« PreviousContinue »
The religious nature of the Babylonians, as is the case with all Semitic people, was highly developed. This is evidenced, not only by the relatively large number of religious texts, pure and simple, such as hymns, prayers, litanies, and penitential psalms already discovered, but also by the high ethical tone pervading most of their inscriptions. The hand of the priest is clearly discernible in nearly all the legal contracts of whatever nature, be they deeds of sale, transfer of property, interestbearing notes, inventories, or what not.
The more we study the religion of Babylonia and Assyria the more we are forced to admit its similarity to that of Israel. This is natural, for were not the Hebrews of Babylonian origin? What is true of the Hebrews is also true of the Canaanites who occupied Palestine between the time of Abraham and the Exodus. When Abraham emigrated with numerous followers from Ur-Casdim, that is, modern Mugheir, in southern Babylon, to southern Palestine we are not to regard him as the first Semite who had left the valley of the Euphrates to find a new home on the shores of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, as he journeyed north to Haran, then through Syria, south to Damascus and to the territory immediately west of the Dead Sea, he doubtless found along the entire line of his march people of the same race, language, and to : great extent of the same religion. The Tel-el-Amarna tablets show that there was but very little difference between the language used in Canaan, when the tablets were written, and that of the Phænecian inscriptions and of the Old Testament. According to Sayce, Babylonian or Assyrian is more nearly related to Hebrew than to any other Semitic language. People of the same origin and tongue would, doubtless, have many religious ideas in common. Now, if the cuneiform inscriptions and other Assyrian monuments throw light upon the religious institutions of the Hebrews, may we not expect some help from the Old Testament in studying the ancient religions of Mesopotamia ?
Attention has been called time and again to the similarity between the ancient Babylonian temples and that of Jehovah at Jerusalem. Professor Peters, in his recent volume on Nippur, points out some of the many coincidences between the oldest Babylonian temple yet discovered and the temple of Solomon. True, Bel was worshiped in one and Jehovah in the other, yet the underlying principles in both may be traced to a common origin. The ziggurat was built in several stories, each story even more sacred than the other. The temple at Jerusalem, like the tabernacle, was only one story high, but the sanctity of the several parts was just as clearly recognized as in the ancient Babylonian ziggurat. The little shrine on the uppermost story of the ziggurat, in some sense the habitation of the local god, corresponded to the Holy of Holies in the extreme end of the Jewish temple. The lower stories of the ziggurat had their counterpart in the Holy Place. The altar of burnt offerings was found on the outside of the temple proper. The arrangement in both cases, though differing in detail, "had its origin in similar ideas regarding the nature of the divinity and the place and manner in which he should be worshiped. And to understand thoroughly the meaning of the Jewish temple and the method of its worship we must study precisely such a temple as Ekur, ... at Nippur, the oldest temple of which we have any record, and one which exercised a profound influence on the religious development of Assyria and Babylonia, and through them of the whole Semitic world."
The furnishing of the Babylonian temples deserves our attention. The altar was so constructed as to present the appearance of horns, reminding us of the “horns" of the Jewish altar. Near the altar were placed huge water jars for ablutionary purposes. The “apsu," or great basin found in the temples of Chaldæa, will at once suggest the huge molten sea made by Hiram for the temple of Solomon. The two pillars Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings vii, 21) found in the porch of the temple at Jerusalem, whether purely ornamental or symbolic in their nature, were very similar to those in Phænecian sanctuaries, and were, doubtless, copied from a Babylonian prototype. There are those who see in the “ship” of the Babylonian temple, or the miniature vessels in which the gods, or rather their images, were deposited and carried about on sacred occasions, the origin of the ark of the covenant. Similar sacred vessels were also known in Egypt, and are often represented on the mural decorations.
