Behistun Inscription

By Bro. Vince Kluth
"Your previous leaders are liars. They claim rights to the throne, but God gave me the victory." To ensure all subjects of the land heard his view, the new ruler posted it along a widely travelled thoroughfare.

“Your previous leaders are liars. They claim rights to the throne, but God gave me the victory.” To ensure all subjects of the land heard his view, the new ruler posted it along a widely travelled thoroughfare. This modern messaging approach was used by King Darius I who ascended to the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty in 522 BC. He had no blood relation to the preceding kings or princes from the empire’s founder Cyrus the Great, so a nation-wide rebellion broke out at his coronation. After brutally crushing the opposition, he made sure everyone knew about it. He carved an 82-foot by 49-foot cuneiform billboard on the side of Mount Behistun, 330 feet above the plain near Persepolis in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah in three official languages: old Persian, Elamite (Susian), and Babylonian (Akkadian) (see picture, below). This inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs:  the ability to decipher the lost ancient languages of Persia, Assyria and Babylonia.  

Behistun Inscription, Western Iran, contains King Darius I's account of his 550 BC regnal ascension in three (3) different cuneiform scripts of Assyria, Babylonia and Persia. Top left inset: Akkadian (cuneiform) script sample.  Bottom left inset: King Darius.  Bottom right inset: General layout.

  It predates the Rosetta Stone (196 BC) by 326 years and could have been the example which later kings emulated to write their version of history for a conquered land’s diverse but primary people groups.

How men deciphered the inscription is another fascinating piece of history. Darius’ men wrote high on the mountain face then destroyed the rock ledge on which the carvers stood. This prevented others from defacing it; in fact, only weather damage to the limestone rock is found. It also means you can’t get up close to read it. Europeans as early as 1598 AD discovered the inscription, but it wasn’t until 1835 when Sir Henry C. Rawlinson, an English military officer, sat in suspended cages or dangled from scaffolds and ropes over four years to obtain a complete copy of the inscription (see illustration, right). In 1838, Rawlinson translated the old Persian first, then 18 years later used it to make sense of the Elamite and Babylonian portions. In 1948, University of Michigan Professor Cameron took photographs and casts to obtain more accurate transcriptions after Allied bombers used it for target practice. In 2006 it was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Bible records that Israel’s northern tribes were carried captive into Assyria (2 Kings 15:29), whose kingdom later fell to Babylon (Jeremiah 50:17), then to the Persians who were subjugated by King Darius I (Ezra 4:24, 5:17). The Behistun inscription gives evidence of Assyrian and Babylonian names for “Israel” (“Khumri” or “Gimiri”, as in the “House of Omri”) and “House of Isaac” used in Genesis 21:12 and Amos 7:16 (“Sak”, plural “Sacae”). Josephus noted about a million Jews who moved north through Armenia into what is now Ukraine and referred to them as Scythians consisting of Sacae and other nomadic groups. If Josephus is correct, we see three contrasts of Greek versus Jew in Colossians 3:11a, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian.  Regardless, God’s word is the only reliable source of truth, whether of ancient history, geology, biology - and especially morality.

Sources: Compiled from PersiaBabylonia.org, Bible-History.com, Wikipedia and WorldHistory.org. Hope-of-Israel.org offers a Scythian-to-Saxon lineage this author couldn’t validate.  Illustration of Sir. H.C. Rawling from LookAndLearn.com.


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