After moving to Winterset in 2005 after graduation, Stacy and I visited the Winterset Public Library‘s summer book sale, and while there I picked up a respectable stack of Biblical Archaeology Review magazines from the early ’90s. Fast forward a few years, and I’m sitting in the basement cracking open the covers of these magazines for the first time. What do I find under the first issue’s “Queries & Comments” (Letters to the Editor) page? A story of puppy + lettuce sacrifice in ancient Mari. As I began to read the letter aloud to Stacy, Veda, also in the basement, rolls on her back and plays dead. Fortunately for her we (1) had no lettuce in the house and (2) have no unresolved beef nor are officiating an unresolved beef with either the Hanu or the Idamaras.
I finish the letter to find it’s written by none other than one of NWC’s hidden history treasures, Dr. Clyde Billington.
Here’s the letter in full (but without Trude Dothan’s reply):
Biblical Archaeology Review
Vol. XVI No.3
Sacrificing a Puppy to Solemnize a Peace Treaty
Trude Dothan in “Ekron of the Philistines” (Part 1, Jan./Feb. 1990) states that a ritually decapitated puppy was found near an ancient kiln in Ekron. Dothan writes, “We have no idea what this signifies” (p. 28).
One of the Mari letters refers to a religious ritual involving the sacrifice of a puppy. A letter sent by Ibal-Il, an official of the ancient city of Mari, to his master Zimri-Lim, king of Mari, mentions a sacrifice involving a “puppy and lettuce.” Ibal-Il writes:
“I went to Aslakka to ‘kill an ass’ between the Hanu and the Idamaras. A ‘puppy and lettuce’ they brought, but I obeyed my lord and did not give the ‘puppy and lettuce.’ I caused the foal of an ass to be slaughtered. I established peace between the Hanu and the Idamaras.” (William F. Albright, translator, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James Pritchard [Princeton Univ. Press], p. 483)
From Ibal-Il’s letter it would appear that the “puppy and lettuce” sacrifice was in some way similar to—but apparently not as efficacious as—the “killing of an ass.” The sacrificing of an ass is a well-known ancient ritual for solemnizing a peace treaty.
Clyde E. Billington, Jr.
The Institute for Biblical Archaeology
Orchard Lake, Michigan