[b-hebrew] Amarna Letters: The Number 318

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 27 09:56:59 EST 2007

Yitzhak Sapir:
Thanks to your brilliant analysis of the word usually translated as “porters”
 in Amarna Letter #287, I think we can finally understand that line of text 
for the first time.
I have always been suspicious of the translation “porters”, because it does 
not make sense for the leader of Jerusalem to be sending 318 porters to 
Akhenaten.  Even 8 porters would seem very odd.
1.  You wrote:  “The reading of the word "porter" is based on the reading 
ú-bi-li-mi in
 the text.  This is read as "yobil" from the root ybl "bring" in Canaanite, 
much like
 yocer "potter" or yo$eb "dweller."  The -o- is a giveaway that this word is 
 because it indicates the a: > o shift that was not present in Akkadian.  
Based on
 Sivan, the other comparable form is in EA 288, line 13 "raise a tax for the 
I think it would be fair to say that an ultra-literal translation of this 
word would be “bringers”.  That is not Canaanite slang for “porters”.  No, that’
s Canaanite slang for “taxpayers”, the citizens who “bring” their tax money 
to pharaoh.  Note that the other use of this term in the Amarna Letters is 
also by Abdi-Heba (in Amarna Letter #288), and is translated by Wm. Moran as “
tribute-bearer” of the king.  These are not literal “bearers” as in “porters”, 
but rather are “bearers” of taxes, that is “taxpayers”.
2.  Now everything makes sense.  Akhenaten had levied a tax of 5,000 units on 
Jerusalem (a round number.).  Abdi-Heba is saying that he collected that 
5,000 units of taxes from the 318 taxpayer citizens of Jerusalem.  Abdi-Heba knows 
exactly how many taxpayer citizens there are in Jerusalem, an exact number, 
and 318 is as good a guess for that figure as any.
Even on the day that cuneiform tablet was created, the words after “5,000” 
and before “yobil”/”bringers”/”taxpayers” may have been semi-illegible.  
Everyone knew the units of tax involved, and pharaoh’s translator wouldn’t care 
to know the exact number of taxpayer citizens in Jerusalem, so those words or 
abbreviations between “5,000” and “taxpayers” were not of critical 
Abdi-Heba is claiming that he sent by caravan the taxes due (along with some 
prisoners), but that the caravan was waylaid, so that Akhenaten did not 
receive that tax payment.  Furthermore, Abdi-Heba says that he will not be sending 
any more tax payments now, because it is not safe for caravans to travel 
between Jerusalem and Egypt, unless Akhenaten were to return the 50 Egyptian troops 
to Jerusalem for which Abdi-Heba is constantly begging.
3.  As to the number “318”, I still think it is reasonable to see that 
number there.  True, that number is no longer legible today.  But Knudtzon thought 
he saw it 100 years ago, and Knudtzon is usually reliable on such matters.  
Moreover, Knudtzon thought he saw the number 318 even when the translation of 
318 porters did not make much sense.  My new suggested translation of 318 
citizen taxpayers (of Jerusalem) makes perfect sense, numerically.
I will admit that if “yobil” is translated as “taxpayers”, rather than as “
porters”, the connection to Genesis 14: 14 is slightly weakened.  But I think 
that is the correct translation, which makes sense in terms of the Amarna 
Letters.  As to Genesis 14: 14, the author of the Patriarchal narratives may be 
implying that whereas the 318 taxpayer citizens of Jerusalem cannot even get 
their tax money to Akhenaten, the tent-dwelling Hebrews near Jerusalem can, in a 
pinch, muster 318 adult male fighters to oppose four attacking rulers who 
include one ruler with a Hittite kingly name (“Tidal”, as the Hebrew version of “
Tudhaliya”, which in turn is a slightly disguised reference to Suppililiuma I, 
who murdered his older brother named “Tudhaliya”/”Tidal” to gain the 
Hittite throne, and who was the mighty Hittite king who conquered northern Lebanon 
and Syria in the mid-14th century BCE).  
4.  I never thought that on the b-Hebrew list, of all places, I would find a 
nifty explanation of the word “porters” that has long bothered me.  Thanks a 
million.  I am in awe of your expertise in ancient languages.
Sometimes the Internet is wonderful.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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