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Note: This material is written from a nineteenth-century viewpoint, and may need substantial revision to bring it up to modern standards.

See Orientalism

From the (public domain) Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the broadest sense of the term, Oriental study comprises the scientific investigation and discussion of all topics–linguistics, archæology, ethnology, etc.–connected with the East, in particular, the discovery and interpretation of Eastern literary and archæological remains. So vast is the subject that it has of a necessity been divided into many departments, each of which in turn embraces various specialized branches. Thus the study of the language, customs, philosophy, and religion of China and the Far East is in itself a vast though relatively little-explored field of scientific investigation, while the study of Sanskrit, together with the classic lore of the ancient Hindus, which has cast so much light on our knowledge of the European languages and peoples, forms another great division of Oriental research.

From the religious point of view, however, the greatest and most valuable results have been achieved by the study of the group of languages generally termed Semitic, and through archæological research in the so-called Bible Lands–Assyria and Babylonia, Syria and Palestine, Arabia and the Valley of the Nile. Not only have these studies and explorations cast a great deal of light on the Old-Testament writings but they have, moreover, revealed with considerable precision and detail the well-nigh forgotten history of empires and civilizations that had flourished for many centuries and passed away even before Greece or Rome had acquired any great political or literary importance. The earliest efforts of European scholars in the field of Oriental research were naturally connected with the scientific study of Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. To say nothing of the work done by the rabbis of the medieval period under the influence of Arabic culture in the Jewish colonies of Spain and northern Africa, we find prior to the Reformation the names of Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) and the Dominican Santes Pagninus (1471-1541), pioneers who prepared the way for such scholars as the famous Johann Buxtorf (1564-1629) and his son (1599-1664), both successively professors at Basle, and others of the same period. For ulterior developments in the study of Hebrew see article HEBREW LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE.

In connexion with the impetus given to Biblical Oriental studies in the sixteenth century, mention should be made of the Complutensian Polyglot published under the direction of Cardinal Ximenes (1436-1517). It was the first printed edition of the Scriptures in the original text accompanied by the principal ancient versions, and antedated by more than a century the London Polyglot of Brian Walton. This great work, which is dedicated to Pope Leo X, comprises six folio volumes, the last being devoted to a Hebrew lexicon and other scientific apparatus. It was begun in 1502 and finished in 1517, though not published until 1522. In its preparation the cardinal was aided by several Greek and Oriental scholars, among whom were the celebrated Stunica (D. López de Zuñiga), Vergara, and three Jewish converts. The zeal for Hebrew naturally led to the study of other Semitic languages (Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, etc.), which were eagerly taken up not only as a means of obtaining a more comprehensive knowledge of Hebrew through the newly-introduced methods of comparative philology, but also on account of the literary treasures they contained, which had hitherto remained practically unknown to European scholars. In this broader field the greatest credit is due to the illustrious Maronite family of the Assemani (q.v.).

(For the work done by scholars in the study of Syriac see SYRIAC LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE.)

The first European scholar who turned his attention to Ethiopic was Potken of Cologne, about 1513. A grammar and dictionary were published by Jacob Wemmers, a Carmelite of Antwerp, in 1638; and in 1661 appeared the first edition of the great Lexicon by Job Ludolf, who in the edition of 1702 prefixed a "Dissertatio de Harmonia Linguæ Æth. cum. cet. Orient." Ludolf was also the author of a commentary on Ethiopic history. Later scholars who have attained eminence in this branch are Dillmann, who among other works published several books of the Ethiopic version of the Old Testament: Octateuch (Leipzig, 1853), the four Books of Kings (Leipzig, 1861-71), the Book of Enoch (1851), and the "Book of the Jubilees" (1859); R. Lawrence, who published the "Ascensio Isaiæ" (Oxford, 1819), and the "Apocalypse of Ezra" (1820); Hupfeldt, "Excitationes Æthiopicæ" (1825); Ewald "Ueber des Æthiop. Buch's Henokh Entstehung" (1854) etc. (See article ETHIOPIA.–Language and Literature.)

