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Document number: 1123
Date: May 1856
Recipient: BURGESS Henry
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: PUBLISHED
Last updated: 16th February 2012

[Printed in the 'Correspondence' section as 'On the Assyrian Inscriptions. - No. III.' of the Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record v. 3 no. 6, July 1856, pp. 422-426.]

On the Queen of Sheba, and her visit to Solomon.

It is recorded in pl. 67 and again in pl. 69 of the British Museum Series that a certain Queen of the Arabians sent tribute and costly presents to one of the Assyrian kings. And from another plate of the series it appears that this king was cotemporary with Menahem king of Israel, who likewise paid him tribute. From this indication Col. Rawlinson has framed a hypothesis, that this Queen of the Arabians was a descendant and successor of the Queen of Sheba who two centuries earlier had paid her world-renowned visit to Solomon. This idea is however warmly opposed by Dr. Hincks in the last number of the proceedings of the Royal Society of Literature (vol. v p. 162), who maintains that the Queen of Sheba certainly came from the shores of the Indian Ocean, because it is said in St Matthew, that she came "from the uttermost parts of the earth." But we all know that oriental expressions of this kind are not to be taken literally. The phrase only means that she came from a great distance. If she came a month's journey from the previously almost unknown interior parts of Arabia, surely the requirements of the text will be fully satisfied. Now we read in 1 Kings x., that the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon " with a very great train, with camels that bare spices." These camels could not have come from the shores of the Indian Ocean. Enormous deserts lay between, and hostile or faithless nations innumerable.

The mention of spices as her chief and leading present to Solomon points out the probability that she was the Queen of the SabŠans, an Arabian country the richness of whose spices exceeded any other in the known world. Milton speaks of the breezes which waft far out to sea, -

"sabŠan odours from the spicy shore

Of Araby the Blest."

Virgil says:

"India mittit ebur, molles sua thura SabŠi."

And Pliny says of them:

"They use no kind of wood that is not sweetscented; they even cook their food with the wood of frankincense and myrrh."

And many similar passages might be quoted if it were necessary.

I will now offer to you the translation of a very curious and important passage of the Assyrian inscriptions. In plate 145 of Botta, Sargina King of Assyria gives a short epitome of the glorious actions which distinguished his reign, in the course of which he boasts of the great battle fought at Rapikhi, in which he defeated the Egyptians and their allies. The Egyptians tartan or general, whose name appears to have been Sevechi, effected his escape. But Kanan King of Gaza was taken prisoner in the battle, and led away into captivity.

Before proceeding further let us consider this statement, which offers several points of interest. Rapikhi, where the battle was fought, signifies "City of the Sun," and therefore it has been proposed, I believe, to identify it with Heliopolis in Egypt. I see no other objection, except that I can hardly think Sargina's army had penetrated so far into the interior of Egypt. I read the name of the Egyptian general Sevechi, and I should be glad to know in what manner other inquirers have transcribed this important name, but I cannot find anywhere any statement of their opinions. I am inclined to believe that this " general" was no other than Sevechus the Ethiopian, who, according to the common chronology, was at this very time the ruler of Egypt, the native Egyptian dynasty having been dethroned. But I conjecture (from what follows) that a prince of the ancient dynasty still maintained a feeble authority in another part of the country, and continued to style himself Pharaoh or King of Egypt. The name of Kanan King of Gaza, which occurs more than one hundred times in the Assyrian records, without the slightest variation, is highly interesting and important, as it shews us that the princes of Canaan sometimes adopted as their name that of the ancient hero or patriarch whom they probably worshipped, and looked upon as the founder of their race. I now proceed to the immediate consequences of the battle of Rephikhi, which though briefly stated, are very important. Sargina says:

"I then received tribute from Pharaoh, King of Egypt; Samsi, Queen of the Arabians; and Ithamar, King of the SabŠans."

Now these events occurred on the borders of Egypt, or within Egypt, itself. The monarchs who came offering tribute after the victory, were doubtless those who were nearest, and who had most reason to deprecate the wrath of the conqueror.

These Arabians, then, were the Arabians of the South, and by no means any of those nomade [sic] tribes who dwelt in the deserts "north and east of Damascus." And we see that these southern Arabians were governed by a queen, and the SabŠans by a king. But it seems not unreasonable to conjecture that under other circumstances, and in a former generation, the reverse may have been the case, and that the SabŠans may have been ruled by a queen: the Arabians by a king. Why may not this have happened in the time of Solomon?

