EBLA: Its Impact on Bible Records
by Clifford Wilson, M.A., B.D., Ph.D.
The new findings at Ebla are possibly the most significant discovery yet made so far as they relate to the background of early Bible times. The impact on some areas of Biblical knowledge will indeed be startling.
Where Ebla is Located … and the Work Begins
Tell Mardikh — the ancient Ebla — is on the main road to Aleppo in Northern Syria, being not quite half way between Hamath and Aleppo. It is nearer to Aleppo than to Hamath. There is a mound and a small village about one kilometer off the highway. Professor Paolo Matthiae of the Rome University has been excavating there since 1964, but his work was not spectacular until 1968 when his team produced a statue dedicated to the goddess Eshtar, and bearing the name of Ibbit-Lim, a king of Ebla. This endorsed the positive identification of the city. The kingdom of Ebla had previously been known in Sumerian, Akkadian and Egyptian texts, and the excavators had good clues when they began digging in this 50-feet high mound. Now their hopes were bright for the future.
In the 1975 season some 15,000 tablets were recovered. To bring the report up to date, the excavators recently reported (with a smile!) that 1976 was a poor season — only 1,600 tablets were found! One tablet stated that the city had a population of 260,000.
Professor Giovanni Pettinato, also of the University of Rome, is the epigrapher working on the tablets, and some of what follows stems from his reports, both in the Biblical Archaeologist of May, 1976, and in public lectures and discussions at the University of Michigan in November 1976. Professor Matthiae also lectured at that time, and both professors were most cooperative in two days of lectures, discussion, and question and answer sessions. It was this writer’s privilege to participate in these public functions, as well as in more private meetings with the archaeologists and with a number of leaders in the field of Biblical archaeology and Semitic studies.
What the Tablets Are All About
It is probable that the 17,000 tablets so far recovered are not from the major royal archives, but are rather a collection of records that were kept near the central court. Here the provisions were stored, tribute was collected, and apprentice scribes did their copying from the tablets which they would take temporarily from the royal archives themselves. A wide variety of tablets were copies, and this is of tremendous importance, for it means that today we have a wide range of these copied tablets available for study.
The two rooms where the main body of 15,000 tablets were recovered were close to the entrance to the palace. If the royal archives themselves are found as excavation proceeds, the potential for the study of Bible backgrounds and ancient history is tremendous.
As Professor Pettinato has pointed out, these are the sorts of tablets that scholars dream about, but rarely find. Personal names are included, and in one text alone 260 geographic names have been given. Other texts give lists of animals, fish, birds, professions, and names of officials.
There are a number of historical texts which can be tied in with other known records, such as those of the city of Marik, coming down to the time of Narim Sin who eventually defeated the Eblahites decisively. It appears that the city was defended by mercenaries rather than by its own army. Professor Pettinato conjectures that this is probably the reason why Akkad finally prevailed over Ebla.
The tablets would appear to date to the two last generations of the city, somewhere about 2,300 B.C.– possibly 100 years earlier. The final destruction was about 2250 B.C.
There are literary texts with mythological backgrounds, incantations, collections of proverbs, and hymns to various deities. Rituals associated with the gods are referred to, many of these gods being known in Babylonian literature of a later period. These include Enki, Enlil, Utu, lnana, Tiamut, Marduk and Nadu. The god of the city of Kish is also referred to.
Most of the tablets deal with economic matters, tariffs, receipts, and other commercial dealings. However, other matters such as offerings to the gods are also dealt with.
The city was in contact with other cities all over the Near East. One of the interesting illustrations of this comes from the list of nations given to messengers as they traversed certain routes, with the names of the cities given. There are lists of towns in their geographic regions, and even lists of the towns that are subject to Ebla. Biblical towns known in later times are included, such as Ashdod and Sidon.
Vocabulary Lists in Two Languages
There are syllabaries of grammatical texts, making it possible to go from one language to another. There are no less than 114 Sumerian Eblahite vocabularies, these being the first such lists recovered from any ancient site. One of these vocabulary tablets contains nearly 1,000 translated words, and it has 18 duplicates.
It has long been known that scribes in Assyria copied tablets from Babylonia, but it is now established that scholars in Mesopotamia had also copied some of their tablets from the Syrian libraries.
When the first tablets were found, it was soon realized that this city used a very ancient language in the North West Semitic group which was previously unknown. Professor Pettinato labeled this “Paleo-Canaanite.” In layman’s terms, this means “ancient Canaanite.” At the close of this article in Biblical Archaeologist Professor Pettinato tells us,
The pronominal and verbal systems, in particular, are so clearly defined that one can properly speak of a Paleo-Canaanite language closely akin to Hebrew and Phoenician.
