Friday, April 15, 2016
The Professor in the Sewer
Cecil Torr's professor in the sewer is the Assyriologist Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933). The actual location is Siloam, but oral tradition would easily have transmuted Siloam to Syria, especially if the story happened to have been retailed at second or third hand in bibulous post-prandial carousing at High Table, and only dimly recalled the morning after. Sayce gives a more exact account of his feat of transcription in his Reminiscences (London, Macmillan, 1923), p.192. I attach the text. The Schick to whom he refers is Conrad Schick (1822-1901), the German architect and archaeologist, long established in Jerusalem.
It seems to have been the fashion to mock Sayce as a dry-as-dust scholar, perhaps because of his specialty. I recall Giles St. Aubyn, in his A Victorian Eminence: the Life and Works of Henry Thomas Buckle (1958), referring to Sayce as having called something "boring". St. Aubyn added, "Coming from a Professor of Assyriology, the remark carries conviction". (I don't own the book — too trashy and derivative — so rely on memory, but I think I am quoting more or less verbatim).
The excerpt from Sayce's Reminiscences:
Schick had recently discovered the famous inscription in the Siloam tunnel—the oldest example of Hebrew writing yet found. He was not a Semitic scholar, and the characters incised upon the rocky wall of the channel were filled with a deposit of lime, making it difficult to distinguish between artificial incisions and accidental cracks in the stone, but he saw clearly that it must be an early inscription of some kind. The next morning, accordingly, I made my way up the tunnel to the spot on the right-hand side about sixteen feet from its mouth where Schick had told me the inscription existed, and sitting in the mud and water by the light of a candle made a preliminry copy of the text which I revised a day or two later. My copy and translation were thus the first published of a text which for many reasons is of unique value. The inscription records the construction of the tunnel which brought the water of the Virgin's Spring, outside the walls, into Zion, that is to say Jerusalem, and further informs us that the rock was pierced simultaneously at the two ends, the workmen finally meeting in the middle of the semicircular passage. The work, which reflects great credit on the engineering science of the day, was, we now know, accomplished in the reign of Hezekiah, and is mentioned in the Books of Chronicles (2 Chr. xxxii. 30). As I pointed out in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, the discovery settled the topography of pre-exilic Jerusalem, proving that Zion, "the City of David," was confined to the hill immediately south of the Mosque of Omar, which is usually known as Ophel, and that the tombs of David and his successors must have been on the western slope of the latter. My conclusions, to which the French scholar Clermont - Ganneau had also come independently, were strenuously controverted; but excavation has now shown them to be correct, and the French excavations in 1914 have brought to light the remains of the royal tombs in the precise place in which Clermont-Ganneau and myself stated they would be found.