There was exhibited at the last meeting of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society, in Philadelphia, on May 7, an object of great interest to archaeologists, with which, says The Church, is also connected a very curious history.
It appears that about forty years ago a young American minister, Rev. W.F. Williams, went as a missionary to Syria, and he visited among places of interest the site of ancient Nineveh about the time that Austin Henry Layard was making his famous explorations and discoveries; he wrote to a friend in Philadelphia that he had secured for him a fine piece of Assyrian sculpture from one of the recently opened temples or palaces, representing a life size figure of a king, clad in royal robes, bearing in one hand a basket and in the other a fir cone. One portion of the stone was covered with hieroglyphics, and was as sharply cut as though it had been carved by a modern hand instead of by an artist who was sleeping in his grave when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was yet an infant.
The letter describing this treasure arrived duly, but the stones did not come. It appears that the caravan bringing them down to Alexandretta, from whence they were to be shipped to Philadelphia, was attacked by robbers, and the sculptured stones were thrown upon the desert as useless, and there they remained for some years. Finally they were recovered, shipped to this country (about twenty-five years ago), and arriving at their destination during the absence of the consignee, were deposited temporarily in a subterranean storeroom at his manufactory. In some way they were overlooked, and here they have remained unopened until they were rediscovered a few days ago; meanwhile the missionary and his friend have both passed away, ignorant of the fact that the rare gift had finally reached its destination and had become again lost.
The cuneiform inscription is now being translated by an Assyrian scholar (Rev. Dr. J.P. Peters, of the Divinity School), and its identity is established; it came from the temple of King Assur-nazir-pal, a famous conqueror who reigned from 883 to 859 B.C.
The slab was cut into three sections, 3x3½ feet each, for convenience of transportation, and they have been somewhat broken on the journey; fortunately, however, this does not obliterate the writing.
Mr. Tolcott Williams, a son of the late missionary, was present at the meeting of the Society, and gave an interesting account of the classic ground from which the slab was obtained. It was one of a number lining the walls of the palace of Assur-nazir-pal. The inscriptions, as translated by Dr. Peters, indicate that this particular slab was carved during the first portion of this king's reign, and some conception of its great antiquity may be gained when it is stated that he was a contemporary of Ahab and Jehosaphat; he was born not more than a century later than Solomon, and he reigned three centuries before Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. After the slabs were procured, it was necessary to send them on the backs of camels a journey of eight hundred miles across the Great Desert, through a region which was more or less infested at all seasons with roving bands of robbers. Mr. Williams well remembered the interview between his father and the Arab camel owner, who told several conflicting stories by way of preliminary to the confession of the actual facts, in order to account for the non-arrival of the stones at Alexandretta, the sea coast town from whence they were to be shipped to Philadelphia.
Mr. A.E. Outerbridge, Jr., gave a brief account of the finding of these stones in the subterranean storeroom where they had reposed for a period of a quarter of a century. The space between the slabs and the boxes had been packed with camels' hair, which had in progress of time become eaten by insects and reduced to a fine powder. The nails with which the cases were fastened were remarkable both for their peculiar shape and for the extraordinary toughness of the iron, far excelling in this respect the wrought iron made in America to day.
The Rev. Dr. J.P. Peters gave a very instructive exposition of the chronology of the kings of Assyria, their social and religious customs and ceremonies, their methods of warfare, their systems of architecture, etc. He stated that the finest Assyrian bass-reliefs in the British Museum came from the same palace as this specimen, the carving of which is not excelled by any period of the ancient glyptic art. The particular piece of alabaster selected by the artist for this slab was unusually fine, being mottled with nodules of crystallized gypsum.
The cuneiform inscription is not unlike the Hebrew in its character, resembling it about as closely as the Yorkshire dialect resembles good English. The characters are so large and clearly cut that it is a pleasure to read them after the laborious scrutiny of the minute Babylonish clay tablets. The inscription on this slab is identical with a portion of that of the great "Standard Monolith," on which this king subsequently caused to be transcribed the pages, as it were, from the different slabs which were apparently cut at intervals in his reign.
"The palace of Assur-nazir-pal, servant of Assur, servant of the god Beltis, the god Ninit, the shining one of Anu and Dagon, servant of the Great Gods, Mighty King, king of hosts, king of the land of Assyria; son of Bin-nirari, a strong warrior, who in the service of Assur his Lord marched vigorously among the princes of the four regions, who had no equal, a mighty leader who had no rival, a king subduing all disobedient to him; who rules multitudes of men; crushing all his foes, even the masses of the rebels.... The city of Calah, which my predecessor, Shalmanezer, King of Assyria had built had fallen into decay: His city I rebuilt; a palace of cedar, box, cypress, for the seat of my royalty, for the fullness of my princedom, to endure for generations, I placed upon it. With plates of copper I roofed it, I hung in its gates folding doors of cedar wood, silver, gold, copper, and iron which my hands had acquired in the lands which I ruled, I gathered in great quantities, and placed them in the midst thereof." O.