The first written documents were impressions on wet clay called tablets. The writing was called cuneiform. Over 500,000 cuneiform tablets survive from the ancient world preserving evidence about every imaginable aspect of life.
The earliest written documents come from Sumer in Mesopotamia (modern southern Iraq) and
date to around 3,500 BC. They are written on clay tablets. The script is called cuneiform. Over
500,000 tablets survive from the ancient Near East preserving texts relating to every aspect of
life. These texts provide background and context to the biblical narrative. The first tablet,
dating to 3,000 BC preserves a very rare, early development in ancient writing. The tablet
preserves pictographs and is an administrative tablet from a temple or a palace. Both sides are
inscribed with signs for things and numbers with each pictographic sign. The flatter side
appears to be the obverse (or front), and the more convex side the reverse. The tablet has
been assembled from pieces and has surface damage, especially on the reverse, which appears
to be a summary of the document. At present, some of the signs can be identified and
translated, but not all. The system of numbers is not certainly worked out, so the translation
offered here is provisional, and only for the first two compartments of the obverse: 45 ewes |
33 breeding rams | Sheep and goats were the normal domestic animals in Sumer, because
there was no adequate pasture of cattle.
The two cuneiform tablets date to approximately 2000 BC. Both tablets come from Ur, the
biblical Abraham’s city. Both tablets date to the Ur III period. One tablet is an economic tablet
from the reign of Shu-Sin, ruler of Sumer and Akkad, and father of Ibbi-Sin the last ruler of Ur III.
The tablet preserves a date formula of Shu-Sin. The second tablet is a record of taxes or temple
offerings. One tablet has the seal of the moon god Sin who was the chief god in the city of Ur,