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13th September 2011, 23:47

The people of Ugarit were the Canaanites, precursors to the Phoenicians.

Archeological Background

The excavation of Ugarit began at a site known as Minet el-Beida, the "White Harbor", on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of Beirut, now in Syria.

From antiquity to the present, the site has been an important seaport. In 1929, when the excavations first began, the area was inhabited mainly by the Alaouite tribe, which claimed descent from a nephew of the prophet Muhammed. The Alaouites were considered, even by Moslems, to be a hostile and secret religious minority.

http://www.wendag.com/images/sumer/ugarit1.jpg http://www.wendag.com/images/sumer/ugarit2.jpg
In the spring of 1928, an Alaouite peasant had plowed up a flagstone that exposed a burial chamber, which had promptly been rifled. Inasmuch as Alaouite men had only supervised, rather than performed, work, which was actuallyu done by their wives (limited to seven), the credit for this initial archeological discovery must go to a woman.

The governor of the region, H. Schoeffler, notified the Bureau of Antiquities in Beirut, whose head, Charles Virolleaud, cleared the tomb. In Paris he showed the potsherds he had found to Rene Dussaud. On the basis of these sherds and a drawing of the tomb, Dussaud found significant parallels with Mycenean ware and Cretan tombs.

The Academie des Iscriptions et Beles-Lettres in Paris decided to send an archeological expedition to the site. To head the expedition, it chose the thirty year old curator of the Prehistoric and Gallo-Roman Museum of Strasbourg, Claude Schaeffer. Schaeffer had had no previous experience in ANE archeology. It was a strange choice. He was assisted by a close friend, Georges Chenet, whose tragic early death terminated what would in all likelihood have been a lifelong collaboration.

The selection of Schaeffer, however, turned out to be one of the most important decisions ever made in Biblical archelogy.

In those days, one reached the end of civilization at Tripoli, north of Beirut. Further north, the area was infested by a people called "Hashishin" -- "those who are addicted to hashish". From the name Hashishin we get the English word assassin. Perhaps not the nicest group, at least so far as reputation went.

The French had built a road as far north as Latakia, the "capital" of the Alaouite State. The fledgling expedition lead by Schaeffer tried to press beyond Latakia, overconfident in their American cars. In the end, they had to turn back and start again with camels instead of cars. They were accompanied by a few natives on horseback as guards.

On arriving at Minet el-Beida, Selim, the caravan guide, unloaded the camels on the nearest dune, collected his pay in Turkish coints (not trusting Syrian paper money), and promptly disappeared. Schaeffer and Chenet pitched their tents, cooked tea on an open fire, opened a tin of preserves, and turned in. The Syrian horsemen -- their guards -- wrapped themselves in their saddlecloths and slept under nearby shrubs, as was their custom.

A contingent of twenty Syrian soldiers arrived the next day, and, under Schaeffer's direction, immediately set to work with picks instead of guns. As the work got into full swing, 250 natives, mostly Alaouites, were also hired. A sprinkling of Turks were retained to watch the Alaouites (who also watched the Turks), in the hope of reducing looting.

Within a few days, it became obvious that the expedition at Minet el-Beida was in the midst of an ancient cemetary. When burial chambers worthy of a king were discovered, the e xcitement reached a new pitch: "I thought of the discovery of Lord Carnarvon and Mr. Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings" Schaeffer wrote. "Like them, we asked ourselves: what does the burial chamber contain?" Unfortunately, in antiquity graverobbers had been everywhere; in their haste, however, the ancient robbers had left much that we today consider treasure.

The second tomb that was opened almost collapsed on the archeologists: "Chenet and I had just time enough to jump asside, but it was too late for the workman who was digging one of the falling stones jammed crosswise, so that he suffered shock and a slightly bruised thigh."

Perhaps the best-known of the treasures found in those first days in the cemetary of the Minet el-Beida is the often reproduced relief, now in the Louvre, of a bare-breasted Cretan-Mycenaean fertility goddess on her throne, flanked on each side by a male goat symbolizing masculinity. Schaeffer described his discovery: "On her head the goddess wears a graceful Asiatic headdress. Her torso is nude. From hips to feet falls a much-pleated skirt with many ruffles. This is the most beautiful ivory relief that has been preserved from this remote age." To protect it from the burning heat and from robbers, he burried it again -- this time in his tent under his cot -- utnil the end of the expedition. A rider was dispatched to Latakia to send a radiogram to the Academy in Paris: "the treasure of Minet el-Beida is found!"

The next question was: where was the royal city of which this cemetary had been the necropolis? The obvious candidate for investigation was a nearby tell, a few hundred yards east of the cemetary. The sixty-five foot hill was covered with aromatic fennel (a preennial or biennial aromatic herb of the family apiacae [Umbelliferae], used as a flavoring agent and formerly as a medicine. According to a Greek myth, knowledge came to man from Olympus in the form of a fiery coal contained in a fennel stalk.), and therefore the name of this tel was "Fennel Promontory", but we know it by its Arabic form, "Rash Shamra."

Schaeffer decided this must have been the location of the royal capital. Although it was a half mile from the coast, it had undoubtedly been much closer in ancient times before the bay had silted up. "I decided to start my excavations on the highest point of the hill, where I had noticed a few traces of walls among the shrubs." Pay dirt was not long in appearing.

"In a room divided by three pillars we came upon a large number of clay tablets covered with cuneiform text. We had found the palace library! These writings promise to reveal most valuable information concerning the history of the ancient Near East. Some are written in Babylonian, the diplomatic language of that time, and deal with important government treaties..." (so he wrote).

Thus were discovered the first of the thousands of tablets uncovered at Ras Shamra -- that is, Ugarit.

He wrote: "To our amazement, we found that the majority of the tablets had been inscribed in a language the existence of which no one had ever surmised! And -- an extraordinary thing -- it is an alphabetical script of 27 [actually, 30] cuneiform signs, a real alphabetical document of the second millenium before Christ!..."

