

But there was no occasion for ridicule. The Ark floated like a cork. Noah dropped his center board and stood at the helm waving graceful adieus to his wicked contemporaries, while the good vessel caught a fresh southerly breeze and moved on like a thing of life. There is nothing whatever in the Assyrian account to confirm the tradition that Noah accelerated the motion of the Ark by raising his own coattails. This would have been an unnecessary as well as undignified proceeding. The tall house on deck afforded sufficient resistance to the wind to drive the Ark along at a very respectable rate of speed.


After the first novelty of the situation had worn off, and there was no longer the satisfaction of kindly but firmly refusing applications for passage, and seeing the lately derisive people scrambling for high land, only to be eventually caught by and swallowed up in the roaring waters, the voyage was a vexatious and disagreeable one. The Ark at the best was an unwieldy craft. She fell off from the wind frightfully, and almost invariably missed stays. Every choppy sea hammered roughly upon her flat bottom, making all on board so seasick as to wish that they too had been wicked, and sunk with the crowd.

Inside the miserable shanty which served for a cabin, birds, beasts, and human beings were huddled promiscuously together. One of the deluge tablets says, not without a touch of pathos: "It was extremely uncomfortable [amakharsyar] to sleep with a Bengal tiger glaring at one from a corner, and a hedgehog nestled up close against one's bare legs. But it was positively dangerous when the elephant became restless, or the polar bear took offense at some fancied slight."

I will not anticipate Mr. Smith's detailed account of the cruise of the Ark. He has gathered data for a complete chart of Noah's course during the many months of the voyage. The tortuous nature of the route pursued and the eccentricity of Noah's great circle sailing are proof that the venerable navigator, under the depressing influence of his surroundings, had frequent recourse to ardent spirits, an infirmity over which we, his descendants, should drop the veil of charity and of silence.


The most astounding discovery of all, however, is a batch of tablets giving an actual and literal transcript from Noah's logbook. The journal of the voyage--which Noah, as a prudent navigator, doubtless kept with considerable care--was probably bequeathed to Shem, eldest born and executive officer of the Ark. Portions of the log, it may be, were handed down from generation to generation among the Semitic tribes; and Mr. Rounds does not hesitate to express his opinion that these tablets in the British Museum were copied directly from the original entries made in the ship's book by Noah or Shem.

He sends to his Boston correspondent early proofs of some of the lithographic facsimiles which are to illustrate Mr. Smith's forthcoming work, An Exhaustive History of the Flood and of the Noachic Voyage. They should bear in mind that the inscription reads from left to right, and not, like Arabic and numerous other Semitic languages, from right to left.

Expressed in the English character, this inscription would read as follows:

...dahyarva saka ormudzi...fraharram athura rich thyar avalna nyasadayram okanaus mana frabara ...gathava Hambi Humin khaysathryam nam Buhmi...pasara ki hi baga Jethyths paruvnam oazarka... Rhsayarsha ...

Such progress has been made in the interpretation of the Aramaic dialects that it is comparatively an easy matter for Mr. Rounds to put this into our vernacular, which he does as follows, supplying certain hiatuses to the inscription where the connection is obvious:

SCOW "AHK," LATITUDE 44° 15', LONGITUDE...Water falling rapidly. Ate our last pterodactyl yesterday...Hambl Hamin [Hannibal Hamlin!] down with scurvy. Must put him ashore...THURS, 7TH. Bitter ale and mastodons all gone. Mrs. Japheth's had another pair of twins. All well.

The importance of this scrap of diluvian history can hardly be overestimated. It throws light on three or four points which have been little understood hitherto. Having viewed the subject in all its bearings, and having compared the extract here quoted with numberless other passages which I have not time to give, Mr. Smith and Mr. Rounds arrive at the following


I. When this entry was made in the logbook by Noah (or Shem ) the Ark was somewhere off the coast of Maine. The latitude warrants this inference; the longitude is unfortunately wanting. Parallel proof that Noah visited the shores of North America is to be found in the old ballad, founded on a Habbinical tradition, where mention is made of Barnegat. The singular error which locates Ararat just three miles south of Barnegat is doubtless due to some confusion in Noah's logarithms--the natural result of his unfortunate personal habits.

II. "Ate our last pterodactyl yesterday...Bitter ale and mastodons all gone." There we have a simple solution of a problem which has long puzzled science. The provisions stowed away in the Ark did not prove sufficient for the unexpectedly protracted voyage. Hard-pressed for food, Noah and his family were obliged to fall back on the livestock. They devoured the larger and more esculent animals in the collection. The only living specimens of the icthyosaurus, the dodo, the silurian, the pleisosaurus, the mastodon, were eaten up by the hungry excursionists. We can therefore explain the extinction of certain species, which, as geology teaches us, existed in antediluvian times. Were this revelation the only result of Mr. Smith's researches he would not have dug in vain. Mr. Rounds justly observes that the allusion to bitter ale affords strong presumptive evidence that this entry in the log was made by the hand of no other than Noah himself!

