Modern Middle Eastern politics has intruded upon one of the most spectacular recent finds relating to the Ancient Near East. The result has been a loss, at least by delay, to scholars in general and to students of the patriarchal period of Old Testament history in particular.

David Noel Freedman of the University of Michigan made these charges to some 400 members and friends of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) at a plenary session of its thirtieth anniversary meeting. About seventy papers (mostly presented to sub-groups that met simultaneously) were read and discussed over the three day period, December 27–29, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago.

Freedman deplored the “present sad state of affairs” which is hindering scholarly investigation of some 15,000 clay tablets surviving from the royal archives of Ebla. The tablets, which are now housed in Aleppo, Syria, provide a concentrated picture of the economic life of a major city in what is now Syria. The language is probably a collateral ancestor of biblical Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Aramaic. Earlier identifications with biblical place and personal names were announced, but many of these are now being retracted.

The Ebla tablets date from the middle of the third millennium before Christ. Even though this is about 500 years before Abraham, father of the nation of Israel, modern Syrians apparently are afraid that Israelis will use the ancient tablets to justify occupation of Syrian territory.

The most accessible and authoritative English treatment of Ebla consists of an article written by the only one who can both decipher the language and has access to the tablets, Giovanni Pettinato. His article appeared in the May, 1976, issue of Biblical Archaeologist, ...

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