In the field of Arabic the greatest honour is due to Baron Sylvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), a scholar of marvellous erudition and versatility, equally proficient in the other Semitic languages as well as in Greek, Latin, and the modern European tongues. He may be said to have laid the foundations of Arabic grammar. Among his works are a "Chrestomathie arabe" (3 vols., Paris, 1806); "Grammaire arabe" (2 vols., 1810) etc. In Germany, George W. Freytag (1788-1861) became a great authority on Arabic. His greatest work is the "Lexicon Arabico-Latinum" (1830-37). Among the great number of more recent scholars may be mentioned Brockelmann, "Geschichte der Arabischen Literatur" (2 vols., Berlin, 1899-1902); Hartwig Derenbourg, C. Caspari, Theo. Noeldeke etc. In this connexion it may be noted that an important school of Arabic studies has been instituted by the Jesuit Fathers in Beirut, Syria. As regards the study of Armenian, modern scholarship owes not a little to the scientific and literary labours of the Mechitarists (q. v.), a religious community of Armenians established at Venice since 1716. From this institution, which is equipped with excellent printing facilities, have been issued numerous publications of Armenian texts, as well as translations of the same into various European languages. The latter half of the nineteenth century was marked by a great revival of interest in Oriental studies, owing to the magnificent and unexpected results of archæological exploration in the Bible Lands, particularly in Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. The account of the discovery and deciphering of the historic remains unearthed in these countries is of fascinating interest, and records one of the greatest scientific triumphs in the annals of Western scholarship. Of this great movement, which has resulted in the production of hundreds of volumes, only the briefest account can be given here.

Assyro-Babylonian Research

Though preceded by the tentative work of Rich in 1811 and 1820, systematic explorations in Assyria may be said to have been inaugurated in 1843 by Paul-Emile Botta (French vice-consul residing at Mosul), at Kuyunjik (site of ancient Ninive), and at Khorsabad. These were interrupted the following year, but were resumed by Victor Place, Botta's successor, in 1851 and continued till 1855, all at the expense of the French Government, which also published the results in monumental form. Henry Austen Layard also began excavations in 1845 at the Mounds of Nimrud, near Mosul, and his work was continued on this and other sites until 1847. In 1849 he began another exploring expedition which lasted three years. It was under the auspices of the British Museum and was remarkably successful. Layard also deserves great credit for the graphic and scholarly manner in which he presented his discoveries to the public, and for having aroused interest by connecting them with the Bible story. In the mean time another expedition sent out by the French Government, under the direction of Fulgence Fresnel, was exploring Babylonia, but unfortunately the material results of the excavations were lost through the sinking of a raft on the Tigris (1851). In 1852 the Assyrian Exploration Fund was organized in England, and, under the direction of Sir Henry Rawlinson, Loftus, and Taylor, excavations were carried on in various parts of Babylonia, and by Hormuzd Rassam at Kayunjik. Less attention was being now paid to the identification of ancient sites, and more to the inscribed clay tablets which were discovered in great quantities: and Rassam, without knowing it, unearthed at Ninive a portion of the famous library of Assurbanipal (688-26 B. C.).

From the time that cuneiform inscriptions and tablets began to be brought from the East, European scholars had applied themselves to the extremely difficult task of deciphering and translating them, but without success until George Grotefend (1775-1853), professor at the lyceum of Hanover, found a key and partially deciphered a few inscriptions. The chief credit, however, for the great achievement which at last gave access to the vast treasures of the cuneiform writings belongs to Sir Henry Rawlinson. Between the years 1835 and 1839 he succeeded in copying the great inscription of Darius at Behistun in Persia. This inscription was chiselled in three columns on the face of a mountain cliff more than three hundred feet above the ground, and it was copied only after strenuous labour and with serious risk of life. Rawlinson assumed as a working hypothesis that the first column was old Persian written in cuneiform characters, and the assumption was justified when the decipherment of this column was published in 1846. This furnished a key to the third column, which proved to be Babylonian (the most important for students of Assyriology), and the contents of this column, after much painstaking labour, were published in 1851. The second column, called the Median or Susian text, was not deciphered until 1890. Over and above this splendid achievement, Rawlinson rendered invaluable service to the science of Assyriology by editing the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia published by the British Museum. Between 1855 and 1872 little was done by way of excavation, but in the latter year George Smith, a young employee in the British Museum, discovered some tablets containing fragments of a Flood legend strikingly similar in some respects to the Biblical narrative. The interest aroused by the publication of these fragments determined a new era of excavation. Between 1872 and 1875 Smith was three times sent to Assyria in the hope of finding more fragments bearing on Biblical accounts. In this he was unsuccessful and, unfortunately for the cause of Assyriology, he died prematurely while on his third expedition in 1876.

