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Emar

EMAR

EMAR , ancient city in the Near East. The cuneiform finds from Emar, at modern Meskeneh, must be understood in relation to those from *Ugarit. They are contemporary, spanning the 13th and early 12th centuries b.c.e.. Emar is directly inland from Ugarit, on the great bend of the Euphrates River. Both populations were dominated by Semitic speakers, whose dialects appear to have been distinct, though both western. Both towns were ruled in this period by their own local kings, with a circle of dependent towns and villages. For our understanding of the indigenous culture, it is unfortunate that Emar did not share Ugarit's alphabetic cuneiform alternative. Like much of Ugarit's cuneiform, the texts from Emar are mostly written in Akkadian, the language of the eastern Mesopotamians who were the system's first users. Emar's most striking textual discovery is the archive of a scribal school that was run by the man who oversaw the main body of public religious life in the town. As a whole, the cuneiform finds from Emar offer a counterpoint to Ugarit, that adds variety and nuance to our picture of Syria at the time of Israel's emergence. Politically and socially, Emar was in some ways more like Israel than was Ugarit (see below).

Excavations at Emar have taken place in two phases, the second of which is still in progress as of 2006. When Lake el-Assad was created by a new dam in the 1970s, a French team led by Jean-Claude Margueron explored much of the Late Bronze ii town. All of the cuneiform finds came from this phase of work and belong to this period, including the tablets from the illicit antiquities market. Tablets were uncovered in a pair of temples, a public building of modest size, and several houses. The major discovery, however, was the building M1, both the residence and shrine of an official who called himself "the diviner of the gods of Emar." Roughly a thousand tablets and fragments were found here, mostly written in Akkadian, but also including two Hittite letters, scribal lore in Sumerian, and divination manuals in Sumerian and in Hurrian. The diviner was a well-educated man.

Margueron did not uncover any strata from earlier periods, even though texts from other sites make clear that Emar already existed in the third millennium, at the time of the *Ebla archives. He concluded that the town was completely rebuilt under Hittite sponsorship at the end of the 14th century. New excavations by a joint German-Syrian team led by Uwe Finkbeiner, Shawki Sha'ath, and Farouk Ismail, beginning in 1996, have now demonstrated that the older town occupied the same site, suggesting greater cultural continuity in the society depicted in the texts. Perhaps the most fascinating feature of the Emar excavations, in vivid contrast to Ugarit, is the lack of a proper palace. The texts prove that the town had a king and palace, but no royal archives were unearthed, and the small public building that Margueron identified as the palace is far from convincing. It appears that the palace did not occupy either of the two main high points of the tell, both of which have been explored. Without palace finds, other buildings and their contents take center stage. Beyond the building M1, three temples were found, one pair at the western summit of the town and another just above the diviner's residence, near the middle of the site. Several houses were excavated, proving that unlike some administrative and religious enclosures, these city walls protected a substantial population. The texts from the temple include only lists, and those from the houses are private legal documents.

The real novelty at Emar is the diviner's building, which has a temple-shaped hall and entrance, modified by rooms along one side. Cuneiform tablets were found jumbled across its main level, badly broken and suggesting collapse from a second story. The archive is diverse, with various threads indicating the diviner's personal interest. A large collection of lexical tablets includes colophon signatures for this diviner and his associates or students. Some of the divination lists include similar signatures, and the nature of the texts by itself suits the "diviner" title. The Hittite letters involve the financial interests of the first in the family of diviners, a man named Zu-Ba'la. Many of the tablets reflect everyday affairs at Emar rather than standard professional texts. These are divided into two main groups, both of which carry Emar's main interest for the Bible because they reflect the particular life of this Syrian site. There are many private legal documents of the same type as those from Emar's houses. One part of these record the affairs of Zu-Ba'la's family through four generations. A larger number of tablets and fragments pertains to the administration of Emar's religious institutions, apparently including the activity of the building M1 itself. To our benefit, some of this administration was tied to prominent rites and festivals that are described in considerable detail. A few of the ritual texts were even copied as exercises. Throughout the rituals, "the diviner" receives various portions and payments, evidently for his services, and he surfaces occasionally with other roles.

