The Ebla Tablets Revisited


Ruins of the outer wall of Ebla and the “Damascus Gate”

One of the most popular articles on this blog is The Ebla Tablets Confirm Biblical Accounts. Though it was posted in 2015, it was still the most read article on the blog in 2016 and 2017 and was still third on the list in 2018.  Perhaps, that is why I feel prompted to revisit the subject today.

Digging a little bit deeper into the subject (pun intended), I found a 1979 Washington Post article that boasts no biblical claims. (Literally, it’s in the title.) The article asserts that, after initial enthusiasm that the tablets would reveal biblical treasures, “three years of intense study” disclosed no biblical claims. Dr. Robert Biggs, professor of Assyriology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, announced the verdict, “People who are looking to the Ebla tablets for proof of the authenticity of the Bible are going to be sorely disappointed.”

At the time of the article in 1979, 11,000 tablets had been discovered dating from 23 centuries before Christ in the ancient Sumerian city of Ebla in what is now northern Syria that was destroyed by fire around 2300 BC. Of course, only 48 tablets had been translated and published at the time of the article. While Professor Biggs was quick to render a verdict against the Bible, other scholars were not as quick to jump to judgment as noted by a Smithsonian expert who speculated at the same time that Ebla tablets may support the historicity of the Patriarchal narratives, “but we won’t know for decades.”

Fast forward to 2015, the number of tablets recovered from the ancient library in the ruins of Ebla had increased to 15,000, and the early verdict that they contain no “biblical claims” is much in doubt. (See Controversial Discovery: 15,000 Ancient Ebla Tablets Prove Old Testament To Be Accurate) (The current number of tablets and portions of tablets may be closer to 17,000.)

Among the discoveries reported are the following. Canaan, the word that many scholars believed was inaccurately and anachronistically attributed to a region in Judea, was confirmed to be an accurate reference from the ancient era. “[W]ith the discovery of the tablets from the northern Syria, the word the word “Canaan” does appear, contrary to the claims of the critics. The tablets proved that the term was actually used in ancient Syria during the time in which the Old Testament was written.” (See Critics Of Bible Silenced| Archaeological Discoveries Prove Torah To Be Accurate) Further, the biblical cities of Sodom, Gomorrah and Haran (the place of Abram’s father) were identified.

In truth, there are only something more than 2000 complete tablets, along with approximately 4000 fragments and 10,000 chips of tablets. The majority of the text relates to economic and administrative details of life in Ebla, but there is historical information, religious text, academic text and other things as well. One of the more obvious, yet significant, things confirmed by the Ebla tablets is that written language was flourishing in the 3rd Millennium BC, contrary to doubts expressed by some. This was 1000 years before the time of Moses.

Further, contrary to the claim by Biggs, that the cuneiform script was not Semitic, Giovanni Pettinato, the chief epigrapher for the Ebla excavation, determined that it was a Semitic language related to Canaanite, Phoenician, Ugarit and Hebrew. (See The Archives of Ebla and the Bible) Before the Ebla tablets were discovered with the Eblaite cuneiform, Akkadian was the only Semitic language known to exist in the 3rd Millennium BC.

The gods referenced in the tablets are mostly the same as the gods worshiped by the Canaantes and other Semitic people in the area, including Dagan, Baal and Ashtarte, gods which are also referenced in the Hebrew Bible. These names of Eblaite gods give us more accurate understanding of some biblical texts.

For instance, Hosea 7:14 is translated:

“They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.”

From the Ebla tablets we learn that the Hebrew word for grain is dagan, and the Hebrew word for wine is tirosh. Dagan is also the Eblaite god of grain, Dagan, and tirosh is also the Eblaite goddess of wine, Tirosh. With that knowledge, we can retranslate Hosea 7:14, and it makes more sense:

“They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for [Dagan, the god of] grain, and [Tirosh, the goddess of} wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.”

This is only one example of many in which the Ebla tablets shed new light on the biblical texts and biblical words. (See The Archives of Ebla and the Bible) The similarities in the two languages is striking, and the shared words are many.

The Ebla tablets have been a treasure for unlocking layers of meaning and sharpening the accuracy of the translations of the Hebrew Bible. The Ebla tablets, for instance, confirm that Job is indeed an ancient text, using ancient variations of words that are confirmed in the ancient Ebla texts. The insights from the Ebla tablets have caused scholars, who previously dated Job to the 7th to 4th Century BC, to rethink that dating, suggesting that Job may go back as far as the Ebla tablets (to the 3rd Millennium BC).

