Ebla (Arabic: عبيل، إيبلا, modern Tell Mardikh, Syria) was an ancient city about 55 km southwest of Aleppo. It was an important city-state in two periods, first in the late third millennium BC, then again between 1800 and 1650 BC.
The site is most famous for the archive of about 15,000 cuneiform tablets found there,, dated from around 2250 BC, written in Sumerian script to record the Eblaite language — a previously unknown Semitic language.
In 1964, Italian archaeologists from the University of Rome La Sapienza under the direction of Paolo Matthiae began excavating at Tell Mardikh. In 1968 they recovered a statue dedicated to the goddess Ishtar bearing the name of Ibbit-Lim, a king of Ebla. That identified the city, long known from Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions. In the next decade the team discovered a palace dating ca. 2500 – 2000 BC. About 15,000 well-preserved cuneiform tablets were discovered in the ruins. About 80% of the tablets are written using the usual Sumerian combination of logograms and phonetic signs, while the others exhibited an innovative, purely phonetic representation using Sumerian cuneiform of a previously unknown Semitic language, which was called Eblaite. Bilingual Sumerian/Eblaite vocabulary lists were found among the tablets, allowing them to be translated. Giovanni Pettinato and Dahood believe the Eblaite language is West Semitic, however I. J. Gelb and others believe it is an East Semitic dialect, closer to the Akkadian language.
It now appears that the building housing the tablets was not the palace library, which may yet be uncovered, but an archive of provisions and tribute, law cases and diplomatic and trade contacts, and a scriptorium where apprentices copied texts. The larger tablets had originally been stored on shelves, but had fallen onto the floor when the palace was destroyed. The location where tablets were discovered where they had fallen allowed the excavators to reconstruct their original position on the shelves: it soon appeared that they were originally shelved according to subject.
Most of the Ebla palace tablets, which date from that period, are about economic matters; they provide a good look into the everyday life of the inhabitants, as well as many important insights into the cultural, economic, and political life in northern Mesopotamia around the middle of the third millennium B.C. The texts are accounts of the state revenues, but they also include royal letters, Sumerian-Eblaite dictionaries, school texts and diplomatic documents, like treaties between Ebla and other towns of the region.
Ebla's most powerful king was listed as Ebrium, or Ibrium, who concluded the so-called "Treaty with Ashur", which offered the Assyrian king Tudia the use of a trading post officially controlled by Ebla.
The fifth and last king of Ebla during this period was Ebrium's son, Ibbi-Sipish, the first to succeed in a dynastic line, thus breaking with the established Eblaite custom of electing its ruler for a fixed term of office, lasting seven years. This absolutism may have contributed to the unrest that was ultimately instrumental in the city's decline. Meantime, however, the reign of Ibbi-Sipish was considered a time of inordinate prosperity, in part because the king was given to frequent travel abroad. It was recorded both in Ebla and Aleppo that he concluded specific treaties with neighboring Armi, as Aleppo was called at the time.
Kings of Ebla (short chronology)
|Igrish-Halam||ca. 2300 BC (short)|
|Irkab-Damu||Contemporary of Iblul-Il of Mari|
|Ar-Ennum or Reshi-Ennum|
|Ibrium or Ebrium||Contemporary of Tudiya of Assyria (treaty)|
|Ibbi-Sipish or Ibbi-Zikir||Son of Ibrium|
|Dubuhu-Ada||Ebla destroyed by Naram-Sin or Sargon of Akkad|
Among Pettinato's controversial claims, he has also suggested that there was a change in the theophoric names shown in many of the tablets found in the archive from *El to *Yah, indicated in the example of the transition from Mika’il to Mikaya. He regards this as evidence for an early use of the divine name Yah, a god who he believes later emerged as Yahweh (YHWH). Bottero has suggested that this shift may instead indicate the popular acceptance of the Akkadian god Ea, introduced from the Sargonid Empire. Archi and Rainey, on the other hand, have suggested that the "-ya" is actually a diminutive ending used in shortened forms of personal names, and Müller has argued that the cuneiform sign NI should be interpreted, in this case, as an abbreviation for ì(-lí) ("god") rather than as ià (*Yah) - a view that Archi has since adopted with a modification, his reading been ì or lí. In any case, no list of gods or offerings mentions a deity by the name of Ya, and the connection with Yahweh is largely rejected today.
Many Old Testament Genesis names that have not been found in other Near Eastern languages have been reported to occur in similar forms in Eblaite (a-da-mu / Adam, h’à-wa / Eve, Jabal, Abarama/Abraham, Bilhah, Ishma-el, Isûra-el, Esau, Mika-el, Mikaya, Saul, David, etc.). A large number of Biblical locations (many of them known from other sources) have also been reported to occur in the texts: for example Ashtaroth, Sinai, Jerusalem (Ye-ru-sa-lu-um), Hazor, Lachish, Gezer, Dor, Megiddo, Joppa, Ur etc. Giovanni Pettinato has also claimed to find references to Sodom and Gomorrah. However, much of the initial media excitement about supposed Eblaite connections with the Bible, based on preliminary guesses and speculations by Pettinato and others, is now widely deplored as "exceptional and unsubstantiated claims" and "great amounts of disinformation that leaked to the public". Contrary to many earlier claims, the present consensus is that "Ebla has no bearing on the Minor Prophets, the historical accuracy of the biblical Patriarchs, Yahweh worship, or Sodom and Gomorra". In Ebla studies, the focus has shifted away from comparisons with the Bible, and Ebla is now studied above all as an incipient civilization in its own right. The tide turned after a bitter personal and scholarly conflict between the scientists involved, as well as what some described as interference by the Syrian authorities on political grounds.
Three versions of a text described as an Eblaite creation hymn have been found. They have been translated by Pettinato as:
Some versions of Pettinato's translation use "he" instead of "you".
These lines seem to have points in common both with known Sumerian creation stories and with the Biblical account. Nevertheless, Alfonso Archi has objected that the original text is unclear to the point of being incomprehensible (texts from Ebla are difficult to read in general), leading him to conclude that "there is no Genesis creation story" in the Ebla documents.
Ebla is mentioned in texts from Alalakh from ca. 1750 BC. The city was destroyed again in the turbulent period of 1650 – 1600 BC, by a Hittite king (Mursili I or Hattusili I). This is attested to only by the fragmentary Hurro-Hittite Song of Release.
Ebla never recovered from its second destruction. The city continued as a small village until the 7th century AD, then was deserted and forgotten until its archaeological rediscovery.