Nuzi was a town in northeastern Mesopotamia (the ancient land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers). It was about nine miles southwest of present-day Kirkuk. In ancient times the site was called Gasur, but the modern name is Yorgan Tepe. Excavations at Yorgan Tepe were carried out from 1925 to 1931 by an expedition of archaeologists who made many interesting finds. But Yorgan Tepe is best known for its clay tablets, which primarily deal with business transactions.
In the third millennium BC the population of Gasur was largely Semitic. But by the middle of the second millennium, the inhabitants were Hurrians. And the name of the city had been changed from Gasur to Nuzi. The Hurrians are identified as the Horites of the Bible (compare Genesis 14:6; Genesis 36:20-21; Deuteronomy 2:12, 22).
Many clay tablets of the third millennium BC were unearthed. One tablet that is inscribed with a map is regarded as the oldest map in the world. The records also show that installment buying was practiced even then.
In the fifteenth to fourteeth centuries BC, Hurrian scribes wrote on thousands of clay tablets, mostly in the Babylonian language. These records provide much information about Near Eastern customs and legal practices. They also shed light on the period of the Bible involving the Patriarchs.
The following examples may serve as illustrations of possible relationships between Nuzi and the Bible. In Nuzi a childless wife could give her handmaid to her husband so that the maid could bear children in the name of the wife. This practice was followed by Sarai, who gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband, Abram (Genesis 16:1-4). Rachel gave Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-8). Leah gave Zilpah to Jacob (Genesis 30:9-13). In such a case, the father had a responsibility to rear the child as the offspring of his legal wife, and the wife could not drive away the child. According to this rule, Sarai had no right to drive out Hagars son, Ishmael (compare Genesis 16:4-6).
In Nuzi there was a law against the sale of property outside ones own family. Several schemes were used to get around this prohibition, including adoption and the exchange of property. In return for a guarantee of lifelong care and burial costs, a wealthy landowner would have himself adopted by landholding peasants so that he received their property. The records indicate that the very same man could be adopted by 300 or 400 peasants. A couple without children could legally adopt someone to provide for them in their old age and for their burial. The adopted person would be the heir to the property of his adopting parents. This may have been the relationship between Abram and his servant Eliezer (Genesis 15:2). One could also exchange property of little value for valuable property. In some instances, the difference in value could be made up in money. At Nuzi a man named Tehip-tilla sold his inheritance rights in a grove to his brother, Kurpazah, in exchange for three sheep. This parallels Esaus sale of his birthright to Jacob for a serving of stew (Genesis 25:27-34).
In Nuzi an oral will or blessing given on ones deathbed was legally binding and could not be undone. A man named Huya was lying on his sickbed at the point of death. He took the hand of his son, Tarmiya, and gave to him a woman, Sululi-Ishtar, to be his wife. Tarmiyas two brothers challenged his claim in court, but the court recognized the truth of Tarmiyas case. Although Jacob obtained the blessing of his blind and aged father by deception, Isaac had to stand by what he had done (Genesis 27:33).
The Nuzi tablets also indicate that the person who had possession of the teraphim, or household gods, was the heir to the property of the owner of the idols. For this reason, Rachel took the teraphim of her father Laban (Genesis 31:19), who was very disturbed over their disappearance (Genesis 31:30-35).
Another case of adoption parallels the relationship between Jacob and Laban. Nashwi adopted Wullu and gave his daughter, Nuhuya, to him in marriage. If Wullu married another wife, he would have to forfeit the property he had received from Nashwi. Laban also made a covenant with Jacob that he would not take a wife other than Labans two daughters, Leah and Rachel (Genesis 31:50).