Henry Creswicke Rawlinson Cracks Cuneiform

Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson was born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, England, on April 11, 1810.  He became a member of the British diplomatic service, lived in Baghdad … and dabbled in archaeology. His younger brother, George Rawlinson, became a noted historian.

At the age of 17 he joined the military service of the East India Company, posted to the Middle East, and six years later helped reorganise the Persian Army. Almost thirty years after starting with the East India Company he became one of its directors. But he also had posts on behalf of the British Government.

Rawlinson took an interest in antiquities and was able to gather numerous artefacts which he donated to the British Museum.

Rawlinson knew modern Persian and other Oriental languages. Unbeknown to Rawlinson, Georg Friedrich Grotefend, a German epigraphist had already made progress with deciphering cuneiform, but relied on many guesses and could not complete the task. While cuneiform inscriptions were abundant they were mostly short statements. Rawlinson hoped that a longer text would prove more helpful.

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An extended cuneiform text was known to exist in the mountains between Hamadan and Baghdad. A large panel of sculptured figures and many lines of text was presented in three scripts. Rawlinson assumed that the message was repeated in the three different types of symbols, making it possible to cross reference the message.

His deciphering of 1,200 lines of writing found upon the Behistun Rock was a major break-through in unlocking the ancient Babylonian script. The inscription had been created by Darius the Great and tantalised Rawlinson with the opportunity to crack the cuneiform symbols.

For four years (1835-1839) Rawlinson clambered up and down the imposing 1,700 feet high isolated rock … and there, 400 feet above the ground, “standing on a narrow ledge about a foot wide with the aid of ladders from below and swings from above, he made squeezes of the inscriptions” (Halley’s Bible Handbook).

The Afghan war delayed his studies … then he went back to Baghdad where he was appointed British Consul … and where he continued to scale and examine the Behistun inscription.

“Often in the intense heat he worked in a summer house at the bottom of the garden, a pet lion lying at his feet and a water-wheel from the river Tigris pouring water over the roof to keep it cool.”

Once Rawlinson succeeded in copying most of the great Behisitun inscription he began work on the script that was simpler than the others, which appeared to be alphabetic. The others seemed to be pictographs, ideographs and phonetic characters.

Rawlinson hypothesized the texts belonged to the period of the Archaemenid dynasty in Persia, of the Old Persian Empire (550-330 BC). Behistun was set up by Darius the Great of Persia about 519 BC. It told how Darius came to the throne and overcame those who threatened the Persian Empire. This statement was widely known throughout his realm.

Once the Persian text had been translated, it was possible to study of the other two languages. One was correctly assumed to be Babylonian. This discovery is very important to students of Assyriology since Babylonian and Assyrian languages were both Semitic and closely related. The third type was called Median or Scythian. It was the most difficult of all. It was related to the Elamite tongue, the language of Susa.

In 1846 he presented his findings to the Royal Asiatic Society.  The cuneiform symbols had finally yielded their secrets.  Now Bible scholars began to read the ancient monuments and see what light they shed upon the Holy Scriptures.

Semetic speaking Babylonians and Assyrians used the cuneiform for hundreds of years, but later discovery showed the Sumerians as the inventors, using it before 3000 BC. Rawlinson received a knighthood, as well as numerous academic awards, for this groundbreaking work which was the breakthrough for much further discovery.

Rawlinson died in 1895, and has since been known as the “Father of Assyriology“.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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James Alexander Haldane Establishes Congregationalism in Scotland

James Alexander Haldane died on February 8, 1851. James, along with his older brother Robert, left an indelible mark upon Christianity in Scotland.

Born in Dundee on July 14, 1768, orphaned at the age of 6, and educated at Edinburgh University, young James joined the navy at the age of seventeen, as a midshipman aboard the East India Company’s “Duke of Montrose”.

After four voyages to India and China, he was appointed Captain of “The Melville Castle”, in 1793. The ship’s sailing was delayed, however, leaving James time for more reflective pursuits.

It was during this period that “he commenced to read the Scriptures from a sense of propriety rather than any concern about his soul” (Cyclopaedia of Modern Religious Biographies, page 241).

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He sought out a Dr David Bogue, a pastor in the vicinity of Portsmouth, and requested that he might partake of the Lord’s Supper. Dr Bogue was one of the founders of the London Missionary Society and he pressed upon Haldane the claims of Christ upon his life.

Haldane quit the navy before The Melville Castle sailed, choosing to take up a religious life instead of his captaincy. That was 1794.

Sometime in the next two or three years he found the salvation for which so long he had sought. He left the established Church of Scotland when the General Assembly of 1796 refused to promote aggressive evangelisation.

At that time he became acquainted with Charles Simeon of Cambridge. In his company Haldane toured Scotland 1797, distributing tracts and trying to awaken spiritual interest. In May 1797 he preached his first sermon, at Gilmerton near Edinburgh, with encouraging success.

That same year he and brother Robert founded The Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home, which gave the impetus for the development of the Congregational Churches. James was ordained as a Congregational minister in Edinburgh.

James Haldane married twice in Edinburgh, in 1793 and, his first wife having died, again in 1822.