"We took every precaution to safeguard these precious historical documents. Among them are large tablets recording government treaties and very small ones containing the personal correspondence of the kings...

"I sent a messenger to Latakia to request the presence of the governor and the minister of finance of the State of the Alaouites as witnesses to the discovery. They came in two days; then I removed several additional tablets in their presence. Telegraphic information of this discovery sent to the Academy in Paris brought congratulations by radio and letters from England and America."

The identification of Ras Shamra with Ugarit was actually made a few years later when the ancient name Ugarit turned up on the Ras Shamra tablets. The Ugaritic alphabet and the text of the tablets from Ugarit, with their mythological and historical texts, have now opened the back door to the Hebrew Scriptures.

When the heat of June made further excavations impossible, the problem arose as to how to get the treasures and the staff back to safty. Schaeffer reflected: "Bandits were active near the boundary and had killed a French archaeologist who resisted robbery." The fragility of the artifacts made the bumpy trip to Latakia via camelback impossible. A Syrian sailboat was the alternative.

The sea trip, however, was more eventful than the party had bargained for: "Not far from the beacon fire of the peninsula of Ibn Han we encoutered a hard wind, and the seamen had to do their utmost to protect the boxes from the water that threatened to dash over the boat. Realizing that we could stay out no longer without being in serious danger, I gave orders to the captain to look for a nearby bay where we could spend the night. This was not a comforting decision to have to make; for, in the expectation that we would have a smooth trip, I had not taken any armed soldier along. Chenet and I stood guard over the teasures during the night...." Next day, they arrived at Latakia.

"After being temporarily exhibited in the hall of the palace in Latakia, our treasures were carefully packed in boxes and taken to Beyrouth (Beirut) in two automobiles. From there I shipped them to France by diplomatic courier."

Lest you think that such hardiness was indispensible only in distant times and bygone conditions, consider the situation at the time of the 1956 Suez Crisis, when the excavation was still in progress. Just as another library had been discovered by workmen at the bottom of a square, a representative of the Deptarment of Antiquities from Damascus arrived to notify the archeologist that they had only 24 hours to leave the country "for their own safety." Since the disengaging, photographing and drawing of the cache of tablets were far from complete, the trench was hastily filled in, with the intention that work would resume there the next year. But the workers were told that "the Frnch will never be let back in." So those workers promptly reopened the trench and sold the clay tablets on the black market.

The native foreman of the workers on his deathbed told Shaeffer the story, including the identity of the middlemen to whom the tablets had been sold. Schaeffer traced that persona and the person to whom he had sold the tablets and on and on until finally Schaeffer was able to locate the cache of tablets in a Swiss bank vault. The tablets were purchased by the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont, California, and are now known as the Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets (published in 1971 by the Pontifical Biblical Institute).

Even as recently as October 1973 the troubled politics of the area required Schaeffer to take emergency action. Schaeffer received official notification from Damascus late in August 1973 that activities involving national security had uncovered more cuneiform clay tablets at Ras Shamra, tablets which had then been rendered in part illegible by clumsy efforts to "conserve" them. Schaeffer determined to go to Damascus, both to examine the tablets and to seek permission to go to Ras Shamra to see what had happened to the tel. He was in Cyprus, but he could not fly to Beirut, since the airport was closed. He went to venice in hopes of catching a boat. Naval action, however, prevented the use of a boat until October 5, when he sailed ffrom Venice. At Rhodes, the boat was turned back because of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. On October 10, Schaeffer caught a cargo vessel, the Knossos, and got back to Limassol, Cyprus, only to hear of the bombardment of Damascus that day. He did not reach Beirut until October 21 and Damascus not until October 24.

Though the director of the Department of Antiquities was absent in military service, Schaeffer was able to examine the tablets in Damascus and ascertain that they had been "cleaned" in too strong an acid solution, which had burnt the surface of many of the tablets, making them illegible. In a subterranean bunker in Damascus, he was able to meet with the minister of culture and obtain permission to visit Ras Shamra.

On November 1, Schaeffer left for Latakia and was driven the next day to Ras Shamra, accompanied by a Syrian naval officer. He was able to examine the site from which the tablets had come -- they had been uncovered in excavations made by an earth-moving machine. It must have been digging gun emplacements or trenches when it unintentionally turned up the archeological materials. Schaeffer was relieved to find that no bomb or shell had struck the tel.

The legible tablets from this near disaster were published in a facsimile edition in Ugaritica VII in 1978, even before a critical edition could be prepared. One might well wish that such prepublication facsimilies prior to the lengthy prepartion of critical editions would become the rule rather than the exception in archeological publication. If it had always been so, we would not have had to wait more than 40 years for the final publication of facsimilies of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the Late Bronze Age (c. 1400 BC) when Ugarit flourished, Cyprus was the main exporter of copper, the base of Ugarit's economy. The Cypriote port of Famagusta faces Minet el-Beida and Ras Shamra some 100 miles away. Cypriot artifacts, abundant at Ras Shamra, indicated a close connection with Cyprus. Schaeffer instinctively turned his attention to the eastern tip of Cyprus to seek the connecting link with Ras Shamra. he found it at Enkomi, the site of the ancient Cypriote capital of Alasia. After preliminary reports, the series Alasia was launched in 1969 on the occasion of the 20th archeological expedition to that site.

For understanding the text of the Hebrew Bible and its Canaanite background, there is no more important source than the tablets of Ugarit.

13th September 2011, 23:49
The Importance of the Ugaritic Tablets for Biblical Studies

Decipherment of the Tablets

It was on May 14, 1929, as the dirt was being cleared from the floor of what had once been a building that the first clay tablets were found. The texts, together with their written substance, appeared to come from the 14th and 13th c. BC.

