In the year 1872 one George Smith, a banknote engraver turned assistant in the British Museum, astounded the world by discovering the story of the Flood – much the same as that in the Book of Genesis – inscribed on a cuneiform tablet made of clay that had recently been excavated at far-distant Nineveh (in present-day Iraq).
Human behaviour, according to this new discovery, prompted the gods of Babylon to wipe out mankind through death by water, and, as in the Bible, the survival of all living things was effected at the last minute by a single man.A
George Smith himself the discovery was, quite plainly, staggering, and it propelled him from back-room boffin to worldwide fame. Much arduous scholarly labour had preceded Smith’s extraordinary triumph, for his beginnings were humble. Endless months of staring into the glass cases that housed the inscriptions in the gallery resulted in Smith being “noticed”, and eventually he was taken on as a “repairer” in the British Museum in about 1863.
The young George exhibited an outstanding flair for identifying joins among the broken fragments of tablets and a positive genius for understanding cuneiform inscriptions; there can be no doubt that he was one of Assyriology’s most gifted scholars.At first, Smith was unable to decipher the tablet that would change his life, because a lime-like deposit obscured the text. Only once this had been painstakingly removed – an agonizing wait for the highly strung Smith – could all the words be read. A contemporary observer reported what happened next:
READ CONTINUES BELOW