Tell Mardikh is located about 55 km (34 mi) south and slightly west of Aleppo in Syria (Map 6:G3). In antiquity it was called Ebla in cuneiform inscriptions. Naram‐Sin, a conquering king of Mesopotamia in the twenty‐third century BCE, records that he captured and burned Ebla.
The Italian archeologist Paolo Matthiae began work at the site in 1964 because of its size, monumental city walls, and prominent acropolis; in 1974–1975 he discovered about fifteen thousand cuneiform tablets dating from around 2300 BCE. The script is Mesopotamian cuneiform, but the language is, as a rule, Eblaite, a Semitic dialect intermediate between Babylonian and Northwest Semitic (which includes Hebrew). Ebla was a commercial city‐state and cultural center that included a school of learned scribes who trained students in the arts and sciences not only to write the administrative records for the palace and temples but, more generally, to master and transmit a rich tradition. The brief “Age of Ebla” is contemporary with the dynasty of Sargon of Akkad (to which Naram‐Sin belonged) in Mesopotamia and the Old Kingdom in Egypt (hieroglyphic names and titles of Chefren of Dynasty IV and Pepi I of Dynasty VI have been unearthed at Ebla).
From Ebla students were sent abroad to cities like Mari; and scholars, such as a mathematician from the Mesopotamian city of Kish, were also brought to Ebla. Textbooks in various subjects (including bilingual vocabularies, religion, and geography) were used at Ebla in slightly different editions than those used in Mesopotamia.
The Ebla archives have changed our concept of the background of biblical history. It used to be thought that, before the Israelites, Canaan (or Syria‐Palestine) was relatively primitive, with a nomadic, or seminomadic, population. Canaan was thus regarded as a sort of cultural backwash of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Ebla shows that this was not so: the largest library that has come down to us from this period is from Ebla. The Ebla archives show that the culture of the land was urbanized; nomads did exist but were not the controlling factor.
Because the Ebla archives predate Abraham, the high level of Hebrew civilization from its outset is historically explicable: the biblical Hebrews did not go through a “primitive” period in civilization or literature. Rather, they built on the high culture that had long existed in Canaan, when Abraham migrated from Haran to the Promised Land.
Cyrus H. Gordon