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Holman Bible Dictionary

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(nyoo' zi) A city located in the northeast section of the fertile crescent, and then named Gasur, that flourished under Sargon shortly before 2000 B.C. Few cities that are not mentioned in the Old Testament contribute to its understanding as significantly as Nuzi (modern Yorghan Tepe). Its most relevant history, as far as the Old Testament is concerned, is its revival as part of the Hurrian kingdom, situated in the state of Mitanni, about 1500 B.C., about the time of the Israelites' bondage in Egypt. Twenty thousand Akkadian documents have been found at Nuzi that reflect primarily the legal, social, and economic situation of Mesopotamian culture about 2000-1400 B.C. The sociological importance of this discovery is estimated differently among scholars. Most scholars accept the value for general Near Eastern studies and biblical background, and some use the information to determine the date of the patriarchs and the literature about them according to biblical parallels with Nuzi customs.

Some parallels are more exact than others, but the following examples can be cited as relevant to patriarchal and later Israelite culture. Marriage customs of Nuzi and the patriarchs converge when we hear Rachel and Leah complain how their father Laban unfairly hoarded their dowry and left them nothing, contrary to provisions they expected under Nuzi-like marriage arrangements (Genesis 31:14-16). In spite of this injustice, Laban later relied on the honor of Jacob to conform to the custom of not marrying additional wives (Genesis 31:50). In the case of infertility, both Rachel and Leah offered their maids as surrogate mates that would bear sons to their husband Jacob, a convention seen also at Nuzi (Genesis 30:1-13). Jacob's grandmother, Sarah, had done the same for Abraham (Genesis 16:1-4), assuming as one would have in Nuzi, that the child would be hers (Genesis 16:2). Up to that point, Abraham had despaired that his servant Eliezer was his only legal heir, hinting that he had adopted Eliezer for this purpose, according to Nuzi custom (Genesis 15:2). Two further parallels in the area of inheritance are found in Jacob's verbally removing Reuben's privileges as the first born because of his sin against his father (Genesis 49:2-4), and the transfer of inheritance between the brothers Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:27-34); both cases indicate prerogatives provided in Nuzi law. Though the exact reason why Rachel stole her father's idols is not explained in the Bible (Genesis 31:19,Genesis 31:27-32), the importance of possessing one's father's idols appears at Nuzi as well. Nuzi parallels with Israelite law are also very interesting. The double portion granted to the firstborn on the basis of Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (compare Genesis 48:21-22), the occasional rights of daughters to be heirs (Numbers 27:8), cancellation of debts after so many years (Deuteronomy 15:1-3), are examples.

The name “Hebrew” for an alien as Joseph was in Egypt (Genesis 39:13-14), and as the Israelites were in that country (Exodus 1:15-19) or while in Philistia (1 Samuel 14:21), is very similar to the same use of the term habiru found in the Nuzi documents and elsewhere. This sheds light on the perpetual discussion of the source and meaning of this significant name for the Israelites. See Archaeology; Abraham; Mesopotamia; Habiru; Patriarchs; Hurriam.

Dan Fredricks

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 'NUZI'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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