Hoffmeier noted that Hyatt (1971) had argued Yahweh was _originally_ an Amorite or "Syrian" name, yahwi, found in the 18th century B.C. annals of the Amorite city-state of Mari on the Euphrates (whose above mural "may be" a source of fabulous winged beasts guarding the tree of life and of good and evil):
"...J. P. Hyatt, for example, advocated this view, believing that the name Yahweh was originally Amorite and is attested in personal names in the early 2d millennium BC by the element Yahwi. Indeed, there are names at Mari, an Amorite kingdom, that apparently utilized the root from which the divine name Yahweh came (i.e., haya), that may offer clues to the process for the development of new divine names. According to those who see a Syro-Mesopotamian connection, the name came via Mesopotamia and was "the god of one of the ancestors of Moses."
(p. 236. "The Origins of Israel's God." James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel in Sinai, The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. Oxford & New York. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-515546-7. Citing J. Philip Hyatt. Exodus. London. Marshall, Morgan & Scott. 1971. p. 79)
Gordon and Rendsburg suggested Yahweh was honored in Syria not just Israel the brackets [ ] are mine:
"It is of interest to add here a few words about Syrian rulers of this period [1st millennium B.C.] with Yahwistic names. The annals of Tiglathpileser III refer to a king named Azriyau, and while the exact locale of his rule cannot be determined, it is clear that he was a local king in Syria. Similarly, later, during the reign of Sargon II, Assyrian records refer to a ruler of Hamath named Yaubidi...If we go further back in history, to the 2d millennium B.C.E., it will be recalled that Yahwistic forms also appear among the Amorite personal names from Syria. The picture that emerges is that Yahwe was worshipped not only in Israel, but to some extent in Syria as well. Probably the Syrian version of Yahwism differed from the Israelite version of a monolatry focused on Yahwe, but it still needs to be recognized that the worship of Yahwe persisted in areas of the Near East outside of Israel."
(pp. 250-251. "From Israel's Largest Empire to the Fall of Samaria. Cyrus H. Gordon & Gary A. Rendsburg. The Bible and the Ancient Near East. New York & London. W. W. Norton & Company. 1997. [4th edition, 1965, 1958, 1953])
The 2d millennium B.C. (ca. the 18th century B.C.) Mari archives on the Euphrates give names of people that some scholars have suggested are Yahweh names: Yahwi-ilum, Yahwi-ila, Yahwi-Addu, Yahwi-Dagan; a text often cited for these names is Herbert B. Huffmon. Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1965. cf. also Herbert B. Huffmon. "Yahweh and Mari." pp. 283-289, in Hans Goedicke. Editor. Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright. Baltimore, Maryland. Johns Hopkins Press. 1971.
As regards the meaning of yahwi in Amorite names, suggestions have been: "to manifest [oneself]" or "to be present"; ilum means "god" as also so does ilu. Thus some have suggested yahwi-ilum means "the god manifests [himself]" or "El manifests [himself]."
Mari fell to Hammurabi of Babylon who destroyed the site with its archives possessing yawi names. Of interest here is that some scholars have suggested Abraham may have been a contemporary of Hammurabi.If so, the yawi names at Mari bear witness to this god's existence in the days of Hammurabi (biblical Amraphel?) and Abraham. Professor Jastrow (1914) on Abraham migrating from Ur of the Chaldees in Lower Mesopotamia to Haran in Upper Mesopotamia in Hammurabi's days (the "Terahites" being Terah, Nahor and Abraham):
"It is about the time of Hammurapi that we may with probability fix the migration of the Terahites, first from Ur to Haran..."
