The Temple and Other Sacred Places in the Ebla Tablets
Mitchell J. Dahood, “The Temple and Other Sacred Places in the Ebla Tablets,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 77–89.
The Mormon dispensation approach to history tends to reverse some evolutionary accounts of the development of the temple idea: the building of altars, the offering of sacrifice, the sanctuary-sense, and the conviction of both sacred space and sacred time all predate in some form, on the Mormon view, the biblical record. Furthermore, the intertwining of the temple idea with the types and shadows of messianic expectation predates, in Mormon understanding, the Mosaic period. The discovery of tablets by the thousands in Upper Syria which can be dated at least a thousand years earlier than Moses holds a significance, therefore, of first importance. Though the records are mainly of commercial transactions, they are fingerprinted, so to speak, with religious and social and cult practices of the time. Mitchell Dahood’s skill in Northwest Semitic languages is demonstrated here with examples of sacred names, cult practices, and beliefs which clearly reflect ancient pre-Israelite temple construction and traditions of sacrifice and ceremonial enactment. Not all of Dahood’s linguistic connections and derivations are presently verifiable, but the foundations of further study are here apparent.
T. G. M.
The texts of the state archives of Ebla, being primarily administrative and economic documents, do not specifically deal with the city’s religious life. Nevertheless, one can glean information of great value concerning the religion of Ebla around 2,500 BC from a number of particular tablets of the Hall of Archives L. 2769, and also from the documents taken all together. A good idea of the popular religious feeling can be gained from the thousands of personal and place names representing the seventy years or so covered by the tablets. When they are eventually published, the literary texts which have been identified thus far will also afford insight into the religious sentiments of the educated people at Ebla. Clear light on the official religion and the daily cult comes from the four tablets published in 1979 by G. Pettinato in a study entitled Culto ufficiale ad Ebla durante il regno di lbbi-Sipish (=Oriens Antiquus XVIII : 85–215, with twelve photographs). These four tablets list offerings of sheep made to various deities by the king and members of the royal family during the different months of the year. Since these tablets indicate where these offerings were presented, one can get a good idea of the sacred edifices at Ebla, and Pettinato’s index of “houses, edifices” (page 215b) distinguishes eight different locales where sacrifices were offered or rites performed.
Inasmuch as the archaeologists have unearthed no sacred buildings from the same period as the tablets, we must thank the tablets themselves for the information that many temples existed at Ebla dedicated to individual gods and goddesses. There were also chapels in the administrative buildings. The following discussion limits itself mainly to the four cultic texts mentioned above, and aims to develop some of the points touched upon by Pettinato in his monograph, and especially pages 113–16, which are dedicated to “Luoghi di culto.”
The ordinary term for “temple” is always written in Sumerian as é d i n g i r, “house of the god.” But how was it read in Semitic Eblaite? In the bilingual lexical lists, the Sumerian é is left untranslated since the scribes assumed that the Eblaite equivalent was too well known to be spelled out. In 1977 G. Pettinato and I jointly published a short article entitled “Ugaritic ršp gn and Eblaite rasap gunu(m)KI”  in which we used Eblaite é-dra-sa-ap gú-nuKI” to supply the missing vowels of Ugar. bt ršp gn, “the temple of Resheph of Gunu.” In our discussions I argued that Ugar. bt, the counterpart of Sum. é, warranted the translation of Sumerian é in our text as Eblaite bēt; but Pettinato refused to concede this because é does not appear translated in the Sumerian-Eblaite bilinguals. Though I insisted that he was being too pernickety, he would not allow the purported Semitic equivalent bēt to appear in the article. This difference of opinion doubtless stems from differing conceptions of the linguistic relationship existing between Eblaite and the other Semitic languages. Though theoretically classifying Eblaite as Paleo-Canaanite, Pettinato is not disposed to treat it as Ugaritically and Hebraically as I would prefer.