These Ebla tablets are written in a Sumerian script, with Sumerian logograms adapted to represent Akkadian words and syllables. About 1,000 words were recovered initially (hundreds more later) in vocabulary lists. The words are written out in both Sumerian logograms and Eblaic syllable-type writing. These offered an invaluable key to the interpretation of many of the Ebla texts.
The vocabularies at Ebla were distinctively Semitic: the word “to write” is k-t-b (as in Hebrew), while that for “king” is “malikum,” and that for “man” is “adamu.” The closeness to Hebrew is surprising.
It is relevant to note that some of the tablets deal with judicial proceedings. There are elaborations as to the penalties incurred when a person is injured, and there are details about various trials. Some of these points make foolish the former criticisms against the possibility of the existence of a Mosaic law-code. Here is a civilization about 1,000 years earlier than that of Moses, and in writing it gives all sorts of details about the administration of justice. It is clearly a highly developed civilization, with concepts of justice and individual rights to the fore. To suggest that Moses could not have dealt with such cases is ludicrous.
Some tablets deal with case law, and the law code of Ebla must now be recognized as the oldest ever yet found. In dealing with the penalties for injuries, distinction is made according to the nature of the act. An injury caused by the blow of a hand merited a different penalty from one caused by a weapon such as a dagger. Differing penalties are prescribed for various offenses.
There is elaborate discussion of case law, with varying conditions recognized for what at first sight might seem to be the same crime. In the case of a complaint involving sexual relations, if the girl was able to prove that she was a virgin and that the act was forced on her, the penalty against the man was death. Otherwise he would pay a fine that varied according to circumstances. It is remarkably like Deuteronomy 22:22-30, supposedly very late according to liberal scholarship.
In the public lecture series referred to above, Professor David Noel Freedman pointed out that about 17,000 tablets and significant fragments have been found at this site, and they date to approximately 2,400 B.C. to 2,250 B.C. This would be about four times the grand total of all tablets found, dating to that period, from all other sites. The nearest in magnitude for the number of tablets would be Mari, dating several hundred years later.
Personal Names and Places In the Tablets
A number of personal names in the Ebla documents are very similar to names used at later times in the Old Testament. One such name is Michael (mi-ka-ilu) which means, “Who is like El?” A related form, also in the Ebla texts, is mi-ka-ya which is well-known in the Bible, with the ya ending replacing the el. Other names are e-sa-um (Esau), da-‘u-dum (David), sha-‘u’-lum (Saul), and Ish-ma-ll (Ishmael), this last meaning “II (El — God) has heard me.”
Other examples given by Professor Pettinato are En-na-ni-ll which gave over to En-na-ni-Ya (II/Ya has mercy on me); A-dam-Malik (man of Milik); ‘il-ha-il, II is strength; Eb-du-Ra-sa-ap, Servant of Rasaph; Ish-a-bu, A man is the father; Ish-i-lum, A man is the god; I-sa-Ya, Ya has gone forth; I-ad-Damu, The hand of Damu; and Ib-na-Malik, Milik has created. Hebrew scholars recognize remarkable similarities to later Hebrew in the Old Testament, and Professor Pettinato himself states, in the Biblical Archaeologist referred to above, “Many of these names occur in the same form in the Old Testament, so that a certain interdependence between the culture of Ebla and that of the Old Testament must be granted.”
Hebrew Words Akin to Ebla Words
At Ebla, the king has the Sumerian title ‘en,’ and according to the vocabulary lists already referred to, the Paleo-Canaanite equivalent is “Malek.” This is virtually the same as the Hebrew word for “king” in the Old Testament “melek.” The elders of the kingdom were the “abbu,” remarkably close to “abba” (father) of the Old Testament. At many points the similarity to Old Testament Hebrew is very close.
Man’s search for the true God and for spiritual truth is shown by some of the personal names at Ebla. “Mi-ka-Ya,” meaning “Who is like Ya?” replaced “Mi-Ka-ll,” meaning “Who is like ll (El)?” “En-na-ni-Ya” meant, “Ya has mercy on me.” Re-i-na-Adad,” telling the world that “Adad (a god) is our shepherd,” reminds the Christian of Psalm 23 where the ultimate of that searching for divine leading and protection is found as the psalmist exclaims,”The Lord is my shepherd.”
Professor Pettinato discusses the names of some of the gods attested at Eber, including “II/El of the Ugaritic texts,” and tells us that “from Eber on, ll was substituted for by Ya… it appears evident that under Ebrum a new development in West Semitic religious concepts took place that permitted the rise of Ya. It would be more correct to see it as renewed acknowledgment of Yahweh. Dagan of the Old Testament is well-known, being associated with several places already known to scholars, including “Dagan of Canaan.” This indicates that the term “Canaan” was known much earlier than previously believed.