From what lias been said it will be seen that the temple was regarded in some special sense as the dwelling place of the Deity. It is therefore quite natural that sacrifices and offerings of various kinds should have been offered to the various gods in these temples. As with the Hebrews so with the Babylonians, the sacrifices consisted of animal and vegetable products. Among the objects mentioned in the inscriptions are the following: Oxen, sheep, goats, gazelles, lambs, birds, fish, milk, cream, butter, wine, oil, honey, dates, garlic, corn, herbs of various kinds, spices, and sweet incense. All the offerings must be of the best, absolutely without blemish. It is not strange that fish was offered in sacrifice, for was not Ea a god of the sea? His temple at Eridu on the Euphrates, near the head of the Persian Gulf, was one of the most sacred and ancient of sanctuaries. As might be expected there were regular sacrifices-presumably over and above the daily—on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days. The third, sixteenth, and nineteenth were also observed. It seems, however, that different temples had their different days. The most sacred of Babylonian days was the first day of the year. " At this festival Bel entered the holy assembly room, in order to fix the fates of men, especially that of the king, for the coming year.” The date of the new year's day may have varied in the several localities. Hommel thinks that it was the first of Nisan, that is, March 21. According to him, “This festival of the new year and the spring was also held in remembrance of the day of creation. Assyriologists see a resemblance in this most sacred of Babylonian feasts utbe Hebrew day of atonement."
I-FIFTH SERIES, VOL. XV.
The sacred literature of the Babylonians has also much in common with that of the Hebrews; such as the story of creation, the garden of Eridu (Eden), and the account of the deluge. There is in the British Museum a stone cylinder on which “two human figures are depicted with a serpent behind them having their hands stretched out toward the fruit that hangs from a neighboring tree." There is in the Louvre a bas-relief which recalls the cherubim of Gen. iii, 24. It is a Phænician monument on which are winged griffins guarding the sacred palm tree. Many other items pointing to a common origin could be given.
We find also many religious ideas which betray a common origin. The Babylonians were undoubtedly polytheists. However, it would be wrong to conclude that all the different divine names found in the inscriptions represented different gods, for, as El, Elaoh, Elshim, ElShaddai, El-Elyou, Jehovah, and Jah of the Hebrew Bible refer to one and the same God, so also some of the gods of Babylonia passed under several names at different times and in different localities. The religion of ancient Babylonia, though possessing much of the grotesque and coarse, was not devoid of noble sentiments and lofty conceptions. The gods were not only omnipotent, but loving and merciful. True, the doctrine of love to them was not emphasized, but was subordinated to that of awful, not filial, reverence. Marduk, we are told, created men out of kindness toward them. Professor Jastrow, in his recent volume on the Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, reproduces in good English translation many of the cuneiform tablets bearing upon this subject. The problem of suffering and evil as explained in the Babylonian texts seems quite familiar. Suffering of every nature is the direct result of sin. Happiness can be realized only by an unconditional surrender to the divine will. Obedience to the gods was the source of all joy and gladness. Such teaching naturally elevated the standard of public morals. That this was comparatively high is shown by the tone and language of numberless commercial and contract tablets. The penitential psalms and prayers of the Babylonians contain passages of exquisite beauty, showing a profound realization of the evil of sin, and a noble ethical sentiment. The prayer of Nebuchadnezzar to Marduk, as he was about to commence his reign, compares favorably with those of the Hebrew rulers. We append Professor Jastrow's translation:
O Eternal Ruler! Lord of the universe !
REFLEX BENEFITS OF MISSIONS. From time to time some writers in magazines or papers discuss at some length the reflex influences of missions upon the people who originate them, in commerce, literature, or science. It is impossible to give a catalogue of separate volumes of a purely scientific character written by missionaries. The Roman Catholic missionaries have furnished a good share of these. Protestant missionaries have been the peers of any in some of the works they have written. Ebenezer Burgess, an American Board missionary, prepared a Text-Book of Hindu Astronomy, which the American Oriental Society valued so highly as to translate and publish in three hundred and fifty-eight pages of one of their volumes. Missionary Hoisington, of Ceylon, wrote a book, called the Oriental Astronomer, which the Calcutta Review said "laid the scientific world under no small obligation.” Mason's Burma is known in that country as the cyclopedia of knowledge on all things Burmese. Dr. Francis Mason prepared it himself, and it was printed by the Baptist Mission Press at Rangoon. The government adopted it for its colleges, and on Dr. Mason's death bought it of his estate, and it is still kept in the government service, revised from time to time. Its comprehensive character may be seen in part from the unquotably long title-page.