The plural form é-é d i n g i r – d i n g i r, “the temples of the gods,” occurs in TM.75.G.1764 rev. I 18–19; 2075 obv. IX 15–17; 2238 rev. IV 1–2, and seems to imply that each of the deities receiving cultic offerings has his or her own temple. Some of these tablets, however, explicitly state that the worship of one god sometimes took place in a temple dedicated to another divinity. Thus according to TM.75.G.2238 obv. I 10–16, the god Hadda received offerings from the king in the temple dedicated to the god Kura: “two sheep for the god Hadda on the part of the king as a good-will offering (nidba) in the temple of Kura during the feast of the ingathering (‘à-s-pú).”
This raises a question concerning the identification of the god Qura. Pettinato writes, “Kura, un dio molto venerato ad Ebla, dal carattere a me oscuro, è presente in tutti e quattro i testi ripetute volte.”  An insight into this god’s character may be afforded by TM.75.G.2238 rev. II 26’-III 2, 10: 1 á—3 u d u š h u—d u8-mash tug:du8 e dk[u-ra], “Seven sheep as ‘tax’ of the ropemaker to the temple of Qura.” That a ropemaker should specifically be obligated to furnish sheep for sacrifice in the temple of this deity suggests comparison with the root qwr, “to twist”, preserved in Arabic as qawrun, “a kind of rope,” and in Isaiah 59:5, wequre ‘akkabî šh  ye’er—ogû, “and they weave spider-threads.” Hence qura may tentatively be identified as the god of weaving—or rather the goddess of weaving, as the feminine ending of qura points to the gender of the divinity. The worship of such a deity makes sense in a city like Ebla, where textiles and metalworking were the two chief industries.
To facilitate our understanding of the semantic transition from qûr, “thread,” to qūrā, “Goddess Thread,” it may be helpful to discuss the god dir-mu in Materiali epigrafici di Ebla (hereafter MEE) 1, n. 1008, and in the personal name i-ti-ir-mu, “With me is Irmu,” in MEE 1, n. 1494. Who is this god whose name is written ir-mu? The answer is probably supplied by Habakkuk 1:16:
‘al-kēn yĕzabbēah leh ermô
wī qatt ēr lemikmartô
kî bahēmmāh šāmēn helqô
Therefore he sacrifices to his Net,
and burns incense to his Dargnet,
for by these his livelihood is rich,
and his food succulent.
Commentators  who seek to explain this passage find the statement “He sacrifices to his Net” puzzling because they do not recognize that hermo the divinized Net; in other words, biblical hermô supplies the initial consonant of Eblaite dir-mu/
One gains a further insight into the Canaanite concept of divinity when examining TM.75.G.2238 obv. XII 27–31, 2 u d u dAMA-ra dsi4-šè-lu/
According to TM.75.G.2075 obv. I 24-II 4, 13 u d u é dni-da-kul ‘x’KI e n nidbax d i n g i r - d i n g i r, “thirteen sheep were brought by the king to the temple of Nidakul in honor of all the gods.” Perhaps the most frequently mentioned deity in these four cultic texts, Nidakul is described thus by Pettinato: “A most venerated divinity at Ebla, Nidakul is so unknown to me that I cannot even be sure of the reading. He appears alone, but more frequently his name is followed by the name of a place.”  Since the Sumerian sign NI has also the vocalic value ì-, one may read the divine name dì-da-kul and compare it with Genesis 2:14, hiddeqel, “the Tigris river,” and hence normalize Sumerian ì-da-kul as Semitic h iddaqul, whose meaning might well be “The Voice (thunder) brings joy.” What sustains this reading and identification is the information that the divinized Syrian river dba-li-h a receives “one sheep for Palih in the two chapels of Qura” (TM.75.G.2075 obv. V 24–27), as does the divinized Euphrates dba-ra-du ma-du, “The Great Cold River,”  which receives two sheep as an offering from the queen (TM.75.G.2075 obv. IV 28-V 3). If both the Balih and the Euphrates were revered as deities by Eblaite royalty, it stands to reason that the equally important Tigris would have been divinized. Accordingly the reading h iddaqul, “the Tigris,” commends itself. 
