Aspects of Religious Life at Ancient Mari as seen through a Study of Archives Royales de Mari 21

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Mary arose in as a Russian military-administrative center c. A Mesopotamian centre of the 3rd millennium BCE. Important documentary finds at Mari have added extensively to our understanding of the organization of early Israelite society, including indications of functionaries resembling prophets. Mari, city, Turkmenistan: see Mary. MARI , one of the principal centers of Mesopotamia during the third and early second millennia b. The archaeological and epigraphical discoveries there are of prime significance for the history of Mesopotamia and Upper Syria.

The Akkadian-language documents from Mari date from the Old Babylonian period and are thus centuries earlier than those of the Hebrew Bible. However, the residents of Mari were western Semites, ultimately related to the Israelites and Arameans who first surface in the late second millennium but who are best known from the first.

It was in an optimal position for contacts with the West and its location on the river artery, yet immediately adjacent to the desert, was decisive in the shaping of its fortune and character. The French excavations at Mari were instituted in under the direction of A. Parrot and exploration continued as regularly as the international situation allowed. The archaeological evidence indicates that Mari was founded in the fourth millennium b. In the latter three, there came to light many inscribed statues of local kings such as Lamgi-Mari, Iku-Shamagan, and Iblul-Il , lesser royalty, and courtiers.

Although Sumerian culture was predominant, the character of the cultic installations, the appearance of bearded figures in art, and especially the occurrence of particular divine and private names are all clearly indicative of a basic Semitic element from earliest times, with Semitic rule there centuries before the rise of Akkad.

Since , the excavations have revealed two superimposed palaces from pre-Sargonic times, most impressive in themselves, including a royal chapel with an earthen altar cf. Within the palace complex, a jar came to light containing a "treasure" including a lapis lazuli bead with a votive inscription mentioning Mesannepada, founder of the First Dynasty at Ur.

This indicates a close contact between Mari and Ur at an early date, as do other finds from Mari, such as shell inlays essentially identical with those of the "Ur Standard" war panel. The pre-Sargonic palace was destroyed either by Eannatum of Lagash mid th century b. After Sargon's conquest, in the second half of the 24 th century b.

In the final two centuries of the third millennium b. Indeed, a ruler of Mari is known to have given his daughter in marriage to a son of Ur-Namma, king of Ur. The pre-eminence of Mari throughout the third millennium b. At the close of the third millennium.


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After an obscure period of two centuries from which several economic texts and 32 inscribed liver models are known , Mari reached its final period of glory in the 18 th century under West Semitic rule. This latter was quashed by Hammurapi, king of Babylon, and Mari never regained its former position.

In the 13 th century, Tukulti-Ninurta I conquered the meager settlement there and stationed a garrison in the city for a short time. The uppermost layer on the site dates to the Seleucid-Roman period. In the second half of the second millennium b. The land of Mari appears in the neo-Assyrian geographical treatise describing Sargon's Akkadian empire on the basis of which W.

Finally, Mari is mentioned in a Greek itinerary, in the Aramaic form Merrhan. The main discoveries at Mari are from the period of its domination by the West Semitic dynasties, in the last quarter of the 19 th century and the first half of the 18 th century b. The outstanding architectural discovery from this period, however, is the royal palace — a structure of unparalleled magnificence and widespread fame in its time.

This residence, enlarged successively by each of the West Semitic rulers at Mari, reached its zenith under Zimri-Lim, with an area of about eight acres and including over chambers, corridors, and courts. Besides the private quarters for the royal family and entourage, there are administrative offices, a scribal school, quarters for visiting dignitaries, a royal chapel, a throne room, and a reception chamber. Service areas included guard quarters, workshops, and storerooms. Special elegance was provided in several halls and courts by multicolored frescoes depicting chiefly ritual and mythological scenes, including an investiture of a king Zimri-Lim?

This ceremony takes place in an idealized garden, its trees guarded by "cherubim" and symbolically watered by four streams flowing from a single source — all reminiscent of the biblical Paradise story. Many of the figures in these murals are depicted as typical West Semites. The discovery of greatest impact on historical and biblical research comprises the more than 20, cuneiform tablets from the several archives in the palace there was no library , written in the Babylonian language see below.

The original discovery has been supplemented since by fragments of a few thousand documents discovered by Margueron's excavations. The earliest publication of the documents was begun by the Assyriologists G. Dossin dean of the Mari epigraphers , M. Birot, J. Burke, A. Finet, J. Kupper, and the late G. Boyer and Ch.

