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שבת, 18 נוב' 2017

The Amarna Letters

Shlomo Izre'el

(Uploading year: 2000)

The Find

The Amarna tablets are named after the site Tell el-Amarna (in middle Egypt) where they were discovered. The first Amarna tablets were found by local inhabitants in 1887. They form the majority of the corpus. Subsequent excavations at the site have yielded less than 50 out of the 382 itemized tablets and fragments which form the Amarna corpus known to date.

The majority of the Amarna tablets are letters. These letters were sent to the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenophis III and his son Akhenaten around the middle of the 14th century B.C. The correspondents were kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Hatti and Mitanni, minor kings and rulers of the Near East at that time, and vassals of the Egyptian Empire.

Almost immediately following their discovery, the Amarna tablets were deciphered, studied and published. Their importance as a major source for the knowledge of the history and politics of the Ancient Near East during the 14th Century B.C. was recognized. The tablets presented several difficulties to scholars. The Amarna tablets are written in Akkadian cuneiform script and present many features which are peculiar and unknown from any other Akkadian dialect. This was most evident in the letters sent from Canaan, which were written in a mixed language (Canaanite-Akkadian). The Amarna letters from Canaan have proved to be the most important source for the study of the Canaanite dialects in the pre-Israelite period.

Publication History of the Amarna tablets

The standard edition of the Amarna tablets has been that of the Norwegian scholar J.A. Knudzton. His edition of the Amarna texts, published in 1907, is still the standard edition in use today (Knudtzon 1915). Knudzton's edition includes 358 out of the known 382 itemized tablets and fragments discovered at Tell el-Amarna. Most of the remaining texts have been collected and republished by Anson F. Rainey of Tel-Aviv University (Rainey 1970; 2nd edition: 1978).

A century after the discovery of the Amarna tablets and 80 years after their classical publication by Knudtzon, William L. Moran of Harvard University published new translations of the Amarna letters, first in French (Moran 1987), then in English (Moran 1992).

Since Knudtzon's edition appeared, many developments have necessitated changes in his reading of the original tablets. Even transliteration practice has changed. Moran has not provided transliterations along with his translation of the Amarna letters, although his book is amply documented with new readings and new interpretations. It is an almost impossible task to overcome the difficulties in tracing Moran's underlying transliterations of his texts even for those who can read Akkadian. Up-to-date transliterations of the Amarna letters have thus become a necessity.

Electronic version of the Amarna tablets

For many years I toyed with the notion of publishing a volume with new transliterations of the Amarna letters. In the academic year 1989/90 I started a project of computerization of the Amarna corpus, aided by a two-year grant of The Israel Science Foundation (then: The Basic Research Foundation, administered by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities). During these two years, and for many years thereafter, I have been surveying the linguistic situation, the sociolinguistic composition of Canaan, the sociopolitical and sociohistorical background of that area and, of course, studied carefully the linguistic continuum of the Amarna letters. I have thus managed topublished some studies on various linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of this corpus, including a grammatical sketch, which, in many respects, can be viewed as a summary of my learning (Izre'el 1998). I have never fulfilled my initial goal of publishing a comprehensive volume with new transliterations of the Amarna letters. One of the main reasons for this was the understanding that publishing such a volume without collating myself the entire corpus will be unwarranted. This feeling has been further accentuated since I started working on the corpus of the Amarna Scholarly Tablets, and spending much time in museums collating these texts and coming up with many new readings and interpretations to the existing ones (Izre'el 1997).