In 1799 James was ordained pastor of a large independent congregation in Edinburgh. That group was the first to be known as a Congregational Church in Scotland.

After his brother inherited the family wealth, he built a church or Tabernacle, for James’ Congregational church in Edinburgh in 1801. From 1801 until his death James Haldane preached prodigiously and “counted it his privilege for nearly 50 years to preach the Gospel …” in the Tabernacle, Edinburgh’s largest church. In 1808 James and his famous brother Robert “embraced Baptist principles” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 447).

James Haldane contributed to current theological discussions with articles on church order, refutations of heresy and exploration of various Bible books and doctrines.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Christian Friedrich Swartz Impacts Southern India

This is the day that Christian Friedrich Swartz was born in Prussia (now Poland), in 1726.

He has been described as “one of the most energetic and successful missionaries of the 18th century (Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2131).

His youth was spent at Halle, the centre of German pietism. Founded by Jacob Spener, this was a movement that sought to add spiritual life to a moribund Lutheranism. Young Swartz here studied the Indian dialect, Tamil, that he might superintend the translation of a Bible in that tongue.

Lutheran Missions to India had seen success under several missionaries, notably two eminent Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747). Both of these men had preceded Swartz at Halle. Ziegenbalg’s work in southern India was an inspiration to William Carey for the latter’s later work in northern India.

In 1750 Swartz sailed for India, where he lived for the next 48 years, and where he died. When Schwartz arrived in south India, the Tamil-speaking Christian community established by Ziegenbalg and others was close to 2,000 persons.

Swartz threw himself into the missionary work. “His passion to save men made all labour and sacrifice seem little. He studied the habits, modes of thought and idioms of speech, and even the mazes of mythology, which are the paths to the hearts of the Hindus” (New Acts of the Apostles, by A.T. Pierson, page 91).

In 1768, the East India Company appointed Schwartz as a chaplain in Trichonopoly. Ten years later in 1778, Schwartz moved to Tanjore where he lived the rest of his life. During his service with the British, Schwartz was known as a peacemaker (i.e., diplomat) during times of war caused by the East India Company’s aggressive policies in India. Schwartz’s linguistic abilities became legendary as he related easily among Germans, English, Portuguese, and many different Indian peoples. Schwartz learned Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, Marathi, and Portuguese.

He established many schools for native Indians and orphaned Indian children, which greatly endeared him to the Indian people.

Swartz never married; indeed he was critical of fellow missionaries who did! (Christian Missionaries, by O. Milton, page 33.) Rajahs, governors-general, haughty Brahmins, English military officers, all seemed to look upon him as a man of God.

It was Wednesday, 13 February, 1798, that he lay upon his deathbed and, “with clear and melodious voice”, joined with the friends gathered around him, singing, “Only to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Rajah’s son, Serfojee, acted as chief mourner a few days later.

It is estimated that Swartz was responsible for the conversion of over 6,000 Hindus and Moslems during his years in India.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

William Carey Missionary to India

This is the day that … William Carey was born in 1761. The place was Paulerspury, an insignificant village in the English Midlands.

His story is well known – at least, it ought to be!

Born to a family in humble circumstances, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 14. By that time he was self-confident in his convictions, whether right or wrong. He admits, “I had a share of pride sufficient for a thousand times my knowledge….the last word was assuredly mine. I also made up in my positive assertions what was wanting in argument, and generally came off with triumph.

At the age of 18, through the witness of a fellow apprentice (who was a Dissenter), young Carey was led to think earnestly concerning spiritual matters and the condition of his own soul, and was eventually converted. It has been suggested that he actually heard John Wesley, who visited the area at this time (W. Carey, by A. Clement, page 5), though he makes no account of that in his autobiographical notes.

Thus it was he joined a Baptist Church, took to preaching, and was ordained to the Baptist ministry at the age of 26.

Six years later he presented a strong case to evangelise those in distant lands. His essay, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, has been called “the first and still greatest missionary treatise in the English language” (W. Carey, by W. Davis, page 17).

Despite opposition – for missionary work was unthinkable to the theological climate of that day – Carey offered himself: “I’ll go down the mine,” he is reported as saying to his few supporters, “if you hold the rope”.

The result was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, and Carey himself went to India. Church historians often refer to him as “the father of modern missions”.

The troubles he faced are incredible to read – the destruction of his manuscripts by fire; the opposition of the East India Company; the insanity of his wife, Dorothy; the desertion of co-workers; the fire which destroyed the print shop, “inflicting most distressing loss” (W. Carey, by J. Myers, page 112); the clash with the committee back in England …

But to compensate for this is the thrilling account of the first convert, Krishna Pal, about seven years after the beginning of Carey’s missionary labours.

William Carey died after 41 years in India, without a furlough … his translation of portions or whole Scriptures into about 40 different languages and dialects, and his educational and philanthropic work, mark him as a servant of God extraordinaire!

On his deathbed we eavesdrop as he speaks to Alexander Duff: “Mr Duff … when I am gone, say nothing about Dr Carey – speak about Dr Carey’s Saviour” (W. Carey, by B. Olson, page 46). So it was, on 9 June, 1834, that “the father of modern missions” went to his eternal reward. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

His tombstone bears the words, “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.