Jean, mostly in the series Archives royales de Mari arm. In the early years, the texts appeared in two parallel series, not necessarily at the same time: one containing cuneiform copies, and the other with transliterations, French translations, brief notes, and some form of commentary or glossary. Thanks to computer printing technology, the more recent publications often include hand copies and high-quality photographs alongside texts. The texts published so far through arm 29 have shed much light on the administrative, economic, cultural, and political facets mainly of Upper Mesopotamia and Upper Syria in the 18 th century b.

The archives were found to be distinguished according to subject. The political-diplomatic archives include correspondence between the king of Mari and his agents, both at the palace and abroad, as well as with foreign potentates. They provide the earliest insight into the complexities of "suzerainvassal" relationships, diplomatic protocol, and the fluctuating alliances and plots rampant in the Ancient Near East.

A noteworthy class of letters is the unusually extensive women's correspondence published, in arm, 10, revealing the prominent role of women in activities of the realm. The outstanding case is that of Shibtu, Zimri-Lim's queen chief wife , who enjoyed the king's utter confidence, representing his interests during his absence from the city and exercising considerable influence in her own right. The majority of documents are economic or administrative in nature, dealing with the maintenance of the palace, official trade abroad, lists of goods, and rosters of persons in royal employ such as a list of nearly 1, captives [?

Of a unique category are the some 1, tablets containing lists of daily provisions for the palace, often summarized by month. Though dealing only with "vegetarian" foodstuffs and beverages, they shed light on Solomon's "provisions for one day" and possibly also his monthly quantities cf. The royal table at Mari, known to have entertained hundreds of guests on occasion, was served by spacious kitchens — in one of which were found numerous molds for preparing fancy cakes some bearing animal and goddess motifs cf.

Dozens of legal tablets were also found, mostly contracts concerning transactions and loans of silver or grain arm, 8 , revealing that the palace served as a sort of exchange. Of exceptional interest is an adoption contract which ensured the "primogeniture" of the "eldest" i. The very few literary and religious compositions found at Mari include a lengthy Ishtar ritual in Babylonian, as well as six texts in Hurrian. That Hurrian was used occasionally in diplomatic correspondence is known from the only other tablet at Mari in that language, a letter written to Zimri-Lim.

The origins of the West Semitic, or "Amorite," dynasties are shrouded in darkness, though there are clues pointing to North Syria for the local line at Mari. Thus, the theophoric name element- Lim perhaps derived from the word for "folk," "people"; cf. It is also present in the name of Yashi-Lim, ruler of Tuttul probably the one at the mouth of the Balikh River , and Ibbit-Lim, ruler of Ebla probably Tell Mardikh , both several generations earlier than the above. And, indeed, the site of ancestor worship for both the local and the "Assyrian" dynasties at Mari lay at Terqa, around 44 mi.

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Hence, the immediate origin of the West Semitic rulers at Mari would appear to be in the Terqa region. The other text, the Foundation Inscription of the Shamash temple, is a splendid literary composition relating his campaign to the Mediterranean coast and the "Cedar and Boxwood Mountain," where he obtained several types of choice wood, "and made known his might. Thirty-five economic texts published in are dated by two year-formulas for one Sumu-Yamam, an obscure character who ruled at Mari either before or after Yahdun-Lim.

Also elusive is his kinship — whether to the local dynasty or otherwise — for the few other references to him, such as in a "letter to a god" arm, 1, 3 , are inconclusive. Altogether, Assyrian control of Mari lasted some 20 years. Yarim-Lim, who had become Zimri-Lim's father-in-law, was most instrumental in restoring him to the throne of Mari.

Gender and Religious Leadership Roles.

Thirty-two year-formulas are known for Zimri-Lim's reign — though many of them may have been alternate designations for the same year, for chronologically he cannot have ruled for so long a period. Zimri-Lim's reign, during the tumultous interval between Assyria's decline and the rise of the empire of Hammurapi, marks Mari at its apogee.

It is this period which is best represented by the archives found at Mari which provide a thorough insight into the organization of the kingdom. Interestingly, several of Zimri-Lim's letters have been found in the royal archives at Tell el-Rimah between the Upper Khabur and the Tigris , probably to be identified with the city of Karana, mentioned in the Mari correspondence. Mari had become a principal political force in Mesopotamia, alongside Babylon, Larsa, Eshnunna, Qat na, and Yamhad as is known from a contemporary political report.

