Israel & the Mari Archives
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
Except where noted, this article, Mari, was compiled by the Jewish Virtual Library:
MARI, one of the principal centers of Mesopotamia during the third and early second millennia B.C.E. The archaeological and epigraphical discoveries there are of prime significance for the history of Mesopotamia and Upper Syria. The Akkadian-language documents from Mari date from the Old Babylonian period and are thus centuries earlier than those of the Hebrew Bible. However, the residents of Mari were western Semites, ultimately related to the Israelites and Arameans who first surface in the late second millennium but who are best known from the first. In consequence, although there is no demonstrable direct connection with the history of ancient Israel as was once thought (see *Genesis and *Patriarchs), there are numerous linguistic, cultural, and social data from Mari that aid us in the study of ancient Israel and the Bible. Mari (sometimes Ma?eri in the cuneiform sources) was located at Tell ?ar?r?, at present some 1.5 mi. (2.5 km.) west of the Euphrates, near Abu Kemal, around 15 mi. (25 km.) north of the modern Syrian-Iraqi border. It was in an optimal position for contacts with the West and its location on the river artery, yet immediately adjacent to the desert, was decisive in the shaping of its fortune and character.
A. Excavations and Discoveries
The French excavations at Mari were instituted in 1933 under the direction of A. Parrot and exploration continued as regularly as the international situation allowed. The archaeological evidence indicates that Mari was founded in the fourth millennium B.C.E. at the very beginning of the Early Dynastic period (ED I), reaching a cultural-artistic peak during the first half of the third millennium B.C.E. Dating to this period (known as “Early Dynastic II–III,” or “pre-Sargonic”) are a ziggurat and several sanctuaries: including a temple where the earliest list of the Mari pantheon was discovered, temples to Shamash, Nin?ursag, and Ishtar, and the pair of temples of Ishtarat and Ninni-Zaza. In the latter three, there came to light many inscribed statues of local kings (such as Lamgi-Mari, Iku-Shamagan, and Iblul-Il), lesser royalty, and courtiers. Although Sumerian culture was predominant, the character of the cultic installations, the appearance of bearded figures in art, and especially the occurrence of particular divine and private names are all clearly indicative of a basic Semitic element from earliest times, with Semitic rule there centuries before the rise of Akkad.
Since 1964, the excavations have revealed two superimposed palaces from pre-Sargonic times, most impressive in themselves, including a royal chapel with an earthen altar (cf. Ex. 20:24), the sacred tradition of which was preserved even in the Old Babylonian palace built there some 700 years later (see below). Within the palace complex, a jar came to light containing a “treasure” including a lapis lazuli bead with a votive inscription mentioning Mesannepada, founder of the First Dynasty at Ur. This indicates a close contact between Mari and Ur at an early date, as do other finds from Mari, such as shell inlays essentially identical with those of the “Ur Standard” (war panel). The pre-Sargonic palace was destroyed either by Eannatum of Lagash (mid-25th century B.C.E.) or, rather, by Lugal-zaggesi of Uruk (mid-24th century B.C.E.).
After Sargon’s conquest, in the second half of the 24th century B.C.E., Mari became a vassal city within the empire of Akkad; among the epigraphic evidence from this period are the names of two daughters of Naram-Sin, king of Akkad. In the final two centuries of the third millennium B.C.E., Mari was a sort of loose dependency of Third-Dynasty Ur, flourishing anew under (local) governors who bore the title šakkanakku (eight of whom are known by name). Indeed, a ruler of Mari is known to have given his daughter in marriage to a son of Ur-Namma, king of Ur.
The pre-eminence of Mari throughout the third millennium B.C.E. is well reflected in epigraphic sources: in the Sumerian King List it appears as the seat of the tenth postdiluvian dynasty; in the inscriptions of Eannatum mention is made of the penetration and repulse of forces from Mari as far south as Lagash; and it also appears in the inscriptions of Sargon and Naram-Sin of Akkad. At the close of the third millennium
The Near East in the Mari Age. The Near East in the Mari Age.
B.C.E., Ishbi-Irra, “a man of Mari,” founded the Isin Dynasty and facilitated the collapse of the empire of Third-Dynasty Ur. After an obscure period of two centuries (from which several economic texts and 32 inscribed liver models are known), Mari reached its final period of glory in the 18th century under West Semitic rule. This latter was quashed by Hammurapi, king of Babylon, and Mari never regained its former position.
In the 13th century, Tukulti-Ninurta I conquered the meager settlement there and stationed a garrison in the city for a short time. The uppermost layer on the site dates to the Seleucid-Roman period.