The longer ritual texts form two natural groups. One set is defined by the calendar, for rites defined by the sacred year, generally celebrated once a year. Most prominent is the zukru for the turn of the year every fall, which survives in two versions. The simpler rite was understood to be annual. One tablet presents a special event focused on a certain seventh year, first anticipated by ritual preparations a year in advance. Nothing defines the zukru itself, a local Semitic word that makes best sense as something spoken. The central event of the zukru in both annual and seventh-year forms is a procession outside the town walls that has the god Dagan (see *Dagon) pass between upright stones. Dagan is the most important god of this part of the Euphrates valley. At Emar, he is invoked by far most often in personal names, and the zukru festival presents him as the explicit head of the pantheon. This is a major event for a preeminent god, gathering all the people and including offerings for all the town's gods. Removed from Dagan's temple in favor of the external site and simple stones, the whole thing has an old-fashioned feel to it. Neither the king nor any temple servant has any active role. Somehow, the rite is central to Emar's identity as a single community.

Another small set of festivals is defined by special events not tied to the calendar. The two most impressive are rites to install in office two leading priestesses, one for the storm god, and the other for the goddess Ashtartu. In the first rite, the priestess of the storm god is prepared in stages to move from her father's house to the house of the god. She takes up residence in the temple, a privilege that may be shared only by the priestess of Ashtartu. These installations take place only upon the death of a sitting priestess.

As a whole, the collection of ritual administration is dominated by local concerns, and this allows us a view of longstanding religious practices at Emar in western Syria. With cuneiform archives, local origin cannot be taken for granted, because the scribal lore is often learned from distant sources, ultimately founded in eastern Mesopotamia. For those interested in the Bible, the distinction is crucial. Western Syrian culture shared much more with ancient Israel than did eastern Mesopotamia, and this explains the many continuities in religious practice.

By any measure but the most traditional, however, the Bible is a product of the first millennium, the periods of the kingdoms, the ends of Israel and Judah, and the early survival of Judah's people. Many would challenge the very relevance of a Late Bronze site to the Bible, and the application merits conscious explanation. First of all, Emar must be considered in combination with Ugarit, the more famous city on the Mediterranean coast. The archives of Ugarit date to the same period and are also cuneiform based. Because a subset of the Ugarit tablets is written in an alphabetic cuneiform with the local West Semitic dialect, this site has attracted special interest, and it presents unique comparative possibilities. In a larger sense, however, Ugarit and Emar should be treated in combination, with the same argument for their relevance to the Bible. This is especially true for questions about religion.

Together, Ugarit and Emar provide a baseline from written evidence for understanding what is ancient and indigenous in the Bible, as opposed to late borrowings from outside contacts with distant empires. Both sites are far north of Israel and Judah, and they represent distinct expressions of Syrian culture. Both reflect many contrasts with the peoples of the Bible. Where we find points of continuity, these probably reflect deep lines of cultural likeness between these northern and southern societies. Little if anything can be treated as borrowed, because there is no reason to imagine any contact between these populations, either directly or through intermediaries. The comparisons are then all the more valuable for the independence of the writings on both sides. By the nature of this comparison across cultures, in no case does it date any biblical text or tradition. Common ground between early Syrian writing and the Bible may undermine certain arguments for late foreign influence or uniquely late and Judahite developments. Where similar features appear, the biblical expression appears then to be in long continuity with regional patterns.

Before addressing the specific possibilities of how Emar texts may illuminate the Bible, it is worth distinguishing the applications from Emar and Ugarit. Ugarit is essential for good reason. The West Semitic dialect of Ugarit by itself offers the primary point of reference for the earliest development of Hebrew. Emar's tablets are entirely cuneiform, and the local West Semitic language is only visible in personal names, terms that pass into the texts without translation, occasional glosses for Emar vocabulary, and grammar that does not fit proper Akkadian. In spite of these limitations, it still seems that the dialect of coastal Ugarit had more in common with ancient Hebrew than did that of Emar. More precisely, an adequate grammatical comparison is impossible for Emar Semitic, but the vocabulary of Ugarit overlaps substantially with Biblical Hebrew, much more than that of Emar.

