Thursday, August 22, 2013

Follow-up on the City of Abraham

I noted a couple of days ago a news report on an archaeological site (Oylum Höyük) that either its excavator or a newsman connected with Abraham. I have now had a chance to read through a recent (2012) report on the Early Bronze (EB) and Middle Bronze (MB) Age finds and a surface survey of the surrounding area. It is a bit more sober than the news reports. I note the following features:
  • The site is the largest archaeological site of the Kilis plain during the EB and MB periods. It was the major city (town) of the area. For those proposing that it is the site of Ulisum mentioned in the Naram-Sin inscription, this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

  • There is a destruction layer in the EB levels which would match with the destruction of the site under Naram-Sin. (Again a necessary but not a sufficient condition.)

  • There are also two destruction layers in the MB levels.

  • There is a massive fortification wall dating to the Bronze age (but exact dates are not given and appear not to have been known when the report was written).

  • The evidence from the Bronze Age "remains partly patchy and includes gaps."

  • No radio-carbon dates from the site are available.

  • Burials provide much of the information and it appears from them that the population was poorer in the MB than in the EB. 

  • Burials within the houses in the MB period match those of other MB sites in Syria.

  • The archaeological report says that there is so far no inscriptional evidence from the site for the periods in question.

  • Although the publication date is 2012, the information may not reflect finds from even a couple of years before that. So the archaeologists may now have inscriptional evidence that they did not have when the report was written, or they may have simply ignored the inscriptional evidence they did have because it was from a later time period and hence not relevant to discussing Bronze Age remains. Typically, there can be a ten year lag between the discovery of an inscription and the publication of the inscription.

Oylum Höyük is the largest site in the Kilis plain and clearly dominated the whole plain in the Middle Bronze Age. The site would explain the wording in the Book of Abraham that "Potiphar’s Hill [was] at the head of the plain of Olishem" (Abraham 1:10) Olishem is only mentioned because the whole plains took their name from the city and that Ur was apparently located in the plains, but the text never says that Abraham was at Olishem. Nothing precludes this site from being Abraham's Olishem, but nothing requires it to be either.

The site (possibly of Olishem) is about thirty-five to forty miles north of where I guessed the site of Ur would be. I made my guess based on the confluence of the Egyptian evidence (for Olishem) and the Naram-Sin inscription. (You can see my guess on the map published here.) Ur should be in the same plain and about five to ten miles from Olishem.

If indeed tablets in Hittite from the site identify it as Ullis, then it is probably the Ulisum that Naram-Sin attacked, and is a likely candidate for Olishem. If Oylum Höyük is Olishem, then Ur of the Chaldees would be one of the dozens of MB II sites in the Kilis plain. At present, there are still too many ifs to see this as anything more than promising but not proven.