(p. 13. Morris Jastrow Jr. The Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions. The Haskell Lectures at Oberlin. Charles Scribner and Sons. 1914)
It is of interest that Abraham was later of Upper or northern Mesopotamia (Haran) and Yahweh appeared to him in this region telling him to migrate to the land of Canaan, and Mari lies in this same general region. Mari was an Amorite city-state. Haran was famed for its worship of the moon god Sin, and Abraham was of Ur of the Chaldees (tell el Muqqayar according to some) which honored the moon god under the name of Nanna or Nannar. A Sumerian stele shows a seated and bearded Nanna being served liquid refreshment by a naked man (priest?). The god Enki, called Ea by 2500 B.C. had a temple or shrine at Ur. In the Ur myths Ea, pronounced aya or ayya was credited with supervising the creation of man to work in his fruit-tree garden at Eridu as well as Enlil's garden at Nippur. In later myths Ea (Aya) confounds the one language of the world into a babel of languages to spite Enlil. In yet another myth, Ea/Aya spites Enlil again when he warns the Mesopotamian Noah, Utnapishtim (also called Atrahasis or Ziusudra) to build a boat and save heimself, family and animals from a flood intending to destroy all mankind at Enlil's instigation. Did the Aramaic "ear" at Haran hear Aya (Ea) as ehyeh or haya? Yahweh/Ehyeh, like Ea/Aya is credited with making man to work in his garden and he warned one man of a flood to destroy mankind.
Is the naked man serving a drink to Nanna at Ur, recalling the Mesopotamian myth (cf. the so-called "Eridu Genesis Myth") of man at first being a savage, knowing nothing of the arts of civilization, wandering the steppe with wild animals and in a naked state? Later the gods civilize man, take him to work their gardens and serve them food and build their cities. Man is taught it is wrong to be naked, for the gods wear clothes and nakedness is an offense to them. Thus naked savage man at first wandered with animals for companions in a naked state because the knowledge of good and evil was denied him (it is wrong to be naked) by the gods in the beginning, only later does man acquire this knowledge, and becomes "like a god," knowing good and evil (to cover his nakedness). That is to say the Sumerian depictions of naked men serving the gods may be what is behind the biblical portrayal of Adam's nakedness as Yahweh's agricultural servant?
Professor Parrot (1967) who excavated Mari remarks on its mural which he found and its suggestion to him of themes associated with Genesis' Garden of Eden:
"In the palace, dating from the second millennium B.C., there was a large mural painting; it provides a particularly relevant illustration to the Old Testament. This painting, which we named 'The Investiture', was found in situ in courtyard 106; it was taken down and brought to the Louvre, where it is now on view. In the centre stands the king of Mari, to whom the godess Ishtar is giving the emblems of power in the presence of the gods. This scene is surrounded by trees, animals, and goddesses. Some of the details remind one of the Old Testament story of Eden (Gen ii-iii), which relates, among other things, that the garden of Eden was watered by a river with four tributaries (Gen ii.10), that two trees were there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (ii.17) and the tree of life (iii.22), and that, after the fall of man, Yahweh placed cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life (iii.24). It is rather surprising that the picture from Mari seems to retain the same memory. Beneath the investiture, two goddesses hold a vase each, out of which pours a flow of water in four streams. On both sides of the central scene two different trees are represented; one is a palm-tree bearing bunches of dates to which men are climbing. The other, which has very stylized branches, cannot be definitely identified, but it is noteworthy that it is obviously guarded by three cherubim who are keeping watch. It must be admitted that this garden, which has been planted, watered, and guarded, does not lack features which relate it to the garden of Eden in Genesis.
The palace of Mari was destroyed by the soldiers of Hammurabi, who reigned at Babylon in the eighteenth century B.C. This is exactly the period in which many Old Testament scholars date the patriarchs, particularly Abraham, the first patriarch."
(p.139. Andre Parrot. "Mari." pp. 136-144, in D. Winton Thomas, editor. Archaeology and Old Testament Study. Oxford, England. Oxford University. The Clarendon Press. 1967)
Gates, an Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of Bilkent in Ankara, Turkey, thought that Parrot's unidentified tree might be a "papyrus-tree" (I note that this rather fabulous make-believe tree appears in Phoenician art guarded by human headed, lion-bodied sphinxes which some have identified as being cherubim).
Gates describing the Mari wall mural:
"These two panels are framed by a fantastic landscape created by two papyrus-like trees and two date palms..."
