The Tell-El Amarna Tablets And The Hebrews 

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist) 

The Book of Joshua chronicles the invasion of the land of Canaan by the Hebrews. The Canaanites at the time were composed of several different nations and lands, nearly all of whom hated the Hebrews and their God.  

The Bible teaches that the Lord commanded the Hebrews to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-17). As we learn from other passages of Scripture (such as Jeremiah 25:9, 12) this basically meant to drive the people out of the land. The Bible tells us, indeed, that this is exactly what happened. The Hebrews (led by Joshua) “utterly destroyed” the Canaanites and repopulated the land (cf. Joshua 10). The Canaanites (or at least, a great many of them) fled to other countries and lands.  

However, we are told by critics of the Bible that this invasion of Canaan was a complete lie. It never happened!

Instead, the writers of the Bible wanted to make up this account to try and convince the Jewish people that they had a Divine claim on the land.

As such, the Hebrews never really conquered the Canaanites.  

When I study with skeptics of the Bible who make claims such as this, I ask them if they have ever heard of the Tell-El Amarna Tablets.  

What are those, you ask?  

Well, these are the 15th century records of the Canaanites which document the Hebrew invasion of their land.  

Oh, I am not surprised if you have not heard of them before now.

The truth is, there are many in the “scholarly community” who want the facts of the Amarna Tablets “kept quiet,” so to speak.

If people knew of the existence of these incredible documents, they would soon discover another powerful evidence that the Bible is historically accurate.  

The enemies of the Bible certainly do not want THAT to happen!  

So very thorough are these documents, in fact, that they contain over eighty references to the Hebrews!  

Let me share the words of scholar Bill Cooper with you about these incredible documents: 

“To read the critics, you’d think that the records of 15th-century BC Canaan would have nothing to say either about Joshua or his people. They will tell you that that is because Joshua himself did not exist, and his people never conquered the land called Canaan. It was all just a myth cobbled together by the wishful thinking of Jewish ‘editors’ after their return from the Babylonian Exile. And this is not some outdated allegation which has been corrected recently as scholarship has improved over the years. It is being made increasingly even today by some of the major critics and taken up by the media and universities. It is therefore with considerable surprise that we read about Joshua and his people, not just once in some ambiguous, fragmentary inscription of dubious date and interpretation, but plainly and at least 85 times in that 15th-century BC Canaanite archive known as the Tell El Amarna Tablets. The critics don’t like to mention the fact, but Joshua himself is sometimes obliquely referred to in the Tablets. There is one man in particular who is referred to as ‘that Hebrew’; ‘that Hebrew dog’; at least three times as the ‘chief of the Hebrews’; and, it seems, in one inscription he is called ‘Ilimilku,’ which name is the Akkadian cognate of the Hebrew name Elimelech, God is my King. It is a nickname which would have suggested itself to Canaanite observers after it became clear to them that Joshua was not a king, but that he fought under the God of Israel. Though not a name that the Bible specifically gives him, it is one that the Canaanites seem to have known him by, and they accordingly wrote it down in their correspondence -‘Ilimilku!’ 1 The Hebrews themselves are referred to in the Amarna Tablets as slaves –‘runaway dogs’ in some of the Tablets –‘slaves that have become Habiru’ in another -recalling the history of their escape from slavery in Egypt. This again is entirely natural and to be expected. After all, if Rahab, a mere harlot of Jericho, was familiar with this history (Joshua 2: 9-11), why should the much better informed kings of Canaan not have been? A trawl through the Amarna archive reveals the following references to Joshua and his people. It does not include every instance in which the Hebrews or their leader are mentioned, but it does give us a good idea of just how prominently Joshua and his people figured on the Canaanite scene. The incursion of the Hebrews was indeed a major invasion, and its startling impact on the Canaanite kings comes over loud and clear in the urgency of their appeals to the Pharaoh of Egypt to send soldiers to help fight them off. This is evidence for the integrity of the Book of Joshua that is of the very highest quality, and it is astonishing that this information has not been made more available to the public. What has been made available is the somewhat inaccurate notion that a couple of the tablets mention some “Apiru,” a name which, we are asked to believe, may be derived from the Assyrian word habbatu, meaning robber, and that these occurrences must therefore refer to some troublesome bandits that were roaming the area at that time. Nothing could be more distorted and inaccurate. It is a forced and false derivation which misleads the reader. The Canaanite kings were certainly strong enough and well enough organised to see off any such bands of robbers, whom they would have hunted to extinction. It is what they did, and they were very good at it. Canaan could never have become a land flowing with milk and honey had it been a land in which lawless bands of cutthroats carried the day. Neither do bands of robbers capture whole swathes of territories along with their walled and fortified cities which were protected by regiments of disciplined and armed soldiers. No. The term Apiru, which appears throughout the archive, is merely the Akkadian cognate of the word Hebrew (Habiru), Akkadian being the diplomatic language in which most of the tablets are written.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Joshua, 220-243 (Kindle Edition))

