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Ebla and the Bible, Giovanni Pettinato, BAR 6:06, Nov-Dec 1980.

Mathematical_Tablets_from_EblaObservations on the New Epigrapher’s Analysis

I would like to provide BAR readers with a response to the article entitled “New Ebla Epigrapher Attacks Conclusions of Ousted Scholar,” BAR 06-03. The BAR article is a summary of an article by Professor Alfonso Archi which appeared in the Italian journal, Biblica (Vol. 60, 1979, pp. 556–566), published by the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. My remarks here are based on a scientific article responding to Archi and published in Oriens Antiquus (Vol. XIX, 1980, p. 49–72). For further details and technical support for much of the following, the interested reader is referred to that article.a

Following my own resignation, mission director Paolo Matthiae appointed Professor Archi to be the new epigrapher of the Italian Mission to Ebla. The conclusions in Archi’s article were reached, he says, after “collecting and checking the data.” “The result,” we were assured, is that the Ebla discussions as it relates to the Bible, will now have “a more precise base.”

Normally, we could assume Professor Archi possesses the professional qualifications and competence to handle the Ebla materials because he holds such an important scholarly position.

Unfortunately, in this instance, we must look more closely.

By way of background, it should be stated that anyone who hopes to read the Ebla tablets in the original must have a solid grasp of Sumerian (80% of the signs on the tablets are Sumerian signs), as well as of East Semitic languages (like Akkadian) and West Semitic languages (the Canaanite languages).

Archi, however, is an untenured professor of Hittitology at the University of Rome—a teacher of that Indo-European culture and language. Thus, although he is the official epigrapher to the Ebla Mission, Archi is neither a Sumerologist, an Assyriologist, a Semitist, nor a Biblical scholar. He is not a religious historian and he is not an expert in ancient economies.

But let us look at some of Archi’s major disagreements with me one at a time.

The first question Archi asks in his Biblica article is- Does Ya appear in the Ebla tablets as a divine element? Citing H. B. Huffman1 and Anson F. Rainey2, he tells us that the Ya endings in Eblaite names are merely hypocoristic that is, a kind of diminutive, like Mickey is to Michael. Archi cannot understand how I fail to see that Ya is hypocoristic. “This point is quite secure after the research of many years,” Archi writes.

Both Rainey and Archi incorrectly assume that I identify Eblaite Ya or Yaw with—Yahweh, Hebrew God of the Old Testament. I have never equated Ya with Yahweh. I merely say that Ya and Yaw appear at Ebla as a divine element in a name. Whether or not Ya is equivalent to the Biblical Yahweh is a question for Biblical scholars alone.

To prove that the endings ya and il could not possibly be divine elements, Archi cites several tablets which he says refer to the same person by a name with a ya ending and an il ending. For example, the same person, he says, is referred to as both isû-ra-il and isû-ra~-ia~. If both il and ya were live deities at Ebla, Archi argues, then one person cannot have names with both endings. But the tablets he cites do not establish that the same person is referred to with both an il and a ya ending. Thus, Archi’s major premise is incorrect. So is his minor premise. Il is not a live deity at Ebla; il is a general term for a deity. In four years of studying the tablets, I have not come upon a single instance in which il is anything other than a deus otiosus, a general term for a deity.

I have written, however, that during the reign of Ebrium, the next to last king of Ebla, there may have been something of a religious revolution because names ending in il were largely replaced by names ending in ya. Thus Miµki-il would become Miµki-ya. Archi denies that ya ever supplanted il in these names. The evidence, he says, is “at best ambiguous.” During the reign of Ebrium, Archi tells us, names ending in il remain quite numerous.

My position is obviously based on statistics—the comparative number of ya names and il names at different times. Archi does not tell us the basis for his assertion, except to refer to two tablets which he says are “dated documents.” These tablets are TM.75.G.1643 and TM.75.G.1743, which he dates to the reign of Ibbi-Sipis (the last king of Ebla). Unfortunately, our Hittitologist misdates these two tablets. They date from the reign of Ebrium as is obvious from their use of the “Old Calendar”b as well as other internal evidence.

Archi also argues that ya is a hypocoristicon because neither Ya(h) nor Yahweh appear in the lists of offerings dedicated to the gods of Ebla. But this means nothing. Neither Il or El is in these offering lists. Nor are important gods like Malik, Damu or Halam, even though these deities figure prominently in personal names at Ebla. What J. C. de Moor of the Theologische Hogeschool van de Gereformeerde in Holland has pointed out with respect to Ugarit is also true at Ebla. “It is completely clear that in the cult of Late Bronze Ugarit many more deities were worshipped than those mentioned in the preserved myths and epics.”

