The so-called Amarna Letters are a collection of several hundred clay tablets dated to the 14th century BC. First discovered in Tell el-Amarna in 1887, the tablets were penned during the reigns of kings Amenhotep III and Akhenaton more than 3,000 years ago. Archaeologists are fascinated by the tablets because they shed light onto the diplomatic and political machinations of ancient Egypt.
Some experts, however, believe the tablets are equally important for Biblical studies, providing some of the earliest known mentions of the Hebrews and the people inhabiting modern-day Israel.
Theologians believe the Bible is not only a religious document but also a historical chronicle of the the Levant and Middle East.
According to Tom Meyer, a professor of Bible studies at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, there are grounds to believe the Amarna Tablets have a strong link to the Bible’s historical narrative.
He told Express.co.uk: “These tablets contain fascinating insights on not only the geopolitics of the Levant shortly after the time of Israel’s conquest of Canaan but perhaps also provide extra-Biblical information about the Hebrews themselves at the time of the Biblical Judges.
“Akhenaten was the 10th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom in Egypt.
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“Originally named Amenhotep IV, the Pharaoh changed his name in his early years to Akhenaten to honour his newfound god.
“Akhenaten was educated at Memphis like most of the elite, then coronated as Pharaoh at Karnak and married to his cousin Nefertiti by whom he fathered the famous King Tut.”
Akhenaten reigned over Egypt between 1353 BC and 1336 BC.
The Pharaoh is best known for replacing Egypt’s chief deity of Amun Ra with the poorly known god Aten.
The Pharaoh then raised a new capital at Tell el-Amarna, devoted to the worship of Aten.
Professor Meyer said: “Not only are famous biblical cities like Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, and Jerusalem prominently mentioned, but over 100 of the tablets from local Canaanite vassals complain to the Pharaoh about a group of rebels and raiders in Canaan called Habiru.
“The local Canaanite kings informed Pharaoh that if he didn’t intervene quickly, the whole of Canaan would be overrun by these Habiru.
“The Habiru are mentioned in different ancient near eastern sources over a wide span of time, from the 18th to the 12th centuries BC and appear not to identify a specific ethnic group but a social group.
“It seems to be a nickname or label given to different ethnicities of semi-nomads in the Levant that were extremely problematic to the indigenous population.
“Some even suggest a linguistic connection between the term Habiru and Hebrew.”
This connection, however, remains an issue of debate among experts.
The theory was supported by Professor S. Douglas Waterhouse of Andrews University, who analysed the tablets in a 2001 paper.
He wrote: “In the ancient world, all Israelites were Hebrews, but not all Hebrews were Israelites.
“All Hebrews were Habiru, but not all Habiru were of the stock of Jacob.”
Other theories suggest the term meant fugitive or some other form of derogatory insult.
Professor Meyer said: “Whatever the case may be, it is certain that not all Habirus were Hebrews.
“However it is possible that the Canaanite kings writing to Pharaoh Akhenaten lumped the Hebrews into this social group of raiders and rebels that were causing a political upheaval in Canaan during the time of the Judges, an account with which the Bible is in total accordance.”