Noting these facts, Cooper then goes on to point out that the Hebrews are mentioned quite often in the Amarna Tablets. He cites several examples: 

““Now he is like the Hebrew, a runaway dog….” EA 67: 17. “The war of the Hebrew hosts against me is most severe….” EA 68: 18. “Through the Hebrews his auxiliary force is strong!…. Let him not gather together all the Hebrews….” EA 71: 21 & 29. “Kill your lord and join the Hebrews…. and all the lands will be joined to the Hebrews…. EA 73: 29 & 33. “They were won over following his message, and they are like Hebrews…. that the entire country be joined to the Hebrews.” EA 74: 29 & 36. “The war, however, of the Hebrews against me is severe…. The Hebrews killed Aduna, the king of Irqata, and so they go on taking territory to themselves.” EA 75: 10 & 27. “He has just gathered together all the Hebrews against Sigata and Ampi, and he himself has taken these two cities.” EA 76: 18. “ … speak to your lord so that he will send you at the head of the archers to drive off the Hebrews…” EA77: 24 & 29. “… all the Hebrews… have turned against me…. If there are no archers, then all lands will be joined to the Hebrews. Listen!” EA 79: 10 & 20. “He said to the men of Gubla, ‘Kill your lord, and be joined to the Hebrews like Ammiya.’” EA 81: 13. “All the Hebrews are on his side…. he is strong.” EA 82: 9. “The Hebrews have taken the entire country!” EA 83: 17. “… the Hebrews have gone to Yapah-Hadda in Beirut so an alliance might be formed…. the lands have been joined to the Hebrews…. lest he gather together all the Hebrews and they seize the city.” EA 85: 41, 73 & 78. “Let an elite force, together with chariots, advance with you, that I may drive the Hebrews from the gate.” EA 87: 21. “But if the king my lord does not give heed to the words of his servant… all the lands of the king as far as Egypt will be joined to the Hebrews.” EA 88: 34. “You yourself have been negligent of your cities, so that the Hebrew dog takes them.” EA 90: 25. “Why have you sat idly by and done nothing, so that the Hebrew dog takes your cities?…. I have just heard that he has gathered together all the Hebrews to attack me!” EA 91: 5 & 24. “They would attack me and I would be unable to get out, and Gubla would be joined to the Hebrews. They have gone to Ibirta, and an agreement has been made with the Hebrews.” EA 104: 49-54. “If this year there are no archers, then all lands will be joined to the Hebrews. Behold, members of the [Hebrew] army have entered Akka….!” EA 111: 21. “I paid 13 shekels of silver and a pair of mantles as the hire of the Hebrews….” EA 112: 46. “… all my towns have been joined to the Hebrews….” EA 116: 38. “There is treachery against me…. all the lands will belong to the Hebrews…. What am I to do? May the king send a garrison and men from Meluhha to guard me. May the city not be joined to the Hebrews!” EA 117: 58 & 94. “Behold… the Hebrews will seize the city!” EA 118: 38. “… the sons of Abdi-Asirta have said to the Hebrews and the men who have joined them…” EA 121: 21. “Should Gubla be joined to the Hebrews….” EA 127: 22. “They have won the lands for the Hebrews….” EA 129: 94. “They are like dogs, and there is no one who wants to serve them. What am I, who live among the Hebrews, to do?” EA 130: 38. “Now Aziru has gathered all the Hebrews….” EA 132: 21. “All the cities that the king put in my charge have been joined to the Hebrews…. a man that will lead the archers of the king to call to account the cities that have been joined to the Hebrews, so you can restore them to my charge….” EA 144: 26 & 30. “The king of Hasura has abandoned his house and has aligned himself with the Hebrews…. He has taken over the land of the king for the Hebrews.” EA 148: 43 & 45. “He has made Amurru an enemy territory, and has turned over all the men in the cities of the king… to the Hebrews.” EA 179: 22. “… when the Hebrew forces waged war against the king…. The Hebrews captured Mahzibtu… then the Hebrews took refuge…. And the Hebrews captured Gilunu…. And the Hebrews captured Magdalu… plundered it, sent it up in flames…. And the Hebrews captured Ustu…. And then the Hebrews raided Hasi… we did battle with the Hebrews…. Then 40 Hebrews went to Amanhatpe… Amanhatpe is an Hebrew…. &c.” EA 185. “… allowed all of the cities of the king, my lord, to go over to the Hebrews in Tahsi and Upu…. I restored from the Hebrews…. I disbanded the Hebrews.” EA 189r 11, 17-18. “They gave his horses and his chariot to the Hebrews….” EA 197: 4. “Lost to the Hebrews from my control are all the cities of the king.” EA 207: 21. “… all the lands are lost to the Hebrews.” EA 215: 15. “And as the warring of the Hebrews in the land is severe…” EA 243: 20. “The two sons of Labayu have indeed given their money to the Hebrews…” EA 246r: 7. “I did not know that my son was consorting with the Hebrews.” EA 254: 34. “So may the king, my lord, save his land from the power of the Hebrews.” EA 271: 16. “… and the entire land of the king, my lord, has deserted to the Hebrews.” EA 272: 17. “… and gone is the land of the king, my lord, by desertion to the Hebrews…. know that the Hebrews wrote to Ayyaluna and to Sarha, and the two sons of Milkilu barely escaped being killed.” EA 273: 14 & 19. “May the king, my lord, save his land from the power of the Hebrews lest it be lost.” EA 274: 13. “… my lord, why do you love the Hebrews, but hate the [city] governors?…. That Hebrew has plundered all the lands of the king.” EA 286: 19 & 56. “… who have given the land of the king to the Hebrews.” EA 287: 31. “I am treated like an Hebrew…. but now the Hebrews have taken the very cities of the king…. ” EA 288: 38 & 41-47. “… when he was giving the land of Sakmu to the Hebrews?” EA 289: 24. “The land of the king deserted to the Hebrews…. the land of the king will desert to the Hebrews.” EA 290: 13 & 24. “… having become my enemy, entered Muhhazu and pledged himself to the Hebrews!” EA 298: 27. “Since the Hebrews are stronger than we…. may the king, my lord, get me away from the Hebrews, lest the Hebrews destroy us.” EA 299: 18, 24 & 26. “As the Hebrews are more powerful than we…” EA 305: 22. “… merchants from Egypt who were struck down in the attack of the Hebrews.” EA 313: 6. “Save me from the powerful enemies, from the hand of the Hebrews….!” EA 318: 11.”. (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Joshua, 253-322 (Kindle Edition))