Scores of titles of strictly scientific works by missionaries lie before us while we write, and that exclusive of those relating to philology. If we include language literature we would require a large volume merely to quote titles. The American Board missionaries alone have converted into written languages sixteen previously unwritten tongues. Include folklore, and one would need another volume for the index of titles only. The Spectator, of London, said, not a great while since, that “no class of men on earth, except German professors, would attempt to rival English missionaries in linguistic attainments. There are men among them in dozens as familiar with the folklore of out-of-the-way tribes as Professor Darmsteter is with the folklore of the Semitic peoples, and others who have mastered thoroughly the so-called “impossible' languages—learned Chinese and popular Cingalese."
In the department of ethnology no class has contributed more data. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vol. xvii, is devoted to “Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family,” and is by no less learned an author than Lewis H. Morgan. It is one of the very bulky and elaborate volumes of the learned world. In making his acknowledgments of the parties to wbom he is indebted for his facts Mr. Morgan says: “Without intending to discriminate in the least amongst the number of those named in the tables I desire to mention the fact that much the largest
number of the foreign schedules were furnished by American missionaries. There is no class of men upon earth, whether considered as scholars, as philanthropists, or as gentlemen, who have earned for themselves a more distinguished reputation. Their labors, their self-denial, and their endurance in the work to which they have devoted their time and their great abilities are worthy of admiration. Their contributions to history, to ethnology, to philology, to geography, and to religion alike form a lasting monument to their fame."
Another scientist has written: “ The incidental work done by missionaries for the advancement of human knowledge would compare favorably with all that governments have done who have made that the sole object of national exploring expeditions." It is to Missionary Krapf's explorations and his reports of what he found that we are indebted for the subsequent discovery of the sources of the Nile by Speke and others. The Royal Geographical Society was emphatic in its acknowledgments of its indebtedness to Livingstone for geographical extension in South Central Africa; and even such additions to geographical knowledge as that of Missionary McFarlane in his expeditions in New Guinea and along six hundred miles of coast line and up the Fly River do not go unappreciated, for in McFarlane's case the admiralty of Great Britain warmly acknowledged indebtedness.
The writer asked a gentleman of learning familiar with the journals of oriental and other scholarly societies what proportion of the Royal Geographical, Royal Asiatic, China, Japan, Bengal Asiatic, and American oriental catalogues and specimens in museums probably came through missionaries, and he unhesitatingly said, " three fourths.” Perhaps this estimate was too great; and yet it is quite true that there is not a museum in Europe which has not been enriched by the thousands of birds, animals, insects, minerals, and implements which missionaries bave gathered and brought from all parts of the world. Professor Agassiz said: “Few are aware how much we owe the missionaries for their intelligent observation of facts and their collecting specimens.” Wood's Cabinet, at Amherst College, has a collection of more than twelve hundred minerals, chiefly from Asia, mostly sent by missionaries, which give a tolerable idea of the geology of Syria, parts of Persia, and India. The Nineveh Gallery, of this college, was almost wholly collected by a missionary, the Rev. H. Lobdell, M.D. From Gaboon, in Africa, the Rev. W. Walker sent a single specimen which was at the time valued at $1,000. Dr. S. R. Brown, of Japan, furnished “spunglass” corals and a giant crab of rare character. The Rev. J. Tyler sent hundreds of specimens of quadrupeds from South Africa. In the department of botany and medicine it would be a difficult task to group the knowledge which has been derived through missionaries. The contributions of African missionaries alone to the knowledge of botany is of surprising extent, though most of it is incidentally recorded. Missionaries have been not only reliable, but in many cases the only persons to