(p. 64. Charles Gates. Ancient Cities: The Archaeology of Urban Life in the Ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome. London. Routledge. 2003)
Mari has not only preserved 2d millennium B.C. personal names possessing yahwi as a theophoric element ca. the 18th century B.C., but also a mural showing "what may be" the pre-biblical origins of the Cherubim who guard either one or two sacred trees in a god's garden, (one tree being accessed by man in the Mari mural). Also in the scene are waterpots held by two demi-gods (?). These pots with streams of water flowing from them frequently are "iconographic symbols" _for springs_ as "sources" of rivers, and these two pots show four streams from each pot, recalling Eden's river which arose from a spring and divided into four streams. Abraham in tradition settled for a time at Haran in Northern Mesopotamia and his descendants were called Arameans or "Syrians" (De 26:5). Is it just possible that Yahweh as a name -yahwi- is indeed traceable in its "pre-biblical origins" to Northern Syria and the Haran-Mari area, confirming the biblical traditions that Israel's patriarchs were originally of this region, so too, some of the motifs about Cherubim guarding sacred trees in a God's earthly garden?
My research indicates that motifs from several different Mesopotamian myths about man's lost chance for immortality, being placed in a god's garden to tend it, and his expulsion, have been combined and reinterpreted at a later date by the Hebrews.
Ezekiel did not envision the Cherubim as winged sphinxes, he described them as possessing a human form, a human face, arms, hands and wings (Ez 1:5-11). They also had non-human features, three other faces consisting of an eagle, calf and lion, with cloven feet and were accompanies by a flying wheel (Ez 1:15-18). Mesopotamian Art forms _alternately_ show a "sacred tree" not only guarded by winged sphinxes but also by winged genii who possess human features, sometimes they are bull-men (without wings), other times winged humans with an animal's head (Griffin heads and Lion heads). It is probably these _alternate_ renderings that Ezekiel is drawing from and transforming. I suspect that a single god, demi-god or genii could assume in "the imagination of the priests" a number of alternate forms (1) Human; (2) Human with animal features; (3) Animal, (4) Animal with human features; (5) a non-human and non-animal form, such as a tree, a pole, a pillar, water, a lightning bolt, a crown, a shovel; (6) Invisibility like air or wind.
Finally, let it be noted: Ezekiel's very detailed description of the Cherubim (Ez 1:5-12) does _NOT_ agree with the "common" Christian representation of Cherubim Angels modeled after Greco-Roman winged Nikes and Victories; NOR does his description agree with the winged sphinxes suggested by Archaeology's findings of winged sphinx thrones of the Late Bronze Age (1540-1200 B.C.) or Iron Age (1200-560 B.C.) found in Phoenica and Canaan. For a picture of Ezekiel's cherub and its possible Ancient Near Eastern "prototypes" please click here. The Sumerian goddess and "Queen of Heaven" Inanna (Akkadian Ishtar) seen in the above wall mural from Mari was at Nippur called nin edin-na "the lady of edin" and Inanna edin "Inanna of edin," edin being Sumerian for uncultivated land abutting the god's city-gardens or irrigated and cultivated land, a desert-like or semiarid steppe or plain (Mari is situated on such a plain on the southside of the Euphrates). Inanna's (Ishtar's) husband Dumuzi (biblical Tammuz) in Sumerian was called mulu edin "the lord of edin." In other myths Inanna accompanies her brother the sun-god Sumerian Utu, in a descent to the earth to EAT various plants INCUDING CEDAR TREES (consuming the cedar nuts or "pine nuts") in order to acquire KNOWLEDGE about sexual matters to discharge her conjugal duties. I understand that Inanna, "the lady of edin" who ATE OF TREES TO ACQUIRE SEXUAL KNOWLEDGE for her husband the "lord of edin," has been _recast_ into Eve who ate of a tree's fruit to acquire knowledge. For the details please click here and for even yet more details click here and here. That is to say, Mari's wall mural shows Ishtar (Inanna), "the lady of edin" bestowing rulership on Mari's kings in this painting.
In Mesopotamian belief the king is appointed by the gods to direct or oversee mankind in the provisioning of food, clothing and housing for the gods. He does this by directing his people on how to care for the gods' gardens (made before man's creation by the gods to provide food for themselves). Later, when the gods tire of caring for their own gardens they create man to care for their gardens giving them eternal rest from agricultural toil.
I understand that what you are beholding here dear reader, is "the lady of edin" (Inanna/Ishtar) bestowing on man whom she has created (Ishtar declares in the Epic of Gilgamesh' flood account she "gave birth" to mankind), kingship and caretaker duties over "her" godly garden in order to provide her with food. The fabulous beasts that guard the TWO trees in her garden may be what was later morphed into the Cherubim by the Hebrews in Genesis' account of the Garden in Eden.