27 November 2014

Kingdom of Ebla

The Kingdom of Ebla

The Kingdom of Ebla had previously been known in ancient Sumerian, Akkadian and Egyptian texts. Tell Mardikh - the ancient Ebla - is on the main road to Aleppo in Northern Syria, not quite half way between Hamath and Aleppo.

Since early excavation began in 1975, there have been more than 17,000 tablets recovered so far - not from the major royal archives - but rather a collection of records that were kept near the central court of the ancient city. Here, the provisions and rations were stored, tribute was collected, and apprentice scribes did their copying from the tablets which they would take temporarily from the royal archives themselves.

The two rooms where the main body of more than 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 matching Biblical times backgrounds and ancient history is awesome.

These types of tablet discoveries are of the sort 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 even 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. It appears that the city was defended by mercenaries rather than by its own army, more than likely the reason why Akkad finally prevailed over Ebla. The tablets would appear to date to the two last generations of the city, which would be somewhere about 2,300 BCE. The final destruction was apparently around 2250 BCE.

Among the tablets were found literary texts with mythological backgrounds, incantations, collections of proverbs, and hymns to various deities. Rituals associated with a multitude of gods are referred to … many of these gods being known in Babylonian literature of a much later period. These include Enki, Enlil, Utu, lnana, Tiamut, Marduk and Nadu. The god of the city of Kish is referred to as well. Most of the subjects in 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 too.

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.

These Ebla tablets were 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.

Language translation, understanding, and symbolism is always the key to the treasure. It unlocks the secrets locked within. It is clear that this was an organized Kingdom - one that existed about 1,000 years earlier than that of the times 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.

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 were 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. And the list goes on.

There is a creation record remarkably similar to the Genesis account and accounts of other civilizations. There are dealings with Hittites long before the story of Abraham purchasing 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 the Hebrews borrowed from. There are prophets proclaiming their message long before the nevi’im (prophets) of the Old Testament scriptures.

While on the subject of laws, later in Babylon, Hammurabi’s Laws (negative commandments) were posted on a huge tablet in the city as it’s laws to be followed. From these two civilizations Moses (possibly the real Akhenaten) developed the Ten Commandments. Today, Hammurabi’s Laws are on display in the British Museum for all to see.

There is much still to discover, and uncover about our ancient past. The more that is revealed, the more we realize how much they truly knew and how advanced they were back then.

Just a thought …

~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.