In the second half of the second millennium B.C.E., Mari was still sufficiently important to be mentioned in the *Nuzi documents (horses and chariots were sent there), in recently found texts at *Ugarit (“Ishtar of Mari” in an alphabetic text, and in an epithet of another deity in a Hurrian text), and in the Egyptian geographical lists of Thutmosis III and probably also of Ramses III. The land of Mari appears in the neo-Assyrian geographical treatise describing Sargon’s Akkadian empire (on the basis of which W.F. Albright identified Mari with Tell ?ar?r?, long before the start of excavations there). Finally, Mari is mentioned in a Greek itinerary, in the (Aramaic) form Merrhan.
THE OLD BABYLONIAN PALACE AND ROYAL ARCHIVES
The main discoveries at Mari are from the period of its domination by the West Semitic dynasties, in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first half of the 18th century B.C.E. (according to the middle chronology; or 64 years later according to the low chronology). Several temples of this period were built over corresponding sanctuaries of pre-Sargonic times – the temples of Ishtar, Ninh?ursag, and Shamash; a temple of Dagan, also known as the “lions’ temple” (from bronze lions found flanking its entrance), was founded by the late third millennium B.C.E. This latter deity, the biblical *Dagon, held a prime position in the West Semitic pantheon, and at Mari bore the titles “King of the Land” and “Lord of all the Great Gods.”
The outstanding architectural discovery from this period, however, is the royal palace – a structure of unparalleled magnificence and widespread fame in its time. This residence, enlarged successively by each of the West Semitic rulers at Mari, reached its zenith under Zimri-Lim, with an area of about eight acres and including over 300 chambers, corridors, and courts. Besides the private quarters for the royal family and entourage, there are administrative offices, a scribal school, quarters for visiting dignitaries, a royal chapel, a throne room, and a reception chamber. Service areas included guard quarters, workshops, and storerooms. Special elegance was provided in several halls and courts by multicolored frescoes depicting chiefly ritual and mythological scenes, including an investiture of a king (Zimri-Lim?) in the presence of several deities. This ceremony takes place in an idealized garden, its trees guarded by “cherubim” and symbolically watered by four streams flowing from a single source – all reminiscent of the biblical Paradise story. Many of the figures in these murals are depicted as typical West Semites.
The discovery of greatest impact on historical and biblical research comprises the more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets from the several archives in the palace (there was no library), written in the Babylonian language (see below). The original discovery has been supplemented since 1979 by fragments of a few thousand documents discovered by Margueron’s excavations. The earliest publication of the documents was begun by the Assyriologists G. Dossin (dean of the Mari epigraphers), M. Birot, J. Bottéro, Mme. M.L. Burke, A. Finet, J.R. Kupper, and the late G. Boyer and Ch.F. Jean, mostly in the series Archives royales de Mari (ARM). In the early years, the texts appeared in two parallel series, not necessarily at the same time: one containing cuneiform copies, and the other with transliterations, French translations, brief notes, and some form of commentary or glossary. Thanks to computer printing technology, the more recent publications often include hand copies and high-quality photographs alongside texts. The texts published so far (through ARM 29 (2005)) have shed much light on the administrative, economic, cultural, and political facets mainly of Upper Mesopotamia and Upper Syria in the 18th century B.C.E. – regions previously known only vaguely.
The archives were found to be distinguished according to subject. The political-diplomatic archives include correspondence between the king of Mari and his agents, both at the palace and abroad, as well as with foreign potentates. They provide the earliest insight into the complexities of “suzerainvassal” relationships, diplomatic protocol, and the fluctuating alliances and plots rampant in the Ancient Near East. A noteworthy class of letters is the unusually extensive women’s correspondence published, in ARM, 10, revealing the prominent role of women in activities of the realm. The outstanding case is that of Shibtu, Zimri-Lim’s queen (chief wife), who enjoyed the king’s utter confidence, representing his interests during his absence from the city and exercising considerable influence in her own right.
The majority of documents are economic or administrative in nature, dealing with the maintenance of the palace, official trade abroad, lists of goods, and rosters of persons in royal employ (such as a list of nearly 1,000 captives [?] from the Harran-Nahor region engaged in the manufacture of clothing for the palace). Of a unique category are the some 1,300 tablets containing lists of daily provisions for the palace, often summarized by month. Though dealing only with “vegetarian” foodstuffs and beverages, they shed light on Solomon’s “provisions for one day” and possibly also his monthly quantities (cf. I Kings 4:22–23, 27 [5:2–3, 7]; cf. also Neh. 5:17–18). The royal table at Mari, known to have entertained hundreds of guests on occasion, was served by spacious kitchens – in one of which were found numerous molds for preparing fancy cakes some bearing animal and goddess motifs (cf. Jer. 44:19).