No doubt Schaeffer was thrilled to have discovered the ancient texts as well as artifacts. Yet the real significance of the texts did not become evident until the writing was examined in detail. Schaeffer himself was an archeologist, not a linguist; he entrusted the examination of the texts to Charles Virolleaud, the local director of the Burearu of Antiquities, who was skilled in the ancient languages and scripts of the area. As Virolleaud examined the tablets, he recognized immediately that he was faced with a significant discovery. The tablets contained cuneiform writing, which was known well enough from the multitude of texts recovered from other excavations. But the writing on these texts from Ras Shamra was entirely different from any of the other forms of cuneiform Virolleaud had ever seen. Instead of the several hundred different symbols typical of the normal syllabic cuneiform script, these newly discovered tablets contained fewere than 30 distinct symbols. It appeared, in other words, that the tablets contained writing in a kind of cuneiform alphabet.

http://www.wendag.com/images/sumer/ugaritic01.jpg | "Grand the plans of gods and man,{br}But when the day is done --{br}Bones broadly scattered in the sun,{br}For ironic Moira the fray hath won.{br}And naught remains for Apollo's progeny,{br}But to sing her praise,{br}In comic agony." {br}{br}-- From the Canaanite epic,{br}The Legend Of Keret, c. 1500 BCE, Ugarit. | http://www.wendag.com/images/sumer/ugaritic02.jpg

After determining the apparently alphabetic character of the writing Virolleaud then faced the dauntng task of deciphering the script. He was able to make only a little progress in the first weeks, but as a service to scholars, he published the texts, providing photographs and copies of the inscriptions for examination by his colleagues. The most remarkable part in the story of the decipherment was played by Hans Bauer, who received a copy of Virolleaud's photographs and transcriptions on April 22, 1930.

Bauer brought an extraordinary background to his role as decipherer. Then 51, he was Professor of Oriental Languages in the German universty of Halle. He was multilingual, having mastered some East Asian languages in addition to the Semitic languages. But perhaps his most important skill had been honed during service in the German armed forces in World War I. He had been engaged in cryptanalysis, or code-breaking, for German intelligence. That experience had taught him the value of using a statistical method to crack codes. Five days after receiving copies of the texts, Bauer succeeded in assigning phonetic values to 20 of the cuneiform symbols, or about 80 percent of the signs used on the tablets. His work was refined and corrected in some details by others: Edourard Dhorme in Jerusalem and Virolleaud in Latakia put the finishing touches to Bauer's decipherment. From the summer of 1930, the clay tablets recovered from Ras Shamra by Schaeffer's team could be translated and read.

The excitement of the decipherment did not distract Schaeffer from pursuing his excavations; indeed, his enthusiasm only grew (unlike Matthiae with Ebla). Between 1929 and the outbreak of World War II, Schaeffer directed eleven campaigns at the cemetary and seaport (Minet el-Beida) and at the city (Ras Shamra/Ugarit). The war disrupted the campaigns. But following the cessation of hostilities, Schaeffer renewed his work at the site. He began his 12th campaign in 1948, and he continued to be the director of the campaigns at Ras Shamra until the end of the 31st campaign in 1969. For four decades the name of Schaeffer was inextricably related to that of Ras Shamra/Ugarit. The leadership in the excavations passed to others after 1969, but Schaeffer continued to play a vital role in the study and publication of the finds from the ancient site. He died in France, October 5, 1982 at the age of 84 (he'd been born March 6, 1898).

Although it was the texts from Ras Shamra that caught most of the public attention, the excavations have also uncovered extensive remains of a city of the early biblical period. Dominating the western section of the city was a massive palace whose ruins took several seasons to lay bare. It is the largest palace ever discovered in the Near East. Extending over an area of some two and a half acres, the palace served not only as a royal residence but also as an administrative complex. It had approximately 90 rooms, five large courtyards, a dozen staircases leading to upper floors, several archives, numerous wells, and an inteiror garden.

In the northern section of the city, there were two great temples, one devoted primarily to the worship of Baal and the other to Dagon. Between the two lay the high priest's house, which also served as a scribal school. And south of the temple area, still on the high part of the tel, other religious buildings were found, in which priest-diviners plied their trade.

Other buildings that have been excavated range from the houses of senior civil servants to the humbler dwellings of ordinary artisans. In most of the homes, tombs were discovered under the floor of the house or the courtyard, indicative of a special concern for the dead.

In the nearby port town, excavated at minet el-Beida, evidence has survived of religious activity not associated with the great temples. Enclosed shrines, near the tombs of the necropolis, were apparently used in fertility rites.

The sheer magnitude of the excavations at Ras Shamra is staggering. They have revealed the outline of an entire ancient city with its great buildings and its private homes, its narrow lanes and its broad thoroughfares, its ramparts and its entrances. From this vast accumulation of physical evidence, a reconstruction of city life in biblical times is gradually being assembled.

Although ancient Ugarit and its archives have had an important impact on various disciplines, none has been so profoundly affected as biblical studies.

13th September 2011, 23:54
The Ugaritic archives

The Archives

The archive materials are written in a half dozen different languages and a variety of scripts. The texts that took the limelight, however, were those in the formerly unknown alphabetic cuneiform. The language underlying this script is called Ugaritic, after the ancient city in which it was used, although the script has now been found at a number of sites as far south as Tel Aphek near Tel Aviv. Ugaritic is a Northwest Semitic language and a close linguistic relative of biblical Hebrew. The archives of Ras Shamra have yielded several thousand tablets, including over 1400 texts in the Ugaritic language and script (others are in Akkadian, Sumerian, Hurrian, and Cypro-Minoan; there are also some Hittite and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions). While many are fragmentary, others have been preserved in excellent condition. Larger archives have been found, such as the 12-15,000 tablets at Ebla, but the Ugaritic archives are nevertheless a very significant corpus of texts. The importance of the texts for Biblical studies emerges not only from the close relationship in language but also from the substance and the literary forms common to both bodies of literature.

The Ugaritic texts are unusually diverse. Many are typical of texts found in state archives -- administrative texts, census lists, economic texts, and letters. Some of the tablets are even more interesting because they are poetic in form and literary in character. The legends of Keret and Aqhat reflect a panorama on life and religion in the ancient world of Syria. Mythological tablets concerning the god lBaal provide new insight into the beliefs concerning this deity whose name occures so frequently in the Hebrew Bible. There are other texts, of a more ritual character, which illuminate the daily practice of religion in ancient Ugarit.