The exploration work for the British Museum was continued by Hormuzd Rassam, who, besides other valuable treasures found in various parts of Babylonia, unearthed in the expedition of 1887-82 the great bronze doors with the inscriptions of Shalmaneser II (859-26 B. C.). About the same time M. de Sarzec, French consul at Bassorah in Southern Babylonia, excavated the very ancient Telloh statues which were acquired by the French Government for the Museum of the Louvre. The work of de Sarzec was continued until his death in 1903, and resulted in the discovery of an enormous quantity of clay tablets, bronze and silver figures, vases, etc. The French expedition to Susa, under the direction of M. J. de Morgan (1897-1902), was one of the most important in the history of Assyriology, for it resulted in the finding of the Hammurabi Code of Laws. This great code, which illustrates in many respects the Pentateuchal Law, was first translated by Father Scheil, the eminent Dominican scholar who was the Assyriologist of the expedition ("Textes Elamitiques-Sémitiques", Paris, 1902), and later into German by Dr. Hugo Winckler of Berlin, into English by Dr. Johns and into Italian by Rev. Dr. Francesco Mari. (See articles by Dr. Gabriel Cuesami in the "New York Review", "The Code of Hammurabi", Aug.-Sept., 1905; "The Code of Hammurabi and the Mosaic Legislation", Dec., 1905-Jan., 1906.) In 1884 the first American expedition was sent to Babylonia under the auspices of the Archæological Institute of America, and under the direction of W. H. Ward. In 1888 the Babylonian Exploration Fund, organized in Philadelphia, was sent out under the direction of Dr. John Peters in the interests of the University of Pennsylvania. The site chosen was Nippur, and the work of excavation was continued at intervals mainly on this site until 1900. These expeditions resulted in the recovery of more than 40,000 inscriptions, clay tablets, stone monuments etc. The vast amount of material brought to light by the excavations in Assyria and Babylonia powerfully stimulated the ardour of students of Assyriology both in Europe and America. The limits of the present article will allow but the mention of a few distinguished names.

In Germany

Eberhard Schrader (1836) has been called the father of German Assyriology. Successively professor at Zurich, Giessen, Jena, and Berlin (1875), he has written many works on the subject, among which: "Die Assyrisch-Babylonisch Keilinschriften" (1872, tr. "The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament", 1885-9); "Keilinschriften und Geschichtsforschung" (1878); "Zur Frage nach dem Ursprung der Altbabylonischer Kultur" (1884). Other German scholars of note are Hugo Winckler (Alttestamentliche Untersuchen, Leipzig, 1892, etc.); Friederich Delitsch (Grammar, Lexicon etc.), J. Jeremias, B. G. Niebuhr, F. Hommel, F. Kaulen (Assyrien und Babylonien nach dem neuesten Entdeckungen, Freiburg, 1899, etc.), C. P. Tiele, Mürdter, Brunnow, Peiser etc. In France.–F. Lenormant (Etudes cunéiformes, 5 parts, Paris, 1878-80); J. Menant (Ninive et Babylon, Paris, 1887); Halévy (Documents religieux de l'Assyrie et de la Babylonie, Paris, 1882); V. Scheil, O. P. (Textes Elamites, 3 vols., Paris, 1901-04); Rev. F. Martin (Textes religieux Assyriens et Babyloniens, Paris, 1900); F. Thureau-Daugin (Recherches sur l'Origine de l'ecriture cunéiforme, Paris, 1893), Oppert, Loisy, Fossey etc. In England.–Sir H. Rawlinson (Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, 5 vols., 1861-1884, etc.); A. H. Sayre (Higher Criticism and the Monuments, London, 1894, etc.); L. W. King (Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi … and other Kings of the First Dynasty of Babylon, London, 1989-1900); C. W. Johns, T. G. Pinches, J. A. Craig etc. In America.–Besides the scholars already referred to may be mentioned R. W. Rogers (History of Babylonia and Assyria, I, New York, 1900); H. V. Hilprecht (Explorations in Bible Lands during the Nineteenth Century, New York, 1903); Paul Haupt (numerous publications); R. F. Harper, M. Jastrow, C. Johnston, J. D. Lyon, J. D. Prince etc.