Before quitting this subject I cannot help calling your attention to the very remarkable name of Ithamar, the King of the SabŠans. This name leads back our thoughts almost into patriarchal times. For we read in Scripture that Ithamar was the youngest son of Aaron, and that he became the head of a family who were named from him the children of Ithamar. They long continued to flourish, for we read that one of them returned with Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem in the days of Artaxerxes. This Ithamar, probably, was renowned for his holiness like his relatives Moses and Aaron, and his fame and name widespread among the Israelites and Arabians, which may account for its being borne by a king of the SabŠans. But whatever the reason, the fact is not the less certain and important. Among the tribute-offerings of these kings, were golden ishbi shatra, the first of which words signifies a sceptre, and the second an umbrella of state, the symbol of royalty. Perhaps the word should be combined into one, ishbishatra, a sceptre-umbrella.

The war of Sennacherib against Hezekiah King of Judah.

This most important inscription is found upon the bull No. 3, at the grand entrance of the palace of Kouyunjik. It has already received the marked attention of Mr. Layard and others, and has been interpreted by Dr. Hincks with considerably success, a and in a manner which does the greatest credit to his sagacity. But the original text of this inscription has never been published, and as far as I know, the only copy existing in this country is that of Mr. Layard in the British Museum. Unfortunately this interesting inscription has been miserably defaced by time and violence, and Mr. Layard's copy of it was less carefully executed than usual, as he was probably altogether unaware of its high importance at the time he copied it. Nevertheless, the true sense has been throughout detected by Dr. Hincks.

After a careful examination of the original text, I would give the following as a nearly literal translation of what remains legible. But I must acknowledge that I have not been able to add anything essential to Dr. Hincks's translation, on which the following is founded:

The inscriptions commences, "Sennacherib the great King of Assyria," etc., etc., etc., with many titles; and after relating the events of the first two years of his reign, continues as follows: -

"In my third year I made an incursion into the land of the Khatti (Syria). Luliah, b King of Sidon, had swept away (abolished) the religious rites of my empire. From the city of Tyre he fled to the Ionians of the sea. I took possession of his land. I placed Tubael on his royal throne. I imposed upon him the customary tribute. The kings of the sea-coas?t all of them brought great presents? in the neighbourhood of the city Husuva and still further. Zedekiah, King of Ascalon, who had not submitted to my authority the gods of his palace, himself and his family I carried away and brought them captives unto Assyria. Sar.... c son of Rugati d their former king, I made king over the people of Ascalon. A tribute to be paid to me, as his sovereign lord, I imposed upon him. At the head of my army I destroyed the cities which had not submitted to my authority. I carried off the women. The priests and inhabitants of Ekron who had seized? Padiah their king.....and had delivered him up to Hezekiah, King of Judah...."

Then follows and account of a great battle gained by the Assyrians against the united army of the Egyptians and Ethiopians, here called Musri and Milukha in the vicinity of a city whose name is unfortunately lost. Their chariots and cavalry were routed and destroyed. The prisoners were put to death. The inhabitants of Ekron were also severely treated. The account then continues thus:-

"The principal men among them I seized and I cut off their hands.... I carried away Padiah their king from the middle of Jerusalem, and placed him once more upon his throne. A tribute to be paid to me, as his sovereign lord, I imposed upon him. Hezekiah, King of Judah, who had not submitted to my government, forty-six of his strong fenced cities and lesser towns without number, I destroyed. I carried away their women. I made .... [some words effaced] of his royal city Jerusalem. I cut off from his kingdom several fortified cities. The people whom I carried off from the middle of his land, I placed in my own kingdom. Afterwards I made.... the cities of Ascalon, Ekron, and Gaza. I conquered the land. An increase of their former fixed tribute, e and of their gift of honour, f and of their presents, g I imposed upon them. [a line effaced.] Hezekiah had burnt with fire? my royal letters. h Wherefore his best workmen, i and a thousand men of the zanakunk of Jerusalem his royal city, I carried away captive. Thirty talents of gold: eight hundred talents of silver: his coined money? the treasures of his palace, [his sons], his daughters, the of his palace, his menservants and his maidservants l I carried away captive into Nineveh, and in the service of my empire I placed them."