Dozens of legal tablets were also found, mostly contracts concerning transactions and loans of silver or grain (ARM, 8), revealing that the palace served as a sort of exchange. Of exceptional interest is an adoption contract which ensured the “primogeniture” of the “eldest” (i.e., first adopted) son, stipulating that he receive a double portion of the inheritance; this is in full accord with biblical law (cf. Deut. 21:15–17).
The very few literary and religious compositions found at Mari include a lengthy Ishtar ritual in Babylonian, as well as six texts in Hurrian. That Hurrian was used occasionally in diplomatic correspondence is known from the only other tablet at Mari in that language, a letter written to Zimri-Lim.
B. Mari under West Semitic Rule
The origins of the West Semitic, or “Amorite,” dynasties are shrouded in darkness, though there are clues pointing to North Syria for the local line at Mari. Thus, the theophoric name element-Lim (perhaps derived from the word for “folk,” “people”; cf. Ugaritic l?im and Heb. Le?om) is found at both Aleppo, in the dynastic name Yarim-Lim, and Mari, in the royal names Yagid-Lim, Yahdun-Lim, and Zimri-Lim. It is also present in the name of Yashi-Lim, ruler of Tuttul (probably the one at the mouth of the Balikh River), and Ibbit-Lim, ruler of Ebla (probably Tell Mardikh), both several generations earlier than the above. Furthermore, the title “king of Mari, Tuttul, and the land of ?ana” was borne by both Yahdun-Lim (Disc Inscription) and Zimri-Lim (cf. a fragmentary inscription from Terqa, between Tuttul and Mari). And, indeed, the site of ancestor worship for both the local and the “Assyrian” dynasties at Mari lay at Terqa, around 44 mi. (70 km.) to the northwest, at the mouth of the Khabur River. Hence, the immediate origin of the West Semitic rulers at Mari would appear to be in the Terqa region.
THE REIGN OF YAHDUN-LIM
The historical figure of Yaggid-Lim, founder of the local dynasty at Mari, is vague, and none of his records have been found, though there is a seal of one Q?šti-Iliba who calls himself servant of Yaggid-Lim (RIME 4: E.4.6.7). Nor have many tablets from the reign of his son, Yah?dun-Lim, been published, though in 1965 an archive of some 300 of his economic texts came to light. It is known, however, that Yah?dun-Lim was able to stabilize his kingdom, establishing his dominance over the entire Middle Euphrates region, as is evident from the dozen known year-formulas and especially the two extant royal inscriptions from his reign (RIME E4.6.8; E220.127.116.11).
The shorter inscription (the “Disc Inscription”) relates that Ya?dun-Lim fortified Mari and Terqa, founded a fortress on the desert fringe (naming it after himself – Dur-Yah?dun-Lim), and laid out an extensive irrigation system (boasting that “I did away with the water bucket in my land”). The other text, the Foundation Inscription of the Shamash temple, is a splendid literary composition relating his campaign to the Mediterranean coast and the “Cedar and Boxwood Mountain,” where he obtained several types of choice wood, “and made known his might.” However, this was probably only a passing episode and not a lasting conquest. Thirty-five economic texts published in 1970 are dated by two year-formulas for one Sumu-Yamam, an obscure character who ruled at Mari either before or after Yahdun-Lim. Also elusive is his kinship – whether to the local dynasty or otherwise – for the few other references to him, such as in a “letter to a god” (ARM, 1, 3), are inconclusive. This same letter also reveals the assassination of Yah?dun-Lim (or Sumu-Yamam) in a court conspiracy, much to the benefit of Shamshi-Adad, scion of a rival West Semitic dynasty, who established himself in Assyria, swiftly gaining control over large portions of Mesopotamia.
THE ASSYRIAN INTERREGNUM
Yah?dun-Lim’s removal facilitated a take-over by Shamshi-Adad, who installed his son, Yasmah?-Adad, as viceroy at Mari. Under his father’s tutelage, Yasmah?-Adad reorganized the local administration, cultivated ties with neighboring lands, and secured his flank against marauding nomads. Though his brother Ishme-Dagan, upon succeeding to the throne of Assyria, promised to maintain the protective policy of their father, Yasmah?-Adad was left adrift only three or four years later, when he was defeated by Eshnunna, a West Semitic kingdom beyond the Tigris. Altogether, Assyrian control of Mari lasted some 20 years.