III. The allusion to the interesting increase of Japheth's family shows that woman--noble woman, who always rises to the occasion--was doing her utmost to repair the breaches made in the earth's population by the whelming waters. The phrase hibaga may possibly signify triplets; but Mr. Smith, with that conservatism and repugnance to sensation which ever characterize the true archaeologist, prefers to be on the safe side and call it twins.


IV. We now come to a conclusion which is as startling as it is inevitable. It connects the Honorable Hannibal Hamlin with the diluvian epoch, and thus with the other long-lived patriarchs who flourished before the flood. Antiquarians have long suspected that the similarity between the names Ham and Hamlin was something more than a coincidence. The industry of a Smith has discovered among the Assyrian ruins the medial link which makes the connection perfectly apparent. Ham, the second son of Noah, is spoken of in these records from Kouyunjik as Hambl Hamin; and no candid mind can fail to see that the extreme antiquity of the senator from Maine is thus very clearly established!

"Hambl Hamin down with the scurvy. Must put him ashore." Buhmi literally signifies earth, dirt: and the phrase nam Buhmi is often used in these inscriptions in the sense of to put in the earth, or bury. This can hardly be the meaning here, however, for the Ark was still afloat. Nam Buhmi can therefore hardly be construed otherwise than "put ashore."

Note the significance. The Ark is beating up and down, off the coast of Maine, waiting for a nor'west wind. Poor Ham, or Hambl Hamin, as he should properly be called, has reason to regret his weakness for maritime excursions and naval junketing parties. The lack of fresh vegetables, and a steady diet of corned mastodon, have told upon his system. Poor Hambl! When he was collector of a Mediterranean port just before the flood, he was accustomed to have green peas and asparagus franked him daily from the Garden of Eden. But now the franking privilege has been abrogated, and the Garden of Eden is full forty fathoms under the brine. Everything is salt. His swarthy face grows pale and haggard. His claw-hammer coat droops upon an attenuated frame. He chews his cherrot moodily as he stands upon the hurricane deck of the Ark with his thumbs in his vest pocket, and thinks that he can hold office on this earth but little longer. His gums begin to soften. He shows the ravages of the scurvy. And Noah, therefore, after considerable argument--for Hambl is reluctant to get out of any place he has once got into--nam Buhmi's him--puts him ashore.

We have no further record of Hambl Hamin, but it is perfectly reasonable to assume that after being landed on the rocky coast of Maine he subsisted upon huckleberries until sufficiently recovered from the scurvy, then sailed up the Penobscot upon a log, founded the ancient village of Ham-den, which he named after himself, and was immediately elected to some public position.


In Mr. Rounds's long and profoundly interesting communication I have, I fear, an embarras de richesses. From the many curious legends which Mr. Smith has deciphered, I shall select only one more, and shall deal briefly with that. It is the story of an opposition ark.

At the time of the flood there lived a certain merchant named Brith, who had achieved a competence in the retail grocery business. In fact, he was an antediluvian millionaire. Brith had been converted from heathenism by the exceedingly effective preaching of Noah, but had subsequently backslidden. When it began to thunder and lighten, however, and to grow black in the northeast, Brith professed recurring symptoms of piety. He came down to the gangway plank and applied for passage for himself and family. Noah, who was checking off the animals on the back of an old tax bill, sternly refused to entertain any such idea. Brith had recently defeated him for the Common Council.

The worthy grocer's money now stood him in good stead. He did the most sensible thing possible under the circumstances. He built an ark for himself, painted in big letters along the side the words: "The Only Safe Plan of Universal Navigation!" and named it the Toad. The Toad was fashioned after the model of the Ark, and there being no copyright in those days, Noah could only hope that it might prove unseaworthy.

In the Toad, Brith embarked his wife Briatha, his two daughters, Phessar and Barran, his sons-in-law, Lampra and Pinnyish, and a select assortment of beasts hardly inferior to that collected by Noah himself. Lampra and Pinnyish, sly dogs, persuaded fifty of the most beautiful women they could find to come along with them.

Brith was not so good a sailor as Noah. He put to sea full forty days too soon. He lost his dead reckoning and beat around the ocean for the space of seven years and a quarter, living mostly upon the rats that infested the Toad. Brith had foolishly neglected to provision his craft for a long voyage.

After this protracted sailing, the passengers and crew of the Toad managed to make a landing one rainy evening and took ashore, with themselves, their baggage and a coon and dromedary, the sole surviving relics of their proud menagerie. Once on terra firma, the three men separated, having drawn up a tripartite covenant of perpetual amity and divided up the stock of wives. Brith took eighteen, Lampra took eighteen, and Pinnyish, who seems to have been an easygoing sort of fellow, too lazy to quarrel, had to be satisfied with the seventeen that remained.

Tablets from Nebbi Yunus throw some light on the interesting question as to the landing place of this party. Khayarta certainly means island, and Dyinim undeniably signifies long. Perhaps, therefore, Mr. Rounds is justified in his opinion that the Toad dropped anchor in Wallabout Bay, and that Brooklyn and the Plymouth society owe their origin to this singular expedition.



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