Relying heavily on his diplomatic cunning, Zimri-Lim developed an elaborate intelligence system — within his sphere of influence and beyond it. Indeed, tolls from caravan and riverine trade were one of Zimri-Lim's principal sources of income. This golden age at Mari came to an abrupt end, however, when Hammurapi turned on his formerally and conquered the city in his 32 nd year, during the consolidation of his empire in b. Two years later he ordered the razing of the city to the ground.

Mari was bound closely with the lands to the west — Syria, and even northern Palestine — in economy, politics, culture, religion, and ethnic background. The region farther southwest is only sparingly mentioned in the Mari archives, but references are found to Byblos on the Phoenician coast and the land of Amurru in southern Syria the Apum of the Mari texts is most probably only that in the Khabur region, and not the one around Damascus, known from the contemporary Egyptian Execration Texts and various later sources.

In northern Palestine, Hazor is noted several times in the Mari archives as the destination of diplomatic and economic emissaries. In an economic document, Aleppo, Qatna, and Ugarit are listed, alongside Hazor "Ibni-Adad, king of Hazor" and Laish "Waritaldu at Laish," the later Dan north of Hazor , as destinations of large consignments of tin, a commodity of major importance among the exports to the west it being alloyed with copper to produce bronze.

On the other side of the ledger, Mari imported from the west horses and fine woods from the Qatna region , various precious vessels of Syrian and "Cretan" style, Cypriot copper, fabrics, and garments especially from Aleppo and Byblos , and large quantities of foodstuffs, such as honey, wine, and olive oil. The Mari documents bear indirectly upon Israelite history geographically; the "patriarchal homeland" Aram-Naharaim, so called at a later date lay within Mari's horizons; ethniclinguistically, the Hebrews were of the same West Semitic or Amorite stock as that strongly manifest at Mari see above ; and sociologically, for the descriptions of tribalism comprise the most extensive insight into the nomadic and settled phases of the Israelite tribes.

Alongside the West Semitic peoples in this region was a considerable Hurrian element note the typically Hurrian name of King Adalshenni, who at one time gained control over Nahor , which may well have left an imprint upon the initial ethnic and cultural composition of the Hebrews. The picture revealed in the Mari archives, of far-reaching tribal migrations such as those of Yaminite groups and caravan conditions between the Euphrates region and Syria-Northern Palestine, provides an analogy for the biblical narratives of the patriarchal wanderings between Aram-Naharaim and Canaan.

Many of the hundreds of proper names known from the Mari texts are paralleled in the Bible, especially in the patriarchal narratives and the Exodus-Conquest cycle, which demonstrate a strong archaizing tendency. At Mari, where Yahweh was unknown, these names occur often with other the ophoric god-bearing components; e. Thus, the tribal designation at Mari, dumu. The West Semitic imprint on the standard Old Babylonian ob dialect of the Akkadian language in use at Mari is evident to a certain extent in phonology, morphology, syntax, and, especially, vocabulary.

The lack of terms in OB for certain specific features in the society and way of life of the population of the Mari region necessitated the frequent adoption of West Semitic expressions in the shape of either Akkadian words employed in new, West Semitic connotations or out-and-out loanwords from the West Semitic — words well represented in biblical Hebrew often in exalted language, as also at Mari. Besides the linguistic yield, a comparative study of the West Semitic loanwords at Mari and their Hebrew cognates may broadly illuminate the nature of the societies involved.

Thus, a list of such lexical items would include the following:. A series of West Semitic terms is also found for tribal organization and institutions see below, Nos. The Mari archives provide the most abundant and fruitful source material concerning West Semitic tribes of any Ancient Near Eastern source — shedding invaluable light on Israelite tribal society, its structure and organization, as well as its institutions.

The wide range of the tribes mentioned at Mari — from fully nomadic to fully sedentary — and their confrontation with the indigenous population, bear directly upon an understanding of the gradual process of the Israelite settlement in Canaan and their ensuing relationship with its inhabitants. The former were concentrated principally along the Middle Euphrates and comprised an appreciable segment of the general population and of the army of Mari. The Yaminites were in general less settled and posed the greater threat in this period, both to the rest of the population and to the authorities.

Little mention is made in the Mari archives of the dumu. The tribal society depicted in the Mari archives is essentially dimorphic, i. Tribal groups would sometimes undergo a gradual process of sedentation, splitting into partly settled and partly nomadic factions cf. The Mari archives indicate that tribal leadership was in the hands of family heads cf.