THE KINGDOM OF ZIMRI-LIM
Thus, the stage was set for the advent of Zimri-Lim, the son of Yah?dun-Lim, who in the interim had lived in exile under the wing of Yarim-Lim, king of Yamh?ad (capital, Aleppo). Yarim-Lim, who had become Zimri-Lim’s father-in-law, was most instrumental in restoring him to the throne of Mari. Thirty-two year-formulas are known for Zimri-Lim’s reign – though many of them may have been alternate designations for the same year, for (chronologically) he cannot have ruled for so long a period. Zimri-Lim’s reign, during the tumultous interval between Assyria’s decline and the rise of the empire of Hammurapi, marks Mari at its apogee. It is this period which is best represented by the archives found at Mari which provide a thorough insight into the organization of the kingdom. Interestingly, several of Zimri-Lim’s letters have been found in the royal archives at Tell el-Rimah (between the Upper Khabur and the Tigris), probably to be identified with the city of Karana, mentioned in the Mari correspondence. Mari had become a principal political force in Mesopotamia, alongside Babylon, Larsa, Eshnunna, Qat na, and Yamhad (as is known from a contemporary political report). Relying heavily on his diplomatic cunning, Zimri-Lim developed an elaborate intelligence system – within his sphere of influence and beyond it. Frequent alliances, as with Yamh?ad and Babylon, were designed to meet the danger of the moment – e.g., now against Eshnunna, then against Elam. His military endeavors were directed mainly against the hostile tribal federation of the Yaminites (the previously subdued H?anean tribes were already in his service; for both, see below). This political situation crystallized hand in hand with the development of economic ties branching out as far as the island of Dilmun (in the Persian Gulf), Elam (in the east), Arraph?a and Shusharra (in southern Kurdistan), Cappadocia (in the north), Phoenicia and Palestine (in the west), and even Kaptara (Crete, in the Mediterranean). Indeed, tolls from caravan and riverine trade were one of Zimri-Lim’s principal sources of income. This golden age at Mari came to an abrupt end, however, when Hammurapi turned on his formerally and conquered the city in his 32nd year, during the consolidation of his empire (in 1759 B.C.E. – middle chronology; or 1695 B.C.E. – low chronology). Two years later he ordered the razing of the city to the ground.
MARI AND THE WEST
Mari was bound closely with the lands to the west – Syria, and even northern Palestine – in economy, politics, culture, religion, and ethnic background. Already noted were the ties between the local dynasty at Mari and that of the kingdom of Yamh?ad; Zimri-Lim’s queen, Shibtu, was from Aleppo and he appears to have held land there, which was either a patrimony or received as a dowry. Similarly, the rival Assyrian dynasty at Mari secured political ties in the west through the marriage of Yasmah?-Adad to a princess from Qatna, Yamhad’s southern adversary. Another form of contact with the west is the already-mentioned campaign by Yah?dun-Lim
and the later expedition by Shamshi-Adad to the Levant. Zimri-Lim is also known to have visited various places in the west: Yamh?ad, where he had presented a statue to “Adad the great god of Aleppo,” and Ugarit, where he was accompanied by a select bodyguard (?abum be?ru; see below).
The region farther southwest is only sparingly mentioned in the Mari archives, but references are found to Byblos on the Phoenician coast and the land of Amurru in southern Syria (the Apum of the Mari texts is most probably only that in the Khabur region, and not the one around Damascus, known from the contemporary Egyptian Execration Texts and various later sources). In northern Palestine, Hazor is noted several times in the Mari archives as the destination of diplomatic and economic emissaries. In one instance, emissaries passing through Mari are on their way to Yam?ad, Qatna, and Hazor, and a fourth place whose name is broken (the traces in ARM, 6, 23:23 may perhaps be restored to read “Megiddo,” rather than “Egypt” as is sometimes proposed, which surprisingly does not appear in the Mari archives). In an economic document, Aleppo, Qatna, and Ugarit are listed, alongside Hazor (“Ibni-Adad, king of Hazor”) and Laish (“Waritaldu at Laish,” the later Dan north of Hazor), as destinations of large consignments of tin, a commodity of major importance among the exports to the west (it being alloyed with copper to produce bronze). On the other side of the ledger, Mari imported from the west horses and fine woods (from the Qatna region), various precious vessels of Syrian and “Cretan” style, Cypriot copper, fabrics, and garments (especially from Aleppo and Byblos), and large quantities of foodstuffs, such as honey, wine, and olive oil.
C. Mari and the Bible
The Mari documents bear indirectly upon Israelite history geographically; the “patriarchal homeland” (Aram-Naharaim, so called at a later date) lay within Mari’s horizons; ethniclinguistically, the Hebrews were of the same West Semitic (or Amorite) stock as that strongly manifest at Mari (see above); and sociologically, for the descriptions of tribalism comprise the most extensive insight into the nomadic and settled phases of the Israelite tribes.