Another of the cultic places discussed by Pettinato  is gi-na-ù, occurring in TM.75.G.2075 obv. VII 12–14, 1 u d u gi-na-u da-dam-ma, “One sheep for the cell of Adamma.” Pettinato renders gi-na-ù “la cella” without, however, excluding the meaning of “regular offering,” one of the meanings of Akk. ginû. Since he can propose no explanation for his correct rendition “la cella,” it would not be irrelevant to cite Genesis 6:14, ‘ăśēh lekā tēbat ‘ăsêgōper qinnîm ta’ăseh ‘et-hāttēbah, “Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make the ark with cells.”  Plural qinnîm, from qēn “nest,” which here has the specific meaning “cells” or “rooms,” can supply the explanation for Eblaite gi-na-ù, to be normalized qinnahū, “for his cell”; the suffix is the anticipatory -hū,  referring to the god Adamma.
In some ways the most informative passage in these cultic texts is TM.75.G.2238 obv. XII 21–26, l u d u ki-s u r s i d ù-s i- d ù e n—e n en-na-yà š u—d u8, “One sheep for the chapel of the laments for the kings Ennaya has delivered.”  When this information is connected with that furnished by TM.75.G.1763 obv. III 7–10, s i—d ù—si—d ù e n—en in gishk i r i, “laments for the kings in the garden,” it would appear that the above mentioned chapel was situated inthe garden where the former kings were buried. As Pettinato observes, “The addition of in gishki r i6 of text 1 further specifies the place of the cult of the dead: the garden seems, in fact, to be the burial place of Ebla’s kings. This calls to mind the gi—de n—k i, ‘the reed-bed of Enki,’ mentioned in the texts of Urukagina of Lagash as the burial ground of the inhabitants of Lagash.”  Thus these tablets furnish valuable information about the rites for the deceased and about their belief in the afterlife, as well as about the funeral practices of the Eblaites.
These mourning rites for the deceased may consequently point to the correct interpretation of the divine name šu-h a, which, in the second cultic tablet studied by Pettinato, receives the offering of ten sheep in the sixth month, i z i—g a r (TM.75.G.2075 obv. VI 22–24). Reading the name as Sumerian, Pettinato understands dšu-ha as “the fisher god.”  But if taken as Semitic, dšu-h a signifies the “goddess of the Pit”; in Hebrew the cognate noun šah at often designates the netherworld in poetic texts (e.g., Job 17:15).
It was not only the goddess of the underworld who received offerings, however. The administrative text MEE 2, 40 rev. III 12–14 lists “11 double fabrics, 11 Aktum fabrics, 11 precious and multicolored robes for the dead in Abaddan (mi-ti a-ba-da-nu).” One cannot be sure of how to interpret this text, but it would seem that at certain recurrences garments were put in the tombs for the dead. Just as the dead were considered to need food and drink, as established by archaeological finds, so too they may have been thought to need protection against the elements of the netherworld.
The translation of mi-ti a-ba-da-nu as “the dead in Abaddan” is based on the equation of the latter with the Hebrew (and exclusively Hebrew) ’ăbaddôn, a poetic term for the netherworld occurring in the Bible six times. Once this identification is made, then it becomes possible to analyze mi-ti as the stative participle of mwt, “to die,” and comparable to the Hebrew met. Should doubts remain about this interpretation, then Psalm 88:11–12 may help dispel them: “Is it for the dead (mētîm) that you work wonders? Or will the Shades arise to praise you? Is your loving-kindness recounted in the grave, your fidelity in Perdition (’ăbaddôn)?” These lines begin with metîm and close with ’ăbaddôn, an inclusio that contains the components of the Eblaite construct chain miti-’abaddon. One could scarcely wish for a neater instance of a biblical passage serving to clarify a third-millenniun text from northwestern Syria.
In many of his writings, George Mendenhall stresses that in the ancient as well as the modern Near East it is not continuity but change that needs to be explained.  A further illustration of this truth is provided by the mysterious practices described in Isaiah 65:3–4:
A people who provoke me
to my face, continually;
offering sacrifices in the gardens, 
and burning incense on incense-altars; 
who sit among the graves,
and amid the hewn rocks  pass the night;
who eat the flesh of pigs,
Commentators have not succeeded completely in interpreting the significance of these rites and actions described by the prophet, but the association of gardens and graves recalls the mourning for the deceased kings in the gardens of Ebla, and both passages must now be studied jointly.
