Page images

were other subordinate sects, but nothing is known of their constitution. Herodotus says, that three of them fed upon nothing but fish, and therefore infringed a sacred law among the Babylonians, who abstained from such food, out of respect to their great goddess. As these tribes, however, lived in the fens, where no corn grew, it may not, as Strabo observes, have been upon a religious principle, but out of necessity, that they departed from the usages of their countrymen. Strabo relates something more extraordinary of the inhabitants of Borsippa, where the bats being much larger than in other places, they salted them for food; but whether this practice proceeded from want, or superstition, is not related.

This is all that can be safely narrated of the constitution of the empire of the Assyrians and Babylonians; for the statements of writers in general on this subject, are so vague and uncertain, that there are no satisfactory data on which to form correct opinions; and to record those which are palpably fabulous, forms no part of our plan. The writer and the reader of ancient history are constantly reminded, that they have no certain data, excepting as to what is derived from, or confirmed by the Holy Scriptures.




THE Assyrian empire was one of the most powerful that has ever been established upon the face of the earth. By it, the nations around were long kept in awe, ruled by its iron rod. It grew so mighty, indeed, that its monarchs, eventually, lifted up with pride, forgot that they were mortal, and arrogated to themselves divine honours.

Some authors contend that there were two Assyrian empires, and that Nimrod founded the first, which subsisted, in more or less extent and glory, upwards of 1450 years. The evidence, however, on which this proposition rests, is very slender. It is highly improbable that empires should have been in existence at so early a date after the dispersion. Kingdoms might, and were, but not empires. Besides, Nimrod was not an Assyrian, or descendant of Asshur, the son of Shem, but a Hamite, or Cushite. Ham, his grandfather, or, at least, his son Mizraim, settled in Egypt; others of his sons in Phenicia and Palestine, and Nimrod's brethren of the Cushite race appear to have settled in Arabia, and perhaps in India. Neither the writings of sacred nor profane historians relate that Babel was a city of consequence, till it was rendered such by Semiramis and Nebuchadnezzar. It is not probable that empires should have been at that early age of great importance. But a few years before, mankind had been involved in one general destruction, for their iniquities, eight souls excepted. And prior to the date at which it is said Nimrod founded his empire, the dispersion took place, and the souls then living were, as the sacred historian tells us, scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, Gen. xi. 9. It may be safely asserted, therefore, that this city, like others in the east, rose gradually to the enormous magnitude it at



tained, as ages rolled on, and the empire of which it was the capital rose to its height of prosperity; just as the metropolis of our own country has arisen, as its population, wealth, and power increased.

It is said, Gen. x. 11, "Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh;" that is, being driven out of Shinar, or Babylonia, he went out into Assyria, and builded Nineveh. Who, then, is so likely to have founded Nineveh as Asshur himself? It is not even suggested in the Bible, that Nimrod went forth into the land of Assyria, and built Nineveh; but we read, Isa. xxiii. 13, that Asshur founded Babel.

"Behold the land of the Chaldeans;

This people was not,

Till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness:
They set up the towers thereof,

They raised up the palaces thereof;
And he brought it to ruin."

The fair conclusions to be deduced from Scripture concerning Nimrod and Asshur are, that the former founded a small, but a short-lived kingdom, and that the latter founded Nineveh, which, in after ages, became the capital of the Assyrian empire.

The chronology, and the actions of the ancient Assyrian kings, as recorded by Ctesias, and, after him, Diodorus Siculus, and many modern authors, abound with glaring improbabilities and exaggerations, such as have never been surpassed in the most notorious forgeries, or in the most extravagant romances of oriental writers. To have performed such actions as they ascribe to Ninus, who is represented by them as the founder of the empire, he must have possessed an empire wider in extent than any that has yet existed, and this empire must have been started into being at once, like the goodly globe on which we live. Years must pass away before the infant becomes a man; and ages must have rolled onward, before an empire could have stood forth so prominently, as that of the Assyrians is said to have done in the days of its founder, Ninus. It is wonderful how such monstrous fictions could pass for history with men of understanding as the Greeks were; it is still more wonderful, that they should have been seriously believed by some of the greatest men in the world of literature, whether of ancient or modern times. But such is the nature of man, that, wandering from the source of truth, he is easily led astray, easily seduced into errors. Learning and talent, then, avails him but little; for

our judgment, like all our other faculties, is warped by our forefather's transgression-by our departure from original righteousness.

