THE OLDEST CORRESPONDENCE IN THE WORLD.
During the last few years the Babylonian collection of the British Museum has been enriched by the important addition of several thousands of tablets obtained chiefly by Dr. Budge during his expeditions to the East on behalf of the trustees. Among the principal objects, says the Scotsman, are a large number of small tablets, many of them of the envelope or duplicate class, which were found at Tell-sifr, in South Babylonia, representing the ancient city of Larsa (the Ellasar of Gen. xiv ). The majority of these were contracts or legal documents, but among them are many letters, both private and oificial. This collection, having just been carefully arranged, is found to contain one of the most important series of inscriptions which has ever been rescued from Oriental ruins. It is a group of 50 letters, written by Khammurabi, King of Babylon, who reigned about 2300 8.C., and who is generally identified with the Amraphel of Gen. xiv. We have already been made acquainted with the existence of a system of letter-writing in use among the kings of the East at an early period, as illustrated by the famous Tel-el- Amarna tablets. Those, we know, present the diplomatic and private correspondence between the Kings of Syria Mitanni, or N. Messopotamia, and Babylon, and may be dated about 1450 B.C. The valuable series of tablets which has just been secured for the National Museum belong to a period 1000 years earlier, and are certainly the oldest known letters in the world. The position of tifose Babylonian letters in Oriental literature is of extreme importance. They reveal the existence of a regular system of correspondence between rulers and their subordinates, and that writing was not only used to record events in royal annals, but for ordinary purposes. They are, besides, manifestly the models for all after time, as in the case of the diplomatic correspondence in the Tel-el-Amama tablets. We can now see how overshadowing was the influence of Babylonia over all Western Asia. During the thousand years which elapsed between the time of Khammurabi and the date of these later letters discovered some years ago Babylonia became the educational oentre of the Oriental world. The great library at Borsippa was the school and university, not only of Chaldea, but of Syria, North Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. Fragments of the Deluge and Creation tablets, dated from a period more than 1000 years before Moses, have been discovered in Babylonia. It is therefore clear that if the' scribes of Canaan were taught to write and use the cuneiform script through these influences, there must have been some among them who were acquinted with the traditions stored in the Chaldean libraries. The present find is indeed a great one ; but one can only regard it as a prelude to still more important discoveries which will probablyput p. new aspect on the vexed question of Hebrew origins. To possess letters contemporary with the time of Abraham is certainly an astonishing result of Oriental exploration, and one which far exceeds the wildest dreams of those who first revealed to us the buried cities of Assyria and Babylonia.
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