The tenacity of religious traditions and practices illustrated by this comparison has a counterpart in the division of Ebla into four quarters, each with its own gate dedicated to the tutelar deity of that quarter. Thus Ebla had four gates respectively dedicated to Dagan, Sipish, Rasap, and Baal,  and one supposes that each quarter had its own temple as well.  In the middle of the first millennium BC the Phoenician city of Sidon was also divided into four quarters, šmm ’drm = šmm rmm, “Magnificent Heaven” or “Heaven Most High”; ’rs ršpm, “Quarter of Resheph”; sdn mšl, “Sidon of the Ruler,” and s dn šd, “Sidon of the Field.”  Each quarter had its own temple, and one may suppose that at Ebla a temple graced each precinct even though the temples of the archive period have been destroyed, leaving no archaeological traces. From a later period, however, circa 2,000 BC, three temples and a sanctuary have been uncovered. In his study “Le temple dans la Syrie du Bronze Moyen,” P. Matthiae compares the structure and function of temple D of Tell Mardikh, dating to circa 2,000 BC, with temples of the same period from other sites in northern Syria and Palestine such as Tell Atshanah, By blos, Hazor, Megiddo, and Tell Balatah (Shechem). He correctly concludes as follows:
En concluant, le thème architectural du temple en premier lieu dans sa qualification spatiale, mais aussi dans ses exigences fonctionelles par suite des conditionnements sociaux, reçit dans le milieu paléosyrien du Bronze Moyen une formulation douée d’aspects profondément unitaires, qui lient les experiences de la Syrie du Nord à celles de la Palestine centreseptentrional. Sans que ces aspects se raidissent en une canonisation typologique, et peut-être justement pour cette raison, l’experience de la architecture religieuse de la Syrie du Bronze Moyen vient se placer dans le cadre historique du développement de la civilization architecturale syrienne comme un moment particulièrment significatif, où se retrouvent les matrices plus pures et plus vraies de la conception, sans doute original, mais d’une originalité enracinée dans l’histoire, du temple de Jerusalem. 
The quadripartite division of Sidon continues the third-millennium tradition that has come to light with the epigraphic and archaeological finds at Ebla. The comparison of kà dra-sa-ap, “Gate of Rashap” in TM.75.G.1438 with ’rs ršpm, “Quarter of Rashap” in Phoenician  is surely striking and confirms Mendenhall’s observation that continuity in the Near East—and, I would further specify, continuity in Canaan—needs no explanation. Of course the four-gate motif elicits Genesis 2:10, which describes the four headsprings issuing from the Garden of Eden.
Moving beyond these four cultic texts, we can learn more about sacred constructions from those administrative and economic texts which mention toponyms whose first component is the Sumerian é, read bēt, “house, temple,” in Eblaite. Thus é šu-muKI (MEE 1, n. 1671) seems to signify “Temple of the Name,” and bespeaks the local veneration of the divinized Name that corresponds to the veneration manifest in the personal names tù-bí-šum, “My good is the Name” (MEE 1, n. 722, 760), and iš-má-šum, “The Name hears” (MEE 1, n. 5088). The toponym é-ba-rí-umKI (MEE 2, 40 rev. IV 10), “Temple of the Creator,” reveals the belief in a Creator god that has its counterpart in ba-ra-gúKI (MEE 1, n. 1671), “The Voice has created,” and the PN ib-tá-ra-gú (MEE 2, 7 obv: XIV 14), “The Voice has created for itself.” A similar reverence for the Creator is manifested by the place name é-mu-rí-iqKI (TM.75.G.1444), “The Temple of the Greener,” where the form mu-rí-iq is analyzed as the hiphil participle of the root wrq, “to be green,” hence “the one who makes green.” That this was the function of the Creator may be inferred from Genesis 1:30, “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has breath of life in it—(I give) every green plant (kol yereq ‘ēśeb) for food” (cf. Gen. 9:3).