One aspect of special interest to Bible students is that a number of Old Testament cities are referred to. There are cities that were previously known in lst and 2nd Millennium records, but now they are referred to in these 3rd Millennium B.C. tablets. There is Salim, possibly the city of Melchizedec, Hazor, Lachish, Megiddo, Gaza, Dor, Sinai, Ashtaroth, Joppa and Damascus. Of special interest is Urusalima (Jerusalem), this being the earliest known reference to this city.
Although a city called Salim is referred to in the tablets, there is no indication just what its geographic location is. It is referred to separately from Urusalima (Jerusalem), and this would indicate that the two cities are separate.
Two of the towns mentioned are Sodom and Gomorrah. Here we are transported back to about 2,300 B.C., and we find that these towns were regularly visited, being on the route of the King’s Highway that ran down from Damascus. There are actually references to five “cities of the Plain” (to use the Biblical term at Genesis 14:2), and these were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. We are told in that same verse that an earlier name for Zoar was Bela.
Another of the towns referred to is Carchemish, and Professor Pettinato made the point that the prophet Isaiah (at Isaiah 10:9) has a remarkable knowledge of this name, as shown in the text preserved at Isaiah 10:9. This preserves the ancient name of the god “Chemosh,” the Moabite god known in later Bible times.
There is a creation record remarkably similar to the Genesis account. There are dealings with Hittites long before Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah from the Hittites of his time — it is not so long since it was argued there were no Hittites so early. There are treaties and covenants similar to those in Exodus, and for the protection of society there are laws that point towards the concept of justice so prominent in Exodus. There are ritualistic sacrifices long before those of Leviticus, and before the Canaanites from whom some critics claimed the Hebrews borrowed them. There are prophets proclaiming their message long before the nevi’im (prophets) of the Old Testament, though the Old Testament’s superiority in the realms of ethics, morality, and spiritual values stands unchallenged. The Old Testament records have that indefinable something that is different. Metaphorically, they bear within them the imprint of the finger of God.
The story has only just begun and there will be echoes from Eber for generations to come. It is at least thought-provoking that findings such as those at Ebla consistently support the Bible as a thoroughly acceptable record. To this writer it is far more than a wonderful history text: it is God’s Word of Truth, His revelation of Himself in the Person of His Son.
* Dr. Clifford Wilson is an archaeologist, linguist and Bible scholar. He has a Ph.D. in Psycholinguistics from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the faculty at Monash University in Australia.
The foregoing material is taken from Dr. Clifford Wilson’s new book EBLA TABLETS: Secrets of a Forgotten City, published by Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA 92115. (Publication date: April, 1977 – Price: $1.95)
Cite this article: Clifford Wilson, M.A., B.D., Ph.D. 1977. EBLA: Its Impact on Bible Records. Acts & Facts. 6 (4).
A Kentucky Pentecostal Church pastor, Jamie Coots, who has a National Geographic reality show called Snake Salvation, died from a rattlesnake bite over the weekend after refusing treatment (antivenom serum). Of course this happened in their church worship service. These misguided people base their beliefs on Mark 16:18 “…..they will pick up (handle) snakes.” Another passage they take out of context would be Acts 28:3-6 where the apostle Paul had a poisonous viper attach itself to him while he was gathering wood for a fire on the island of Malta. Paul did not, however, seek the snake, and the Lord protected him from death so he could accomplish his life’s mission. Paul was destined to go to Rome and witness.
The Kentucky pastor would probably say that a member of his church was not saved or lacked faith if they were bitten and died. He would probably say it was God’s time for him to be taken if he had the chance to reflect on his own death. The Biblical truth they miss is obvious to all of us. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to leap off of a pinnacle and “the angels would take charge over you.” Jesus quoted the correct scripure however, that “one should not tempt the Lord thy God nor put Him to the test.” One may have a great faith, but they will not walk down the middle of the fairway of the sixteenth hole on a golf course, while raising their nine iron in the middle of a thunderstorm. This pastor needlessly handled deadly snakes and even refused medication afterwards which Christian Scientists also would have done. By the way, I cannot help but wonder where he is spending eternity?
A famous movie quotation by Ben Hur played by Charlton Heston in the 1959 film Ben Hur. The quote reflected his strong faith that God had reasons for his life, and to free him from being a rowing slave on a Roman galley ship under the headship of Quintus Arrius:
Judah Ben-Hur: “I can’t believe that God has let me live these three years, to die chained to an oar.”