1. PATRIARCHAL HOMELAND
The cities of Harran and Nahor (cuneiform Na??r), in the Upper Balikh Valley – which figure in the Bible as ancestral habitats of the Patriarchs – are well documented as important dependencies controlled by governors from Mari (one of whom, Itur-asdu at Nahor, is the subject of ARM, 14). Both cities were foci of tribal foment: at the temple of Sin in Harran, a treaty between the “kings” of Zalmaqum and the Yaminites was sworn against Mari; while at Nahor reinforcements had often to be called in to quell local uprisings inflamed by the *Habiru. Alongside the West Semitic peoples in this region was a considerable Hurrian element (note the typically Hurrian name of King Adalshenni, who at one time gained control over Nahor), which may well have left an imprint upon the initial ethnic and cultural composition of the Hebrews. The picture revealed in the Mari archives, of far-reaching tribal migrations (such as those of Yaminite groups) and caravan conditions between the Euphrates region and Syria-Northern Palestine, provides an analogy for the biblical narratives of the patriarchal wanderings between Aram-Naharaim and Canaan.
Al-Dahir’s note: Haran & Nahor were sons Terah, the father of Abram which means that these 2 biblical characters were personifications of these 2 cities.
2. ETHNO-LINGUISTIC AFFINITIES – THE WEST SEMITIC IDIOM
Evidence for the West Semitic (or *Amorite) origin of the majority of the people figuring in the Mari documents is revealed in the onomasticon (name-stock) and specific linguistic features of the Mari dialect. Many of the hundreds of proper names known from the Mari texts are paralleled in the Bible, especially in the patriarchal narratives and the Exodus-Conquest cycle, which demonstrate a strong archaizing tendency. At Mari, where Yahweh was unknown, these names occur often with (other) the ophoric (god-bearing) components; e.g., Jacob and Ishmael – i.e., haqba-hammu/-ahim/ etc. and Yasma?-El/-Adad/-Ba?al/ etc. The names of the Israelite tribes of *Levi and *Benjamin also seem to have their parallels. Thus, the tribal designation at Mari, DUMU.MEŠ-yamin(a), “Yaminites,” bears the same connotation as Benjamin – “son(s) of the South,” i.e., southerners, and it is preferable to render the logogram for “sons” as West Semitic bini-yamina a form conveniently homophonic with the Hebrew Binyamin. The West Semitic imprint on the standard Old Babylonian (OB) dialect of the Akkadian language in use at Mari is evident to a certain extent in phonology, morphology, syntax, and, especially, vocabulary. The lack of terms in OB for certain specific features in the society and way of life of the population of the Mari region necessitated the frequent adoption of West Semitic expressions in the shape of either Akkadian words employed in new, West Semitic connotations or out-and-out loanwords from the West Semitic – words well represented in biblical Hebrew (often in exalted language, as also at Mari). Besides the linguistic yield, a comparative study of the West Semitic loanwords at Mari and their Hebrew cognates may broadly illuminate the nature of the societies involved. Thus, a list of such lexical items would include the following:
Geographical terms – ?amqum = Hebrew ?emeq, “valley”; k/qa?sum = Hebrew qa?eh, “(desert) frontier”; ?en (as a place-name) = Hebrew ?ayin, “spring”; points of the compass – aqdam?tum = Hebrew qedem, “east”; a?ar?tum = Hebrew a?ar, a?or, “west”; north and south were preserved in the tribal names DUMU.MEŠ-sim?al = Hebrew semol, and DUMU.MEŠ-yamina = Hebrew yamin; fauna – ?a(ya)rum =Hebrew ?ayir, “donkey foal”; hazzum = Hebrew ?ez, “goat”; ?iglum = Hebrew ?egel, “calf” (referring to a zoomorphic vessel at Mari); flora – su?rum = Hebrew se?orah, “barley”; ?imrum = Hebrew ?emer, “a fermented drink”; military terms – be(?)rum = Hebrew ba?ur, “(select) trooper”; baza??tum, “military outpost” (cf. Heb. root b??); sag/qbum, “guard” (later Heb. zaqif?); note perhaps mad?rum = later Hebrew mador (?), “dwelling place”; mas/škabum = Hebrew mishkav, “a lodging”; probably sablum = Hebrew sevel, “corvée”; and yagâtum = Hebrew yagon, “sorrow.”