As Schaeffer and Virolleaud began to publish more and more of the discoveries at Ras Shamra in the early 1930's, others began to draw out the significance of the discoveries for the study of the Bible. J.W. Jack read a paper to the meeting of the society for Old Testament Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1934. With due caution, he drew attention to the parallel in language and thought between the newly discovered Ugaritic texts and portions of the Hebrew Bible. Rene Dussaud published a monograph on the subject in 1937 in France. Some of his observations on parallels with the Bible were hastily drawn and later rejected, but he was opening a door through which many of his successors were to successfully pass. A new discipline had been born: Hebrew-Ugaritic studies. In fact, when I was at UCLA, for the MA I needed to pass a three hour test in Hebrew; it was made up of three, one hour segments: Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, and Ugaritic, to give some idea of how closely Ugaritic is related to Hebrew and Hebrew studies.

The foundational studies of the Ugaritic texts on which the new discipline developed were undertaken largely by two American scholars: Cyrus Gordon and H.L. Ginsberg (my Hebrew professor at LABC did his studies under Cyrus Gordon). The latter produced some of the first extensive translations of the Ugaritic texts, upon which later scholars relied as they applied the new data to the study of the Bible. And Cyrus Gordon, in addition to translating tahe priciple Ugaritic texts, provided a scientific basis for the study of Ugaritic grammar and lexicography (Ugaritic Textbook, Rome, 1965). Today, the primary text and grammar for Ugaritic is Ugaritic Grammar, by Stanislav Segert, University of California Press, 1985; Segert was my professor at UCLA.

T.H. Gaster, in a provocative and wide-ranging book entitled Thespis (New York, 1950), drew heavily on both Ugaritic texts ans the Hebrew Bible in his examination of myth and ritual in the ancient world. In Italy, Umberto Cassuto produced a series of detailed studies of the Ugaritic texts and their illumination of the Hebrew Bible, which to this day are a model of comparative scholarship.

As the excavations continued from one year to the next, so too did the enthusiasm with which Biblical scholars applied these new resources -- the Ugaritic texts -- to the study of the Bible. Perhaps none was more enthusiastic in this task than the late Mitchell Dahood in Rome. His three-volume commentary on the Psalms (in the Anchor Bible, 1966-1970) is thoroughly penetrated by Ugaritic data. His translations of the texts differ from older translations of the Psalms; his interpretations and theological understanding depart radically from his predecessors; and all this was a consequence of the impact of Ugaritic studies. Dahood's more cautious collegues complained of an outbreak of "pan-Ugaritism"; nevertheless, whether Dahood was right or wrong in his findings, the study of Psalms can never be the same; in fact, subsequent commentators (for instance Peter C. Craigie and Leslie C. Allen in their three volume commentary on Psalms for the Word Biblical Commentary [1983] reference and react to Dahood.) It is imperative to come to grips not only with Ugaritic but also with the often brilliant formulations of Mitchell Dahood in all current studies of the Psalms. Of course, Segert said that Dahood's commentaries illustrate the Hegelian tendency of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, in that Dahood went too far, though his work is useful, and someone had later to come back and correct his work and remind everyone that the Psalms are written in Hebrew, not Ugaritic, and that is not something that should be overlooked.

While Dahood captured attention in dramatic fashion because of his utilization of Ugaritic texts, numerous other Biblical scholars have been patiently pursuing the re-examination of the Biblical test in the light of Ugaritic. The volume of material that has been devoted to this topic over the last seventy years is immense. At Claremont, California, the "Ras Shamra Parallels Project" was established in 1965 to catalog and assess the vast production of comparative Hebrew-Ugaritic studies. So far, it has produced three large technical volumes entitled Ras Shamra Parallels. And in Germany, a research group at the University of Munster produced a massive four-volume bibliography, listing studies from 1928 to 1966. Since 1966, the publication of Hebrew-Ugaritic studies has continued unabated.

14th September 2011, 01:00
Translation of Ugaritic texts and impact on the Hebrew Bible.


This vast enterprise of Hebrew-Ugaritic scholarship has also had its impact on the lay reader of the Bible. Sometimes the impact is subtle and virtually unnoticed; sometimes it is dramatic, as in the debate evoked by the publication of Dahood's commentary on the Psalms. The more subtle impact is to be seen (though frequently it passes unnoticed) in the plethora of modern translations of the Hebrew Bible. There are many words employed in the Hebrew text whose meanings are unclear and, sometimes, unknown; translators prior to the 20th century, surmized, by various means, their possible meaning. But when the same words occur in the Ugaritic texts, progress is possible. The meaning of words occuring only once in the Hebrew Bible (called hapax legomena), but fairly frequently in Ugaritic can now be determined with reasonable certainty. The same may be true of rare grammatical forms or literary arrangements in the Hebrew texts. As an example, consider the problem of Proverbs 24:5:

Gever hakam b-'owz

v-'is da'at m-'ammes koah


A wise man is strong;

yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.

b- = a preposition normally translated "in" or "with". Occasionally the preposition is ignored in translation, as is the case here.

The word m-'ammes is usually taken to be a causitive participle form of the verb "to be strong" (the m- at the beginning of this type of Hebrew verb makes it a participle). An alternate way of reading this verb is to take the "m-" as being the preposition meaning "from".

In Hebrew, to form comparisons, they say "the man is from the dog", meaning in English: "the man is better than the dog."

So, the second line of verse five could be read:

"A man of knowledge is better than one who is powerful."

In Ugaritic the preposition "b-" (in) can also take the meaning "from". So the first line of verse five could be read "a man of wisdom is from strength", meaning in normal English: "A man of wisdom is better than strength."

Thus, the whole verse would then read:

"A wise man is better than a strong one,

And a man of knowledge is better than one who is powerful."

This particular translation of Proverbs 24:5 is supported by the Greek translation (LXX, c. 200 BC), the Syriac translation (the Peshitta, c. 200 AD), the Latin translation (the Vulgate, c. 400 AD), and the Aramaic paraphrase (the Targum, c. 150 AD).

