Mari (Genesis 31)

Mari, known today as Tell Hariri, is located on the Euphrates River just downstream from its confluence with the Habur River. Ideally situated at the converge of several trade routes connecting Sumer to Assyria and Mesopotamia to Syria-Palestine, cosmopolitan Mari was an ideal spot for trade and communications between kingdoms. The city served as a buffer zone between the Sumerian city-states to the southeast and the lands of the pastoral tribes, called Amorites, to the north. These livestock-raising nomads seem to have been particularly concentrated around the city of Haran (cf. Abram’s sojourn there mentioned in Genesis 11:31-12:5). Swarming in from Mesopotamia, they settled down there between 2400-2200 B.C. In fact, people from northwestern Syria ruled Mari after this period, so the city’s most famous kings were of Amorite descent.

Much of Mari’s early history is obscure. Founded around 2900-2700 B.C., the city acquired wealth and importance but periodically was controlled by such great third-millennium B.C. powers as Sargon of Akkad and the Third Dynasty of Ur. In 1775 B.C. Zimri-Lim of Mari broke free of Assyrian domination, but Hammurabi of Babylon burned the city in 1761 B.C.

Begun in 1933, excavations of Mari have uncovered a large palace and several temples, including a ziggurat. The excavations have also yielded tens of thousands of clay, cuneiform tablets that had become hardened from heat of conflagrations inflicted by the Babylonians. Well preserved, these tablets addressed a wide variety of issues, such as palace administration, provincial administration, harems, expenses, gift registries, literary works, letters and treatise.

These Mari documents shed light upon Old Testament study in several ways:

The describe the Amorites and their culture, helping us to understand the broader cultural environment of early Israelites.

The showcase similarities between many Amorite and Biblical names, although there are few, if any, direct links to specific Biblical characters.

They mention the town of Laish, which the Danites destroyed and rebuilt (Judges 18), and Hazor, an important city even before the Israelites entered the promised land (Joshua 11:10).

They refer to pagan prophets who functioned in some ways similarly to their Biblical counterparts.

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