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Holman Bible Dictionary

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(ehb' law) A major ancient site located in Syria about 40 miles south of Aleppo. Covering about 140 acres, the mound is known today as Tell Mardikh. Excavations have been conducted since 1964 by an Italian team headed by P. Matthiae. The discovery of over 17,000 clay tablets in the mid-1970's revealed a major Syrian civilization in the mid-third millennium and brought the site worldwide prominence by the late 1970s.

Excavations have revealed fourteen occupation levels at Ebla dating from 3500 B.C. to 600 A.D. Only four levels, dating from 2000-1600 B.C., cover the whole site and indicate the greatest power and prosperity of Ebla.

Level IIB1 (2600-2250 B.C.): This is the best known but also the most controversial period. Matthiae dates this period about 2400-2250 B.C. while the original epigrapher, G. Pettinato, dates it about 2600-2400 B.C. In any event, it is during this period that Ebla became a major city. It was the largest in northern Syria and the capital of a major kingdom with a population estimated as high as 260,000. Though the boundaries of the kingdom are uncertain, it probably extended across all of northern Syria into Mesopotamia. There Elba was challenged by Sargon and Naram-Sin of Akkad; the latter eventually destroyed Ebla about 2250 B.C.

Level IIB2 (2250-1900 B.C.): Though little excavation has been done on this level, Ebla was rebuilt and had some prosperity judging from references to it in contemporary Mesopotamian sources.

Level IIIA (1900-1800 B.C.): Ebla was again rebuilt with extensive fortifications. Some evidence indicates a new culture imposed by the Amorites which is also attested in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine.

Level IIIB (1800-1600 B.C.): During this period Ebla was absorbed by the kingdom of Yamhad, a major kingdom to the north. Though not destroyed at the outset, Ebla's prosperity suffered. This period ended around 1600 B.C. when the Hittites under Hattusili I or Mursili I destroyed Ebla. Ebla never really rose to prominence again though limited occupation continued down to the Byzantine period around 600 A.D.

The 17,000 clay tablets have attracted the most interest at Ebla. Though few are published yet, they appear to date from about 2500 B.C. Most were discovered in the two rooms of Palace G in fallen debris, but in a way that allowed for reconstructing the original shelving. They are written in a cuneiform script similar to that used in Mesopotamia. Sumerian was used on a limited scale as well as a new language that has come to be called Eblaite. The later language was correctly assumed to be Semitic so that decipherment was almost immediate. Nevertheless, the complexity of reading the cuneiform signs has created significantly different readings, with attending controversies. At least four categories of texts are known: (1) administrative texts relating to the palace make up the majority (about 80%), (2) lexical texts for the scribes, (3) literary and religious texts, including accounts of creation and a flood, and (4) letters and decrees.

Many early attempts to draw connections between Ebla and the Bible have not proven to be convincing. The term Ebla never occurs in the Bible, and no biblical personalities or events have yet been identified in the Ebla tablets. Some biblical personal names such as Ishmael have been attested at Ebla; but since they can be attested elsewhere in the Ancient Near East, this has no special significance. Claims that the Ebla tablets mention biblical cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah, Jerusalem, and Hazor have not been substantiated. Efforts to identify the Israelite God Yahweh with the -ya elements of Eblaite personal names have not been compelling because these -ya elements can frequently occur in both Semitic and non-Semitic languages.

On the other hand, valuable general information can be gleaned from Ebla for the study of the Bible. Ebla was a major religious center, and over 500 gods are mentioned in the texts. The chief god was Dagon, a vegetation deity associated in the Bible with the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:2). Other gods include Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility, and Kamish (the biblical Chemosh), god of the Moabites (Judges 11:24). In addition, there is reference to “the god of my father” (compare Genesis 43:23). Some similarities between prophets at Ebla and Mari can be drawn with Israelite prophets, especially their call by the deity and their role as messengers of the deity to the people

Actually, contacts between Ebla and the Bible are by necessity limited for three reasons:

1. The illumination of the Bible using other Ancient Near Eastern civilizations is usually general cultural background rather than specific and direct connection.

2. A more specific limitation in this case is that the Elba tablets are generally too early to have specific bearing on the Old Testament.

3. Finally, the study of Ebla is in its infancy with very few texts already published. As more texts are published, we can expect additional information to illuminate not only the Bible but the rest of the Ancient Near East as well.

James C. Moyer

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'EBLA'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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