Additionally, parallel forms and structures in the Ugaritic texts may illuminate what formerly was obscure.

In other cases, the light from the Ugaritic texts may be more pertinent to a general interpretation of the Biblical narrative. The god Baal is often referred to in the Bible; the Biblical writers were not objective historians of religion but were concerned more with the dangers of a foreign religion undermining the integrety of the Hebrew faith. And so, not unnaturally, the Biblical writers condemn the faith of Baal. But how did the Canaanites conceive of Baal? What was the nature of their faith? How did they worship and integrate their faith into their daily existence? From the Ugaritic texts we understand Baal worship from the point of view of his own followers.

Six large tablets recovered in the ruins of the high priest's house at Ras Shamra dramatically pull back the curtain on belief in Baal. From them we can grasp something of the faith of the followers of baal and thus understand something of the seductive allure of false faith in ancient Israel.

The mythology concerning Baal was the substance of faith for many in ancient Ugarit; as one scholar has put it, the Baal ltablets constitute the "Canaanite Bible." Fundamental to this faith was Baal's role in nature; through rain and storm, he made provision for fertile ground which produced the crops and fed the cattle upon which human life depended. But this faith also recognized the vulnerability of human life in a changing world. If the rains did not come, if the soils did not produce their crops, human life could fail. In mythological language, if the gods of chaos reaserted themselves and if the god Baal lost his preeminaence, all human existence was threatened. And thus, the goal of Baal's religion was to secure his supremacy; only while he remained supreme, so his worshipers believed, would the crops and cattle so essential to human survival continue.

Ugarit / Baal Cycle |
Daniel 7

(A) El, the aged high God, is the ultimate sovereign in the council. | (A) The Ancient of Days, the God of Israel is seated on the fiery, wheeled throne (cf. Ezekiel 1). Like Ugaritic El, he is white haired and aged (“ancient”).
(B) El bestows kingship upon the god Baal, the Cloud-Rider, after Baal defeats the god Yamm in battle. | (B) Yahweh-El, the Ancient of Days, bestows kingship upon the Son of Man who rides the clouds after the beast from the sea (yamma) is destroyed.
(C) Baal is king of the gods and El's vizier. His rule is everlasting. | (C) The Son of Man is given everlasting dominion over the nations. He rules at the right hand of God.


The first three chapters of the book of Hosea provide an example of the new light Ugarit sheds on the Bible. The book of Hosea begins by recounting the prophet's marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The prophet's tragic experience is an allegory telling of God's relationship with Israel. Lying behind these chapters is the religion of Baal, to which many of Hosea's contemporaries had turned. Though the interpretation of these chapters has not been the subject of serious doubt, the nature of Baal's religion, to which these chapters are a reaction, has remained obscure. Why did people turn from the traditional faith to the practice of a foreign religion? Where did it find its appeal? The Ugaritic texts make it clear that the religion of lBaal had to do with the necessities of life, the crops and food on which survival depended. Moreover, that fundamental appeal may have been bolstered by a further attraction: there is debate among scholars as to the role of sexual activity in the Ugaritic worship of Baal; in the mythology, the appetites of Baal for sex and violence are considerable. Sexual activity in the worship of Baal may have been one of the cruder attractions in this alien faith, exemplified in Hosea by the apostate Israel in the form of Gomer, Hosea's wife. What the Ugaritic texts provide, in this instance, is a fuller insight into the religion of Baal with which Israel had become entangled. And that insight, in turn, illuminates both the tragic allegory that was Hosea's life and something of the foreign faith (?) to which Israel had been drawn.


Another example: Amos is called a "shepherd" (Amos 1:1). But why is the Hebrew word noqed used, rather than the common Hebrew word ro'eh? Noqed is used in only one other text in the Hebrew Bible: to describe Mesha, King of Moab (2 Kings 3:4). In the Ugaritic texts, the cognate word nqd is used approximately ten times. It designates not a simle shepherd but somebody in the sheep business; the nqd was responsible for vast herds of sheep; he was a significant person in society, a member of the business elite. Amos, then, was probably not a simple shepherd. We are told that he was also involved with cattle and fruit farming (Amos 7:14-15). In light of the insight derived from the Ugaritic word nqd, we can conclude that Amos was engaged in agribusiness on a fairly large scale. Perhaps his business, selling wool or mutton, took him from his native Tekoa, in Judah, to the northern market places of Israel where he became involved in his prophetic ministry. Thanks to Ugarit, Amos thus becomes not only a more human figure, but also a more challenging figure to us as we move into the 21st century.

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 provides our final example of the potential of the Ugaritic texts for illuminating the Bible. The Psalmist praises God in powerful language, evocative of a thunderstorm; thunder, described as God's voice, is referred to seventimes. In 1935, H.L. Ginsberg proposed that Psalm 29 was originally a Phoenician hymn which had found its way into the Psalter. In support of his hypothesis, he noted several aspects of the psalm which suggested to him that it had been composed initially in honor of the storm god, Baal; he drew upon the Ugaritic texts to substatiate his hypothesis. Theodor Gaster took the hypothesis further in a study published in the Jewish Quaterly Review in 1947. Drawing on the evidence of the Ugaritic texts, he proposed tht the psalm was originally Canaanite; it had been modified for inclusion in Israel's hymnbook simply by the replacement of the name Baal with the personal name of Israel's God.

Today, although debate continues on the details of the hypothesis, almost all scholars agree that Psalm 29's background is Baal worship, as portrayed in the tablets from Ugarit. The psalm in itts present form has a powerful effect; the power of nature and of the storm are not excusively the domain of Baal; all power, including that of storm and thunder, is the perogative of Israel's God. yet the Ugaritic background of the psalm reveals its sources.


Though Shaeffer is dead, the excavations continue. In 1978, Marguerite Yon of the University of Lyons, France was appointed director. At that point, after half a century of excavation, only one third of the ancient city had been uncovered.

