Tyre and the Tell El-Amarna Tablets -- By: Gary A. Byers
BSpade 15:4 (Fall 2002) p. 111
Tyre and the Tell El-Amarna Tablets
Tyre’s significance in the 14th century BC can be seen in the Amarna Letters. These cuneiform-inscribed clay tablets found in Tell el-Amarna, Egypt, represent correspondence between minor Canaanite kings ruling under Egyptian auspices during the reign of Egyptian Pharaohs Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. This is the century immediately following Joshua’s initial assault on Canaan, according to Biblical chronology.
While Tyre was outside the main area of Israelite operations, it was in the northern sector of Canaan. Ten letters from Abimilki (“my father is king,” like the Hebrew name Abimelech), king of Tyre, to Ahkenaton (EA 146–155)2 reported on political conditions in Canaan. At this time, Tyre was located on the island. The inhabitants obtained water supplies from the mainland settlement, Uzu (Jidejian 1996:40).
The occasion of Abimilki’s letters to Pharaoh Akhenaten appeared to be a very difficult political situation. The foremost problem revolved around the availability of drinking water (EA 146.20; 148.12, 31; 149.51, 75; 50.21; 151.39, 43; 154.18; 155.10, 16, 19, 25, 63).
From the first letter (EA 146.15; see also 147.66-70; 148.24-26; 149.49-63, 67–70; 151.11-14; 152.7-8; 154.11-25), Abimilki had issues with Zimrida king of Zidon (Sidon). Another problem for Abimilki may also have involved the SA GAZ people (EA 146.22; see also 148.43, 45). The SA GAZ, or Apiru as called by the king of Jerusalem (EA 286:19, 56; 287:31; 288:37, 44; 289:24), were viewed by Abimilki as rebels fighting against Tyre and Pharaoh (for an excellent treatment of the subject, see Waterhouse 2001). Abimilki also believed kings of other nearby Canaanite cities joined with them (EA 148:41–43).
From the first letter (EA 146.9) and the following letters (EA 147.61-64; 148.21-22; 149.9-10; 150.7-9; 151.6; 153.14-16; 155.50), Abimilki reminds Akhenaton that he was protecting Tyre for Pharaoh. It seems that Abimilki may not have been of the city’s ruling dynasty or even a native of Tyre, but placed on the throne by Pharaoh. A letter from Rib-Addi (EA 89.20-21), king of Byblos (Gebal), says that enemies have killed the ruler at Tyre along with the members of Rib-Addi’s family. Abimilki probably replaced Tyre’s deceased king. It seems Byblos and Tyre, were almost the only cities in the region of Lebanon that were loyal to Egypt.
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