Dating to the second half of the fifteenth century BCE, the Nuzi tablets are some thousands of texts recovered from the Hurrian levels of Yorghan Tepe, situated about 10 mi southwest of modern Kirkuk in Iraq. During this period the site bore the Hurrian name Nuzi, and the entire area was a province of Mitanni. Other sites in the area, such as Kirkuk (ancient Arrapḫa) and Tell al‐Faḫḫār (ancient Kurruḫanni), have also yielded texts of the Nuzi type, all written in the same Akkadian patois, reflecting the native Hurrian background of the scribes. Some of the Nuzi tablets comprised part of the official archives of the palace and include administrative inventories and letters. Others stemmed from private archives of wealthy Nuzi families and include business contracts involving real estate, loans, and servitude; family records of marriage, adoption, and property settlement; and transcripts of litigations and court proceedings.
It is the Hurrian setting of the Nuzi tablets that has attracted the attention of biblical scholars, for the texts, replete with Hurrian personal names and terminology, show certain affinities with biblical customs. The providing of a slave girl to one's husband by a sterile wife, the ranking of heirs and the preferential treatment of the designated eldest, the association of household gods with the disposition of family property, the conditional sale into slavery of freeborn daughters, and the institution of ḫābiru ‐servitude (see Hebrews) were some of the Nuzi customs attributed to Hurrian practice. Growing evidence from Ugarit, Mari, and Alalakh of a substantial Hurrian presence in the ancestral homeland of Aram‐naharaim in the Middle Euphrates region further revealed strong signs of Hurrian influence. On the basis of the Nuzi data, some scholars have dated the ancestral period to the middle of the second millennium BCE.
Reexamination of the Nuzi material in the last twenty‐five years has seriously challenged the validity of some proposed parallels between the Nuzi texts and the Bible and their relevance for dating the period of the ancestors. Furthermore, the uniquely Hurrian character of Nuzi legal traditions can no longer be accepted. Nevertheless, the Nuzi tablets remain a major primary source for the study of Mesopotamian socioeconomic legal practices and thus help to illuminate biblical law, institutions, and customs.
Barry L. Eichler