14th September 2011, 02:59
Ugarit and the Bible

1. Introduction.

The ancient Canaanite city-state of Ugarit is of utmost importance for those who study the Old Testament. The literature of the city and the theology contained therein go a very long way in helping us to understand the meaning of various Biblical passages as well as aiding us in deciphering difficult Hebrew words. Ugarit was at its political, religious and economic height around the 12th century BCE and thus its period of greatness corresponds with the entry of Israel into Canaan.

Why should people interested in the Old Testament want to know about this city and its inhabitants? Simply because when we listen to their voices we hear echoes of the Old Testament itself. Several of the Psalms were simply adapted from Ugaritic sources; the story of the flood has a near mirror image in Ugaritic literature; and the language of the Bible is greatly illuminated by the language of Ugarit. For instance, look at M. Dahood’s brilliant commentary on the Psalms in the Anchor Bible series for the necessity of Ugaritic for accurate Biblical exegesis. (N.B., for a more thorough discussion of the language of Ugarit, the student is advised to take the course titled “Ugaritic Grammar” offered by this institution).

In short, when one has well in hand the literature and theology of Ugarit, one is well on the way to being able to comprehend some of the most important ideas contained in the Old Testament. For this reason it is worthwhile that we pursue this topic.

2. The Discovery of Ugarit and the Ugaritic Texts.

In 1928 a group of French archaeologists journeyed with 7 camels, one donkey, and some burden bearers towards the tel known as Ras Shamra. After a week at the site they discovered a cemetery 150 meters from the Mediterranean Sea. In the graves they discovered Egyptian and Phoenician artwork and alabaster. They also found some Mycenean and Cypriot materials.

After the discovery of the cemetery they found a city and a royal palace about 1000 meters from the sea on a tel 18 meters high. The tel was called by the locals Ras Shamra which means “fennel hill”. There also Egyptian artifacts were discovered and dated to the 2nd millennium BCE.

The greatest discovery made at the site was a collection of tablets carved with (a then) unknown cuneiform script. In 1932 the identification of the site was made when some of the tablets were deciphered; the city was the ancient and famous site of Ugarit.

Ugarit experienced a very long history. A city was built on the site in the Neolithic period around 6000 BCE. The oldest written evidence of the city is found in some texts from the nearby city of Ebla written around 1800 BCE. At that time both Ebla and Ugarit were under Egyptian hegemony, which shows that the long arm of Egypt extended all along the west coast of the Mediterranean Sea (for Ugarit is located in modern day Syria roughly dead east of the NE coast of Cyprus on the coast of Syria). The population of Ugarit at that time was roughly 7635 people. The city of Ugarit continued to be dominated by the Egyptians through 1400 BCE.

All of the tablets found at Ugarit were written in the last period of its life (around 1300- 1200 BCE). The kings of this last and greatest period were:

1349 | ‘Ammittamru I
1325 | Niqmaddu II
1315 | Arhalba
1291 | Niqmepa 2
1236 | ‘Ammitt1193- Niqmaddu III
1185 | ‘Ammurapi

In the period 1200 - 1180 the city steeply declined and then mysteriously came to an end.

The texts which were discovered at Ugarit aroused interest because of their international flavor. That is, the texts were written in one of four languages; Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurritic and Ugaritic. The tablets were found in the royal palace, the house of the High Priest, and some private houses of evidently leading citizens.

These texts, as mentioned above, are very important for Old Testament study. The Ugaritic literature demonstrates that Israel and Ugarit shared a common literary heritage and a common linguistic lineage. They are, in short, related languages and literatures. We can thus learn very much about the one from the other. Our knowledge of the religion of Ancient Syria-Palestine and Canaan has been greatly increased by the Ugaritic materials and their significance cannot be overlooked. We have here, as it were, an open window on the culture and religion of Israel in its earliest period.

3. From the Literature of Ugarit to the Literature of the Bible.

The style of writing discovered at Ugarit is known as alphabetic cuneiform. This is a unique blending of an alphabetic script (like Hebrew) and cuneiform (like Akkadian); thus it is a unique blending of two styles of writing. Most likely it came into being as cuneiform was passing from the scene and alphabetic scripts were making their rise. Ugaritic is thus a bridge from one to the other and very important in itself for the development of both.

One of the most, if perhaps not the most, important aspect of Ugaritic studies is the assistance it gives in correctly translating difficult Hebrew words and passages in the Old Testament. As a language develops the meaning of words changes or their meaning is lost altogether. This is also true of the Biblical text. But after the discovery of the Ugaritic texts we gained new information concerning the meaning of archaic words in the Hebrew text.

One example of this is found in Proverbs 26:23. In the Hebrew text Mygys Psk is divided just as it is here. This has caused commentators quite a bit of confusion over the centuries, for what does “silver lips” mean? The discovery of the Ugaritic texts has helped us to understand that the word was divided incorrectly by the Hebrew scribe (who was as unfamiliar as we are with what the words were supposed to mean). Instead of the two words above, the Ugaritic texts lead us to divide the two words as Mygysps k which means “like silver”. This makes eminently more sense in context than the word mistakenly divided by the Hebrew scribe who was unfamiliar with the second word; so he divided into two words which he did know even though it made no sense.

Another example occurs in Ps 89:20. Here the word rz( is usually translated “help” but the Ugaritic word “gzr” means “young man” and if Psalm 89:20 is translated this way it is clearly more meaningful.

Besides single words being illuminated by the Ugaritic texts, entire ideas or complexes of ideas have parallels in the literature. For example, in Proverbs 9:1-18 wisdom and folly are personified as women. This means that when the Hebrew wisdom teacher instructed his students on these matters, he was drawing on material that was commonly known in the Canaanite environment (for Ugarit was Canaanite). In point of fact, KTU 1,7 VI 2-45 is nearly identical to Proverbs 9:1ff. (The abbreviation KTU stands for “Keilalphabetische Texte aus Ugarit”, the standard collection of this material. The numbers are what we might call the chapter and verse). KTU 1.114:2-4 says:

hklh. sh. lqs. ilm. tlhmn
ilm w tstn. tstnyn ‘d sb’
trt. ‘d. skr. y’.db .yrh

“Eat, o Gods, and drink,
drink wine till you are sated,

Which is very similar to Proverbs 9:5;
“Come, eat of my food and drink wine that I have mixed”.

