Reports have been leaking out about an archaeological discovery that some scholars think is the most important yet. Whether it will prove to be greater than the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Deluge Tablet or any of a number of other discoveries that have greatly affected the study of the Bible remains to be seen. That it will eclipse the discoveries of Heinrich Schliemann, which revolutionized the study of antiquity, seems quite unlikely, but we would do well to keep an open mind.

The new discoveries, which have been coming to light since 1974, are the results of the work of Italian and Syrian archaeologists at Tell Mardikh in northwest Syria, the site of ancient Ebla. The principal archaeologist is Dr. Pado Matthiae of the University of Rome. Because of the complexities of joint publication in the two countries involved in the excavation, no texts have yet appeared in print, and only spotty information has been released.

A large number of tablets have been found, reportedly 15,000 so far, and there is promise of opening the official archives in the next season of excavation. These tablets are dated around the First Dynasty of Akkad (roughly 2300 B.C.), or two to five centuries prior to the time of Abraham. They are written in cuneiform and belong to a language group that may prove to be Northwest Semitic. The significance of this may not be apparent to anyone not working in Semitic studies, so let me try to explain it.

So far, our early written discoveries from the ancient Near East are cuneiform documents in Old Akkadian and Sumerian (unrelated languages) and hieroglyphic inscriptions in Egyptian. These already known materials are, geographically speaking, from the borders of the biblical world. And in linguistic relationship, ...

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