Ebla: Archaeological Discoveries And Biblical Research -- By: Mitchell Dahood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 09:4 (Autumn 1980)
Article: Ebla: Archaeological Discoveries And Biblical Research
Author: Mitchell Dahood


Ebla: Archaeological Discoveries And Biblical Research

Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

[Fr. Mitchell Dahood is professor of Ugaritic and Phoenician Languages and Literature, and Dean of Ancient Eastern Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Fr. Dahood has written many articles in scholarly journals. He is the author of “Ebla Ugarit, and the Old Testament,” which appeared in the Winter and Spring 1979 issues of Bible and Spade.]

Among the books recently published in Italy, Giovanni Pettinato’s Ebla. Un impero inciso nell’argilla (Milano: Mondadori, 1979, 328 pp. L. 7.000) is bound to cause considerable debate for years to come. Though intended for the lay reader, this volume contains some 50 texts published for the first time, so that both the large public and the specialists will be interested in this first synthesis of the culture of Ebla based on an analysis of the texts themselves. The archives brought to light by La Missione Italiana Archeologica in Siria during the

campaigns of 1974–1976 are not disparate inscriptions but rather the organic royal archive that permits Pettinato to reconstruct the various features of this civilization that flourished in northwestern Syria around 2, 500 B.C. and rivaled the cultures of Egypt and Sumer in Lower Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.

The Language of Ebla

After a description of the archaeological recovery of the city of Ebla, occasionally mentioned in Mesopotamian and Egyptian records but finally destroyed and lost to history, the author examines the archive, tells how tablets were made, inscribed and arranged on shelves in various rooms according to their typology. The third chapter could be the most explosive of the book insofar as Pettinato describes the writing and language of Ebla which he classifies as Early Canaanite and hence closely related to other members of the Canaanite family such as Ugaritic, Phoenician and Biblical Hebrew.

How one classifies the new language from Ebla will have considerable bearing on its relevance for comparative research. A Canaanite affiliation, for example, will entail far-reaching consequences for biblical research; one of the acutest problems facing the Old Testament scholar is the Hebrew language itself, which is a member of the Canaanite family. About 40 percent of the Old Testament is composed in poetry, much of it archaic poetry, and hence difficult to translate and interpret. Moreover, of the 8,000 words of the Biblical Hebrew lexicon, some 1,700 are hapax legomena or words occurring only once; many of these are simply impossible to define without recourse to extrabiblical documents. If the lang...

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