Ugaritic poetry is very similar to Biblical poetry and is therefore very useful in interpreting difficult poetic texts. In fact, Ugaritic literature (besides lists and the like) is composed completely in poetic metre. Biblical poetry follows Ugaritc poetry in form and function. There is parallelism, qinah metre, bi and tri colas, and all of the poetic tools found in the Bible are found at Ugarit. In short the Ugaritic materials have a great deal to contribute to our understanding of the Biblical materials; especially since they predate any of the Biblical texts.

4. The Ugaritic Pantheon.

The prophets of the Old Testament rail against Baal, Asherah and various other gods on nearly every page. The reason for this is simple to understand; the people of Israel worshipped these gods along with, and sometimes instead of, Yahweh, the God of Israel. This Biblical denunciation of these Canaanite gods received a fresh face when the Ugaritic texts were discovered, for at Ugarit these were the very gods that were worshipped.

El was the chief god at Ugarit. Yet El is also the name of God used in many of the Psalms for Yahweh; or at least that has been the presupposition among pious Christians. Yet when one reads these Psalms and the Ugaritic texts one sees that the very attributes for which Yahweh is acclaimed are the same for which El is acclaimed. In fact, these Psalms were most likely originally Ugaritic or Canaanite hymns to El which were simply adopted by Israel, much like the American National Anthem was set to a beer hall tune by Francis Scott Key. El is called the “father of men”, “creator”, and “creator of the creation”. These attributes are also granted Yahweh by the Old Testament.

For instances, read KTU 1. 2 I 13-32 and compare it to many of the Psalms. Also, read Ps 82:1, 89:6-8mn!).

In 1 Kings 22:19-22 we read of Yahweh meeting with his heavenly council. This is the very description of heaven which one finds in the Ugaritic texts. For in those texts the “sons of god” are the sons of El.

Other deities worshipped at Ugarit were El Shaddai, El Elyon, and El Berith. All of these names are applied to Yahweh by the writers of the Old Testament. What this means is that the Hebrew theologians adopted the titles of the Canaanite gods and attributed them to Yahweh in an effort to eliminate them. If Yahweh is all of these there is no need for the Canaanite gods to exist! This process is known as assimilation.

Besides the chief god at Ugarit there were also lesser gods, demons, and goddesses. The most important of these lesser gods were Baal (familiar to all readers of the Bible), Asherah (also familiar to readers of the Bible), Yam (the god of the sea) and Mot (the god of death). What is of great interest here is that Yam is the Hebrew word for sea and Mot is the Hebrew word for death! Is this because the Hebrews also adopted these Canaanite ideas as well? Most likely they did.

One of the most interesting of these lesser deities, Asherah, plays a very important role in the Old Testament. There she is called the wife of Baal; but she is also known as the consort of Yahweh! That is, among some Yahwists, Ahserah is Yahweh’s female counterpart! Inscriptions found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (dated between 850 and 750 BCE) say:

I bless you through Yahweh of Samaria,

and through his Asherah!

And at ‘El Qom (from the same period) this inscription:

Uriyahu, the king, has written this.

Blessed be Uriyahu through Yahweh,

and his enemies have been conquered

through Yahweh’s Asherah.

That Yahwists worshipped Asherah until the 3rd century before Christ is well known from the Elephantine Papyri. Thus, for many in ancient Israel, Yahweh, like Baal, had a consort. Although condemned by the prophets, this aspect of the popular religion of Israel was difficult to overcome and indeed among many was never overcome.

As had already been mentioned, one of the more important lesser deities at Ugarit was Baal. Baal is described as the “rider on the clouds” in KTU 1.3 II 40. Interestingly enough, this description is also used of Yahweh in Psalm 68:5.

In the Old Testament Baal is named 58 times in the singular and 18 times in the plural. The prophets protested constantly against the love affair the Israelites had with Baal (cf. Hosea 2:19, for example). The reason Israel was so attracted to Baal was that, first of all, some Israelites viewed Yahweh as a God of the desert and so when they arrived in Canaan they thought it only proper to adopt Baal, the god of fertility. As the old saying goes, “whose land, his god”. For these Israelites Yahweh was useful in the desert but not much help in the land.

There is one Ugaritic text which seems to indicate that among the inhabitants of Ugarit, Yahweh was viewed as another son of El. KTU 1.1 IV 14 says:

sm . bny . yw . ilt

“The name of the son of god, Yahweh.”

This text seems to show that Yahweh was known at Ugarit, though not as the Lord but as one of the many sons of El.

Among the other gods worshipped at Ugarit there are Dagon, Tirosch, Horon, Nahar, Resheph, Kotar Hosis, Shachar (who is the equivalent of Satan), and Shalem. The folks at Ugarit were also plagued by a host of demons and lesser gods. The people at Ugarit saw the desert as the place which was most inhabited by demons (and they were like the Israelites in this belief). KTU 1.102:15-28 is a list of these demons.

One of the most famous of the lesser deities at Ugarit was a chap named Dan’il. There is little doubt that this figure corresponds to the Biblical Daniel; while predating him by several centuries. This has led many Old Testament scholars to suppose that the Canonical prophet was modeled on him. His story is found in KTU 1.17 - 1.19.

Another creature which has ties to the Old Testament is Leviathan. Isaiah 27:1 and KTU 1.5 I 1-2 describe this beast. Also see Ps 74:13-14 and 104:26.

