HAVE YOU HEARD of the
Empire of Ebla? It is not surprising if you have not - for modern history
text books make no references to this kingdom, which existed from
approximately 2,300 B.C. to 1,700 B.C.
In fact, only students of
ancient Middle East history are likely to have come across the name of Ebla,
and even then, only in passing - not realising the extent and power of this
empire which stretched around the shores of the eastern Mediterranean for
nearly 600 years. Now the re-writing of our history books will again be
necessary to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the past; for there has been
a remarkable archaeological discovery in Syria between Aleppo and Damascus,
on the site of Tel Mardikh.
tablets in Ebla's library
On this site of a 4,000
year old fortification, perhaps the most remarkable 'find' of
the century has been uncovered - 18,000 fired clay
and rock tablets relating to the economy, administration and international
dealings of this once great empire of Ebla.
Popular history of the
third millennium B.C. is taught with little regard for the Biblical account
of the customs, manners, social behaviour and level of education of the
people of this period.
Now for the first time it
appears that there exists a record contemporary with the Biblical account of
the times, and so different is the picture it reveals from that of accepted
historical suppositions, that the linguist in charge of the tablets, Dr
Pettinato, has claimed that this discovery calls for a fundamental revision
of third millennium B.C. culture and history.
The tablets were
discovered in some out-buildings of a palace situated within the vast
fortifications around the top of the tel. Many of the buildings, due to
their solid roofs of some two feet in thickness, are intact and free of
debris. Most of the walls are plastered a grey-green colour, with murals in
good condition. The two rooms in which the tablets were discovered had been
shelved with wood but, due to time and the weight of the tablets, this
shelving had collapsed with some breakages; but the tablets, many containing
3,000 lines of cuneiform writing, are in readable condition.
The tablets tell of an
'empire' and names many areas under the control of Ebla, such as Sinai,
Assyria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Carchemish, Lachish, Gaza, Hazor and others. Bible
students will readily recognise that many of these names appear in the Old
Testament record and it is interesting to note that of the three languages
of the tablets, an hitherto unknown tongue, closely resembling Hebrew is
prevalent and many common names recorded by the people of Ebla are easily
recognisable to Bible readers.
AB-RA-MU - (ABRAM)
E-SA-UM - (ESAU)
IS-MA-EL - (ISHMAEL)
IS-RA-EL - (ISRAEL)
MI-KA-EL - (MICHAEL)
MI-KA-YAH - (MICAIAH)
Further, many common Ebla
words are the same as Hebrew, such as 'and' (WA), 'perfect' (TAMMIN), 'fall'
(NAPAL) and 'good' (TOB).
But perhaps most
interesting of all are the quite extensive descriptions of the Creation and
of the Flood, so often derided by modern historians.
The tablets are being
translated and published and their contents will be invaluable in enlarging
our understanding of the world of 2,000 BC; for they reveal a sophisticated
system of international and civil law, including treaties of trade between
Ebla and her neighbours within the framework of political agreements. These
have been likened to the present-day Treaty of Rome between the EC members.
In addition, long lists of
zoological, geographic and mathematical material have been found and there
are weather forecasts in some meteorological texts. Records were made of
visiting Mesopotamian scribes and mathematicians.
Proverbs and literary
works are also preserved, including a set of bilingual tablets for the
purpose of teaching translation, besides thousands of matching words. There
seems no doubt that the tablets of Tel Mardikh contain the worlds oldest
vocabulary lists - a source of no little consternation to students of
ancient languages; for it is widely held that Biblical Hebrew is an evolved
language, used during the first millennium BC Isaiah, the Hebrew prophet
however, had indicated that his language was 'the language of Canaan',
[Isaiah 19v18] and the Tel Mardikh tablets now support the Biblical
reference - Hebrew has now to be recognised as one of the world's oldest
languages (and perhaps the language spoken by Noah, Canaan being the
grandson of Noah through Ham). [ Genesis 10v6]
Interesting for Bible
students is the fact that the Bible records that Abram, together with his
father Terah, left the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia to go into Canaan.
They travelled as far as Haran and dwelt there. [Genesis 11v31,32] Haran was
some 300 miles north east from the site at Tell Mardikh and appears to be
named after Haran, Abram's brother. [ Genesis 11v27 ] On his journey to
Canaan, Abram in all probability, passed through Tel Mardikh, the then
centre of trade and commerce, and of course, the language of Abram would be
that of Ebla and of Canaan.
The other two languages
written in cuneiform and discovered at Tel Mardikh are Sumerian and Akkadian.
It had previously been assumed that the earliest cuneiform languages, were
these two languages, developed in east and south Mesopotamia and the
possibility that Syrian and Canaanite communications existed in cuneiform
had been ruled out (with the exception of Ugaritic texts). But the Tel
Mardikh tablets now reveal Sumerian scripts pre-dating those found in
eastern Mesopotamia - throwing accepted theories of language origins to the
winds. The Akkadian scripts found at Tel Mardikh refer mainly to the later
period of the history of Ebla. One of the deities worshipped at Mardikh was
Marduk or the Merodak of the Bible. It appears to be basically the same name
as Nimrod, the 'mighty hunter before the Lord' mentioned in Genesis 10v9
Nimrod, who founded the city of Babel, appears to have been deified and the
cult continued long after Ebla had ceased. The main consonants of Nimrod are
M R D, hence:
N i M R o D
M a R D ikh
M e R o D ak
Tel Mardikh was then the
place of worship for Mardikh.
The finds of
Tel Mardikh and the Empire of Ebla, so far have only revealed confirmation
of the scriptural narrative.