In a way, religion presents a similar situation. With El (Ilu), Baal (Ba'lu), and Asherah (Athiratu) among the leading deities, even the vocabulary of Ugarit's pantheon coincides more with the Bible's divine names than does the pantheon of Emar. Of course, the name of Israel's particular god YHWH appears in neither, a detail not to be missed. Like the vocabulary of the languages as a whole, the religious vocabulary of Ugarit matches that of the Bible in significant ways, including sacred personnel (e.g. the khn "priest"). Ugarit's religious poetry displays themes and language that have echoes in the Bible, especially in the poetry of Jerusalem. Emar's ritual texts offer comparisons based less on vocabulary than on procedure, but the degree of ritual similarity is striking.

As we consider various individual comparisons between Emar documents and the Bible, we must keep in mind at least two dimensions of the Emar component: its inland geography, and its political heritage. Like Ugarit's, Emar's archives are earlier than biblical writing, from what would be the first stages of Israel's existence in the land and before. Both are far north of Israel, though closer than the origins of cuneiform in eastern Mesopotamia. Cultural proximity must be distinguished from physical distance and decided by the actual characteristics of the peoples involved. Egypt is physically closer to Israel and Judah than either of these two northern sites, but its language and religion are much more sharply separated. It appears that the peoples of the Bible shared much with those of the lands directly to the north, to an extent measured by the specific continuities found between their writings, even across centuries of chronological distance. Especially in the case of Emar, we must remember that this evidence precedes the spread of the *Arameans across Syria at the beginning of the Iron Age.

In spite of the fact that both Emar and Ugarit are roughly the same distance north of Israel, their geographical relationship both to each other and to Israel requires precision. According to various biblical lore, confirmed by the 9th-century Mesha Inscription from Moab, Israel straddled the Jordan River valley, with a sizable population on the east side. In Genesis 31, the tradition of Jacob's return from Syria has Laban chase him south along an inland route, from the vicinity of the Euphrates into this territory east of the Jordan River. On the southwestern elbow of the Euphrates, Emar participated in currents of exchange that moved north and south without ever entering the coastal regions or the land more properly called Canaan.

The other large factor to keep in mind as context for any Emar comparisons is political tradition. During the 13th century, Emar did have a king whose power is visible even though no royal archive was discovered. Because most of the Emar texts were not composed in the palace, however, including the whole output of the building M1's diviner, we have an unusually good view of life outside royal circles. At Emar, kings struggled to establish true dominance in a town that for centuries had maintained a stubborn tradition of collective decision-making, defined by "elders" or a governing council. The public ritual life of Emar, as depicted in the diviner's archive, gives the king no active role, in radical contrast to the ritual found at Ugarit. In this respect, the Emar evidence stands in closer continuity to the world of the Bible than does that of Ugarit. The Bible also leaves much of the world of kings opaque. We learn almost nothing about royal and palace ritual and religion. In the Torah, Israel is presented as celebrating its festivals as a gathered people, without kings.

The tablets from the authorized excavations at Emar were only published in the mid-1980s, and their study has barely passed its first phase. Because the author both took part in this early research and maintained a continuing interest in the Bible, he has pursued several separate applications, and this article follows his personal work. There remains much to be done, however, especially to take advantage of the social context offered by Emar. Very soon after the publication of the main Emar volumes, Ben-Barak incorporated Emar into her discussions of women's inheritance, as with Zelophehad's daughters. Hundreds of legal documents from private households can be identified with Emar, whether or not from the authorized excavations. These offer a rich and varied portrait of family affairs in Late Bronze Syria, as a backdrop to the portrayal of family life and law in the Bible.

A second category of broad comparison that has not yet attracted attention is political. In broad terms, the Bible presents Israel as a people that maintained a political identity for some long period without having a king. Emar represents a very different setting in that its political identity is defined by the town and whatever surrounding population depends on it. Nevertheless, the combination of evidence from Late Bronze Emar itself and about Emar (written Imar) in the Middle Bronze archives of *Mari suggests that a strong monarchy only emerged in the 13th century. Kings may have existed during earlier periods, but their leadership was always balanced by a vigorous collective alternative. During the Middle Bronze Age, this took the form of a council called the tahtamum, known only at Emar and Tuttul. Even at the time of the Late Bronze archives, elders retained important legal and ritual responsibilities. Israel's monarchy also had to build its power in a political environment with long-established traditions for collective governance, in this case rooted in populations spread across a much larger region. Aside from any direct political comparison, the strength of collective political life at Emar gives its public religious celebrations a flavor more like what the Bible portrays for Israel than much Near Eastern public ritual, which tends to revolve around the king.