Al-Dahir’s note: According to this article, YHWH is NOT listed as an Amorite god. I have demonstrated in many previous articles, that Yh, Yhh, Ya, Yw, Yhwh arose from the Arabian peninsula as a viper god who was associated with the production of copper and who was also a guardian of the incense trees located in Hadhramaut (biblical Hazarmaveth or ancient Yemen & Oman). The genus Chrysopelia, flying vipers, inhabited these trees and had to be smoked out before the resin could be harvested.
A series of West Semitic terms is also found for tribal organization and institutions (see below, Nos. 3 and 4), which were quite foreign to contemporary Mesopotamia and therefore found no adequate means of expression in the pure Babylonian lexicon; cf., e.g., the set of terms for various tribal units: g?yum = Hebrew goy; ?ibrum = Hebrew ?ever; and perhaps ummatum = Hebrew u?ummah. West Semitic verbs unknown in standard Babylonian Akkadian but with cognates in biblical Hebrew include the following: ?akûm, “to wait”; ?alûm, “to be ill”; ?ar?šum, “to be silent”; na??lum, “to inherit, apportion”; naq?mum, “to avenge” (only in personal names); qat?lum, “to kill”; šap?tum, “to judge, govern” (and see below).
3. PATRIARCHAL TRIBAL SOCIETY
The Mari archives provide the most abundant and fruitful source material concerning West Semitic tribes of any Ancient Near Eastern source – shedding invaluable light on Israelite tribal society, its structure and organization, as well as its institutions. The wide range of the tribes mentioned at Mari – from fully nomadic to fully sedentary – and their confrontation with the indigenous population, bear directly upon an understanding of the gradual process of the Israelite settlement in Canaan and their ensuing relationship with its inhabitants. The most revealing material at Mari concerns the broad tribal federations of the H?aneans and Yaminites. The former were concentrated principally along the Middle Euphrates and comprised an appreciable segment of the general population (and of the army) of Mari. Indeed, the Middle Euphrates region became known as the “land of H?ana,” and “H?ana” was applied also to a type of soldier and a kind of wool. The name, which was basically gentilic, also came to denote in general the generic concept of a (semi-) nomad; it seems to be in this sense that Zimri-Lim was called “king of the H?aneans,” in parallel to “king of the Akkadians” – which together reflect the two main population strata, seminomadic and indigenous sedentary (see below). The Yaminites were in general less settled and posed the greater threat in this period, both to the rest of the population and to the authorities. In their subtribes (Ubrabu, Amnanu, Yah?ruru, Yarih?u, and the affiliated Rabbeans), they were dispersed over a wide arc from the city of Sippar (and even as far south as Uruk) and the eastern banks of the Tigris around to the Khabur and the Balikh valleys up to the Euphrates bend, where their main concentration lay. In the west, they had crossed the Euphrates toward Mount Bisir (Jabal Bishri) and encroached upon the land of Amurru in southern Syria. Little mention is made in the Mari archives of the DUMU.MEŠ-sim?al, the “sons of the north,” who roamed the “upper country” in the Harran region, or of the Sutu, the fully nomadic tribe which appears more often in subsequent history. This latter ranged in the Syrian steppe and the Bishri mountains, raiding the adjacent oasis of *Tadmor (spelled Tadmer at Mari) on atleast one occasion. The Mari archives are surprisingly silent on the “Amorites” as a definite tribal entity (though one reference is made to a g?yu Amurum as a sub-clan of the Haneans); in general, the designation (both spelled phonetically and in the logogram MAR.TU) is restricted to the land of Amurru, far to the west, or to the military titles “great-of-Amurru” and “scribe-of-Amurru” (the latter only at Mari).
Patterns of Settlement.
The tribal society depicted in the Mari archives is essentially dimorphic, i.e., it encompasses both nomadic and urban modes, with their inherent distinctions and interactions, social as well as economic. Tribal groups would sometimes undergo a gradual process of sedentation, splitting into partly settled and partly nomadic factions (cf. ARM 8, 11), or leading a life of transhumance – in the steppe or desert in the grazing season and in urban bases during the “off” months.
Al-Dahir’s note: This dimorphic society of nomads and urbanites is personified in Genesis as Joktan (Qahtan Arabs or the caravan tribes) and Peleg (Hebrews who farmed the earth).
Depending on the stage of sedentation, the ?aneans and Yaminites dwelt in towns and hamlets (both designated at Mari as ?l?ni, literally, “cities”; the term kaprum, “village,” is rare in this context) and engaged in urban-agricultural pursuits (as well as herding), or in temporary encampments (naw?m) and engaged in purely pastoral pursuits. At Mari, the standard Babylonian word naw?m, “desert, uncultivated field,” or even “a savage,” took on the West Semitic connotation of a pastoral abode, precisely the connotation of the Hebrew naweh (primarily in poetic usage in the Bible). An illustration of this dual mode of life, is found in the distinctions ?ana ša naw?m, loosely, “steppe ?aneans,” and ?ibrum ša naw?m, the nomadic faction of a partly settled clan (in this case, of Yaminites).
