Excavations in the mid-1970s at the Syrian site of Meskene (ancient Emar), located at the great bend of the Euphrates River, yielded some eight hundred cuneiform tablets and fragments. Internal evidence shows that the texts date from the end of the fourteenth to the beginning of the twelfth century BCE.
Four languages are represented in the cuneiform script at Meskene. A few texts are Hittite, including a royal letter (there are also seals with hieroglyphic Luwian legends). Several Hurrian texts were also found. Neither the Hittite nor the Hurrian texts have as yet received full publication. Most of the texts are Akkadian and Sumerian and have been published in copy, transliteration, and translation in four large volumes (Arnaud, 1985–1987).
A wide range of genres is represented in the Sumero-Akkadian tablets. There are roughly 150 economic texts (records of deliveries, inventories, lists of sacrifices, lists of personnel, memoranda); 200 contracts (adoptions; antichretic contracts; debt payments; guarantees; inheritance divisions; lawsuits; loans; property exchanges; purchases of fields, houses, orchards, and slaves; ransoms; sales of children, houses, orchards, and slaves; verdicts; wills); and about twenty letters (between nonroyal persons). These texts reveal many details about everyday life in Late Bronze Emar. Texts recording purchases and sales of real estate are normally provided with specific references to the location of the property in question, including mention of the property on all sides; tabulation of this information might well yield a detailed layout of at least some parts of the town.
Many Mesopotamian canonical texts were also discovered at Emar. There are, for example, more than sixty lexical texts and more than one hundred omen texts, in both cases reflecting many of the canonical series; also represented are incantations and rituals. Literary texts are few in number, but include fragments of Gilgamesh (tablets 4 and 6) and of The Tamarisk and the Date Palm. A significant discovery was a wisdom text also known from Ugarit and from Ḫattus̆a but not yet found in Mesopotamia.
Certainly the most unexpected texts unearthed at Meskene are the roughly two hundred tablets and fragments that describe otherwise unknown festivals and rituals, shedding much new light on Late Bronze Syrian religious practices. The festival texts include lengthy descriptions of the installation ceremonies of the priestess of the storm god and a priestess called a maš'artu, and of festivals called kissu (“throne”?) and zukru (“commemoration”?); the level of detail presented in these documents is quite unprecedented. Other types of local religious texts are annual and monthly liturgies, offering lists, and rituals for Anatolian deities (Fleming, 1992).
Besides the texts edited in Arnaud (1985–1987), several hundred tablets from the immediate vicinity of Emar have also been published in the last decade (see, e.g., Arnaud, 1987, 1991; Beckman, 1988; Dalley and Teissier, 1992; Huehnergard, 1983; Tsukimoto, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992). The majority of these are economic and legal texts.
The Akkadian texts that were not copied from Mesopotamian originals betray in their grammar the fact that they were written by scribes whose native language was not Akkadian. Like contemporary Akkadian texts from Ugarit, Alalakh, and el-Amarna, these texts frequently betray elements of the scribes' own tongues. The most obvious of these elements are the large number of unusual words found in the Emar texts, some of which, at least, appear to derive from a Northwest Semitic language. In the legal and economic texts and in the letters, too, most of the names of the local Emarites are Northwest Semitic.
- Arnaud, Daniel. “Les textes d'Emar et la chronologie de la fin du Bronze récent.” Syria 52 (1975): 87–92. On dating the Meskene text finds.
- Arnaud, Daniel. Emar VI. 4 vols. Paris, 1985–1987. Official publication of the tablets found during the French excavations in the 1970s.
- Arnaud, Daniel. “La Syrie du moyen- Euphrate sous le protectoral hittite: Contrats de droit privé.” Aula Orientalis 5 (1987): 211–241. An edition of seventeen texts.
- Arnaud, Daniel. Textes syriens de l'âge du Bronze récent. Aula Orientalis Supplementa, 1. Barcelona, 1991. An edition of 197 texts.
- Beckman, Gary. “Three Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40 (1988): 61–68.
- Dalley, Stephanie, and Beatrice Teissier. “Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar and Elsewhere.” Iraq 54 (1992): 83–111.
- Fleming, Daniel. The Installation of Baal's High Priestess at Emar: A Window on Ancient Syrian Religion. Harvard Semitic Studies, 42. Atlanta, 1992. In-depth study of one of the longest local festival texts and a discussion of its cultural context.
- Huehnergard, John. “Five Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar.” Revue d'Assyriologie 77 (1983): 11–43. Five texts and a summary of the grammatical features of Emar Akkadian.
- Tsukimoto, Akio. “Sieben spätbronzezeitliche Urkunden aus Syrien.” Acta Sumerologica Japan 10 (1988): 153–189. Publication of texts from Emar and vicinity.
- Tsukimoto, Akio. “Akkadian Tablets in the Hirayama Collection.” Acta Sumerologica Japan 12 (1990): 177–259; 13 (1991): 275–333; 14 (1992): 289–310. Publication of texts from Emar and vicinity.
- Wilcke, Claus. “Die Emar-Version von ‘Dattelpalme und Tamariske’: Ein Rekonstruktionsversuch.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 79 (1989): 161–190. Detailed consideration of one of the Mesopotamian literary texts found at Meskene.