Questions Concerning Archaeology and the Bible
Editor’s note: The person making this inquiry included material found from a web site. This material is included, unedited, after my response.
I have some questions concerning archaeology and the Bible. 1.) Why is there such an absence of evidence concerning anyone mentioned in the Bible prior to Solomon or David, there is virtually no evidence for Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of the after and pre-flood patriarchs. Tell me if this answering my own question but, is it because they were nomadic? poor? or because the Bible itself is the very evidence of these people? I am just not sure. 2.) If Nimrod had such a vast kingdom, why was the city of Nimrud (Modern day Calah, a city of Nimrod’s kingdom which is relevant to recent news) only erected by the Assyrians around 1300 BC? Especially for cities such as Akkad, which most believe was probably founded by Sargon himself who personally created the empire of Akkad. Is Nimrod a minor king? Does he simply rule land with no official nationhood but his own? Is Nimrod simply the king of Shinar in terms of its location geographically, rather than it being an actual nation? I fail to see any evidence for Nimrod, or his kingdom. The most I fear is that he was inspired by the god of Lagash called Ninurta who was also a “Mighty hunter”, and also was worshiped in Nimrud by the Assyrians! In the same city which Nimrod is said to have founded, the very deity the majority of scholars point to for the inspiration of Nimrod, Ninurta was worshiped at Kalhu! This seems a tad odd. 3.) Relating to Nimrod are the kings Amraphel of Shinar, Chedorloamer of Elam, Arioch of Ellasar, and Tidal of Goyim. For years no historians can precisely track who these kings or their rightful kingdoms are other than Elam, which leaves Goyim and Ellasar. 4.) Another startling point is the Ebla tablets, which many say record Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain. For three of these cities there is plausible reason to suppose that this is not true. I will now quote from a source concerning this. As evident, this shows that all the cities mentioned in Ebla are clearly in Syria, and not anywhere near the Dead Sea locale. The one chance for a secular mentioning of Sodom or Gomorrah is merely a coincidence of cities not far from Ebla itself. This is troubling, and maybe you could answer this accordingly. Thank you.
As I have taught many times with regard to archaeology and the Bible, the first person mentioned in the scriptures about who we can reasonably expect to find actual archaeological evidence is king David. He was the first one to lead a kingdom with sufficiently large territory and cities that we can reasonably expect to find archaeological evidence directly reflecting the biblical story. It just so happens that with the Tel Dan inscription, we have in stone proof that King David was in fact a ruler of Judah. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were relatively minor figures in their day and it is almost inconceivable that archaeologists would find a building or an inscription or a city which could be connected with any of the patriarchs.
The same can be said for the Israelites in Egypt. They were slaves. They lived in abject poverty. They probably lived in the most humble of dwellings. Even if archaeologists were to excavate the dwellings of the Israelites during their time in Egypt, there would presumably be no way for the scholars know that they were from the Jews. Even when the Hebrews conquered large parts of Canaan and afterward, during the time of the Judges, the Jews are represented as a weak power who did not build large cities of their own. It would be rather surprising to find buildings from the period of the Judges or inscriptions from this period which could be clearly tied to the Jews. Of course, there is the Stele of Merneptah which was found in Egypt which mentions the Israelites. This comes from 1230 BC, during the time of the Judges. So we know that Israel existed at this time, but we do not have archaeological evidence in Canaan from that time, but this is not surprising.
About Nimrod, it is quite difficult to estimate the date for the Biblical person called Nimrod. He could have lived any time in the third millennium BC or even earlier. Some have associated him with the empire of Akkad, which would put his rule before about 2300 BC. This is possible, but the honest truth is that we cannot confirm with any confidence who the biblical Nimrod was. The biblical information is that he was a great warrior and hunter and that he was also a significant political leader in the region of Mesopotamia. In any case, the Jews are not the only one who mentioned a great ruler from ancient times named Nimrod. His name became synonymous with great rulers–kind of like Ghengiz Khan. The ancient city of Nimrud may well have been named after the biblical ruler known as Nimrod, but it probably was not actually associated with the biblical person Nimrod. I did some research and found at least a dozen different theories on who the biblical Nimrod was. If the experts cannot come to a consensus, then we will probably have to accept that this will not be easily settled. Here is the bottom line, there is no way to be absolutely sure who the biblical Nimrod was. I cannot see why it is crucial to biblical reliability that we know who Nimrod was. He is from such an ancient time that we will have to simply trust the biblical account on its own merit. There is sufficient evidence that Genesis is an inspired book that I believe that there was a Nimrod as described in Genesis 10, but we will have to accept this principally on faith.
