Ancient Prophets in the Mari Letters                                                               


























The Mari Letters are a collection of royal correspondence from Mari, an ancient city state on the Euphrates that rivaled the power of Babylon until its destruction by Hammurabi in 1760 BCE.  They provide a number of precious insights into the history and culture of this powerful city state, including the activities of ancient prophets. 

In the letters listed below, Zimri-Lim, the King of Mari, receives a number of correspondences from his royal subjects regarding the activity of prophets.  Many of these prove instructive for helping us to understand the functions of Israel’s prophets in their ancient Near Eastern context.                                                            






Map:  Mari was a powerful city state until it was burned by Hammurabi, 1760 BCE (






Read the following three Mari Letters and answer the questions provided below.







Letter #1:  “Give them a just verdict…”


To:  Zimri-Lim, King of Mari

From:  Nur-Sin, Official of the King of Mari

… The apilum prophet of Addu, God of Halab, said to me:  “Am I not Addu, God of Halab, who has raised you … who helped you regain your father’s throne?  I never ask too much of you.  Respond to the appeals of your people when they experience injustice and give them a just verdict.  You are to do what I ask and what I write you to do.  You will obey  my word and keep watch over this land continually, as well as the country…”  (Old Testament Parallels, 109-110)


Questions:  *  What problem does the prophet address in this message?   *  How does the prophet understand the relationship between the king and the deity Addu?  *  What is the duty of a just king?  *  What does this letter suggest about the relationships between kings and prophets?



Photo:  A worshipper statuette,

Mari (







Letter#2:  “O Babylon … I will draw you up into a net…”


To:  Zimri-Lim of Mari

From:  Mukannisum, Official to the King of Mari

After I offered the sacrifice to Dagan for the king’s health, the apilum prophet of Dagan in Tuttul arose and said, “O Babylon!  What is this that you are continually doing?  I will draw you up into a net … I intend to give the houses of the Seven Allies, and all their property, to King Zimri-Lim.  (Old Testament Parallels, 109-110)


Questions:  *  To whom does this prophet directly address this message?  *  Is this a favorable or unfavorable message for King Zimri-Lim and Mari?  *  Whose side is the deity Dagan taking in the current political struggle between Mari and Babylon?  *  What does this say about the possible political implications of ancient prophecies?




Photo:  What would Hammurabi

of Babylon have thought of this

prophecy at Mari?  (







Letter#3:  “You will be tested by a revolt…”


To:  Zimri-Lim, King of Mari

From:  Shibtu, Queen of the King of Mari

My lord:  … On the third day of the festival, the Prophet Shelibum fell into an ecstatic trance in the temple of the Goddess Annunitum, who said, “Oh King Zimri-Lim, you will be tested by a revolt.  Take special precautions.  Surround yourself only with your most beloved and trustworthy officials.  Let them stand continuous watch over you.  Do not go out alone!  I will hand over to you those who will test your rule.”  In confirmation of this, I am sending the king hair from the head of this assinu prophet and cloth from the hem of her garment.


Questions:  *  What does this letter tell us about the time, place, and circumstances in which this message was given?  *  As in Letter#2, whose side will the Goddess Annunitum take in the present crisis?  *  What seems to be going on within the royal house according to this prophecy?  *  What do we learn about the gender of this prophet?  *  Why are portions of the prophet’s hair and garment sent to Zimri-Lim?


Photo:  Woman (a priestess?)

from the Temple of Ishtar at

Mari, ca. 2500-2400 BCE








Drawing some conclusions ….

What do these letters teach us about some of the different functions that prophets had in ancient times?  What does this say about the role of religion in ancient societies?