The more recent article, Justice, Myths, and Biblical Evidence: The Wealth of Information Held in the Ebla Clay Tablets (January 2017), also acknowledges the “extensive area of overlapping information between the Ebla tablets and Biblical text”. Both texts reference Abram, David, Esau, Ishmael, Israel, Micaiah, Michael, and Saul, for instance. Both texts mention cities like Salem, Gaza, Lachish, Ashdod and more, though it’s unclear whether they reference the same cities geographically.

The historicity of the Ebla texts is well-accepted since most of it pertains to commercial and other mundane aspects of ancient life in that area. The Ebla tablets don’t have what scholars believe to be the predominantly legendary and mythical character of the Bible, but the commonality between the Ebla tablets and the Bible confirms the historicity of some of the most ancient portions of the Hebrew Bible.

Not surprisingly, controversy still exists. Wikipedia continues to maintain that the significance of the Ebla tablets on biblical archaeology is “minimal” (referencing Biggs and other sources predominantly dating between in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s). (Significantly, the newest source cited for the Semitic origin of Eblaite, contrary to Biggs claim of the non-Semitic origin of the language, is from 2015.)

Regardless of the critics, the Ebla tablets do not refute or call the historicity of the Bible into question. At worst, the Ebla tablets are only minimally relevant, but some biblical scholars disagree with the critics and maintain that the Ebla tablets strengthen, confirm and clarify biblical claims of historicity and understanding.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Postscript: As I did with the original article, following are a list of some significant discoveries that also tend to confirm the historicity of the biblical text:

  • The campaign into Israel by Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-26) is recorded on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Thebes, Egypt. (See Associates for Biblical Research)(“In relief on the sixth and seventh pylons, Thutmose III (18th Dynasty) listed many cities in Palestine and Syria that he conquered (Redford 1992:442; Wilson 1969). Merenptah’s (19th Dynasty) relief, corresponding to the famous stele mentioning Israel found in his mortuary temple on the Nile’s west bank, is the earliest-known artistic representation of Israelites. The inscription of Shishak I (22d Dynasty) commemorated his invasion of Judah and Israel, as mentioned in the Bible (1 Kgs 14:25–26).”)
  • The revolt of Moab against Israel (2 Kings 1:1; 3:4-27) is recorded on the Mesha Inscription. (See the New World Encyclopedia) (“Discovered in 1868 at Dhiban, Jordan (biblical “Dibon,” the capital of Moab), the inscription of 34 lines is the most extensive document ever recovered referring contemporaneously to ancient Israel. The stele was erected by Mesha circa 850 B.C.E. as a memorial of his victories, especially his revolt against the Kingdom of Israel, apparently undertaken after the death of Israel’s King Ahab.”)
  • The fall of Samaria (2 Kings 17:3-6, 24; 18:9-11) to Sargon II, king of Assyria, is recorded on his palace walls. (See britanica.com and University College of London)
  • The defeat of Ashdod by Sargon II (Isaiah 20:1) is recorded on his palace walls. (See biblehistory.net)(“One of the inscriptions read “Sargon, king of Assyria, who conquered Samaria and the entire region of Israel, he who made captives of Ashdod.” (ANET 284)”)
  • The campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib against Judah (2 Kings 18:13-16) is recorded on the Taylor Prism. (See The British Museum and thehistoryofinformation.com)
  • The siege of Lachish by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14, 17) is recorded on the Lachish reliefs.
  • The assassination of Sennacherib by his own sons (2 Kings 19:37) is recorded in the annals of his son Esarhaddon. (See Ancient History Encyclopedia)
  • The fall of Nineveh as predicted by the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah (2 Kings 2:13-15) is recorded on the Tablet of Nabopolasar. (See livius.org)
  • The fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-14) is recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. (See livius.org)
  • The captivity of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, in Babylon (2 Kings 24:15-16) is recorded on the Babylonian Ration Records.
  • The fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30-31) is recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder. (See the Ancient History Encyclopedia)
  • The freeing of captives in Babylon by Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4; 6:3-4) is recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder. (See britanica.com)
Explore posts in the same categories: Archaeology, Bible

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