Yet what is also equally amazing is the fact that the Amarna Tablets make other references to the Hebrews!

Cooper clarifies : 

“But there are added corroborations for the Book of Joshua amongst the Amarna Tablets, and one of them is the specific mention of “men of Judah” –ameluti Ia-u-du! –and “armed men [or warriors] of Judah” –ameluti sabe Ia-u-du. 2 The Canaanite spelling of Ia-u-du is identical to that of Assyrian inscriptions which later speak of Judah, and it is interesting to see the men of Judah and the many cities allotted to Judah set out so precisely in Joshua 15. The tribe of Judah formed a major component of Joshua’s people, and it is interesting to see the Canaanites unwittingly acknowledging that fact. It is also worth noting a complaint made by Abdi-heba, king of Jerusalem, that he is troubled by the men of “Laba,” or Levi in the Hebrew….The Canaanite kings have left their own vociferous testimony to the truth of the Book of Joshua, and it is no exaggeration to say that, had the invasion of Canaan under Joshua not taken place –as the critics claim -then the Amarna archive would never have carried this independent testimony to the fact that the Hebrews –including men of Judah, Levites, Malchielites and Heberites! -successfully invaded and overran Canaan in the late 15th century BC, the very time in which the archive’s contents were written. And we must remember that the archive’s letters were not written and sent by just one of Canaan’s kings, but by many.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Joshua, 322-346 (Kindle Edition))

Several things need to be noted here.  

First, the Amarna Tablets contain some of the most incredible testimony regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture. The Book of Joshua is not a fictional narrative written by some second century B.C. editor who wanted to feed his people lies and encourage them in the midst of suffering.

Rather, it was the firsthand account of Joshua, the successor of Moses, who (with Divine help) carried out the Lord’s will to ‘drive out’ the Canaanites and give the land to His chosen people.  

When critics of the Bible tell us that the Bible is not historically accurate, it is good to point out the truth to them.

Which truth am I referencing?

Very simply, secular history continually confirms and validates the authenticity of Sacred Writ!  

Second, it is very disheartening to realize that there are so many people who are opposed to the Word of God to such an extent that they would do anything and everything in their power to keep such testimony as this from the hands of the common people. There are, indeed, some individuals who so hate and despise God and His people that they will do everything in their power to try and keep the truth from those who are desperately seeking for answers.

There are, indeed, many such enemies of the Cross of Christ: 

Philippians 3:18-19-18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.