The computerized files which have been compiled by my assistants throughout these years, have been modified according to advances in knowledge of the Amarna corpus. Especially worth mentioning is the contribution to this project of two people: Dr. Jun Ikeda, now at Tsukuba University in Japan, who was the first to invest both his knowledge in Semitic Linguistics and his computer skills into the project; and Margalit Mendelson, whose scrutiny and knowledge has always been a real asset. The work began by copying and proofreading Knudtzon's and Rainey's transliterations. We then proceeded by modifying Knudtzon's outdated transliterations to modern ones (including both syllabic values and, especially, the Sumerograms). (Rainey's transliterations required little changes, and they are reproduced here by Prof. Rainey's kind permission.) The next stage was integrating into Knudtzon'stransliterations more recent readings within editions of individual subcorpora that had already been available at that time, notably those by Adler 1976 (the Mitanni letters); Youngblood (1961, for part of the Byblos letters); and a group of graduate students at Tel Aviv University who had edited Amarna letters for their MA theses under the supervision of Anson Rainey (Nitzán 1973 on the Jerusalem letters; Izre'el 1976 on the Gezer letters; Finkel 1977 on the Tyre letters; Rabiner 1981 on the letters from Acre, Megiddo and Shechem). Then we incorporated into the file all suggestions made by Moran in his extensive commentaries to his translations (1992). This work further embraced extensive scrutiny of as much of the extant secondary literature as we could, both by Moran and by others (such as Rainey, Artzi, Na'aman and many other Amarna scholars, as well as work of students at Tel Aviv university, who worked on Amarna letters for course and seminar papers). This work was enhanced with constant inspection of the available cuneiform copies and their extant collations. Collations made by Moran himself were kindly put at my disposal for this research. Likewise, I have received permission to use the late Edmund Gordon's collations from The Albright Institute housed in the American Schools of Oriental Research, Jerusalem. Further collations have been provided by my teacher, Anson Rainey; others I made myself. Having made these modifications, the electronic corpus was ready for me to work with, not without keeping constant track of the still flowing improvements offered by these and other scholars. At a later stage, Amarna students were granted with the magnum opus of Rainey (1996), with its many citations and new readings. These too have been introduced into the corpus.

However, in spite of this tedious work, not all new suggestions have found their way into the electronic corpus. When working on a linguistic issue or when trying to finish a paper dealing with one or more specific topics, you don't remember, you don't want to spend time, and, frankly, you don't really feel like keep updating your background files all the time, although these are always open, always ready to serve and to offer crucial evidence for your present work. As it were, although most of the upcoming suggestions have indeed been considered during my linguistic work and applied wherever I agreed with them, and then eventually found their way to published materials, the electronic file never kept full track with these changes and modifications.

I have thus come to realize that I myself will never finish the elaborate and time consuming task of compiling anew the magnificent corpus of the Amarna texts. Still, it would be a shame to let the new transliterations sit in my computer for no one - or for only a limited group of people - to use. I have therefore decided to put my files at the disposal of all interested students of the Amarna letters, as incomplete and as unpolished as it may be at this time. Not all the letters found in Amarna are included here, only the ones that stem from Canaan or its immediate vicinity, mainly Amurru (with a few letters sent from Egypt to these areas). It thus includes all letters starting with EA 60 from Amurru. (This is a somewhat arbitrary cut, since there are some letters from the immediate vicinity like Tunip or Qatna which have left outside the electronic corpus.) The reason for this lies in the nature of my own work, which focused mainly on the letters sent from Canaan, or in the linguistic continuum of Canaano-Akkadian.

Most of the texts have not been particularly edited for the web except for sporadic minor changes, besides, of course, their transformation into ASCII characters and some other technical adaptations. As explained above, the corpus presented herewith cannot be regarded as a unified corpus in terms of transliteration, interpretation, or in any other respect. Moreover, as it may have been clear from the description of the way we worked, especially when considering the long span of time during which this corpus has been compiled and constantly modified, this corpus cannot be void of typos and other errors.

Some of the transliterations have been improved by collations I myself did (e.g., EA 369 [Izre'el 1995a]; EA 70, 137, 160 [Izre'el 1995b]; the Louvre tablets EA 209, 362-7; and some others). Other texts I have published without collation or with only minimal collation in various platforms throughout the years (e.g., the Gezer letters [Izre'el 1976]; the Amurru letters [Izre'el 1991; mounted here by courtesy of the editors of Harvard Semitic Studies]). The Shuwardata letters (EA 278-284, 366) are presented here in new collated transliterations by courtesy of Scobie Smith (Smith 1998). Apart from these texts, the transliterations offered here should serve as mere starters for any serious user, and careful scrutiny of the material provided here is strongly advised. I myself always resort to Knudtzon for difficult passages. Still, the transliterations here are modernized and improved to a large degree than those by Knudtzon. In other words, while critical reading is always advisable, in this particular case I would strongly recommend proofreading with the extant editions prior to any serious consideration of the textual material. For extra-textual remarks such as breaks, beginning and end of tablets, text written on any face or a side of a tablet, etc., one should consult Knudzton 1915, Rainey 1978 and Moran 1992.

Besides letters, the Amarna archive has yielded texts related to the education of the scribes in Egypt, including syllabaries, glossaries, lists and literary texts. These texts have been published in my The Amarna Scholarly Tablets (Izre'el 1997), and are mounted here by courtesy of Styx Publications. The Amarna scholarly texts are EA 340-359; EA 368; 372-377; EA 379. For EA 356 see also my Adapa and the South Wind: language Has the Power of Life and Death (Izre'el 2000).

