Jerusalem / Salem: One more Time

From yesterday’s Jerusalem Post:

Also on Tuesday, a fragment of the earliest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem was unveiled. The two-centimeter fragment was discovered by Mazar’s team in the area, and dates from the late Bronze Age. Experts believe that the fragment, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, seems to be a copy of a letter sent from the city to an Egyptian King, when the city was still called Salem. The fragment was unveiled at its permanent exhibit in the Davidson Center.

Was Jerusalem ever called Salem? I don’t know. What I do know is that in letters to Pharaoh from about the same time of this fragment the city wasn’t called Salem. Here’s the evidence from Amarna.

  • EA 287:25: URUú-ru-sa-lim
  • EA 287:46: URUú-ru-sa-limKI
  • EA 287:61: ú-ru-sa-limKI
  • EA 287:63: URUú-ru-sa-limKI
  • EA 289:14: URUú-ru-sa-limKI
  • EA 289:29: URUú-ru-sa-limKI
  • EA 290:15: ú-ru-sa-limKI

I discussed most of this in 2006.
Back in 2003 Lemche suggested that the ú-ru in ú-ru-sa-lim reflected the common Akkadian prefixed determinative URU used to designate a city. But notice that in most of the Amarna examples the URU determinative occurs before ú-ru-sa-lim. The two that do not have this determinative have the suffixed determinative KI, indicating a city name. Most examples have both determinatives. There may be an example or two of contemporary cases were the URU determinative was spelled syllabically before a city name but, if there are any, they are extremely rare. The scribe(s) of these tablets almost certainly understood the name of the city as Urusalim (Jerusalem). Why would they in effect write URU.Ú-RU.Salem, double the URU, if all they meant was URU.Salem? Might the name have once been Salim and through a misunderstanding of the determinative came to be known as Urusalim? Sure, but, despite the two somewhat anomalous cases, it’s hard to believe we see anything like that in the letters from Jerusalem found at Amarna. And it is therefore very doubtful that the name of the city was Salem when a likely Jerusalem based scribe wrote the tablet, a fragment of which recently went on display at the Davidson Center.
Via Jim Davila at Paleojudaica
Update: June 24, 2011
John Hobbins corrects me by pointing out that Psalms 76:2-4 identifies Salem with Zion. Genesis 14:18 also seems to identify Salem with Jerusalem, even if it is a miss identification. These mentions are in need of an explanation but that explanation cannot depend on Jerusalem being called Salem in the Late Bronze Age.

One thought on “Jerusalem / Salem: One more Time”

  1. The Salem found in the Abraham account in Genesis 14: 8 is a small town in the Habur Basin which appears in the Mari texts as Salaman and is to be placed at modern Syrian Tchôlâma Tahtani. It also appears in the Tell Beydar texts as Sulum. Its location is at 36°49’21.90″N 40°47’11.08E. You can see it on Google Earth.”E
    Douglas R. Frayne
    Adjunct Professor
    Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
    Bancroft Hall
    4 Bancroft Avenue
    Toronto M5S 1C1

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