Rosicrucian Writings Online

Along Civilization's Trail

By Ralph M. Lewis, K. R. C.
[From The Rosicrucian Digest July 1938]
Editor's Note:--This is the fifteenth episode of a narrative by the Supreme Secretary relating the experiences he and his party had in visiting mystic shrines and places in Europe and the ancient world.


WE BOTH concentrated our digging and probing on the one place in which we had made our discovery. We were soon rewarded for our efforts and we turned up brick after brick, each weighing about ten pounds, all deeply and clearly inscribed in cuneiform, some bearing the inscription of Nebuchadnezzar's name. Turning them over, we saw that they had a sticky black substance smeared on them. "Looks and smells like asphaltum," said Brower.
"It is," I replied, "the Babylonians had asphalt or bitumen pits, and they used this substance to coat their bricks just as we use the same material today as a preservative on our roads and highways." "And you will observe," I continued, "that it has done an excellent job." We hurried, for the hour was getting late, to reduce the size of the bricks--because of their weight--with a hammer we had for the purpose. We knocked away all except the area containing the inscriptions. We soon had a very representative collection, and one quite heavy. We intended to take them back with us to America for the Rosicrucian Museum. In fact, they are now part of the collection to be seen in the Babylonian and Assyrian gallery of the Rosicrucian Museum.
In this same palace where we were making our discoveries an outstanding tragedy had happened. Alexander the Great, after successfully putting to rout the army of Darius, the Persian king who occupied Babylon at that time, and taking over Babylon himself, was murdered in this palace at the height of his power, and, it is said, while in a drunken stupor. Near here, in this series of earth mounds, was the ruins of a library. Ashurbanipal, last Assyrian king, and grandson of Sennacherib, built himself a great library at Nineveh, Assyrian city located north of the present city of Bagdad. This was centuries before the great Alexandrian Library of the Greeks. He had thousands of clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform writing placed in jars. These stone books, for this is what they were, were placed in rows on shelves, properly classified. There were thousands of them, devoted to the subjects of science, history, various phases of literature and religion. Hanging from the top of each was a little straw tag giving the title of the tablet, or the subject of the book. Some of these books were later filed in a library built in Babylon, and they have not yet been discovered.
The great library of Nineveh has been found; that is how we know of these books and their classification, and most of its stone books which lay in a heap when the building crumbled are now in the British Museum in London. On some of these tablets are found parts of the story of the flood mentioned in the Old Testament. The legend, as it also appears in the Old Testament, tells of the hero building a large boat on which he took his wife and a pair of each of the animals, and that all other humans and animals were destroyed by the deluge, and that finally when the flood subsided, he and his wife and the animals were left to perpetuate themselves as the only living things. This story is undoubtedly based upon an actual local flood within that region, and of course it was thought by the early writers to have been a deluge of the whole world. It was passed perhaps by word of mouth, or even by tablet, to the Egyptians, thence to the Hebrews, and it was finally incorporated in the Christian literature.
We loaded our camera equipment into the car, also the inscribed stones, for our porter would not help us with them. They were to him taboo; that is, untouchable. A curse, so the natives believed, would be inflicted upon those who disturbed the property of the dead. The Assyrians, like the Egyptians, threatened trespassers and those who would violate their sacred precincts with oaths of vengeance. Ashurbanipal, for example, declared in cuneiform writing on each stone tablet of his library (each book, in other words), that "whosoever shall carry off this tablet or shall inscribe his name upon it side by side with my own, may Assur and Belit (gods) overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land." Now we began to realize why they feared to visit this site. Strange, too, since working in the palace rooms I felt rather ill. Beads of cold perspiration stood out on my forehead, unusual for this climate. I felt exceptionally tired. My head throbbed slightly. I laughed to myself, and said, "the power of suggestion."
Relieved of our burdens, we climbed over several mounds to another large pile of crumbling brick. It is referred to by some authorities as the remains of the Towe[r] of Babel, mentioned in the Old Testament. The Babylonians, contrary to popular knowledge, built many large towers. The one to which the Old Testament refers was just one of many similar structures. The predecessors of the Babylonians were the Sumerians, a people who came from a mountain land far to the north, and finally settled on this plain which they named the plain of Shinar. In their home land they worshipped in temples on mountain tops a god named Enlil. He was the god of the earth. To simulate the mountain temples they built great tower temples which were cube-like in shape. The base was nearly as large in area as the height of the structure. Surrounding the base was a great stone courtyard. On one side three large inclines or ramps made it possible to reach the first two levels of the tower, and from there a gradual incline continued around the entire structure, making it possible to reach the tower top. On the top was the actual temple itself in which dwelt the priests, and in which the ceremonies were conducted.
