Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament -- By: Mitchell Dahood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 08:1 (Winter 1979)
Article: Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament
Author: Mitchell Dahood


Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament

Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

[Fr. Mitchell Dahood is Professor of Ugaritic and Phoenician Language and Literature, and Dean of Ancient Eastern Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.]

In 1964 the Missione Archeologica Italiana in Siria under the direction of Professor Paolo Matthiae of the University of Rome began to excavate the site of Tell Mardikh in north-western Syria, some 55 kilometers south-west of Aleppo. This tell or artificial mound created by the heaping up of successive layers of human occupation covers an area of about 56 hectares and is surrounded by a wall of terra battuta. The first four campaigns or seasons — a campaign lasts usually 8–10 weeks — produced no spectacular results, but the level of excitement rose in the summer of 1968 with the discovery of a large fragment of the torso of a basalt statue. This statue bore a 26-line inscription in Akkadian, and dated to circa 2000 B.C. Professor Giovanni Pettinato, then of the University of Torino, and now professor of Sumerology at the University of Rome, was summoned to Syria to decipher the inscription, and within a relatively short time was able to furnish a translation of the entire text with the exception of a few phrases whose sense remained obscure because of the damaged signs. The translated text reveals that the statue had been dedicated to the goddess Ishtar by the king or

prince Ibbit-Lim, the son of Igrish-Khepa. He also tells us that he belonged to “the family of Ebla”.

The city Ebla has been mentioned more than a dozen times in Sumerian and Akkadian texts published during the past 75 years, but no scholar succeeded in locating it geographically. Now it appeared very likely that ancient Ebla was to be identified with modern Tell Mardikh, an identification that none of the savants who wrote on the question ever made. With this probable identification, the excavators continued their work with renewed enthusiasm, which was handsomely rewarded in 1974 by the discovery of the first archive consisting of 42 tablets and fragments of an economic character. During the following campaign, in October 1975, the great archive came to light, yielding 14,000 tablets and fragments. In 1976 another 1636 tablets and fragments were recovered, whereas the 1977 season produced only a hundred or so tablets, a rather modest harvest by Tell Mardikh standards, but a banner year elsewhere. The name of the city Ebla recurs frequently in the tablets, so that the question of identification has been definitively settled.

Pre-Ebla Inscriptional Material

Properly to assess the significance of these discoveries and their bearing on the Old Testament, ...

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