I suspect Archi has failed to convince not only his reader that ya is not a divine element in some Eblaite names, but I suspect he has also failed to convince himself. How else can we explain the fact that he does not refer at all to the most important evidence for the existence of ya at Ebla. As BAR’s article itself noted, “Somewhat surprisingly Archi makes no reference to the appearance Ya~-ra-mu in which the Ya element is preceded by the determinativec for a deity.” Here Ya is in the initial position, not a diminutive at the end of a name. This is obviously the same name—although not the same person—as Biblical Ya~ramu which means “Ya is exalted.”

By all this, I do not mean to say that ya at the end of a name is never a hypocoristicon or diminutive; but even at the end of a name, it may be a theophoric element, just as it surely is in the case of dingird ya-ra-mu (TM. 75.G.1357 V12 et passim).

Moreover, we now have decisive confirmation of ya as a theophoric element from two other sites. In lists of divinities from Fara (in Iraq) two cases of dingir ya have been found.3 And in Sumerian documents from the third dynasty at Ur, we find personal names with ya in first position- For example, dingir ya-ra-bi.e

What does Archi have to say to this?

Archi’s Biblica article also takes me to task for suggesting that the kings at Ebla were anointed with oil, as were the kings of the Bible. What I translate as “head” oil (or oil for anointing), Archi translates as first quality oil. SAG, the Hittitologist says, means “first quality,” not “head.” Archi’s conclusion is that “there is, then, no reference to ‘head’ which might be anointed, and it is forcing our texts to find anointing in them.”

The text Archi cites lists donations. Before the reference to oil, donations of fabrics and other goods are mentioned (Archi does not cite this part of the text). Quantities are given for the various gifts, but no quantity is given for the oil, as would be expected if it referred to “first quality oil” rather than “head oil.” Archi never asks himself why in texts of this type a unit of measure never precedes the reference to the oil.

Moreover, in one text from Ebla (TM.75.G.1321)f we learn that at the wedding of the king’s daughter oil is “poured” upon her “head.” Here is clear evidence of anointing and, again, the word used for “head” is SAG. In this context it is obvious SAG cannot mean “first quality.”

Archi also attacks me for comparing the judges at Ebla with the Biblical judges. Archi notes that di-ku5 meaning “judge” frequently appears in Mesopotamian texts. No one, he notes, has previously sought to suggest a Biblical analogy in these instances.

The reason I stressed the relationship between the Eblaite judges and the Old Testament judges is that at Ebla the term “judge” is synonymous with lugal (TM.75.G.1261 and elsewhere). The term lugal, and therefore the Eblaite word for “judge”, means “ruler” or “governor”. Nowhere in Mesopotamia does it bear this meaning. Only in the Old Testament and at Ebla do judges function as rulers or governors.

The content of the following paragraph has been supplied by my colleague J. Alberto Soggin, Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at the University of Rome- The Hebrew term sÆoûp‘t\îm (pronounced shof-tim, “judges”) as applied to the leaders of Israel’s armies does not denote a judicial function. Judges 4-5 refers to Deborah as judging disputes, but this was before she became the leader of the army. Only once (in Judges 11-27) is Yahweh described as a judge who arbitrates disputes. In all other instances to translate sÆoûp‘t\îm as “judges” seems erroneous if the term were understood to apply to a judicial function. According to the context, we should translate the Hebrew word sÆoûp‘t\îm as military chieftain (see Judges 3-10; Judges 12-7) or high political leader (1 Samuel 4-18; 1 Samuel 7-6), rather than as a judge who performs judicial functions. In 2 Kings 15-6 sÆoûpet (pronounced sho-fet, “judge”) refers to the king himself.

From these and other texts, we see that the Israelite leaders in the Book of Judges have nothing to do with the tribunals of Israel.

This Biblical use of the root is not unique; we find a parallel usage of this root in other Northwest Semitic languages. Like the other languages of the area, Biblical Hebrew gave a double meaning to the root spt- It refers to the process of adjudication, but its more archaic meaning designated political and military leadership.

For these reasons, I sought to relate the Eblaite judges to the judges of the Bible.

