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Holman Bible Dictionary

Amarna, Tell el

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is a site approximately two hundred miles south of Cairo, Egypt, where, in 1888, clay tablets were found describing the period of history when the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt. Amarna is not mentioned by name in the Bible. Tell el-Amarna lies on the east bank of the Nile River. The name for the area of Tell el-Amarna was apparently coined about 1830 by John Gardner Wilkinson when he combined the name of the village, Et-Till, with the name of the surrounding district, El-Amarna. The use of the word “tell” in the name is misleading. In Arabic, it means “mound,” and it would therefore be expected that the site is made up of several levels, indicating successive periods of occupation. There are no such levels, however.

Tell el-Amarna is the present location of the ancient Egyptian city Akhenaton. That city was constructed as the new capital of a young Pharaoh, Amenhotep (or Amenophis) IV, who was in power during the mid-fourteenth century B.C.

The 300 clay tablets discovered in 1888 at Tell el-Amarna have vastly expanded scholarly knowledge about Egyptian culture. Although the site is not mentioned in the Bible, the discovery of the tablets is important to biblical studies because the tablets relate to the general period in history surrounding the Israelite bondage in Egypt. In fact, the Habiru people, generally associated with the Hebrews, first received scholarly attention because of their mention in the so-called Amarna Letters.

The letters were primarily diplomatic communications between Egypt and Egyptian-controlled territories, including Syria and Palestine. Rulers of small Palestinian city-states including Shechem, Jerusalem, and Megiddo complain of mistreatment by other rulers and ask for Egyptian aid. These letters evidence the political unrest, disunity, and instability of the period prior to the Hebrew conquest.

Hugh Tobias

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Amarna, Tell el'. Holman Bible Dictionary.​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​a/amarna-tell-el.html. 1991.