Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Mari Archive

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Excerpt The ancient city of Mari, located in northern Syria, was a thriving metropolis ca. 2800-1760 BC. From about 2000 BC until its demise in 1760 BC, Mari was the capital of the Amorites... Continue reading

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This article was first published in the Winter 2005 issue of Bible and Spade.

The ancient city of Mari, located in northern Syria, was a thriving metropolis ca. 2800-1760 BC. From about 2000 BC until its demise in 1760 BC, Mari was the capital of the Amorites. Amorites were spread far and wide throughout the ancient Near East, including the hill country of Canaan vanquished by the Israelites (Nm 13:29; Jos 10:6). The French have been excavating Mari almost continuously since 1933. The major discovery was an enormous palace covering 6 acres, with nearly 300 rooms on the ground level and an equal number on a second floor. It was in use from ca. 2300 BC until its destruction by Hammurabi in 1760 BC. An archive of about 15,000 texts from the final years of the palace provides a detailed insight into the common social, economic and legal practices of that time. Contained in the archive are administrative and legal documents, letters, treaties, and literary and religious texts.

Reconstruction of the palace of Zimrilim, the ruler of Mari at the time it was destroyed in 1760 BC. Louvre, Paris.

The value of the Mari texts for Biblical studies lies in the fact that Mari is located in the vicinity of the homeland of the Patriarchs, being about 200 mi (320 km) southeast of Haran. It thus shares a common culture with the area where the Patriarchs originated. Some documents detail practices such as adoption and inheritance similar to those found in the Genesis accounts. The tablets speak of the slaughtering of animals when covenants were made, judges similar to the judges of the Old Testament, gods that are also named in the Hebrew Bible, and personal names such as Noah, Abram, Laban and Jacob. A city named Nahur is mentioned, possibly named after Abraham’s grandfather Nahor (Gn 11:22-25), as well as the city of Haran where Abraham lived for a time (Gn 11:31-12:4). Hazor is spoken of often in the Mari texts and there is a reference to Laish (Dan) as well. A unique collection of 30 texts deals with prophetic messages that were delivered to local rulers who relayed them to the king.

The findings at Mari show that the Patriarchal narratives accurately reflect the socioeconomic conditions of that time and place.

For further information, see: The Archive of Mari, by G. Herbert Livingston, Bible and Spade 5 [1992]: 105-108.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

Bible and Spade
Bible Archaeology 100 Reasons to Trust
Old Testament History



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6/23/2008 9:08 PM #

a lot of these discoveries have taken place over the years and i was wonderng are the majority of texts dealing solely with local laws and customs or are there any historical texts, tablets which dealt with the actual history of the area?

i know that these tablets are numbered in the hundred of thousands but no one has said much except to point out the references to local laws or shopping lists and so on.

dr. david thiessen - 6/23/2008 9:08:26 PM

6/24/2008 8:45 AM #

From Dr. Bryant Wood:

The excavated texts belong to the administration of the state or the private archives of the people living in the palace.  They give evidence of the daily life, movement of palace supplies, affairs of the kingdom and contact with foreign courts, principally from the time of Zimrilim, ca. 1775–1762.  Most of the documents are letters addressed to the king and provide a great deal of detail about the political relationships of the area and life within the court circles.  The correspondence comes from centers such as Aleppo, Qatna, Ugarit, and Hazor in the west, and the states of Babylon, Eshnunna and Elam in the east, with trade and diplomatic exchanges with an even wider area.  (See Jean-Marie Durand, Documents epistolaires du palace de Mari, I–III, 1997–2000,)

Hope this helps!

hsmith - 6/24/2008 8:45:44 AM

6/24/2008 9:03 PM #

sorry, i t only helps partially.  i knew about all of this, i was hoping there may have been something i missed, or new or something not published that went beyond what you described.

thanks anyways.

dr. david thiessen - 6/24/2008 9:03:39 PM

9/25/2008 6:06 AM #

Hello my name is Patrick Daniel Ulroan and I am 17 years old of Hooper Bay Alaska. I would like to know about Archaeologists history, how long to I have to attend college, and discoveries.(who,what,when)\
Thank you and have a nice day

Patrick D. Ulroan - 9/25/2008 6:06:38 AM

3/7/2010 9:33 PM #

why is it called a palace? couldn't it be a building like the library of congress or simply a library?

dr. david t. - 3/7/2010 9:33:15 PM

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