The most striking specific comparisons between Emar texts and the Bible have to do with religion, and public ritual life in particular. One preoccupation of the biblical Torah is the definition of a collective Jewish religious practice by reference to Israel in its life before kings, before Jerusalem and its temple, even before settlement in the land. This religious practice includes a major public component, with the ark and its tent shrine, priests for all Israel, and festivals to be celebrated in the name of Israel.

Although Emar religion belongs to a Late Bronze Age town, far to Israel's north, the cultural framework has points in common with Israel, beyond the collective political traditions. Most telling is the foundation of a shared temple architecture. In broad Near Eastern terms, the temples of Syria-Palestine, drawn north-south to include what become the lands of Israel and Judah, stand out from many other types. Even in the central cities of significant states, Syrian temples are most often constructed along one axis, with a doorway that opens directly onto the main sanctuary room. Four Emar temples, including the sacred room of the diviner's building M1, share this form. The only descriptions of temple form in the Bible apply to Solomon's structure at Jerusalem and the mobile tent of *Exodus. Both of these share the simple axial layout of the regional type. Together with these simple sanctuary forms we find a lack of large temple-based communities, in contrast to the major sacred centers of the southern Mesopotamian cities, for one. Only a small number of priests enter the temple, and it is rare that the temple serves as the home for sacred personnel. At Emar, it is possible that only the storm god's (nin. dingir) priestess and perhaps the neighboring mash'artu priestess of Ashtartu lived in the temples they served.

The most provocative comparisons between Emar and biblical religion relate to ritual procedure. Two clusters merit special attention, one related to the calendrical structure of festivals and the other to the technique of anointing. Both clusters are embedded in the public ritual life of the people on both sides of the comparison. On the biblical side, the closest comparisons appear in the priestly lore of the Torah. Although the finished versions of this lore may date to the exile of Judah or later, the similarities to Emar practice suggest that these traits do not derive from external contacts unique to such late times. They appear to be deeply indigenous, never borrowed, arising and developing in the local setting.

Three of Emar's all-town festivals are constructed around seven-day blocks, like the Bible's seven-day festivals of Pesah/Massot (Passover/Unleavened Bread) and Sukkot (Booths). Two of the Emar events are the installation rites for the priestesses of the storm god and Ashtartu, which were evidently performed after the death of the previous officeholder. Only one was celebrated according to the annual calendar, and the similarities are striking. Emar's zukru festival was focused on the full moon of the first month, with a seven-day period of feasting to follow. Emar counted the new year from the fall. At least once, a special version took place in the seventh year, and this event was by far the most expensive rite recorded in the archive. The zukru was an all-town festival during which the whole population brought all the gods outside the walls to pay special honor to Dagan as head of Emar's pantheon. The word zukru is West Semitic, not Akkadian, and probably represents an act defined by speech, a prayer or oath that renewed devotion to Dagan in this leading role.

Emar's zukru has more in common with the major calendar festivals than does any one rite found at Ugarit. Pesah/Massot and Sukkot are celebrated at the two axes of the ancient year, in spring and fall, and in the Holiness Code and Priestly versions of Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28–29, both incorporate a seven-day block and are focused on the full moon. The autumn new year at Emar matches the timing of Sukkot, in particular. Although this feast came to give came to give pride of place to the spring event in later tradition, the importance of the autumn equinox is visible in several aspects of the biblical calendar. In spite of the count of numbered months from the spring in priestly writing and the eventual borrowing of the Babylonian calendar with its spring new year, Exodus 23:16 and 34:22 indicate a turn of the year in the fall. This tradition is preserved in Rosh Hashanah, celebrated at the new moon of the first autumn month. A late note at the end of Deuteronomy preserves the most striking comparison with Emar's zukru (31:10–11). Every seventh year, at the feast of Sukkot, the written instruction of Moses was to be read aloud to the assembled population. The calendar is exactly like that of Emar's'special event, and the centrality of speech also offers an impressive continuity. How can we explain these similarities? The contents of each religious tradition are surely distinct. Deuteronomy's choice of this timing for such a major rite must, however, reflect ancient practices in Israel or Judah, even if they are transformed here to fit the notion of a Mosaic text. Somehow, the zukru at Emar belongs to a stream of ritual custom in which the biblical festivals participate at a later date. Where the calendar of biblical ritual corresponds with that of Emar's zukru, it is unlikely that the biblical timing was first created or borrowed at the date of textual composition, even if that may finally be exilic or later. The priestly calendar for the spring and fall festivals, along with the fall rite of Deuteronomy 31, appear to be much older than the texts in which they are embedded.

