NUZI, ancient city in N.E. Iraq at the present site of Yorghan Tepe, about 10 miles (16 km.) S.W. of Arrapha, modern Kirkuk, near the foothills of southern Kurdistan. Excavations were begun at Nuzi in 1925 by E. Chiera and were continued through 1931 under the joint auspices of the American School of Oriental Research, Harvard University, and the University Museum of Pennsylvania. The earliest occupation of the site can be traced to prehistoric times. During the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. the place was called Gasur (Foster 1987). The city reached the height of its importance during the 15th–14th centuries B.C.E., when it was called Nuzi and was part of the Mitanni Empire centered in northern Syria; its population largely spoke the Hurrian language, though they wrote in Akkadian. It was destroyed by the Assyrians in the 14th century B.C.E.
Interest in Nuzi arose because of apparent parallels between situations discussed in the approximately 7,000 cuneiform tablets from the site with biblical materials especially from Genesis about the Patriarchal Age (Speiser 1962). The tablets reveal activities of perhaps six generations of citizens over fewer than 100 years from 1440 to 1340. The king of nearby Arrapha had a palace in the town, and he was a vassal of Mitanni. But the contacts with the outside world were minimal, and the main story to be derived from the texts is the gradual impoverishment of most of the population and the growth in power of the rich and the large estates they were putting together (Morrison 1992; Maidman 1995; Wilhelm and Stein 2001). Archaeologically the site is of interest because of the regular layout of the streets around the palace and temple, and within the palace and another rich house there were frescoes preserved that show Aegean and Egyptian influence (Wilhelm and Stein 2001, Stein 1997).
It is not so clear that the practices in Nuzi really reflect practices depicted among the Patriarchs. Partly this is because other sites have provided insights into nomadic life in the second millennium and partly this is because the historical memory in the Genesis stories has been affected by much later events. Also customs seen at Nuzi are known now to be widespread in the Ancient Near East, and some persist today (Morrison 1992: 1160–61).
Among parallels that still are of interest is the fact that apparently land could only be sold within families in Nuzi. This recalls the biblical preoccupation with redeeming land and trying to keep it within the same extended family. The Nuzi wheelers and dealers got around the prohibition by having themselves adopted into families (Zaccagnini 2003, 594–96). The biblical material knows nothing of adoption, though it seems that before Isaac's birth Abram assumed his house-born slave would be his heir (Gen. 15:3).
Rachel's theft of her father Laban's household gods (Genesis 31:19) may be explained by the idea that possession of household gods could be part of a legal title to the paternal estate. This interpretation is based on the following tablet from Nuzi: "Tablet of adoption belonging to N., the son of A.; he adopted W., the son of P. As long as N. is alive, W. shall provide food and clothing. When N. dies, W. shall become the heir. If N. has a son of his own, he shall divide [the estate] equally with W., but the son of N. shall take the gods of N. However, if N. does not have a son of his own, then W. shall take the gods of N. Furthermore, he gave his daughter N. in marriage to W. and if W. takes another wife, he shall forfeit the lands and buildings of N." (Meek 1969: 219–20; Zaccagnini 2003, 602–3). Clearly the nature of the material from the Hebrew Bible and from Nuzi is quite different, but the cultural milieus may reflect similar concerns.
B. Foster, "People, Land, and Produce at Sargonic Gasur," in: D. Owen and M. Morrison (ed.), Studies on the Civiliation and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians (1987), 2: 89–107; M. Maidman, "Nuzi: Portrait of an Ancient Mesopotamian Provinical Town," in: J. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (1995), 931–47; T. Meek, "Nuzi Akkadian," in: J. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1969), 219–20; M. Morrison, "Nuzi," in: Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992.), 4: 1156–62; E.A. Speiser, "Nuzi," in: The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (1962), 3:573–74; D. Stein, "Nuzi," in: E. Myers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 4: 171–75; C. Zaccagnini "Nuzi," in: R. Westbrook (ed.), A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2003), 1: 565–617; G. Wilhelm and D. Stein "Nuzi," in: Reallexikon der Assyriologie (2001), 9: 7/8: 636–47.