The Nuzi Tablets Reflections on the Patriarchal Narratives -- By: Stuart A. West

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 10:4 (Autumn 1981)
Article: The Nuzi Tablets Reflections on the Patriarchal Narratives
Author: Stuart A. West

The Nuzi Tablets
Reflections on the Patriarchal Narratives

Stuart A. West

[Mr. Stuart A. West is a graduate of the Law Faculty of University College, London, with an LL.B degree of London University. He now lives in Rehovot, Israel]

The Hurrians And The Nuzi Tablets

In 1925 excavations were begun in North East Iraq, 150 miles north of Baghdad, under the auspices of the American School of Oriental Research in Baghdad, Harvard University and the University Museum of Pennsylvania, on the site of the ancient city of Nuzi. During the course of the excavations, which continued until 1931, more than 4,000 written documents in the form of clay tablets were discovered, which were subsequently transferred to the Oriental Institute of Chicago and the Harvard Semitic Museum. Some of the tablets are also now in the British Museum.

The tablets cover the period when Nuzi was part of the Hurrian Mitanni Empire during the 15th - 14th Centuries B.C.E. and the Hurrians were at the height of their power. The information contained in the tablets discloses considerable data regarding the laws and customs of the Hurrians, much of which is pertinent to a proper understanding of the Biblical narratives concerning the Patriarchs. Although Abraham is thought to have lived in the 18th Century B.C.E., the first known appearance of Hurrians was in the region of Cappadocia to the north of Haran, where texts were found showing a Hurrian presence as early as 2, 000 B.C.E. There is therefore every reason to believe that the Hurrians had an ever increasing influence in the area during the Patriarchal period, so that the Nuzi tablets could very well reflect Hurrian laws and customs at that time.

The Hurrians And The Patriarchs

We know from Genesis 11 that Abraham and his family settled in Haran, before he moved on to the land of Canaan:

And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth

with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go unto the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Genesis 11:31

Like Nuzi, Haran was also part of the Hurrian Mitanni Empire whilst the Hurrians were at the height of their power, so that the tablets discovered at Nuzi would also reflect the way of life in Haran. In this manner, scholars have ascertained from a careful study of the Nuzi tablets that they are very helpful in explaining many of the Biblical episodes relating to the Patriarchs, which ...

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