Ark of the Covenant - Bible History Online
Bible History Online

Sub Categories

    Back to Categories

    September 29    Scripture

    More Bible History
    Deciphering the Inscription on the Behistun Rock Deciphering the inscription. Rawlinson found that it was actually a threefold inscription, like the Rosetta Stone. The one language was old Persian, the second was Median, and the third, Babylonian. Rawlinson began a long and earnest attempt in solve the riddle of the unknown Babylonian language. His knowledge of modern Persian was a great help to him in coming to understand the old Persian. Then he worked on the Median language, and finally deciphered the Babylonian. He discovered that the inscription and relief were ordered done by King Darius I of Persia around 515 B.C. The bas-relief pictured the king leading his army in triumph over a revolt which he put down, and the writing tells the story of his success. The results of Rawlinson`s discovery were printed in Europe in 1847. Ten years later authorities of the British Museum gave copies of a cuneiform inscription to four scholars, including Rawlinson, for them to read. The translation work done by all four agreed so substantially that all doubt was removed that the old Babylonian language had been certainly unlocked.

    Discovery of the Behistun Rock The discovery and copying of the inscription. Shortly before the middle of the nineteenth century, when archaeologists were beginning to uncover ancient Assyrian palaces and many inscriptions were made available to scholars in the old cuneiform language of Babylonia and Assyria, it was providential that an important discovery led to the deciphering of this formerly unknown tongue. In the year 1835 Henry Rawlinson, a young English army officer who was traveling in the region of the Zagros Mountains of Persia, saw a great bas-relief and inscription located high up on a cliff. The almost perpendicular side of the hill had been smoothed, and the inscription stood 350 feet above the base of the hill. Other travelers had seen this remarkable work of man, but Rawlinson proceeded to copy the inscription. Natives of the land helped him to reach the 14-inch ledge which extended along the bottom of the inscription, although it was now broken in places. By the help of a ladder held steady on the ledge by an attendant, he managed to copy the columns of writing.

    Further Expeditions to Analyze the Behistun Rock Perfecting the text of the inscription. The text of King Darius` mountainside writing has been perfected by several more recent efforts to climb the precipitous cliffs. In 1903 Professor A. V. Williams Jackson, of Columbia University, climbed the rock to check the passages that were in doubt by scholars, and he for the first time took pictures of the relief and inscription. In 1904 the British Museum sent an expedition to the rock under the direction of Leonard William King and Reginald Campbell Thompson. They made use of a rock shelf above the inscription to enable them to get closer to it. Their copy of the text became the standard of publication for many years. But in the year 1948 the Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research sponsored another expedition to the Behistun Rock. Professor George G. Cameron, of the University of Michigan, was director. The purpose was to check portions of the inscriptions about which uncertainties and difficulties still remained; to attempt to read sections of the inscription which had never been copied because the ledge below it was broken at those places; to photograph both the relief and inscription and make molds of the former; and to determine, if possible, how the ancient Persians reached the place on the rock to do their work. Cameron had at his disposal the modern skill and engineering methods of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, whose riggers reached the shelf located two hundred feet above the inscription. There steel pins were cemented into holes that had been drilled in the rock. Then by means of cables and a scaffolding the professor was able to begin the tasks of examining and copying the inscription and of taking pictures. He was able to check various disputed places in the text, and thus he was able to settle longstanding difficulties. He also succeeded in copying the hitherto uncopied portions of the inscription. Some of these were identical with the known parts. He made a mold of a portion of the relief in order that a cast could be made and a representation of old King Darius be presented to the English-speaking world. An oblique gash was discovered providing a pathway around the mountain, and below the end of the path was a platform with two steps leading down from it. Holes in the top step indicated rails of wood had been used. But below these two steps there had doubtless been a further stairway that was chiseled away after the completion of the work. Thus was revealed how the old-time workers reached the scene of their operations.

    Some Bibliographic Resources for the Behistun Rock Ira M. Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament, ed. 1925, pp. 15-17;
    J. A. Hammerton, ed., The Wonders of the Past, ed. 1937, pp. 250, 251.
    George G. Cameron, "Darius Carved History on Ageless Rock," The National Geographic Magazine, Dec. 1950, pp. 825-844.