Dear Folks, Following is a comment I made in reference to an article on a “missing link” found in North America. It was an article found in Yahoo, and they afford others the opportunity to react to your comment– either “for” or “against.” My comment at last check had 3 for and 18 opposed. No surprise. Do not expect popularity when expounding upon truth. The Deceiver and Father Of Lies is doing a great job, eh? Why do I do this? In order to be God’s tool to touch someone somewhere. Whatever it takes. By the way, I noticed it is Darwin Day and there is more than one article espousing evolution. I saw another article discrediting the Bible as well. Blessings, Pastor Steve
“Ah yes, another missing link has been found. I am glad that these fascinating articles are all “scientific.” Like the prior findings of Cro Magnum and Neanderthal by Dr. Leakey in Africa, and a host of others in the last sixty to seventy years. One link was built upon the tooth of an extinct pig, with other totally unrelated bones in the area arbitrarily added. Another ape man was later found to be a part of a people group who were infected with rickets. Yet another was simply found to be an extinct ape. This “science” is the equivalent to speculating over the stock market and forecasting the hurricane season before it occurs. If you consider this science, then please: “beam me up Scottie…” There is NEVER contrition displayed when it is revealed that they have once again dropped the ball. If you want to claim this “ape man” as your ancestor then go for it. I was made, however, in the image of God. Yes, there is an Intelligent Designer who made everything perfect. This is not a cosmic crapshoot. The only change ever observed by REAL science is microevolution, which is within the same kind and species. Macroevolution, however, has never been observed — rocks to slime to fish to amoeba to ape to man, etc.”
Governor Chris Christie (R) Of New Jersey: “I do not think Americans want equal income equality, I think they want equal income opportunity. That is the spirit of this country.” This quotation has placed him back in the grace of the Republican Party, as Christie is thought by many to be too moderate and progressive.
Interestingly, Christie’s quotation harmonizes with the beliefs of a famous Republican from the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln, who said: “The worst thing a government can do for a people is to provide for them, that which they should earn on their own.”
52)anomos- without law/ The Greek root for “law” is “nomy” from which we get “Deuteronomy” which literally means second law, since the law was given to the Israelites for the second time. The prefix “a” means without, hence anomos means without the law. Antinomian means against the law, and could refer to one who abuses grace, ignoring the law. These are dangerous people. The Bible says that Jesus came to “fulfill the law,” not do away with it. (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44).
53)soma- body/ Soma is the Greek transliteration for body.
54)apologia- clearing of self, defence/ The Greek word took a large turn in current English usage. One can easily see that we get the word “apologize” from the Greek root, but the word means anything except that! Apologetics is the study of proofs that defend the integrity of the Bible. Studies in apologetics would be creation vs. evolution, science, history, anthropology and many others. People who are erudite in apologetics are defenders of the Christian faith.
55)apostolos- messenger, he that is sent/ The Greek word apostolos is the root of our word “apostles.” Jesus chose the twelve original apostles and several others became apostles later. These men were used by God to anchor the early church, write the Bible, and spread the Gospel. They were the foundation of the early church; see Ephesians 2:20. These men also experienced and met the risen Christ. If anyone today tells you that there are modern day apostles, then RUN AWAY FROM THEM. There were not even second generation apostles after the original ones! There have been no more apostles for nearly two thousand years since the church and Bible are established, and Lord is done with that office.
56)armageddon- the site of the last decisive battle between good and evil/ In a general sense it means any great decisive battle. Armageddon comes from the root “Megiddo,” which is a famous battlefield in Israel where many battles were fought. Most Christians refer to Armageddon as the battle that takes place immediately prior to Jesus Christ establishing His millennial reign.
57)archpoimen- chief shepherd/ We already considered “poimen” as a reference to the shepherding aspect of a pastor’s duties and calling. “Arch” means premier or chief such as Michael the archangel, hence archpoimen is the chief shepherd.
58)aroma- scent, sweet spice/ What is there to say? This is a straight translation from the Greek to English in both spelling and meaning.
59)aster- a star/ We get the word “asterisk” from this root. Here are a couple asterisks: **. Aster is the word used by the wise men for the star they saw in the east which announced Christ’s birth.
60)baptizo- baptize/ The meaning is to submerge TOTALLY under water. This is an ordinance of the church. The Latin transliteration is identical to the Greek. This act represents the death, burial and resurrection of both Jesus Christ and the believer, AND this represents one who is now dead to sin and raised up a new creature in Christ Jesus (see II Corinthians 5:17).
61)bema- judgment seat/ This is the judgment seat whereby a Christian will be awarded for their works, whether good or bad. Only the born again Christian stands at the Bema judgment seat, and this judgment is solely for their works. A Christian in poor standing with the Lord will have their works burn up like wood, hay and stubble, nonetheless they will be saved with their coat tail on fire, because their salvation is based on the blood of Christ and not their good works. They will lose their reward(s) however, if their motives and heart are not right. The unbeliever or lost soul, however, stands at the Great White Throne Judgment, where they will be judged outside of Christ and cast into hell for all eternity.