A Business Document from the Time of Abraham -- By: Elmer B. Smick

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 09:1 (Winter 1968)
Article: A Business Document from the Time of Abraham
Author: Elmer B. Smick

A Business Document from the Time of Abraham

Elmer B. Smick

Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature
Covenant Theological Seminary

I herewith present the decipherment of a small cuneiform-tablet from the library of my esteemed colleague, Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., given to him by the late Dr. Arno Gaebelein many years ago. It turns out that the text is singularly unspectacular, but as with every shred of new documentary material it adds its tiny part to the total of our knowledge of the ancient Biblical world.

Before I present this text and its significance, I would like to use the opportunity to make a plea to Evangelical scholarship. The proverbial hen’s teeth may be used to describe the number of cuneiform scholars of the Evangelical camp. Those who wrote in clay produced almost imperishable documentation of their life and times. In no other part of the world do we find such a wealth of extant original documents. Admittedly, cuneiform studies are vast and complex and a few specialists dominate the various areas of study. With no little irony a certain famed cuneiformist of an Eastern university has received the sobriquet DINGIR meaning “god” in Sumerian. Be that as it may, it happens that tools are becoming increasingly available for any serious scholar to learn to handle at least a portion of this source material, and this should be a fascinating challenge to Biblical scholars since it opens a vast area of understanding. Reading these documents in translation while useful is about as satisfying as it is for a theologian to be limited to the English Bible. Moreover, only a few cuneiform specialists are interested in Biblical studies but Biblical scholars can be enriched by working in cuneiform since their minds will be swift to appreciate what is relevant to Bible studies in language, religion, history, etc.

Evangelical scholars must guard against a solely reactionary scholarship. Positive contributions in any field have always brought with them recognition and respect from those who are dedicated to serious research no matter what their theological position. When some degree of such respect is attained then other views and pronouncements on theological matters may often be given a fairer hearing.

Cuneiform studies logically begin with Sumerian since this was the classical language of the cuneiform world, though Ugaritic is somewhat of an exception since it was written in alphabetic cuneiform. Any student of Hebrew can become at home in Ugaritic in a comparatively short time. Even the script is easy to learn and a complete tool, including most extant texts in transcription, a grammar and glossary is available in English in C. H. Gordon’s Ugaritic Textbook. For years I have been trying to tell my st...

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