Egyptian Research

Modern Oriental research in the Valley of the Nile began in 1798 with the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon, who with characteristic foresight invited M. Gaspard Monge (1746-1818) with a corps of savants and artists to join the expedition. The results of their observations were published at the expense of the French Government (1809-13) in several folio volumes under the title: "Description de l'Egypte", but the numerous specimens collected by these scientists fell into the hands of the English after the naval battle of Aboukir and formed later the nucleus of the Egyptian department of the British Museum. The mysterious hieroglyphic characters which they exhibited were soon made the object of intense study both in England and France and the famous Rosetta Stone which bears a trilingual inscription (in Greek, in the Egyptian demotic script, and in the hieroglyphic writing) furnished a key to the meaning of the latter, which was discovered almost simultaneously in France by J. François Champollion (1791-1832), and in England by Thomas Young (1773-1827). Thus the Rosetta inscription (embodying a part of a decree of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, 205-181 B. C.) stands in the same relation to the discoveries bearing on the literature and civilization of ancient Egypt as does the Behistun inscription with regard to the antique treasures discovered in Assyria and Babylonia. Champollion's discovery aroused a great interest in Egyptian inscriptions and in 1828 the French scholar was sent to Egypt together with Rosellini at the head of a Franco-Italian expedition which proved most fruitful in scientific results. A German expedition under the direction of Lepsius was sent out in 1840 to study Egyptian monuments in relation to Bible history, and in addition to explorations made in Egypt and Ethiopia a visit was made to the Sinaitic peninsula. In 1850 Auguste Mariette, a French savant, made the remarkable discovery of the tombs of the sacred Apis bulls at Memphis together with thousands of memorial inscriptions. In 1857 he was appointed director of the museum of antiquities newly established in Cairo, and at the same time he received from the khedive the exclusive right of excavating in Egyptian territory for scientific purposes–a right which he exercised until his death in 1880. The results of his explorations were enormous and the science of Egyptology probably owes more to Mariette than to any other scholar. He was succeeded by another eminent French scholar, G. Maspero, and the explorations still remaining in the hands of the French were carried on systematically and with steady success; but under the new administration permission was given to representatives of other nations to conduct excavations and, with certain restrictions, to export the results of their findings. The Egyptian Exploration fund was organized in England in 1883, and after excavations in the Delta on the site of the Biblical city of Pithom and of the Greek city of Naukratis, the work of the society was transferred in 1896 to Upper Egypt. At that time also the excavations were placed under the direction of W. Flinders Petrie who has achieved astonishing results, especially in reconstructing in accordance with the testimony of the monuments the account of ancient Egyptian history, which he has carried back to a period antedating the reign of the formerly-supposed mythical king Menes, founder of the first Egyptian dynasty. Independent expeditions were also fitted out by Swiss, Germans, and Americans, and the Orient Gesellschaft organized in 1899 has conducted systematic explorations at various points in the Orient. Among the almost incredible number of objects brought to light by the Egyptian explorers, and which besides filling the new and enlarged museum of Cairo built in 1902, go to make up numerous and important collections in Europe and America, may be mentioned the many papyrus documents (e.g. the Logia of Jesus, various apocalypses, heretical gospels, etc.), which throw light on early Christian history and on the period immediately preceding it. The abundance and historic importance of the treasures found in the land of the Pharaohs caused a great number of European scholars to devote their attention to the study of Egyptology. In addition to the names already referred to the following are taken at random from a list of scholars far too numerous to be even mentioned in the present article. G. Perrot and C. Chippiez (History of Art in Ancient Egypt, 2 vols., London, 1883); P. Renouf (Translation of the Book of the Dead, parts i-iv, London, 1893-95, completed by E. Naville, 1907); E.A.W. Budge (The Mummy: Chapters on Egyptian Funeral Archeology, Cambridge, 1873); The Book of the Dead, 3 vols., London, 1898); W. Max Müller (Asien und Europa nach altägylptischen Denkmälern, Leipzig, 1893); J. de Morgan (Recherches sur les origines de l'Egypte, Paris, 1895-96); J.M. Broderick and A. Morton (Concise Dictionary of Egyptian Archæology, London, 1901); J.P. Mahaffy (The Empire of the Ptolemies, London, 1895); H. Wallis, J. Capart, H. Schneider, J.H. Breasted, A. Wiedemann, M.C. Strack, P. Pierret, K. Piehl, A. Ermann etc. Connected with Egyptology is the study of Coptic, the language of the descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The extant Coptic literature is almost exclusively Christian, and except for liturgical purposes, it fell into disuse after the Moslem supremacy in Egypt in the seventh century. Among the scholars who have made a specialty of this branch of Oriental studies may be mentioned E. Ranaudet (eighteenth century), E.M. Quatremère (Recherches critiques et historiques sur la langue et la littérature de l'Egypte, Paris, 1808); A.J. Butler (Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Oxford, 1884), B.T. Evetts, E. Amélineau, E.C. Butler, W.E. Crum, and H. Hyvernat, professor of Oriental languages and archæology at the Catholic University in Washington, who has published in monumental form the text and translation of the "Acts of t he Martyrs of the Coptic Church".