Third, it is important to keep in mind that despite such efforts of wicked men, God will always providentially arrange for the truth of His Word to be made known. God has promised that the person who seeks Him with the whole heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He declares that He is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). How thankful we should be that God has allowed such incredible evidences of His Word to exist, and to be made known to those who are seeking the truth.  

Fourth, there is another fascinating lesson to consider from the Amarna Tablets. We find herein some incredible indirect evidence to the Ten Plagues of Egypt which devastated that country’s economy, infrastructure, and military.  

Speaking of the fall of Jericho in the Amarna Tablets, and how appeals were being sent to Egypt from the Canaanite kings for help against the Hebrews, Cooper writes the following: 

“But does that mean that the city of Jericho –and especially its fall -is not mentioned in the Amarna Tablets by any of the other kings of Canaan? If we believed modern translations and their commentators then we would think not. And yet the fall of Jericho is indeed mentioned, and it appears in the earliest translation of the Tablets into English by Claude Conder, which he published in 1893, just five years or so after the Tablets’ discovery. 1 Conder was eminently qualified to translate the tablets, for apart from his many academic qualifications in the field, he had been speaking on a daily basis for seven years a Syrian dialect which was directly related to the language of the Tablets. On one tablet which he refers to as 102 B, he notes the reading “icalu, ca-ar Irhu zabbatu,” which translates as, “They have prevailed, they have taken the fortress of Jericho (Irhu).” 2 He is cautious enough to state that the sign for Jericho –Irhu –is unusual, and that an alternative reading (if his was wrong) could be “they have been swift to seize.” But “they have taken the fortress of Jericho” is clearly his preferred reading. Making better sense of the passage, it takes due cognizance of the sign irhu –the name of Jericho -which the alternative reading would have to ignore. And after all, the letter is meant to be a factual report conveying military information to the Pharaoh of Egypt, and not an exercise in truisms. Moreover, it fits the rest of what this and certain other Tablets –not to mention the Book of Joshua -say exactly. Needless to say, the tablet has since been ‘retranslated’ with the name of Jericho (irhu) expunged. Subsequent transliterations of the line (nowadays EA 286: 6) have been made to read: i-ka-lu ka-ar-si-ja, where -si-replaces Conder’s Irhu. See, for example, Mercer. 3 Here he transliterates the line as i-ka-lu ka-ar-si-ja (u-sha-a-ru), translating only the final word “u-sha-a-ru” as “They slander me,” and seemingly ignoring the preceding and crucial phrase, i-ka-lu ka-ar-si-ja, in which -si-replaces Conder’s reading of irhu –Jericho. Without translating it, Mercer acknowledges the uncertainty of his own reading by annotating the contentious sign with, “This must be -si-.” 4 In fairness, the mistranslation did not originate with Mercer, who took it from Knudtzon, whose 1908 edition of the tablets (Die El-Amarna Tafeln –it was Knudtzon who inverted the order of the Tablets) became the standard reference on the subject up to the present day, 5 and so the expunging of EA 286’ s reading of “they have taken the fortress of Jericho” is perpetuated with no further questions asked. We may wonder what other readings have been falsified in the Tablets -readings which would have further exonerated the Book of Joshua? The same tablet also notes that the Pharaoh had inexplicably withdrawn all his forces from Canaan that very year, when the Hebrews ceased their wanderings in the desert and entered the Land of Canaan. The loss of a recent Pharaoh and his army under the waters of the Red Sea some forty odd years previously, was, not surprisingly, still fresh in the memory of the present Pharaoh’s more senior ministers, and he had therefore made the strategically wise move of avoiding all confrontation with the Hebrews. Hence the precautionary withdrawal of his forces out of Canaan just as the enormous Hebrew multitude came into Canaan from their wanderings –a withdrawal that was inexplicable to the Canaanites, but perfectly understandable to any who were now employed in trying to preserve Egypt through this present crisis and hopefully restore her to her former power once it was all over. It is why the Pharaoh is so often berated in the Amarna Tablets by the Canaanite kings for his complete inaction and refusal to help.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Joshua, 375-408 (Kindle Edition))

Thus we find even more confirmation in the Amarna Tablets to the trustworthiness and credibility of the Bible.  

Friends, the Bible is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17)! Why not start allowing God to be the Lord of your life and directing your paths today (Proverbs 3:5-6; Luke 6:46)?  

The God of Heaven loves you so very much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world to die for your sins on the Cross of Calvary (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). The Gospel is the “Good News” that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

It includes also the promise that God will forgive those who believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God (1 Timothy 6:12), and who are baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38).

He also promises that when we live faithfully to Him, we will receive Heaven as our home one day (Revelation 2:10).

When we sin and fall away after becoming a Christian (1 John 1:8), He will forgive us if we repent of that sin and confess it to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9-2:2).  

Why not obey Him today?  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

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