The texts are published here in a form which I believe is the easiest for both downloading and manipulating by any potential user of these files, yet still easy enough to read on line.

Font equivalents, symbols and abbreviations

sade = c (lower case)
    C (upper case)
shin = $ (lower case)
    ß (upper case)
tet = µ (lower case; no upper case tet in texts)
    h (lower case)
aleph = @
jodh = y

To access to the Amarna letters from Canaan and vicinity use the following links:

EA 60-114 | EA 115-162 | EA 163-262 | EA 263-end

To access the Amarna scholarly tablets click here.

My electronic corpus of the Amarna letters includes all other letters as well (EA 1-59), in various degrees of improvement yet generally in a lesser quality than the corpus available here. My entire corpus – including all the Amarna find – is now available in Semitic transcription at, courtesy of the ORACC project.

For the benefit of any potential users of these pages, I would kindly ask from you, who may find this site useful, for any suggestions for improvement, either of the site itself or, more significantly, the substantial material (i.e., the transliterations), to be sent to me at  כתובת דוא"ל זו מוגנת מפני spambots, יש לאפשר JavaScript על-מנת לראות את הכתובת .


Adler, Hans-Peter. 1976. Das akkadische des Tushratta von Mitanni. (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 201.) Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker.

Finkel, Marcie. 1977. The Tyre Letters of the El-Amarna Archives: A Study of Selected Linguistic Aspects. M.A. Thesis, Tel Aviv University.

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1976. The Gezer Letters of the El-Amarna Archive: Linguistic Analysis. M.A. Thesis, Tel Aviv University. (Hebrew with English Summary)

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1991. Amurru Akkadian: A Linguistic Study. With an Appendix on the History of Amurru by Itamar Singer. Volume I (Harvard
Semitic Studies, 40.) Volume II (Harvard Semitic Studies, 41.) Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. (Available through Eisenbrauns.)

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1995a. The Amarna Glosses: Who Wrote What for Whom? Some Sociolinguistic Considerations. Israel Oriental Studies 15: 101-122.

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1995b. Amarna Tablets in the Collection of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. Journal for Semitics 7: 125-161.

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1997. The Amarna Scholarly Tablets. (Cuneiform Monographs, 9.) Groningen: Styx.

Izre'el, Shlomo. 1998. Canaano-Akkadian. (Languages of the World / Materials, 82.) München: LINCOM Europa.

Izre'el, Shlomo. 2000. Adapa and the South Wind: Language Has the Power of Life and Death. (Mesopotamian Civilizations, 10.) Winona Lake. IN: Eisenbrauns.

Knudtzon, J.A. 1915. Die el-Amarna-Tafeln. Anmerkungen und Register bearbeitet von C. Weber und E. Ebeling. (Vorderasiatische Bibliothek, 2.) Leipzig. (First volume: 1907)

Moran, William L., avec la collaboration de V. Haas et G. Wilhelm. 1987. Les lettres d'el-Amarna: Correspondance diplomatique du Pharaon. Traduction française de Dominique Collon et Henri Cazelles. Littérature anciennes duProche-Orient 13. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf.

Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nitzán, Shemuél. 1973. The Jerusalem Letters from the el-`Amarna Archive: Linguistic Aspects. M.A. Thesis, Tel Aviv University. (Hebrew with English summary.)

Rabiner, Sarah. 1981. Linguistic Features of the el-Amarna Tablets from Akko, Megiddo and Shechem. M.A. Thesis, Tel Aviv University. (Hebrew with English summary.)

Rainey, Anson F. 1970. El-Amarna Tablets 359-379. (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 8.) Kevelaer: Butzon und Bercker.

Rainey, Anson F. 1978. El-Amarna Tablets 359-379. 2nd edition, revised. (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 8.) Kevelaer: Butzon und Bercker.

Rainey, Anson F. 1996. Canaanite in the Amarna Tablets: A Linguistic Analysis of the Mixed Dialect Used by Scribes from Canaan. 4 volumes. Leiden: Brill.

Smith, Scobie 1998. The Inflectional Morphology of the YVQTVL- Verb in the Shuwardata Amarna Letters (EA 278-284, 366). Israel Oriental Studies 18: 125-170. (Published by Eisenbrauns.)

Youngblood, Ronald Fred. 1961. The Amarna Correspondence of Rib-Haddi, Prince of Byblos (EA 68-96). PhD Dissertation, The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learnings, Philadelphia. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.