The archeological discovery of an additional 20,000 clay tablets - bringing the total to 40,000 - of a flourishing ancient Semitic civilization in northern Syria has given added hope to unlocking questions of biblical history.
The new findings were reported here by the Rev. Carlo Martini, S. J., rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and Jerusalem where scholars are studying the Ebla tablets, dating back to about 2500 B. C., predating events described in the Old Testament.
In a press conference, Father Martini said that, although the studies were still in the beginning stages, some conclusions already could be drawn.
The studies show that "three centuries before Christ the Bible was born out of a sophisticated culture that could rely on literary traditions preserved in a language similar to Hebrew," Father Martini said, thereby scuttling the contention that Old Testament writers only had oral tradition on which to rely.
The tablets may contain the name of God recorded for the first time in man's history. Father Martini reported that the Old Testament monotheistic name of "Yahweh" most likely has its roots in the Eblaite word "Yah" found on the tablets in a list of about 500 deities revered by the ancient civilization.
References have been found to events described in the Old Testaments, such as the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Father Martini said. The two cities, plus three others, all mentioned in the Bible but nonexistent at the time of biblical writing, are recorded on the Eblaite tablets in the exact order recorded in Genesis.
One of the kings of the ancient city of Ebla, according to the Italian scripture scholar, was named Eber, from which the original word "Hebrew" may derive and may indicate the birthplace of the Jewish people.
The original discovery of the tablets were made by two Italian archeologists in 1974 at Tell-Mardikh, 30 miles south of the Syrian town of Aleppo, and have been attributed to the Kingdom of Ebla, a hitherto unknown civilization that flourished in the Middle East between the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian peoples.
According to Father Martini, most of the tablets uncovered to date record juridical and commercial history and not religious beliefs or practices.
Until prayers or other religious references are discovered, the tablets have mostly linguistic and anthropological value.
But Father Martinin said there already are some biblical benefits. "It will help us make better translation, but above all the discoveries have given us a better appreciation of the antiquity and authenticity of the Bible and the fidelity of the biblical writers in recording sacred history," he said.