Up until the discovery of the Ebla tablets from Syria, the scholarly estimate of Palestine was that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing was unknown at that time.  These scholars championed the principles of the Documentary Hypothesis which holds that the Pentateuch was put together by some unknown redactor at the time of Solomon in about 900 B.C., and that what the redactor wrote was largely or completely fiction.  However, after the discovery of the 20,000 plus clay tablets at Ebla, dated from 2500 to 2250 B.C., that scholarly opinion must be dramatically refashioned.

The Ebla tablets have been studied and reported by Giovanni Pettinato in multiple articles and also in two books.  Pettinato says that the Ebla archives reveal that Ebla was an ancient city of great influence and it was the "...center of commerce involving the entire Fertile Crescent."  He adds that the southern range of Ebla's influence "...extended to the coastal cities of Lebanon and southern Palestine."  Pettinato names Ashdod, Jaffa, Akko, Sidon, Beirut, and Alalakh as well as Megiddo, Homs and Hama inland.1  He points out that many of the clay tablets in Ebla reveal an academy at Ebla similar to and perhaps even earlier that those learning centers in Ur and other Sumerian sites.2  He makes this astounding statement:

Ebla became a cultural center of such importance that it attracted foreign teachers and students and established a veritable educational magnet in the Fertile Crescent.  Hence it is not surprising to learn that an international symposia took place there about 2500 B.C.; indeed, two manuals were written on one such occasion.  Nor is it surprising that at Elba there was a visiting professor of algebraic mathematics from the Sumerian city of Kish.3

Therefore, there is no objective evidence that Palestine was composed of just a few nomadic people with no skills at reading and writing.  Rather, we find amazing evidence to the contrary.

Pettinato has thoroughly categorized the clay tablets.  Most of these are economic in nature, but reveal also much about their elected governmental king, culture and society.  Commerce was a large part of their everyday life.4  They were a very religious people serving a pantheon of about 500 gods with many expensive sacrifices.  Some of these gods were even those from other nations, thus displaying syncretism.  As with others who practice similar religions, child sacrifice was also practiced.5

Overall, this is a stunning picture.  This ancient city had so much influence, commerce, and education, but was hidden by the sands of time.  Of course, the Ebla discovery completely changes so many things.  Some Scholars like Pettinato even say that the date when writing started must be changed--perhaps pushed back even into the 4th millennium B.C..  Clearly we already know that writing flourished in the 3rd millennium B.C. in Ebla.  These facts must dramatically change our ideas about the world of the biblical patriarchs.  We must realize that reading and writing were practiced 1000 years before Moses in both Palestine and Egypt.  We must realize that Abraham was clearly within the influence of advanced cultures who taught reading, writing and culure in Ur, Haran, and Palestine.  We must realize that the knowledge taught at Elba is far more advanced that what we previously considered.

  1. Pettinato, G. Ebla: A New Look at History, translated by C. Faith Richardson. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, ©1991 (translated from a text that was copyrighted 1986), p 113.
  2. Pettinato, G. Ebla: A New Look at History, ibid., p 89.
  3. Pettinato, G. Ebla: A New Look at History, ibid., p 90.
  4. Pettinato, G. The Archives of Ebla: An Empire Inscribed in Clay. Doubleday & Company, ©1981, pp 67-239.
  5. Pettinato, G. The Archives of Ebla: An Empire Inscribed in Clay, ibid., pp 243-262.