As for Sodom and Gomorrah, these cities, along with Adman, Zeboiim and Bela, are described as being in the region of what is now known as the Dead Sea. Clearly, they are not in Syria. You say that “all the cities mentioned in Ebla were in Syria”. I am sure this is not true. The tablets mention cities outside Syria, but whether they mention the five cities of associated with Sodom is not clear. You should not concern yourself too much with the speculations of people such as Pettinato who look at the Ebla Tablets. This particular scholar is speculating about Sidamu. He certainly has not proved from the Ebla tablets that Sidamu is Sodom. The fact is that archaeological expeditions around the southern area of the Dead Sea have discovered five cities in the wadis which lead to the Dead Sea. These cities were all destroyed around 2100-2300 BC and probably correspond to the five cities of Genesis 14:1-4. Whether these cities are mentioned in the Ebla Tablets and whether they can definitely be identified as particular cities mentioned in these tablets is something we might want to investigate, but what we can be assured is that these five cities existed, that they were around the Dead Sea and that five cities in that area have been found which correspond to these cities. You should not allow yourself to be too concerned about the speculations of Ebla Tablet scholars.
“Sodom According to Pettinato, Sodom corresponds to the Eblaite place name Si-da-muki. This Eblaite city is mentioned in tablet TM.76.G.524.* The text concerns the delivery of textiles. A series of towns, including Sidamu, is listed. The series is as follows: Ti-inki, ’À-šuki, Dur-URUki, Du-ma-naki, Si-da-muki, A-ḫa-da-muki, Ì-ra-arki.†
Nothing in this list or otherwise in the tablet
suggests that Sidamu is to be located on the
shores of the Dead Sea.
Sidamu is also mentioned in two other tablets
(TM.75.G.2377 obv. Iy 8 = 2379 rev. I 5*). Again
these two tablets have a list of places; this
time, however, the list of places relates to the
cult of dNI-dakul. Among the places mentioned is
Lu-ba-anki. Lu-ba-anki should be in the area of
Alalakh.† We must, therefore, look for Sidamu in
northern Syria, perhaps between Ebla and the
coast, but surely not on the shores of the Dead
According to Pettinato, Gomorrah appears in the
Ebla tablets as Ì-ma-arki. He gives two
references. One reference is simply wrong. In
TM.75.G.2233 (another tablet dealing with the
delivery of textiles), the place mentioned is not,
despite Pettinato, Ì-ma-arki, but Ì-marki. The
series of place names is as follows: Ì-marki
(I.3), À-šu-muki (I.6), Ḫa-ra-anki (I.II),
Sa-nap-zu-lumki (I.16).† The mention of Ḫarran
shows that the cities are to be placed in the
northern and eastern regions, not on the shore of
the Dead Sea.
Pettinato also refers us to TM.75.G.1570 obv. 111,
which does mention Ì-ma-arki. In this same
tablet, however, we read as follows: 1 gu4 / en /
Ì-ma-arki / 1 gu4 / Zu-ba-LUM / 1 gu4 / I-šar /
6 gu4 / en / (II 1) Kak-mi-umki, which means,
“One ox: (delivery, mutum) of the king of Emar;
one ox: (delivery) of ZubaLUM; one ox: (delivery)
of Išar; 6 oxen: (delivery) of the king of
Kakmium.” Kakmium was probably in the region of
Moreover, it is clear that Ì-ma-arki is only a
variant of Ì-marki. That is the writing usually
employed at Ebla for Emar,† which is a city near
Meskeneh, on the right bank of the Euphrates.†
At Mari, in the second millennium B.C., this name
is written Ì-ma-(a-)arki; at Alalakh E-ma-arki
(Lev. VII), E-marki (Lev. IV).
The original writing for the Biblical place name
Ămōrāh should be *imār-at.† The place
name Ì-mar/Ì-ma-arki does not correspond,
therefore, to the place name attested in the Bible
from a linguistic viewpoint.
According to Pettinato, Zoar should be written
Za-é-arki (that is Za-’à-arki). Pettinato
refers us to two texts, one concerning deliveries
of textiles, and the other one deliveries,
mu-túm, of silver.
In TM.75.G.1323 obv. V 15-VII 3, we find the
following: Zizu of the city of Tuba; Gibar-Gubi of
the city of I-NI-bu: (clothes that are) a tax of
Armi to (in) Za-’à-arki; the king of I-NI-bu;
the king of Iritum. The mention of Tuba and Iritum
(Irrite of the second millennium) points to a
geographical area northeast of Ebla.†
In TM.75.G.1586 obv. IX 2–12, we find: “30
(shekels) silver: delivery of AḪ-ra-Malik of the
city of Guḫatium; 20 (shekels) silver: delivery
of the city of Za’ar; 35 (shekels) silver, a
textile: delivery of the city of Abšu.” This
place (also the writings Absu and Abzu are
attested) may perhaps be identified with Abzu near
Kinza (Qadeš) (KBo I 1 obv. 42 = 2 obv. 23f.
(treaty between Suppiluliuma and Šaṯtiwaza).
Again the geographical location is nowhere near
the Dead Sea.”