Koldewey, German excavator and archaeologist, has reconstructed, from the plans he made of the ruins of Babylonian tower temples, complete models showing how they actually appeared in ancient times. The highest of these towers was probably some four hundred feet, which, like the great pyramid of Gizeh, looked by comparison to the surrounding level terrain much greater. Of course, to the captive Hebrews, this god of the Babylonians was a false one, and the worship of him on such a high edifice, reaching, it seemed, into the clouds, was a defiling of the sanctuary of their own god, consequently the story of the Tower of Babel. These tower temples contributed to later architecture and were first copied during the Hellenistic period. The world's first lighthouse, on Pharos Island, outside the ancient port of Alexandria, Egypt, was a copy of these tower temples. It, in turn, became the model for the Mohammedan minarets.
As we pondered among these ruins, in our mind's eye we could see the Hebrew slaves, naked except for loin cloth, with matted hair and beards, fettered with bronze chains and anklets, toiling, sweating, and stumbling in their misery and near exhaustion, in the blazing sun under the lash of the whips of their Babylonian captors, making and carrying the brick which was raising a tower for the worship of the god of their oppressors, offering prayers silently for their deliverance--prayers, the echo of which still ring in the chapters of the Old Testament. Cruelty, yes. Unnecessary--yes, also. But the custom neither began with the Babylonians nor did it end with them. This much can be said of the Babylonians: Their persecution of the Jews was not primarily a religious one, but a political one. Judea being a subordinate state and a rebellious one, its warriors became political prisoners of the Babylonians, not religious ones. Persian, Lydian, and Assyrian prisoners were treated likewise by them. Today, NOW, the Jews suffer persecution again, but in this day and age it is not principally political persecution but religious or racial persecution, which is a far greater reflection upon the level of intelligence of an age than the punishment of a people because of political uprising.
I found it difficult to draw myself back into my immediate surroundings. My thoughts seemed so easily to restore these ruins into the gloriously beautiful structures they once were. Ethereal throngs pushed by me, jostled me; strange sounds came to my ears. It seemed that the citizenry of this ancient place were again going to and fro, attired in their costumes of yore, occupied with their interests of four thousand years ago. I was an unseen spectator of their daily life. My own life and times became a vague dream, difficult to realize. To think of the present was an effort. In fact, the present was unreal. I was slipping back into the past where I felt, somehow, I rightly belonged. Further, I felt as though I were relieved of a burden, like one returning from a journey of responsibility in a distant land. I was now among friends, yet something continually annoyed me, a voice, faint, distant, but distinct, kept calling me. I could not avoid it. If I listened, this joyous procession, this Babylon of which I was now a part, became hazy. I decided to get away from this voice, to move along with the people about me, to enter into their spirit and mood. I rose, but I seemed to float; surprising to me, yet a pleasure, was the sensation.
Then the sound of my name crashed down upon me like a bolt of lightning. It shattered the vista before me; towers, palaces, streets, peoples, slaves--they all fell into mere parts like a jigsaw puzzle dropped abruptly on pavement. They melted before my eyes, and through the mist there appeared the face of Frater Brower. He was speaking, but his voice was still distant; then it gradually grew stronger as though it were approaching me from afar. He was shaking me by the shoulder and saying, "What is the matter with you? Why don't you answer me? We must get back. Are you ill? You are extremely pale." I realized now I must have fainted momentarily while seated on the sub-foundation wall of this tower temple. And yet, how clear had been my experience, how vivid in all its details, hardly like an hallucination that comes from an ordinary lapse of objective consciousness. I was ill, extremely so; I burned with fever. My mouth was parched and I was badly nauseated.
Over and over again, like a leer, the words of the Babylonian execration imploring the gods to punish despoilers coursed through my mind. I attempted to ridicule myself as I lay in the back of the bouncing car heading again toward Bagdad. I thought of the dozen or more volumes I had read quoting the authorities of the world, and of the Rosicrucian teachings, all of which discredited this superstitious belief, yet mocking me was this ailment, the discomfitures of which gave the oaths a more vivid realism to my semi-delirious mind than anything which I could recall having read or studied. Reason gave way to fantasy. I pictured myself as the victim whose life was to be given to prove the mysterious potency of these ancient curses. I had been chosen to vindicate the Babylonians, to discredit the stigma modern science had placed upon the forces which they were said to invoke!
Several days of quiet, after a diagnosis of my case as mild tropical fever combined with intestinal influenza, caused possibly by an insect bite on the desert, saw me rally sufficiently to prepare for the trek back across the desert. Our trail was now to lead northward and westward like the flow of the ancient civilization whose sites we had been visiting.
(To be continued)

Section IndexHome Page
Copyright  2007 Aswins Rabaq. All Rights Reserved.