It will be seen that Sennacherib makes no allusion to the catastrophe which terminated his expedition. But it was the usage of the Assyrians only to record their victories and to gloss over their defeats. They only drew the sunny side of the picture. In their accounts of their battles no Assyrians are ever said to have been killed, or even wounded, even when the loss of the enemies is counted by thousands. Allowing for this national peculiarity, the rest of the Assyrian account seems sufficiently truthful. The ravage of JudŠa agrees with Scripture, and the destruction of many fenced cities. During this bloody war, the pressure upon Jerusalem appears to have been very great indeed - greater than what would be inferred from the narrative in the Book of Kings. For, not only was Hezekiah compelled to pay enormous sums of gold and silver, but he was obliged to release Padiah, King of Ekron, whom he kept in captivity in Jerusalem, a curious episode of this war, respecting which Scripture is silent.

We were hardly prepared, indeed, to hear that the sons and daughters of Hezekiah were carried off captives. But this may have been a loose statement of the Assyrian chronicler, or it if have any foundation, they may have been residing in some of the smaller cities of Judah which Sennacherib destroyed, and may have shared the fate of the other inhabitants.

Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar.

In the fourth chapter of Daniel we are told that Nebuchadnezzar said in his pride, "Is not this great Babylon which I have built?" From this passage some commentators have inferred that Nebuchadnezzar was the first builder of Babylon, a most erroneous supposition, since that city was in existence many centuries before this time, and is constantly and continually named as a large city in the Assyrian inscriptions, which are earlier than his reign.

It seems to have escaped the notice of these commentators, that the Book of Daniel here records a vain-glorious speech of this king, and that the assertion is, not that Nebuchadnezzar really built Babylon, but that he boasted of having done so. In fact, he had embellished the city to such a degree with temples and other works of public utility, that he was justified in saying, with the usual license of oriental hyperbole, that he had built the city, since there were probably few public edifices of splendour in Babylon which the had not either built or rebuilt. But be that as it may, I wish now to draw your attention to a passage in the great inscription (column 7, line 35), which appears in some degree to illustrate this part of the Book of Daniel. In this passage, the word which I have translated, "the work," is in the original nish. I do not know its meaning, and my translation is therefore so far conjectural. But admitting for the moment the above meaning of the word, the passage is as follows; -

"Babylon, the city, the work of my hands, which I have erected."

This comes so very near to the passage of Daniel, that I commend it to the notice of biblical scholars for further inquiry. The symbol for "hands" is not the most usual one, but it occurs exactly the same as here in several passages, ex. gr. B. Museum, pl. 33, line 1, where Sargina says he is a servant or instrument in the hands of the gods Anu and Bel.

Since writing this I have found that the word nish occurs again in the 17th line of the same column, nish ini-sun, which Dr . Hincks has translated in your last number, "the delight of their eyes," so that nish would mean "delight."

Admitting this for the present, the passage which I first examined will stand thus: "Babylon, the city, the delight of my hands, which I have erected."

I prefer the first translation.

There is an obscure passage respecting the image of some idol in column 8 of this great inscription, which has received marked attention from Col. Rawlinson and Dr. Hincks. It reads, zuku su la enu... su la wenish, etc. etc.

Here I would translate la enu, "I did not worship," and la wenish, "I did not exalt;" i.e., "I did not worship his zuku, I did not exalt his crown, and I did not ... his palaga."

Palaga signifies a hatchet, a symbol very suitable to the god of war. On a Ninevaeh sculpture figured by Layard, there is a procession of idols, one of whom carries an axe or hatchet. Nevertheless it is quite uncertain whether this is the meaning of palaga in this passage.

Wenish is from nish, to lift up, in Hebrew; used in such phrases as "he lifted up his eyes and saw: he lifted up his voice and spoke." m

a Layard's Nineveh, p. 142.

b ElulŠus of Greek authors.

c Name partly effaced.

d Or Rukipti

e Tikun.

f Nadan shatti. A gift of small value in itself, but meant as an acknowledgment of the King of Assyria's supremacy.

g Mandatta.

h Or, my royal emblem. The word is effaced.

i The original seems to have, "his carpenters and his stonemasons."

k I know not the meaning of zanakun.

l Or, his male slaves and his female slaves.

m Gesenius, in loc.

n J. S. L., Jan., p. 396.

Lacock Abbey, May 1856

H. F. Talbot

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