"People who are looking to the Ebla tablets for proof of the authenticity of the Bible are going to be sorely disappointed," a professor of Assyriology said in a recent speech here.
Dr. Robert Biggs of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute asserted that several scholars' claims about biblical parallels to the archeological discoveries in northern Syria have now proved to be unwarranted. a
Addressing a meeting sponsored by the Council for the advancement of Science Writing, Biggs said that "parallels with the Bible are quite out of the question at this stage" of research into the Ebla tablets.
Excavations at Tell Mardikh in northern Syria began in 1964 by the Italian Archeological Mission of the University of Rome. In 1976, press reports indicated the archeologists had uncovered the remains of an ancient empire called Ebla, including 20,000 tablets that were thought to have significant information relating to old Testament history.
Two years later the Rev. Carlo Martini, now the archbishop of Milan, reported that an additional discovery of 20,000 more clay tablets had been made at the site. He said research indicated that the tablets might contain the name of God recorded for the first time in human history, and that references to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah also had been discovered in some of the tablets.
But Biggs said this speculation has not been confirmed by the evidence. He indicated that the name "Ya," which had been thought to be an abbreviation for "Yahweh," has now been found to be probably a shorter version of a common name.
"There are some scholars who now believe that 'Ya' is nothing more than our equivalent of Johnny and Billy," the scholar related. "It's quite clear that unwarranted conclusions were drawn concerning the similarities between personal names at Ebla and names occurring in the Old Testament."
Biggs said further research has indicated that supposed references to the biblical accounts of the creation and the great flood now seem to be a passage of poetry and one brief reference to water. H said early references that were thought to mention the names of biblical partriarchs have also been shown not to be the case.
Early speculation that the cuneiform symbols on the tablets bear a resemblance to Hebrew has now been discarded in favor of a view that the writing more closely resembles the ancient Amarite language, Biggs said. He noted that the language of the Ebla tablets is separated from early Hebrew writings by more than 1,000 years.
Of the 11,000 tablets that have been restored thus far, only 48 have been translated and published. Some tablets containing as many as 3,000 lines have so far stumped scholars.
Despite the revision of early theories about the tablets, Biggs said, the discoveries still represent an important find for archeology in that they provide the most abundant examples of the written word from that period of history -- around 2300 B.C.
Biggs said it might be 20 years before accurate translations are made of the most complicated Ebla tablets, since these appear to be written in two languages. One resembles the Sumerian language of ancient Mesopotamia, but the other is so far unrecognizable.