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MARI mä’ rē


The ancient city of Mari was situated c. seven m. NW of Abu-Kemal at Tell Hariri. Its importance and its prosperity were due to its strategic location at the intersection of two caravan roads: one beginning on the Mediterranean coast and passing across the Syrian desert to the Euphrates, and the other beginning in northern Mesopotamia and passing southward through the valleys of the Khabur and Euphrates Rivers. This strategic location is reflected not only in the fabulous wealth of the city but also in the truly international character of its population, including cultured Babylonians, Assyrians, W Semites from the kingdom of Yamkhad-Aleppo, Hurrians, and semi-nomadic Khaneans, Suteans and Benjamites. It was the center of an important Amorite kingdom c. 1800-1700 b.c. and preserves in the personal names of many of its citizens at that time an important part of the documentation for the little known Amorite language. See Assyria.


Between 1933 and 1939 six seasons of excavations had taken place at Tell Hariri under the auspices of the Louvre Museum and directed by André Parrot. The Second World War interrupted the excavations until 1951, when work was resumed. Four further campaigns were undertaken until 1956, when work was discontinued again as a consequence of the Suez incident. The chief buildings found in the excavations were: (1) a temple dedicated to the goddess Ishtar, (2) a ziqqurat or stage-tower, and (3) a 300-room palace at the center of the mound and dating to the period of the 1st dynasty of Babylon (c. 1850-1750 b.c.). In the palace area the excavators found c. 20,000 cuneiform tablets, most of which date from the reigns of Yasmakh-Adad (c. 1796-1780 b.c.), under whose reign the palace was begun, and Zimri-Lim (c. 1779-1761 b.c.), under whom it was finished. Both of these kings were contemporaries of Hammurabi of Babylon (c. 1792-1750 b.c.). With the exception of a few religious texts composed in Hurrian, the documents were written in Akkad. Several rooms contained chiefly texts of an economic, administrative or judicial nature, while others contained the royal correspondence. King Yasmakh-Adad corresponded with his father, King Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria (c. 1814-1782 b.c.) and with his brother King Ishme-Dagan I of Assyria (1781-1742 b.c.), and with his officials Tarīm-shakin, Hasidān, Ishar-Līm, Il-asu, and Yawi-Ila. He also corresponded with other kings, including Hammurabi of Babylon, and Ishkhi-Aadad of Qatna. King Zimri-Lim’s correspondence was with King Hammurabi of Babylon, King Yarīm-Līm of Aleppo, and other royal personages. Among his officials he corresponded with Kibri-Dagan governor of Terqa, Bakhdi-Lim, prefect of the palace of Mari, Mukannishum, Yasīm-Sumu and Shunukh-rakhalu.

Several letters addressed to King Zimri-Lim concern prophetic utterances pronounced in the name of Adad or Dagan. These are instructive in their similarities and differences with Biblical prophecy.


The earliest known example of a king claiming to have conquered Mari is Eannatum of Lagash (c. 2500 b.c.). Around 2350 b.c. Sargon the Great of Akkad made the same claim. During the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2113-2006 b.c.) Mari was ruled by governors (šakkanakkū) of the kings of Ur. But c. 2017 Ishbi-Erra, who hailed from Mari and was an official of Ibbi-Sin, king of Ur (c. 2029-2006), seized control of the city of Isin, when it was cut off from Ur by rampaging Amorites. When Ur fell in 2006 b.c. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Naplanum of Larsa became the leading powers in Babylonia. Yakhdun-Lim, king of Khana (c. 1830-1800), conquered the city of Mari and incorporated it in his realm. But not long thereafter he was defeated by King Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria (c. 1814-1782). In c. 1800 b.c. Yakhdun-Lim lost his life in a palace revolution perhaps instigated by Shamshi-Adad, and his son Zimri-Lim fled to Syria. Four years later Shamshi-Adad installed his son Yasmakh-Adad as vice-king of Mari (c. 1796-1780). When Shamshi-Adad died (1782), Zimri-Lim secured the assistance of Ibal-pi-El II of Eshnunna (c. 1790-1761) and the king of Aleppo to drive Yasmakh-Adad from the throne of Mari. After an independent rule of nineteen years (c. 1779-1761), Zimri-Lim was reduced to the status of a vassal king or governor of the city, when Hammurabi of Babylon conquered Mari in 1761 b.c. As a vassal of Hammurabi, Zimri-Lim continued to rule Mari until the Kassites destroyed the city in 1742 b.c.

Mari’s contribution to the OT.

From a linguistic point of view the Mari texts have aided OT study in the wealth of Amorite personal names, many of which resemble OT personal names. Also of interest to OT students are the so-called “Yahweh names” of Mari. These names (Yawi-Addu and Yawi-El) are not only reminiscent of OT personal names like Joel (=Yawi-El), but have raised the question of whether Yawi was a divine name at Mari. Opinions differ, but it seems unlikely in view of the fact that the word Yawi never occurs with the determinative for deity (i.e., DYawi). More likely yawi is a verb telling what the gods Addu and El had done or were expected to do. The OT name of Israel’s God, Yahweh, may indeed contain that same verb as a description of the unnamed God (cf. Exod 3:14). A second contribution to OT study afforded by the Mari texts lies in the description of the customs of the nomadic peoples surrounding Mari (Khaneans, Suteans and Benjaminites). The latter in particular have been suspected as relatives of the OT tribe of Benjamin, although it is not even clear that the Mari name DUMU.MES̆ Ya-mi-na is to be read as banū Yamina, which would seem to be a necessary first postulate in any such theory. But whether or not the DUMU.MES̆ Yamina are “Benjaminites,” the customs held by all these nomadic groups provide interesting insights into certain OT practices of the Israelites.


A. Parrot (ed.), Studia Mariana (1950); Archives Royales de Mari: transcription et traduction des textes cueniformes, vols. 1-13, 15 (1950ff.); M. Noth, Mari und Israel (1953); Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq (1964), 164-177, 189-201; G. E. Mendenhall, “Mari,” The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2 (1964), 3-20; A. Malamat, “Prophetic Revelation in New Documents from Mari and the Bible,” Supplement to Vetus Testamentum, 15 (1966), 207-227; A. L. Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia (1967).