Another type of settlement originating among nomadic and seminomadic populations was the ?a??rum (pl. hasir?tum), which, rather than an enclosure for sheep or cattle (as usually assumed), denotes a dwelling place, as does the cognate Hebrew term ?a?erim, referring to settlements of the Ishmaelites, the Avvites, and the “sons of Kedar” (Gen. 25:16; Deut. 2:23; and Isa. 42:11 (cf. Jer. 49:33), respectively).
The Mari archives indicate that tribal leadership was in the hands of family heads (cf. the biblical bet-?av, “family,” the basic unit of the patriarchal tribal organization), called ab? b?tim, “father of the household” (pl. at Mari ab?tb?tim, a West Semitic form, equivalent to Heb. ?avot). The actual tribal rulers were elevated from among these family heads, leading to the use of the term ab? b?tim for certain officials, and occasionally ab? served as a synonym for “tribal chiefs,” e.g., ab? ?ana and ab? ldamara?. As in pre-monarchical Israel, the council of the “elders” (šib?ti) appears in the Mari documents as a central institution, deciding on matters of war and peace, functioning in treaty making, and representing the tribe before the authorities.
Al-Dahir’s note: The pre-monarchical Israel is described in the Book of Judges.
A capital role in the tribal organization, unknown outside the Mari texts, is that of sug?gum/suq?qum (meaning unknown), whose function is somewhat vague. He may have been a sort of mukhtar, chief of a tribal unit or village appointed (or at least approved) by the Mari authorities from among the local leadership; this office (sug?g?tum) was sometimes purchased with money or sheep.
At the head of the tribal hierarchy stood the “kings” (Akk. šarru, p. šarr?ni), who usually appear in the Mari texts as wartime leaders – again suggesting a special West Semitic connotation (in this case, military), much like the Hebrew sar. Thus, Ya?dun-Lim’s royal inscriptions record that he defeated “seven kings, fathers (ab?) of ?ana” and, on another occasion, “three Yaminite kings.” This plurality of “kings” must be understood as referring to subtribal rulers that collectively comprised the tribal leadership; such a structure is also found among the Midianites (Num. 31:8; Judg. 8:12), the early Arameans (I Sam. 14:47), and perhaps the Edomites (Gen. 36:31ff.).
4. TRIBAL TRADITIONS – FUNCTIONAL AND RELIGIOUS
The convergence of the West Semitic tribes at Mari with urban Mesopotamia involved a dual process of friction and strife alongside symbiosis and mutual adaptation; this interaction between a tribal heritage and an established civilization was characteristic also of the settlement of Israelite tribes in Canaan. In Mari, this was especially evident at the court, where despite the process of assimilation of Sumero-Akkadian civilization, much of tribal tradition was still preserved. The advice of the palace prefect to Zimri-Lim on a point of protocol may thus be interpreted: “[If] you are the king of the H?aneans, you are, moreover, a ‘king of the Akkadians.’ [My lord] should not ride horses [i.e., in tribal fashion]. May my lord drive in a wagon and mules [i.e., in a “civilized” manner], and may he [thus] honor his royalty” (ARM, 6, 76:20–25). This same distinction is found, too, at the early Israelite court, though there the mule was ridden (II Sam. 13:29; 18:9; I Kings 1:33) and the horse yoked to the chariot (I Sam. 8:11; II Sam. 15:1; I Kings 1:5).
Tribal heritage from the nomadic phase did persist in spite of the curbs of sedentation and acquiescence to royal administration of Mari. Tribal customs and institutions, legal, military, and political procedures, and ritual or religious practices all find expression in the Mari texts. These traditions, largely unknown outside Mari, serve to illuminate early Israelite practices. Here are some of the major points.
Making a Covenant.
In the largely illiterate society of the tribe, treaties were concluded not by means of documents but solely by symbolic acts – in the cases recorded in the Mari texts, by the ritual of “killing an ass-foal” (note the purely West Semitic expression applied here – ?a(ya)rum qat?lum). (Another symbolic expression in this context is napištam lap?tum, “to touch the throat.”) In one case, a possible ploy was made to introduce other animals into the ritual: in a report on a peace treaty made between the H?aneans and the land of Idamaras, a Mari official in the Harran region tells his king that “they brought to me a whelp and a goat, but I obeyed my lord and did not give (permission for the use of) a whelp and a goat. I caused ‘the foal, the young of a she-ass’ (cf. Gen. 49:11; Zech. 9:9) to be slaughtered” (ARM, 2, 37:6–12). The Bible mentions a parallel ceremony, involving the cutting in two of young animals (cf. the covenant between God and Abraham – Gen. 15:9–10; and one with the leaders of Judah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem – Jer. 34:18–19). In all these ceremonies, the common denominator is the ritual sacrifice of young and tender animals.
