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309
CHRONOLOGY

are Gardner Wilkinson and Professor Flinders Petrie, have brought to light a vast accumulation of new material, much of which has the highest importance from the standpoint of the historian. Lists of kings found on the temple wall at Abydos, in the fragments of the Turin papyrus and elsewhere, have cleared up many doubtful points in the lists of Manetho, and at the same time, as Professor Petrie has pointed out, have proved to us how true a historian that much-discussed writer was. Manetho, it will be recalled, was the Egyptian who wrote the history of Egypt in Greek in the time of the Ptolemies. His work in the original unfortunately perished, and all that we know of it we learn through excerpts made by a few later classical writers. These fragments have until recently, however, given us our only clue to the earlier periods of Egyptian history. Until corroboration was found in the Egyptian inscriptions themselves, not only were Manetho’s lists in doubt, but scepticism had been carried to the point of denying that Manetho himself had ever existed. This is only one of many cases where the investigations of the archaeologist have proved not iconoclastic but reconstructive, tending to restore confidence in classical traditions which the scientific historians of the age of Niebuhr and George Cornewall Lewis regarded with scepticism.

As to the exact dates of early Egyptian history there is rather more of vagueness than for the corresponding periods of Mesopotamia. Indeed, approximate accuracy is not attained until we are within sixteen hundred years of our own era; but the sequence of events of a period preceding this by two thousand years is well established, and the recent discoveries of Professor Petrie carry back the record to a period which cannot well be less than five thousand, perhaps not less than six thousand years B.C. Both from Egypt and Mesopotamia, then, the records of the archaeologist have brought us evidence of the existence of a highly developed civilization for a period exceeding by hundreds, perhaps by thousands, of years the term which had hitherto been considered the full period of man’s existence.

We may note at once how these new figures disturb the historical balance. If our forerunners of eight or nine thousand years ago were in a noonday glare of civilization, where shall we look for the much-talked-of “dawnings of history”? By this new standard the Romans seem our contemporaries in latter-day civilization; the “Golden Age” of Greece is but of yesterday; the pyramid-builders are only relatively remote. The men who built the temple of Bel at Nippur, in the year (say) 5000 B.C., must have felt themselves at a pinnacle of civilization and culture. As Professor Mahaffy has suggested, the era of the Pyramids may have been the veritable autumn of civilization. Where, then, must we look for its springtime? The answer to that question must come, if it come at all, from what we now speak of as prehistoric archaeology; the monuments from Memphis and Nippur and Nineveh, covering a mere ten thousand years or so, are the records of recent history.

The efforts of the students of Oriental archaeology have been constantly stimulated by the fact that their studies brought them more or less within the field of Bible history. A fair proportion of the workers who have delved so Archaeology and Bible history.enthusiastically in the fields of Egyptian and Assyrian exploration would never have taken up the work at all but for the hope that their investigations might substantiate the Hebrew records. For a long time this hope proved illusory, and in the case of Egyptian archaeology the results have proved disappointing even up to the very present. Considering the important part played by the Egyptian sojourn of the Hebrews, as narrated in the Scriptures, it was certainly not an over-enthusiastic prediction that the Egyptian monuments when fully investigated would divulge important references to Joseph, to Moses, and to the all-important incidents of the Exodus; but half a century of expectant attention in this direction has led only to disappointment. It would be rash, considering the buried treasures that may yet await the future explorer, to assert that such records as those in question can never come to light. But, considering the fulness of the contemporary Egyptian records of the XIXth dynasty that are already known, it becomes increasingly doubtful whether the Hebrews in Egypt played so important a part in history, when viewed from the Egyptian standpoint, as their own records had seemed to imply. As the forgotten history of Oriental antiquity has been restored to us, it has come to be understood that, politically speaking, the Hebrews were a relatively insignificant people, whose chief importance from the standpoint of material history was derived from the geographical accident that made them a sort of buffer between the greater nations about them. Only once, and for a brief period, in the reigns of David and Solomon did the Hebrews rise to anything like an equal plane of political importance with their immediate neighbours. What gave them a seeming importance in the eyes of posterity was the fact that the true history of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Arabians and Hittites had been well-nigh forgotten. The various literatures of these nations were locked from view for more than two thousand years, while the literature of Israel had not merely been preserved, but had come to be regarded as inspired and sacred among all the cultured nations of the Western world. Now that the lost literatures have been restored to us, the status of the Hebrew writings could not fail to be disturbed. Their very isolation had in some measure accounted for their seeming importance.

All true historical perspective is based upon comparison, and where only a single account has been preserved of any event or of any period of history, it is extremely difficult to judge that account with historical accuracy. An illustration of this truth is furnished in profane history by the account which Thucydides has given us of the Peloponnesian War. For most of the period in question Thucydides is the only source; and despite the inherent merits of a great writer, it can hardly be doubted that the tribute of almost unqualified praise that successive generations of scholars have paid to Thucydides must have been in some measure qualified if, for example, a Spartan account of the Peloponnesian War had been preserved to us. Professor Mahaffy has pointed out that many other events in Greek history are viewed by us in somewhat perverted perspective because the great writers of Greece were Athenians rather than Spartans or Thebans. Even in so important a matter as the great conflict between Persia and Greece it has been suggested more than once that we should be able to gain a much truer view were Persian as well as Greek accounts accessible.

Not many years ago it would have been accounted a heresy to suggest that the historical books of the Old Testament had conveyed to our minds estimates of Oriental history that suffered from this same defect; but to-day no one who is competent to speak with authority pretends to doubt that such is really the fact. Even conservative students of the Bible urge that its historical passages must be viewed precisely in the light of any other historical writings of antiquity; and the fact that the oldest Hebrew manuscript dates only from the 8th century A.D., and therefore of necessity brings to us the message of antiquity through the fallible medium of many generations of copyists, is far more clearly kept in mind than it formerly was. Every belief of mankind is in the last analysis amenable to reason, and finds its origin in evidence that can appeal to the arbitrament of common sense. This evidence may in certain cases consist chiefly of the fact that generations of our predecessors have taken a certain view regarding a certain question; indeed most of our cherished beliefs have this foundation. But when such is the case, mankind has never failed in the long run to vindicate its claim to rationality by showing a readiness to give up the old belief whenever tangible evidence of its fallaciousness was forthcoming. The case of the historical books of the Old Testament furnishes no exception. These had been sacred to almost a hundred generations of men, and it was difficult for the eye of faith to see them as other than absolutely infallible documents. Yet the very eagerness with which the champions of the Hebrew records searched for archaeological proofs of their validity was a tacit confession that even the most unwavering faith was not beyond the reach of external evidence. True, the believer sought corroboration with full faith that he would find it; but the very