Nuzi Tablets -- By: Louis Katzoff

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 01:2 (Spring 1988)
Article: Nuzi Tablets
Author: Louis Katzoff


Nuzi Tablets

Dr. Louis Katzoff 1

Nuzi and the Bible

The Nuzi tablets are a primary source of information concerning everyday life in northern Mesopotamia in the mid-second millenium BC. Nuzi was not far from Paddan-Aram, the homeland of the Patriarchs, and thus the tablets shed light on customs reflected in the patriarchal narratives. Although the biblical Patriarchs lived several hundred years before the era of the Nuzi tablets, the tablets are still helpful in discerning customs of the times of the Patriarchs since customs in the Ancient Near East were tenacious and lasted for long periods of time.

Customs described in the Genesis narrative which sound strange, even incomprehensible, to us today are seen to be common practices in the ancient world of the Bible. Beyond that, the Nuzi tablets demonstrate that the patriarchal narratives accurately reflect life in the time frame specified by the biblical chronology and are not the product of much later storytellers as a number of critics maintain.

In the northeastern area of present-day Iraq, near the oil fields of Kirkuk, at the foothills of southern Kurdistan, an ancient city by the name of Nuzi was excavated some fifty years ago by a team of archaeologist under the Joint auspices of the American School of Oriental Research (of Baghdad), Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Nuzi was part of the Hurrian Mitanni empire - mentioned in the Bible as Hurim, Horites or Hurrians - who held sway for several centuries over the western side of the Mesopotamian fertile crescent. Thousands of tablets from private and public archives were uncovered, which shed light on the lives and customs of the Hurrians and are of special importance for biblical studies, particularly of the patriarchal period. Much of the knowledge derived from the tablets fits into the pattern and background of the general society in which the patriarch Abraham moved about, and is reflected in some of the narratives which we have in the book of Genesis. I should like to point out three of these.

Say That Thou Art My Sister

A critical situation is shaping up for Abraham and Sarah as they approach the land of Egypt in their escape from the famine in their newly found land of Canaan. A frightening sense of insecurity settles upon Abraham: There was a famine in the land, and Abraham went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Saril, “I am well aware that you are a beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they...

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