The Story of the Deluge by Edward Page Mitchell
THE REMARKABLE DISCOVERIES OF MR. GEORGE SMITH
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
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.
THE RISING OF THE WATERS
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
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.
NOAH AS A NAVIGATOR
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
EXTRACT FROM NOAH'S LOG
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
Expressed in the English character, this inscription would read as
...dahyarva saka ormudzi...fraharram athura uvatish...kia rich thyar
avalna nyasadayram okanaus mana frabara ...gathava Hambi Humin
khaysathryam nam Buhmi...pasara ki hi baga Jethyths paruvnam oazarka...
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
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.
HANNIBAL HAMLIN THE ORIGINAL HAM
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
"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
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.
AN OPPOSITION ARK
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
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.