Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

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Records of the Past, 2nd Series, Vol. III

By A. H. Sayce

Introduction- Letters to Egypt from Babylonia, Assyria, and Syria, in the Fifteenth Century B.C.

An account has already been given in these volumes of the recent discovery of cuneiform tablets at Tel-el-Amarna in Upper Egypt, which prove to contain official correspondence addressed to the Egyptian monarchs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Amenôphis III and his son, Amenôphis IV, Khu-n-Aten, "The Heretic King" (Records of the Past, new ser., vol. ii. pp. 57 sq.) One statement, however, in that account requires correction, in view of the letters from the king of Mitanni, which have now been published. Queen Teie, the mother of Amenôphis IV, was not the daughter of Duisratta or Dusratta, the Mitannian king; the daughter of the latter prince was Tadukhepa, the wife of Amenôphis IV. We are still in the dark as to the parentage of Teie, and Prof. Maspero may be right in considering her to be of Egyptian origin, possibly even a sister of Amenôphis III.

In the following pages I have given translations of the most important letters, from a historical point of view, which have yet been published. They are mostly to be found in the magnificent publication of Messrs. Winckler and Abel, entitled Mittheilungen aus den orientalischen Sammlungen (Berlin, Spemann, 1889, 1890), of which two parts have appeared containing the texts of a considerable number of the Tel el-Amarna tablets at Berlin and Cairo. The promptitude and carefulness with which they have been edited contrasts favourably with the tardiness of the authorities of the British Museum in putting the collection of Tel el-Amarna tablets that exists there at the service of scholars. Of the eighty-one tablets now in the British Museum four only have been published (by Mr. Budge in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology, June 1888). A few passages in the letters have been translated by Dr. Winckler in his Bericht ueber die Thontafeln von Tel-el-Amarna in the Sitzungsberichte of the Berlin Academy, 1888 (No. xxiii), and Dr. Zimmern has translated four of the texts in the Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, v. (1890). Three of these are the same as Nos. 2, 3, and 10 translated by myself in the following pages.

An unexpected light is cast by these letters on the literary education and intercourse which prevailed throughout the ancient civilised world from the Euphrates to the Nile in the century before the Exodus. The government of Egypt extended as far as Northern Syria, its political influence as far as the frontiers of Assyria. But the culture of Western Asia had its primitive home in Babylonia; it was the language and complicated script of Chaldæa which were taught and studied in the distant countries of the west, and which the educated gentleman was required to learn. Egypt exported gold from the mines which had been opened in the desert, and were worked by convicts and the captives taken in the Asiatic campaigns of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

These Asiatic campaigns, however, had tended to Semitise the governing class in Egypt. The king married into the families of Asiatic princes and filled his court with Asiatic officials. Amenôphis IV even became a convert to a Semitic faith, and endeavoured to substitute a belief in the supreme Semitic Baal, who revealed himself in the fiery orb of the sun, for the old religion of his people. His dominions in Palestine and Syria were placed under governors who bore Semitic names, mostly of a purely Canaanitish stamp. Even the vizier himself has a name which is otherwise not found outside the Bible, although the name of the Carthaginian goddess Dido indicates that it was not unknown to the Phœnicians. This is Dûdu, the Dodo of the Old Testament, etymologically related to David. Dûdu's two sons, Aziru and Khâi, bear names which are equally Biblical in their character.

The two letters of Aziru to his father show pretty plainly the position occupied by Dûdu in the kingdom of the Pharaoh. He alone is addressed like the Pharaoh himself as "my lord," and even his son calls himself his "servant." Perhaps, however, the most significant phrase is that which speaks of "Dûdu and the king my lord and the nobles." We are reminded of what the Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Only in the throne will I be greater than thou" (Gen. xli. 40).

The letters of Aziru possess a further interest. They bring the Hittites before us in the act of descending from their old homes in the north upon the fertile plains and cities of the Semites in the south. Kadesh, on the Orontes, has not yet become their southern capital; but they are already threatening Tunip, the Tennib of modern days, to the northwest of Aleppo. A century later, when the civil wars were ended, which the death of Amenôphis IV and his attempt to introduce a Semitic religion and a Semitic government into Egypt had occasioned, when the stranger and his faith were driven from the land, and the Nineteenth Dynasty was founded by that "new king which knew not Joseph," the Hittites were encamped on the northern threshold of Palestine. The Egyptian armies again marched into Asia, but even the power of Ramses II was unable to dislodge them from the post they had gained, and the utmost he could do was to check their southward advance. The chief result of his war was to weaken both Egyptians and Hittites, and to exhaust the cities of Canaan, so that they became an easy prey a few years later to the invading tribes of Israel.

Assur-yuballidh, king of Assyria, whose letter to Amenôphis IV I have placed first in my series of translations, is mentioned towards the commencement of the so-called "Synchronous History of Babylon and Assyria" (line 8) as a contemporary of the Babylonian king Kara-Urus. We learn from the letter the name of his father, Assur-nadin-akhi, who must therefore be inserted between Assur-yuballidh and Buzur-Assur (see "List of the Kings of Assyria," Records of the Past, new ser., vol. ii. p. 206). Buzur-Assur, as we learn from the "Synchronous History," was a contemporary of Burna-buryas, another correspondent of Amenôphis IV.

A third royal correspondent of the Egyptian monarchs was Dusratta or Tusratta or Duisratta—for the name is written in these various ways—the king of Mitanni. According to the Assyrian inscriptions Mitanni was the district on the eastern bank of the Euphrates which lay opposite to Carchemish. It is called Maten in the Egyptian inscriptions, and was included in the kingdom of Nahrina, the Aram-Naharaim, or "Aram of the two rivers," of Scripture, of which Chushan-rish-athaim was king (Judges iii. 8). It is possible that an obscure passage in one of the letters signifies that the Mitannian prince claimed sovereignty also over Khani-rabbat or eastern Kappadokia. Among the tablets now at Berlin is a long letter from Dusratta, written in cuneiform characters, but in the language of Mitanni, which seems unlike any other hitherto known. We gather from it that the father and predecessor of Dusratta was Sutarna, who is stated in an inscription on an Egyptian scarab to have sent his daughter Kirkipa as a wife to Amenôphis III in the tenth year of the latter's reign, along with 317 attendants. Artatâmas, the grandfather of Dusratta, had also married his daughter to Thothmes IV, so that for three generations the rulers of Egypt and Mitanni had been connected by marriage with one another.

The people of Mitanni, however, did not speak a Semitic language, and it is probable that they did not belong to the Semitic race. But they had adopted the Semitic adoration of the winged solar disk, and along with it, in all probability, some portion of the Semitic worship of Baal. It was this worship and adoration which Amenôphis IV attempted to force upon his subjects. The Semitic tendencies of the court and the dominance of Semitic strangers from Canaan and Syria were due not so much to the intermarriages with the royal family of Mitanni as to the Egyptian conquest of Palestine.



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