A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 1

By Franz Kobler | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
The Story of Jewish Letter-Writing

1
THE PRELUDE: THE LETTERS OF THE BABYLONIANS, THE TELL EL-AMARNA LETTERS, AND THE ORAL MESSAGES OF THE HEBREWS

THE land from where Abraham came, ancient Mesopotamia, has to be regarded as the cradle of letter-writing. Thousands of preserved clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing provide an overwhelming evidence that long before the beginning of recorded Jewish history, in the first half of the second millennium B.C.E., at the time of Hammurabi, and earlier, royal, private and business letters were forwarded on the roads of the vast Babylonian empire. Also in Egypt, the other powerful neighbour of Palestine, with its predeliction for written records, letter-writing flourished prior to the entry of Israel on the stage of history. Actually the earliest documents of Hebrew history are letters written by Egyptian vassals, some petty kings and governors of Syria, to the Pharaohs Amenophis III and his successor, Amenophis IV, the famous Akhnaton. These letters, composed in the Babylonian language, the diplomatic idiom of those days, and inscribed in cuneiform writing on hundreds of clay tablets, were discovered in 1888 in Egypt on the site of Akhnaton's residence, Tell el-Amarna. They confirm in an astonishing way the correctness of the biblical account. For the letters teem with references to the invasion of Canaan from across the Jordan by the Habiru and Sagaz, and there is now little doubt that these invaders have to be identified with the Hebrews. Particularly the letters addressed to Akhnaton by Abdi-Khiba, Governor of Jerusalem, about 1370 B.C.E., read like a dramatic supplement to the Book of Joshua. Abdi-Khiba's desperate appeals for help, such as is contained

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