“Dr. Pettinato tried to give interpretations of the Ebla tablets with a political dimension. This is what we didn’t like,” said Dr. Sabah Kabbani, Syrian ambassador to the U.S., in an exclusive Washington interview with BAR.

Professor Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome was the chief epigrapher of the Italian Mission to Ebla, prior to his resignation from the project in a personal and scholarly feud with Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae who heads the Ebla Mission.

The “political dimension” of Pettinato’s interpretation was, according to the Syrian ambassador, the connections between the Ebla tablets and the Bible. “The matter is of concern,” the Syrian ambassador stated, “because of the statements of Mr. [Menachem] Begin [Prime Minister of Israel] and his Likud Party. Mr. Begin is trying to use the Holy Bible as a real estate register. Today he wants the West Bank. In a few years it may be Aleppo or Damascus.”

When asked if he thought it proper for the Syrian Director of Antiquities, Dr. Afif Bahnassi, to request an official declaration from Pettinato concerning his scholarly opinions of the Ebla tablets, the Syrian ambassador replied:

“We wanted the man who made the statements [concerning the Biblical connections] to clarify them. Dr. Bahnassi thought Dr. Pettinato did not tell the whole truth. When this happens the other party has the right to seek clarifications. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

The Syrian ambassador objected to the fact that Pettinato made his Biblical interpretations on the basis of single tablets. “We don’t want half a truth. We want the whole truth,” he said. “Half a truth is not helpful.” “You cannot read just one tablet.” Ambassador Kabbani stated.

The Ambassador did not know how long it would take to publish the Ebla tablets. He noted that the tablets from Ugarit, a Syrian coastal site, were discovered in the 1930’s and still all have not been published.

“How long it will take,” the ambassador stated, “is up to the scholars. The Syrian government has nothing to do with this.”

He pointed out that a committee of 12 scholars from all over the world has been appointed, not by the Syrian government, but by the University of Rome to publish the tablets. “None of these scholars is Syrian. They will decide when the tablets are published.”

The ambassador at one point said he was agreeable to the immediate publication of photographs of the tablets which particularly concerned the Bible, but then objected to the publication of only these tablets on the ground that this was only half the truth. The intense interest in the West in the tablets with Biblical connections did not justify the separate publication of these tablets, the ambassador stated.

In Dr. Kabbani’s view the language of the Ebla tablets is “a different version, the origin of the Arabic language.”

The ambassador noted that Syria was very open to western scholars. Before the current director of antiquities took office about 10 or 12 years ago, there were only four archaeological expeditions in all Syria. Today there are 42, he said.

Referring to Ebla, the ambassador stated, “We are able to close the whole thing down; but we don’t want this.”

“We want the truth,” he added. “You cannot buy scholars.”