Assyrian Studies —Text-Books -- By: William Hayes Ward

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 027:105 (Jan 1870)
Article: Assyrian Studies —Text-Books
Author: William Hayes Ward


Assyrian Studies —Text-Books1

Rev. William Hayes Ward

It is a remarkable fact that Germany, which so generally leads the scholarship of the age, should in the investigation of the Cuneiform texts be considerably behind both England and France. It is true that Grotefend in 1802 made some shrewd guesses, and Rask and Lassen thirty years later conjectured the meaning of a few more words in the Persian column of the Trilingual Inscriptions; but it is due to Sir Henry Rawlinson, Dr. Hincks, Edward Norris, and Fox Talbot in England, and to Burnouf, De Saulcy, Oppert, and Menant in France, that we can record such substantial advance in deciphering these remarkable relics of antiquity.

The first stage in the investigation of an unknown tongue has been passed. We have mainly recovered the alphabet of these three languages of the Behistun Inscriptions, so far as their characters can be called an alphabet, and two of them are translated with grammatical precision, though it is perhaps too much to say this of the second column, called by writers the Median, or Scythic, or Accad. When we pass from these Behistun Inscriptions to others, we find an immense mass of epigraphic remains, for the most part in the language of the third column, the Assyrian and Babylonian. We use both terms as the inscriptions are subdivided into two classes varying to some extent in grammar and alphabet, according as they are found in the region of Nineveh or of Babylon. As these remains have been discovered mainly by English and French explorers, and have been deposited in the museums of London and Paris, it is not strange that these countries have taken the lead in their translation. In this country so little has been done, that the slabs covered with inscriptions have for years attracted ignorantly curious eyes in the rooms of Amherst and Williams Colleges, and of the New York Historical Society, and other cabinets. Not one has had a wedge translated as yet.

It is not our purpose to detail the steps of progress in conquering the details of the Assyrian grammar and vocabulary. Of course in the early stages each investigator was obliged to make and publish his own alphabet and dictionary as he went along. In 1851 Rawlinson published a list of two hundred and forty-six characters in connection with his translation of the Behistun inscription; and four years later De Saulcy published a lexicon of the language, so far as it had then been deciphered. The first complete grammar was the work of Oppert, and published in 1860. Five years before, Dr. Hincks of Dublin had published a paper on Assyrian Verbs; and six years later he published some specimen chapters of an Assyrian grammar. Dr. Hincks’...

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