Aside from the calendar, Emar's festival accounts resemble the Torah instructions for Israel in at least one more important respect. They share an emphasis on the assembly of the people, without differentiation, and without leadership by any special individual, whether priest or king. In the Bible, Moses and Aaron have leading ritual roles, depending on the context, but the spring and fall festivals never specify the role of a priest, even in the Holiness and Priestly versions of Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28–29. All the accounts of Israel's primary festivals emphasize the gathering of the populace. At Emar, the most striking comparison again is found in the zukru, "given" by "the sons of the land of Emar" together and with feasting by "the people" as a whole. The feasting takes place outside the city walls, where all the gods of the town have gathered to witness Dagan's procession between sacred stones. Although the king's financial commitment to the festival is impressive, no ritual role is attributed to him. Likewise, the diviner is absent. Only the gods have individual roles, and we are never told who moves them or manipulates their statues. What is important is the participation of all the people and all their gods, the human and divine population of Emar. The same full participation characterizes the ideal of the Torah festivals.

The continuities between the worlds of Emar and of the Bible have more to do with the structures of their societies. At the same time, the ritual calendar and emphasis on the collective at the ritual expense of the king, for example, are not universal Near Eastern traits. Somehow, both Ugarit and Emar show different expressions of a cultural kinship that reached north and south along the Mediterranean and inland. The overlapping preoccupations of Torah instruction and the Emar ritual texts allow glimpses of this common cultural foundation beneath the superstructures of their separate developments. These glimpses warn us neither to treat the Bible and its religion as a world unto itself nor to explain points of similarity by the notion of borrowing, especially by contacts with conquering Mesopotamian powers. Rather, these similarities are hints of a massive commonality, from which the distinct features of particular peoples developed. The commonality itself is not uniform across the ancient world, and the north-south axis is striking, even as lines of distinction will not often be sharp. Emar, like Ugarit and other Syrian sites with cuneiform archives from the Bronze Age, suggests a depth to the cultural traditions embedded in the Bible that is too easily neglected. Evaluation of the stories and the events they describe is a problem that requires other comparative evidence.

bibliography:

M. Adamthwaite, Late Hittite Emar (2001); D. Arnaud, Recherches au pays d'Astata, Emar vi. 14 (1985–87); idem, Textes syriens de l'âge du Bronze Recent (1991); G. Beckman, Texts from the Vicinity of Emar in the Collection of Jonathan Rose. 1996; Z. Ben-Barak, in, M. Heltzer and E. Lipinski (ed.), Society and Economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c. 15001000 b.c.) (1988), 87–97; D. Beyer, Emar iv. Les sceau. (2001); M. Chavalas, (ed.). Emar: The History, Religion, and Culture of a Syrian Town in the Late Bronze Age (1996); U. Finkbeiner, et al. in: Baghdader Mitteilungen, 32 (2001) 41–110; ibid, 33 (2002), 109–46; ibid, 34 (2003) 9–100; D. Fleming, The Installation of Baal's High Priestess at Emar (1992); idem, in, Ugarit-Forschungen 24 (1992) 59–71; idem, in, rb 106 (1999) 8–35; 161–74; idem; Time at Emar (2000); J.-C. Margueron, (ed.), Le Moyen-Euphrate (1980); Articles by Arnaud, Laroche, and Margueron; idem, in, ba, 58 (1995) 126–38; E. Pentiuc, West Semitic Vocabulary in the Akkadian Texts from Emar (2001); R. Pruzsinszky, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Emar (2003); S. Stephano, L'accadico di Emar. (1998); A. Tsukimoto, in, Acta Sumerologica, 12 (1990) 177–259; (ii), 13 (1991) 275–333; (iii) 14 (1992) 311–15; (iv) 16 (1994) 231–36; J. Westenholz, Cuneiform Inscriptions in the Collection of the Bible Lands Museum: The Emar Tablets (2000).

[Daniel Fleming (2nd ed.)]

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