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With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Cornerstone of Deception by Cheryl Simani

Reviewed on: July 1, 2021


Third House Publishing:  Fort Collins, CO
2011 (PB)

Author Simani has taken archaeological history—the excavations of Austen Henry Layard and Henry Rawlinson in mid-19th Century Mesopotamia—and reimagined their triumphs and tragedies into a first-class mystery yarn and a multi-faceted romance. 

Austen Layard, at a very young age, became one of England’s most celebrated archaeologists spent ten years excavating at Tel Kouyunjik, the site of Biblical Ninevah, in what is now modern-day Iraq.  Tons of artifacts and sculptures were sent to the British Museum for curation, but the most significant finds were the thousands of tablets and fragments of tablets inscribed in cuneiform that unlocked the secrets of Old Persian, Median and Babylonian writings.  Enter Henry Rawlinson, a British East India Company army officer, master linguist, and the man who, because of his brilliance at translation and his drive for the spotlight, became the recognized “Father of Assyriology,” the newly-conceived archaeological and epigraphic study of the ancient kingdoms between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  What made these and subsequent finds by Rawlinson and his followers, as well as French archaeologists, so momentous was that the translations put in serious question the inerrancy of the Bible’s Old Testament—in particular, the historical truth of Jonah and the Flood.  For Rawlinson’s young protégé linguist George Smith translated a Babylonian version of the Deluge that closely mirrored the Biblical Flood account but was demonstrably more ancient than the Biblical story—the saga that came to be known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Between the initial excavations by Layard and the work of Smith some thirty years later, were a series of important discoveries that pitted a number of newly-minted Assyriologists from England, Ireland and France against Rawlinson and his adherents in a decades-long academic conflict concerning the accurate translating of the cuneiform inscriptions.  Rawlinson tended to prevail both because of his stature among his peers and because he had managed to gain almost total control over the British Museum collection.

The author proposes that Rawlinson was a man with few scruples when it came to archaeological trench warfare.  Whether attacking his opponents in learned journals or in public lectures, or buying or manufacturing fake artifacts, or even simply making up translations that fit his predisposed theories—all was fair in carrying out his ends and goals.  Had Rawlinson’s rivals prevailed, his alternate timeline to the Old Testament might not have prevailed in intellectual circles.

Author Simani has written an at times graceful and almost always compelling re-telling of this critically important point in the history of archaeology.  The pages of her novel are filled with the lives and times of many of the major real-life characters of this critical era and embellishes a number of those lives with stories of love and passion, both tender and tragic.  The quality of writing was, unfortunately, often marred by shoddy type-setting, proof-reading printing.  But the Simani’s storytelling and her keen sense of place, time and landscape does prevail.

Three trowels for The Cornerstone of Deception.