Upon the particulars of such statements it is unnecessary to dwell minutely. The only safe guide for us to follow in this matter is the book of revelation. The sacred page does not, indeed, give us a definite history of other nations, but introduces them only so far as some historical facts are connected with the history of the Hebrew race, or with the Jews considered as a nation. In this way the following facts are discovered, which will throw a light upon the pretended antiquity of the Assyrian empire, and prove that it was neither so ancient, nor so extensive, as Ctesias and his followers would have us believe.

In the book of Genesis, chap. xiv., we read concerning the nations dwelling on the east of the Euphrates, that, shortly after Abram migrated to the land of Canaan, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, Amraphel, king of Shinar, Árioch, king of Ellasar, and Tidal, king of Gojim, or nations, made a successful incursion into the territory called Pentapolis, or the five cities of the plain, which were involved in the overthrow of Sodom, and where now is the Dead Sea. We read further, that the kings of these cities served Chedorlaomer, and his confederates, who carried their conquests this time to the shores of the Red Sea, and the frontiers of Egypt, and returned, carrying Lot and his family captive. The sacred narrative goes on to say, that Abram discovering the situation of his nephew, armed his servants, 318 in number, pursued Chedorlaomer, and his allies, and defeated them, rescuing Lot, and recovering the spoils.

From this may be gathered, that Elam was an independent monarchy, and that Amraphel, king of Shinar, if not his vassal, was his ally. Now, the name Shinar, in Scripture, is usually applied to Babylonia; it was, therefore, in those early ages, a distinct kingdom from, and dependent, not on Assyria, but Elam. But if Nimrod, Ninus, and Semiramis, had founded, and reigned over so extensive an empire as some have asserted, this could not have been the case; for Elam itself, and the other nations mentioned in connexion with it, must have been provinces of that empire.

In the days of Abraham, and for ages after, the Canaanites were an independent race, and from the expulsion of that people, down to the time of the "sweet singer of Israel," no mention is made of an Assyrian empire. There is a pro


found silence, indeed, throughout the whole of the sacred narrative, and in the writings of the prophets, concerning the empire of Assyria, till after the days of Amos, about B. c. 793. It is true, the writings of this prophet state that "the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir," Amos i. 5; and that as God had brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, so had he brought the Syrians from Kir, Amos ix. 7: but all that can be discovered from this is, that Kir was the ancient abode of the Assyrians, before they began to figure in the historic page. After the days of Amos, all the prophets make mention of Assyria as a powerful empire, and we read first of a king of Assyria by name, 2 Kings xv. 19; and the parallel passage, 1 Chron. v. 26, where it is recorded: "And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day." From this is discerned, therefore, that Pul was the first Assyrian king of any great political power, and that the Assyrian empire was raised up by the Almighty, to punish the children of Israel for their iniquities. It follows, then, that the story told us of the remote antiquity of the Assyrian empire, and of there being two empires, is a fiction. There was only one, and that one had not its origin till about the days of Pul, 790 years B. C., who invaded and rendered tributary the kingdom of Israel in the days of Menahem. This is all the information which Scripture gives concerning the antiquity, etc., of the Assyrian empire; and this is all that can be safely relied upon in this matter. And why should it be thought needful to carry inquiries beyond the bounds where correct data are given, and to lose time in discussing what is confessedly fictitious!


It is recorded in the preceding section, that Pul is the first king of Assyria mentioned by name in Scripture. The Scripture dynasty of Assyrian kings, however, begins with that unnamed "king of Nineveh," who repented at the prophecy of Jonah, about B. c. 821. Dr. Hales thinks it probable that Pul was the son of this monarch. Be that as it may, Pul was the first king of Assyria who began to interfere in the affairs of the western states. Hitherto the Assyrian

« PreviousContinue »