Now let us turn to the creation texts from Ebla which I have compared with the creation story in Genesis. According to Archi’s Biblica article this Sumerian composition is very difficult to understand. Most of the text he finds “quite incomprehensible.” He suggests nonsensical translations like “No wine, he made the earth; no wool, he made the daylight.”

These awkward efforts bring to mind the first-year student who mangled the translation of a Sumerian phrase and then explained that the Sumerians had very confused ideas.

Archi’s treatment of the creation texts from Ebla is deficient in other respects. There are four parallel creation texts from Ebla contained in three tablets (TM.75.G.1682 [containing two similar versions], TM.75.G.2196 and TM.75.M.2500). Archi makes no reference at all to one of these tablets (2196). Of the two tablets he does cite, one (1682) has four columns, but Archi gives us the text of only a column and a half. Why wasn’t the whole text given? Either Archi could not read the missing text or the head of the mission (Matthiae) refused to authorize publication of the entire text. And why was no photograph published so that other scholars might search for the text’s meaning which Archi admits has eluded him? These observations unfortunately reflect the deplorable condition of Ebla research being carried out by the mission director and his epigrapher.

I have now published in my Oriens Antiquus article, from which these remarks are taken, the entire text of the three creation tablets with photographs, so that the original materials and my analysis are available to all scholars. Here I shall supply only the briefest summary.

Two of the tablets (1682 and 2196) contain the entire creation text; the third (2500) is a fragment. The language is clearly Eblaite, not Sumerian as suggested by Archi, although written predominantly in Sumerian logogramsg. The 12-line composition must be reconstructed by considering all three tablets, including the variants, as a whole.

My translation of the Eblaite creation story is as follows-

Lord of heaven and earth, you had not made the earth exist, you created (it),

You had not established the sun, you created (it),

You had not (yet) made the morning light exist,

Lord- efficacious word,

Lord- prosperity,

Lord- heroism;

Lord- …

Lord- “independent,“

Lord- divinity,

Lord who saves,

Lord- happy life

My scientific article in Oriens Antiquus contains a complete analysis of each line of this translation and a discussion of the variants in the text as well as further comments on Archi’s errors. That article also discusses other details of Archi’s attack on my position, as well as a discussion of the question of the appearance of the Cities of the Plain from Genesis in the Ebla tablets. I do not include here the discussion of the Cities of the Plain as they appear at Ebla because this is discussed in even greater detail in the interview which was conducted by BAR Editor Hershel Shanks and printed in “BAR Interviews Giovanni Pettinato,” BAR 06-05.

Archi’s entire article is permeated with an effort to efface even the remotest relationship between Ebla and the Bible. So thorough is this effort that one must wonder if Archi’s article was inspired by a love of scientific proof or by political motives.

Moreover, from the manner in which Archi treats the texts, it becomes painfully evident that he lacks the training in Sumerian and Semitic languages necessary to publish the Ebla materials.

The academic community cannot remain indifferent to the plain fact that the director of the Italian Mission to Ebla has appointed an epigrapher who lacks the necessary qualifications. Archi’s specialty is Hittite, a non-Semitic language, of which no trace has been discovered in the Ebla tablets.

Three years have passed since Archi was appointed by the mission director as epigrapher to the Italian Mission to Ebla. Unfortunately the results thus far are nil.

a. An English translation of this article will also appear in the Biblical Archeologist.

b. The so-called “Old Calendar” was used by the Eblaite Kings who preceded Ibbi-Sipis. Ibbi-Sipis then introduced the so-called “New Calendar.”

c. A determinative is a non-phonetic (that is, unpronounced) sign which indicates something about the word in which it appears, in this case that Ya is a deity.

d. Dingir is an unpronounced determinative indicating that the sign(s) to which it is attached is a deity.

e. Materiale per Vocabulario Neo-Sumerico, 6, p. 339.

f. Text from TM.75.G.1321-

Rev. iii 12 1 e-da-um-tug-1 1 aktum-tug 1 ibx3-tug sa6-dar 1 E.-fabric for 1 1 fine and multi-colored dress

13 tu-bi-ab to Tubi-Ab,

14 dumu-nita son

15 zi-ba-da of Z.,

16 ni-de (as) a pouring

17 i-gis of oil

si-in upon

iv 1 sag the head

g. A logogram is a sign representing primarily whole words.

1. H. B. Huffman, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts, Baltimore, 1965, p. 134.

2. A. F. Rainey, “Rainey on Ebla,” Queries & Comments, BAR 03-01.

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