The Mari authorities used to take periodic censuses of the tribes, both nomadic and settled. This activity was denoted by the terms ubbubum (D-stem of eb?bum), “to cleanse,” and its derivative t?bibtum (literally, “cleansing,” “purification”), and is most likely West Semitic in origin. The purpose of the census seems to have been military conscription, taxation, and land distribution, although at least originally it was accompanied by a ritual of purification, similar to that associated with the census of the Israelites in the wilderness (which involved a tax, the payment of which was regarded as a ritual expiation, Heb. kippurim; cf. Ex. 30:11–16). Some scholars, however, view the t?bibtum as a purely administrative procedure to clear persons or property of legal or financial claims (as would be indicated by the fact that it is carried out by secular, not religious, officials).
The Mari legal documents employ, inter alia, the West Semitic term na??lum, “to inherit or apportion,” in referring to land transfers effected within a quasi-familial inheritance framework and not in the normal sales procedures. This type of transaction was inherently a part of the patriarchal tribal system, in which land ownership was not on an individual basis but was a patrimony (ni?latum at Mari = Heb. na?alah). The patrimony could not, theoretically, be transferred other than by inheritance, and, therefore, various means were contrived to circumvent this rule. The Israelites upheld a similar custom, where the patrimony was considered an inalienable possession, “the Israelites must remain bound each to the ancestral portion of his tribe” (Num. 36:7; cf. Lev. 25:13, 25–28; I Kings 21:1ff.; Ezek. 46:16–18).
The “Judge.” The Mari documents employ several derivatives of the West Semitic root šp? (verb: šap??um; participle: š?pi?um; abstract nouns: šip?um and šapi??tum), which may serve to elucidate the biblical cognates shafo?, shofe?, and mishpa?, usually translated as “judge” (verb and noun) and “norm or law,” respectively. However, neither in the Mari documents nor in the Bible is the primary connotation of these terms judicial (for which the Akkadian employs day?nu); rather, they connote the much broader concept of governorship and rule. Thus, the š?pi?um and his counterpart in the Book of Judges, the shofe?, were actually prominent tribesmen who had acquired an authority far exceeding that of a mere “justice” (and cf. the later Punic suffetes). The expression šip?am nad?num/šak?num, met with in the Mari documents, corresponds to the bibical sim mishpa?, “lay down a ruling” (by a duly authorized person) employed in connection with the authoritative acts of a Moses, a Joshua, and a David (cf. Ex. 15:25; Josh. 24:25; I Sam. 30:25).
A peculiar expression at Mari, asakkam ak?lum (lit. “to eat the asakku”), refers to the infringement of a taboo or the profaning of something revered, and may be a loan translation of some West Semitic concept paralleling that of the biblical ban (*?erem). The asakku of a particular deity, and/or king, is frequently invoked in penalty clauses of contracts, in oaths, and in royal decrees as the sacrosanct and inviolable element. The closest parallel between Mari and the biblical practice is in the imposition of the ban on spoils of war (cf., e.g., the Achan incident, Josh. 7). However, whereas the biblical ban functioned on a purely religious plane (whatever was banned was exclusively God’s), the taboo at Mari was applicable also on a human level, and its infringement there, though theoretically still considered a capital offense, was expiated by payment of a simple fine.
God of the Father.
Among the central religious concepts of the Hebrew Patriarchs is the “God of the/my/your/his father,” i.e., a personal, innominate deity, revered by subsequent offspring (cf. Gen. 28:13; 31:5, 29, 42, 53; 32:10; 49:25; Ex. 3:6, 15; 15:2, etc.). A direct parallel occurs in one Mari text, where the king of Qatna swears “by the name of the god of my father” (ARM, 5, 20:16; and cf. Gen. 31:53), and in another where Hammurapi (undoubtedly Yarim-Lim’s successor as king of Aleppo) is appealed to “by the name of (the god) Adad, Lord of A[leppo] and the god of [your] father” (ARM, 10, 156:10–11). It is significant for the biblical comparison that both instances are in the west, as are all other references to such a deity outside Mari – in the slightly older Assyrian tablets from Cappadocia, the later texts from Ugarit (in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Hurrian), and, again at Qatna, in temple inventories and in an Amarna letter sent from there.