At the head of the tribal hierarchy stood the "kings" Akk. The convergence of the West Semitic tribes at Mari with urban Mesopotamia involved a dual process of friction and strife alongside symbiosis and mutual adaptation; this interaction between a tribal heritage and an established civilization was characteristic also of the settlement of Israelite tribes in Canaan. In Mari, this was especially evident at the court, where despite the process of assimilation of Sumero-Akkadian civilization, much of tribal tradition was still preserved.

May my lord drive in a wagon and mules [i.

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This same distinction is found, too, at the early Israelite court, though there the mule was ridden ii Sam. Tribal heritage from the nomadic phase did persist in spite of the curbs of sedentation and acquiescence to royal administration of Mari. Tribal customs and institutions, legal, military, and political procedures, and ritual or religious practices all find expression in the Mari texts.

These traditions, largely unknown outside Mari, serve to illuminate early Israelite practices. Here are some of the major points. I caused 'the foal, the young of a she-ass' cf.

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The Bible mentions a parallel ceremony, involving the cutting in two of young animals cf. In all these ceremonies, the common denominator is the ritual sacrifice of young and tender animals. The Mari authorities used to take periodic censuses of the tribes, both nomadic and settled. The purpose of the census seems to have been military conscription, taxation, and land distribution, although at least originally it was accompanied by a ritual of purification, similar to that associated with the census of the Israelites in the wilderness which involved a tax, the payment of which was regarded as a ritual expiation, Heb.

The patrimony could not, theoretically, be transferred other than by inheritance, and, therefore, various means were contrived to circumvent this rule. The Israelites upheld a similar custom, where the patrimony was considered an inalienable possession, "the Israelites must remain bound each to the ancestral portion of his tribe" Num. The "Judge. The closest parallel between Mari and the biblical practice is in the imposition of the ban on spoils of war cf. However, whereas the biblical ban functioned on a purely religious plane whatever was banned was exclusively God's , the taboo at Mari was applicable also on a human level, and its infringement there, though theoretically still considered a capital offense, was expiated by payment of a simple fine.

A direct parallel occurs in one Mari text, where the king of Qatna swears "by the name of the god of my father" arm, 5, ; and cf. It is significant for the biblical comparison that both instances are in the west, as are all other references to such a deity outside Mari — in the slightly older Assyrian tablets from Cappadocia, the later texts from Ugarit in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Hurrian , and, again at Qatna, in temple inventories and in an Amarna letter sent from there.

One phenomenon at Mari that has drawn the attention of biblicists is that of apostolic prophecy, in which individuals, male and female, deliver messages, often unsolicited, in the name of a god. Before the discovery of Mari the Hebrew phenomenon of apostolic prophecy had tended to be viewed in isolation, and often treated as a unique phenomenon. At Mari we can distinguish between the intuitive manticism of the apostolic prophet, and the mechanical manticism of the diviner who examines the entrails of animals, primarily sheep livers, for divine messages and decisions.

His learned arts are considered authoritative, as shown by the fact that he is regularly called upon to authenticate the message of the prophet, often an ecstatic. The Mari prophets are often professionals, but sometimes ordinary people. All the male and female divinities in whose name prophecies are delivered are high gods.

Some of the goddesses, Belet-Ekallim; Anunitum, and Diritum, are manifestations of Ishtar, worshipped in Mari and its surroundings. Dagan is the god to whom the most prophecies 16 are attributed, followed by Hadad 7. Among the goddesses the most frequent is Anunitum. In most instances the prophets spoke their words in those temples to which they were connected. This suggests that these prophets routinely prophesied in their temples, and that only a small number of their prophecies have reached us. Add to Cart. Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online. Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token. Have Institutional Access? Forgot your password? PDF Preview. Table of Contents. Related Content. Authors: Mark Smith and Wayne Pitard. It includes a new edition of the tablets, supplemented by a DVD-ROM with 92 images and superimposible drawings, a comprehensive introduction, new translation and vocalized text, and detailed commentary. The authors develop an interpretation of the episode which places it into the larger context of the Baal Cycle as a whole.

Mesopotamian Chronicles. Author: Jean-Jacques Glassner. Editor: Benjamin Foster. The volume, which incorporates revisions and additions by the author and a transcription of the cuneiform, includes every example of Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian historiographic literature, and magisterial essays on the genre and on Mesopotamian historiography in general.