From the biblical point of view, perhaps the most dramatic place name is MEE 1, 6523 = TM.76.G.525 rev. VII é-da-barKI, “Temple of the Word,” wherein dā-bār is equated with the Hebrew (and rarely Phoenician) dabar, “word.” In other terms, the Word, the Logos, was already divinized in third-millennium Canaan. When I pointed out this startling name to one of my Roman colleagues, he exclaimed, “I don’t know what da-bar means here, but I do know it cannot mean ‘Word’!” What is the likelihood of this signification here? Several considerations come to mind. In the bilingual vocabulary TM.75.G.2284 rev. VII 2–3, Sumerian e m e - b a l a, “translator,” is rendered into Eblaite as tá-da-bí-lu/
Nor should this equation cause surprise in view of the Canaanite divinization of ni-um, “Oracle,” Heb. ně’um, witnessed in the toponyms zu-ba-ne-umKI, “Return, O Oracle!” (TM.75.H.1591 obv. XIV 11); ba-h a-ne-umKI “The Oracle has inspired” (MEE 1, 737); and wa-li-ni-umKI, “Kinsman is the Oracle” (MEE 2, 32 obv. VI 6).  Thus the Eblaites raised to divine status the Voice (gū), the Voice (qālu), the Name (šum), and the Oracle (ně’um), as well as the Word (dabar).
In summary, the relatively few published tablets from Ebla have yielded a surprisingly rich harvest of information regarding the importance of the temple in the religious and civic life of the Eblaites in the middle of the third millennium BC. The religious traditions documented at Ebla did not die out with the subsequent destructions of the city, but lived on in Canaan and remained part of the cultural milieu from which both the Old and New Testaments emerged. Today we are still indebted to the ancient Canaanites for making the temple a focal point of their religious lives.
 Orientalia 46 (1977): 230–32.
 “Culto ufficiale ad Ebla durante il regno di Ibbi-Sipiš,” Oriens Antiquus 18 (1979):106. It should be noted that this study also appeared as a separate monograph, whose page numbers differ from those in Oriens Antiquus.
 It may be observed here that the Hebrew ‘akkabîš, “spider,” occurs as the place name a-ga-ga-bí-išKI in Eblaite texts Materiali epigrafici di Ebla (hereafter MEE) 1 [= G. Pettinato, Catalogo dei testi cuneiformi di Tell Mardikh-Ebla] (Napoli, 1979), 6523, 6527. The identification looks convincing because of the doubling of the second consonant of Heb. ‘akkābiš in syllabic a-ga-ga-bí-išKI. To name a city “Spider” fits in with the spinning interests of the Eblaites and with their worship of the goddess of weaving, Qura. In other terms, both members of the hapax phrase qûrê ‘akkābîš, “spider-threads,” in Isaiah 59:5 are found separately in the Ebla records, a further indication of the close lexical kinship between Eblaite and biblical Hebrew. For a semantically comparable toponym one might compare biblical ma’ălēh ‘aqrabbîm, “Scorpion-pass,” in Judges 1:36; Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:3.
 For example, W. S. McCullough, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, K-Q, 540b, under “Figurative use of ‘net,’” writes, “The meaning of Hab. 1:16 (‘He sacrifices to his net’) is obscure,” and A. Vaccari, La Sacra Bibbia VII (Firenze, 1955), p. 351, describes the expression as metaphorical. The Ugaritic personal name bn hrm (UT, 400 I 9) may now be interpreted “Son of Net”; contrast F. Gröndahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit (Roma, 1967), 136.
 Consult R. A. Donkin, “The Insect Dyes of Western and West-Central Asia,” Anthropos 72 (1977), 847–80, esp. 859–65.
 In G. Pettinato, Testi amministrativi della biblioteca L. 2769 = MEE 2 (Napoli, 1980), text 8 obv. I 8. In text 7 rev. IX 13, pu-ud-kù/
 Cf. Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1956; hereafter cited as UT,) Glossary, no. 2031.
 “Culto ufficiale,” 107.
 As I noted in La Civiltà Cattolica, 17 May 1978, p. 335, the Eblaite syllabic spelling ba-ra-du reveals the etymology of the much-debated Heb. pĕrat, Akk. purattu, and Arab. furat, all names for the Euphrates in which the process of assimilation has obscured to the lexicographer’s view the underlying root brd, “to be cold.” In his book Ebla: Un impero inciso sull’argilla, which appeared in December 1979 (Milano: Mondadori), Pettinato also sees in ba-ra-du the explanation of Akk.purattu and Arab. farat, but omits to mention the biblical pĕrat (p. 268).
