Testi Amministrativi Della Biblioteca L. 2769, Parte I: Serie Maior, II, Materiali Epigrafici di Ebla, vol. 2
(Administrative Texts from Archive L. 2769, Part 1: Major series, II, Epigraphical Material from Ebla, vol. 2)
(Instituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli, Seminario di Studi Asiatici: Naples, Italy, 1980)
This publication is not the kind of book usually reviewed in BAR: First of all, it is in Italian; second, it will be readable only to those who, as the scholars say, “control” (that is, read and understand) cuneiform. Nevertheless, it is important that BAR readers be aware of the book’s existence and be informed, in general terms, about what the book says. It is the first volume of Ebla tablets with scholarly commentary to be published.
As most BAR readers know, the Ebla tablets are the cache of more than 17,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments which were found from 1974 to 1977 in Syria by the Italian Mission to Ebla during continuing excavation of that important ancient capital. The tablets, dating to the mid-third millennium B.C. have become the center of international controversy.
The original epigrapher of the Italian Mission, Giovanni Pettinato, had a bitter falling out with Paolo Matthiae, the excavator who heads the mission (see “Ebla Update,” BAR 06:06). A consequence of that argument is that the two Italians not only squabble over publication rights but also over almost everything else dealing with the Ebla tablets.
Questions have been asked about the speed or lack thereof with which the tablets will be published; questions have been asked about whether the Syrian government has attempted to influence publication decisions because of anti-Zionist political motivation (see “Syria Tries to Influence Ebla Scholarship,” BAR 05:02 and
Another major scholarly debate has begun over the extent to which the Ebla tablets will be useful for Biblical studies; yet another controversy concerns the precise data of the tablets; still another disagreement brews about the relation of the Eblaite language to other languages, including Hebrew.
In this volume by Pettinato, 50 tablets are published accompanied by transliterations, translations and annotations by the original epigrapher of the Italian Mission and heavily indexed by Francesco Pomponio, one of his students. The book fulfills Pettinato’s assurances, expressed in “Ebla and The Bible—Observations on The New Epigrapher’s Analysis,” BAR 06:06, that he intends to publish promptly those tablets which he “controls” (here that verb is defined in its traditional sense: that is, Pettinato has photographs or transliterations of the tablets).
Unfortunately, the hefty (9 × 13) paperback book contains no pictures of the tablets themselves. Pettinato obviously has pictures or transliterated copies of the tablets he has published. Matthiae, however, claims all rights to the pictures and has from time to time threatened legal suit. Pettinato’s legal advisors have counselled against publishing large quantities of photographs in a book, although Pettinato has published a few in an occasional article or book.
All of the texts in this volume are administrative. An introduction describes their mercantile contents in general terms, as well as the reasons for the various transactions. Pettinato also discusses some of the technical terms which indicate the tablets’ purpose, some tablets showing “imports,” others recording “exports.” He further treats measures of wool, and weights (including fractional weights) which appear on the tablets. One text that Pettinato discusses at length in his introduction lists gifts for various divinities.
In the text itself Pettinato makes a number of observations which may be of special interest to BAR readers.
Pettinato notes that ba-u9-ra-tukia in the tablets may be modern “Beirut, the actual capital of Lebanon.”
Pettinato’s comments on the texts reflect his close working relationship with his former teacher Father Mitchell Dahood of Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute. Dahood, a specialist in the field of West Semitic languages (Ugaritic, Phoenician, Punic, as well as Hebrew), has been publishing and lecturing widely, presenting his views regarding the special relationship between Eblaite and Hebrew and the extent to which the Ebla tablets can illuminate the Biblical text (see “Are the Ebla Tablets Relevant to Biblical Research?” BAR 06:05).
In one instance, Pettinato expresses the view that lí-sa-nuki in the Ebla texts is related to the root lis
Pettinato notes, draws on or reflects Dahood’s suggestions in 13 other instances in this book. In another such instance, Pettinato refers to Dahood with respect to the controversial ì-gis
One personal name in the texts is especially interesting. Pettinato states that “ … NI-du-KA can be read and interpreted as ià-t
Bible researchers will be interested to know that text number 1 (TM.75.G.1261, v. V 6-VI 1) contains the Eblaite personal name gú-du-ra held by someone from the city of Sanapzulum. Father Dahood believes the name Gudura corresponds to the name (although not the same person) of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (see Genesis 25:1). This reference to Gudura is followed five lines later 010by mention of the city of Haran, long associated with Abraham and his kin.
Another of the scholarly debates swirling about the Ebla tablets is whether the Eblaite language should he regarded as Northwest (or West) Semitic (Northwest Semitic includes not only Hebrew but other Canaanite languages like Phoenician and Ugaritic) or considered a new Semitic language with affinities closer to Amorite and Akkadian. It is interesting to note that although a scholarly consensus seems to be developing that Eblaite is Northwest Semitic (a position which Pettinato favors), Pettinato nevertheless draws more frequently on East Semitic sources (192 times) to help explain Eblaite vocabulary than on Northwest Semitic sources (61 times). This likely reflects the intensity of his training in the Sumero-Akkadian sphere rather than anything significant regarding the nature of Eblaite.
