American teams digging from 1925 to 1933 found an amazing archaeological discovery. They dug up some 5000 family and administrative archives spanning six generations from around 1450-1350 BC. The tablets were discovered to deal with the social, economic, religious and legal institutions of the Hurrians at a administrative centre in northern Iraq (1). But what is really great about the discovery of the Nuzi tablets is that they testify to the historical nature of our Old Testament. There are several ways in which scholars believe that it achieves this:
- In the story of Abraham, we read that he and his wife, Sarah, were childless. Abraham adopts Eliezer of Damascus to be his heir (Gen. 15:2–3). Later, in Genesis 16:1–4, Sarah gives her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham in order to bear him an heir (Ishmael). When Isaac is later born to Sarah, he becomes the heir in place of Ishmael, even though he is the younger child. The Nuzi tablets, as well as texts from later periods, record similar legal situations.
- When Isaac married Rebekah, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, handled the negotiations but asked her if she consented (Gen. 24:57–58). But when Laban arranged the marriage of his daughters to Jacob (29:15–30), his daughters were not consulted. The same situation is represented in Nuzi contracts: when a brother draws up the marriage contract, the woman is consulted; but if the father draws up the contract, she is not.
- The story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 illustrates the practice of levirate marriage found also in the Nuzi tablets. A widow cannot remarry outside her deceased husband’s family. It is the responsibility of the dead husband’s brother to carry on his brother’s line by marrying the widow.
- In the Joseph story, Joseph’s older brothers are jealous of him because they think that their father, Jacob, will choose him as his heir rather than the oldest brother (Gen. 37). The Nuzi tablets indicate that it was within a father’s right to choose a younger son as the heir. This suggests that Joseph’s brothers’ fears were legitimate.
- In Genesis 31:50, Laban charges Jacob, with God as his witness, not to take any other wives besides his daughters. A similar prohibition is found in numerous Nuzi marriage contracts.
This is undeniably an important bit of information for biblical and ancient historians. Professor Peter Enns explains that “the Nuzi documents are helpful in providing a general historical context in which the stories of Israel’s earliest ancestors would have taken place in which the stories of Israel’s earliest ancestors would have taken place” (2). Likewise Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research explains:
“Nowhere else in the ancient Near East is this kind of reverence for family documents illustrated, except in the Old Testament. Indirectly, the practice at Nuzi supports the position that Genesis and the other books of history in the Old Testament are grounded in actual family, clan and tribal records carefully passed from generation to generation” (3)
1. Wood, B. 2006. Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Nuzi Tablets. Available.
2. Enns, P. 2005. Inspiration and Incarnation. p. 50 (Scribd ebook format).
3. Woods, B. Ibid.