 In the Hebrew Bible hiddeqel, “the Tigris,” is mentioned but twice, in Genesis 2:14 and Daniel 10:4, and while there can be no doubt about its identification, the Masoretic vocalization hiddeqel does seem strange and yields to no satisfactory analysis. The adoption of the Eblaite vocalization would result in the reading hiddaqōl and the tentative interpretation “the Voice (thunder) brings joy.” In this instance Hebrew supplies the consonants and Eblaite the vowels to the clarification of both spellings.
In his article “Diffusione del culto di dNI-da-kul” in Studi Eblaiti 1/
 “Culto ufficiale,” p. 115.
 The New English Bible renders these clauses “Make yourself an ark with ribs of cypress; cover it with reeds,” emending MT qinnim, “nests, cells,” to qānîm, “reeds”; see L. H. Brockington, The Hebrew Text of the Old Testament: The Readings Adopted by the Translators of the New English Bible (Oxford-Cambridge University Presses, 1973) p. 1. It would appear that Eblaite qinna is antagonistic to this emendation.
 Consult Gesenius-Kautzsch, Hebrew Grammar, §131 n.
 For the philological explanation of this version, see Pettinato, “Culto ufficiale,” p. 115.
 Ibid., p. 110.
 Most recently in his article “The Ancient in the Modern—and Vice Versa”, in Louis L. Orlin, et al., eds., Michigan Oriental Studies in Honor of George C. Cameron (Ann Arbor, 1976), 227–53.
 Though some versons render “in gardens”—omitting the article of baggannôt (e.g., New International Version)—the prophet had specific gardens in mind. The feminine plural gannôt, “gardens,” now appears as the place name ga-na-atKI in the Ebla tablet Tm.75.G.2377 obv. II 8, published by A. Archi in Studi Eblaiti 1/
 For this definition of lĕbēnîm, see M. Dahood, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 22 (1960): 406–8.
 Reading bēn sûrîm for unexplained MT bannĕsûrîm, as proposed by me in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 22 (1960): 408–9, and accepted by C. Westermann, Das Buch Jesaja (Altes Testament Deutsch, 1966), p. 316, n. 2, and W. Baumgartner, Hebraisches and aramaisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1967), p. 118b. In the emergent parallelism of b//
 Though the Ketiv has pĕraq, “fragment,” the Qere reads mrq, “broth,” which is also found in IQIsa from Qumran. In the bilingual vocabulary TM.75.G.2000 rev. III 29–30, Sumerian a-h a “decoction/
 Commonly understood as “their vessels,” kĕlêhem is better taken as the chiastic counterpart of first-colon ’okĕlîm; this chiastic parallelism thus matches that of vs. 4a. On the word-pair ’ākal//
 Cf. G. Pettinato, Rivista degli studi orientali 50 (1976): 11. The reading of the fourth gate cited here, k á—ši-alKI, “rione della cittá,” has been subsequently corrected by Pettinato to ba-al, an error owing to the similarity of the signs ši and ba.
 See P. Matthiae, ibid., 16–22.
 Consult J. T. Milik, Biblica 48 (1967): 597–98.
 In Compte rendu de la vingtième rencontre assyriologique internationale organisée à Leiden du 3 au 7 juillet 1972 sous les auspices du Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten (Nederlands Historisch-Archeologisch Instituut te Istambul, 1975), 72.
 For the text and translation with commentary, see H. Donner and W. Rollig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften, I, text 15; and II, pp. 23–24. I understand the plural ršpm in the phrase ’rs ršpm as the plural of majesty, hence the translation as singular “Quarter of Rashap.”
 Compare šu-bi-gúKI, “Return, O Voice” (MEE 1, n. 6522) and Ugar. tbg, “Return, O Voice!” in UT, 2068:21, whose analysis compares with that of the PN tbil, “Return, O II!” in UT, 1082:2.