Dr. Pettinato must be complimented and applauded for the speed with which he produced this first volume of Eblaite texts with its wealth of detail and valuable information. We look forward to future volumes in the series.
Ancient Synagogues Revealed
Edited by Lee I. Levine
(Israel Exploration Society: Jerusalem, 1981) 197 pp. $20.00
Although not widely known, remains of ancient synagogues are scattered over the length and breadth of Israel. To date over 100 synagogue remains have been recorded. Outside of Israel, there are perhaps even more.
Thanks to a book by BAR Editor Hershel Shanks entitled Judaism In Stone—The Archaeology of Ancient Synagogues (Preface by Yigael Yadin; New York: Harper and Row and Biblical Archaeology Society, 1979) public attention was recently focused on the amazing advances made in synagogue archaeology during the past 50 years. For those wishing to pursue the subject beyond this popular summary, we now have Ancient Synagogues Revealed, a semi-scholarly series of papers by members of the Israel Exploration Society.
Since its inception the synagogue has been central in the life of Jews, serving as the focus of religious, educational, social and political activities. The synagogue was often the seat of the local judiciary, and punishment was even meted out there. Charity was collected and deposited in synagogues, and auxiliary rooms might also have been used as a hostel for visitors, or as an elementary school. Major decisions affecting the life of the community as a whole often were made in the local synagogue. On one occasion, when deliberating whether to join the rebellion against Rome in 66–67 A.D., the Tiberian Jewish community met both in the local synagogue and in the stadium.
Relatively little is known from literary sources about the synagogue building itself, its plan, appurtenances, artistic expression and inscriptions. That is why the archaeological materials are of such historical significance. Who built these buildings? How uniform were the structures? Do differences in plan reflect local tastes, or perhaps more profound cultural, social and religious differences? What inspired the various architectural forms? How were these buildings decorated? What Jewish symbols were depicted? Which non-Jewish symbols? Where non-Jewish symbols were found, what do they mean? What language was spoken by the various communities? What sort of names did Jews have? These are some of the questions which the archaeological remains address, and on which they shed a great deal of light.
Ancient Synagogues Revealed contains 38 essays by leading synagogue archaeologists including such well-known authorities as Yigael Yadin, Nachman Avigad, Moshe Dothan, Gideon Foerster, Eric Meyers, Ehud Netzer, Dan Bahat and the book’s editor Lee Levine. Most of the articles on specific synagogues were written by the excavators themselves, and thus offer an intimate and authoritative description and analysis of the different finds.
Like Jerusalem Revealed, which is its predecessor in this series, Ancient Synagogues Revealed contains many articles which first appeared in the popular Hebrew archaeological journal, Qadmoniot. In order to provide the reader with a full and comprehensive picture of ancient synagogues, however, more than half of the articles come from other sources, and, of these, most are being published for the first time. (Unfortunately, we are not told in the volume whether a particular article is new or not.)
The volume is divided into eight sections. The first consists of two introductory essays which offer an overview of synagogue research, and describe the importance of this institution in antiquity. The second section treats the synagogues of the Second Temple period. The data here is meager: Only three buildings—Masada, Herodium and Gamla (identification not certain)—are known from this period. A number of suggestions are offered to explain the origins and typology of these buildings.
In the third section, the synagogues of the Galilee, constituting the richest area of synagogal remains, receive extended treatment. A number of these buildings are described, including Shema and Gush Halav, two of the most recently excavated structures. Two major issues are addressed by a number of authors: The origin of the “Galilean-type” synagogue, and its dating.
A fourth section is devoted to the ever-increasing number of synagogues found in the Beth Shean area. No less than five different structures are known representing a stunning variety of architectural forms, artistic expression and cultural proclivities.
A fifth section presents an extensive treatment of the recently discovered synagogues on the Golan Heights. None of this material has heretofore been published in English (and only very recently in Hebrew). Thus a relatively long chapter has been included describing the remains, providing historical background of the Jewish community in the area, and analyzing the artistic motifs used in these buildings. A sixth section on the synagogues in the southern part of the country (Judea), from Ein Gedi in the east to Gaza in the west, concludes the regional survey.
A seventh section deals with the epigraphic evidence, especially the Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions. An introductory essay surveys this material and separate chapters are devoted to two of the most important inscriptions discovered within the last decade: Ein Gedi and Rehob. In addition, a number of smaller finds also are presented, each interesting in its own right, and together reflecting the less dramatic discoveries which constitute the bulk of archaeological contributions to the study of ancient synagogues.
The concluding section is devoted to a survey of the more important synagogues found in the Diaspora. Here, too, an introductory essay offers an overview of these remains, and is followed by several chapters relating to the major Diaspora synagogues at Dura Europos and Sardis.
The volume is lavishly illustrated, and also contains useful maps, a glossary, bibliography and index.
The next volume planned in this informative series is Ancient Churches Revealed.
Testi Amministrativi Della Biblioteca L. 2769, Parte I: Serie Maior, II, Materiali Epigrafici di Ebla, vol. 2