Explorations in Syria and Palestine

Explorations in the Bible lands proper were taken up later than those in Assyria and Egypt and thus far they have been less fruitful in archæological results. The first work, chiefly topographical, was undertaken by Dr. Edward Robinson of New York in 1838 and again in 1852. The results of his investigations appeared in "Biblical Researches", 3 vols., Berlin and Boston, 1841 (3rd edition, 1867), but he is better known through the pupblication of his popular work entitled "The Land and the Book". In 1847 the American Government commissioned Lieutenant Lynch of the U.S. Navy to explore the Valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. In 1865 the Palestine Exploration Fund was organized in England, and among other important results of its activities has been an accurate survey and mapping out of the territory west of the Jordan. From 1867 to 1870 the Fund conducted excavations at Jerusalem under the direction of Sir Charles Warren. They proved valuable in connexion with the identification of the ancient Temple and other sites, but little was found in the line of archæological remains. In 1887 a German Palestine Exploration Fund was organized, and beginning in 1884 it carried out under the direction of Dr. Schumacher a careful survey of the territory east of the Jordan. The most important archæological discoveries in Palestine are the inscription of Mesha, King of Moab (ninth century B. C.) found at Dibon by the German missionary Klein in 1868, the Hebrew inscription, probably of the time of Ezechias, found in the Siloam tunnel beneath the hill of Opiel, and the Greek inscription discovered by Clermont-Ganneau. In this connexion mention should be made of the still more important finding by natives in Egypt (1887) of the famous Tel el-Amarna tablets (q.v.), or letters written in cuneiform characters and proving that about 1400 B. C., prior to the Hebrew conquest, Palestine was already permeated by the Assyro-Babylonian civilization and culture. Further excavations in Palestine have been conducted at various points by W. Flinders Petrie, the Egyptian explorer, (1889) and by the American savant F. J. Bliss (1890-1900). Of still greater importance for Oriental studies bearing on the Bible has been the establishment (1893) by the Dominican Fathers of Jerusalem of a school of Biblical studies under the direction of F. M. Lagrange, O.P. This institute, which has for its object a theoretical and practical training in Oriental subjects pertaining to Holy Scripture, numbers among its staff of instructors such scholars as Father Scheil and Father Vincent who with their co-workers publish the scholarly "Revue biblique internationale". Similar schools were later founded at Jerusalem by the Americans (1900) and by the Germans (1903).