5. Worship at Ugarit and in Ancient Israel

In Ugarit, as in Israel, the cult played a central role in the lives of the people. One of the central Ugaritic myths was the story of Baal’s enthronement as king. In the story, Baal is killed by Mot (in the Fall of the year) and he remains dead until the Spring of the year. His victory over death was celebrated as his enthronement over the other gods (cf. KTU 1.2 IV 10)

The Old Testament also celebrates the enthronement of Yahweh (cf. Ps 47:9, 93:1, 96:10, 97:1 and 99:1). As in the Ugaritic myth, the purpose of Yahweh’s enthronement is to re-enact creation. That is, Yahweh overcomes death by his recurring creative acts.

The major difference between the Ugaritic myth and the Biblical hymns is that Yahweh’s kingship is eternal and uninterrupted while Baal’s is interrupted every year by his death (in the Fall). Since Baal is the god of fertility the meaning of this myth is quite easy to understand. As he dies, so the vegetation dies; and when he is reborn so is the world. Not so with Yahweh; for since he is always alive he is always powerful (Cf. Ps 29:10).

Another of the more interesting aspects of Ugaritic religion which has a parallel in Hebrew religion was the practice of “weeping for the dead”. KTU 1.116 I 2-5, and KTU 1.5 VI 11-22 describe the worshippers weeping over the departed in the hopes that their grief will move the gods to send them back and that they will therefore live again. The Israelites also participated in this activity; though the prophets condemned them for doing so (cf. Is 22:12, Eze 7:16, Mi 1:16, Jer 16:6, and Jer 41:5). Of particular interest in this connection is what Joel 1:8-13 has to say, so I quote it in full:

Lament like a virgin dressed in sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord. The fields are devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil fails. Be dismayed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers, over the wheat and the barley; for the crops of the field are ruined. The vine withers, the fig tree droops. Pomegranate, palm, and apple tree -- all the trees of the field are dried up; surely, joy withers away among the people.

Yet another interesting parallel between Israel and Ugarit is the yearly ritual known as the sending out of the “scapegoats”; one for god and one for a demon. The Biblical text which relates this procedure is Leviticus 16:1-34. In this text a goat is sent into the wilderness for Azazel (a demon) and one is sent into the wilderness for Yahweh. This rite is known as a “eliminatory” rite; that is, a contagion (in this case communal sin) is placed on the head of the goat and it is sent away. In this way it was believed that (magically) the sinful material was removed from the community.

KTU 1.127 relates the same procedure at Ugarit; with one notable difference -- at Ugarit a woman priest was involved in the rite as well.

The rituals performed in Ugaritic worship involved a great deal of alcohol and sexual promiscuity. Worship at Ugarit was essentially a drunken orgy in which priests and worshippers indulged in excessive drinking and excessive sexuality. This because the worshippers were attempting to convince Baal to send rain on their crops. Since rain and semen were seen in the ancient world as the same thing (as both produced fruit), it simply makes sense that participants in fertility religion behaved this way. Perhaps this is why in Hebrew religion the priests were forbidden to partake of wine while performing any rituals and also why females were barred from the precincts!! (cf. Hos 4:11-14, Is 28:7-8, and Lev 10:8-11).

6. The Cult of the Dead at Ugarit

In Ugarit two stela (stone monuments) have been discovered which demonstrate that the people there worshipped their dead ancestors. (Cf. KTU 6.13 and 6.14). The Prophets of the Old Testament likewise protested against this behavior when it occured among the Israelites. Ezekiel denounces such behavior as godless and pagan (in 43:7-9).

Yet the Israelites sometimes participated in these pagan practices, as 1 Sam 28:1-25 clearly shows.

These dead ancestors were known among both the Canaanites and Israelites as “Rephaim”. As Isaiah notes, (14:9ff),

Sheol beneath is stirred up

to meet you when you come;

it rouses the Rephaim to greet you,

all who were leaders of the earth;

it raises from their thrones

all who were kings of the nations.

All of them will speak

and say to you:

“You too have become as weak as we!

You have become like us!”

Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,

and the sound of your harps;

maggots are the bed beneath you,

and worms are your covering.

KTU 1.161 likewise describes the Rephaim as the dead. When one goes to the grave of an ancestor, one prays to them; feeds them; and brings them an offering (like flowers); all in hopes of securing the prayers of the dead.

The prophets despised this behavior; they saw it as a lack of trust in Yahweh, who is God of the living and not god of the dead. So, instead of honoring dead ancestors, Israel honored their live ancestors (as we clearly see in Ex 20:12, Deut 5:16, and Lev 19:3).

One of the more interesting aspects of this ancestor worship at Ugarit was the “festive meal” that the worshipper shared with the depearted, called the “marzeach” (cf. Jer 16:5// with KTU 1.17 I 26-28 and KTU 1.20-22). This was, to the dwellers of Ugarit, what the Passover was to Israel and the Lord’s Supper to the Church.

7. International Relations and Seamanship in Ugarit

International diplomacy certainly was a central activity among the inhabitants of Ugarit; for they were a sea-going people (like their Phoenecian neighbors). Akkadian was the language used in international diplomacy at that time and there are a number of documents from Ugarit in this language.

The King was the chief diplomat and he was completely in charge of international relationships (cf KTU 3.2:1-18, KTU 1.6 II 9-11). Compare this with Israel (at I Sam 15:27) and you will see that they were very similar in this respect. But, it must be said, the Israelites were not interested in the Sea and were not boat builders or sailors in any sense of the word.

The Ugaritic god of the sea, Baal Zaphon, was the patron of sailors. Before a journey Ugaritic sailors made offerings and prayed to Baal Zaphon in hopes of a safe and profitable journey (cf. KTU 2.38, and KTU 2.40). Psalm 107 was borrowed from Northern Canaan and reflects this attitude towards sailing and trade. When Solomon needed sailors and ships he turned to his northern neighbors for them. Cf. I Kings 9:26-28 and 10:22.

8. Art in Canaan and Israel

In many of the Ugaritic texts El was described as a bull, as well as a human form.

The Israelites borrowed art, architecture, and music from their Canaanite neighbors. But they refused to extend their art to images af Yahweh (cf. Ex 20:4-5). God commanded the people to make no image of himself; and did not forbid every kind of artistic expression. In fact, when Solomon constructed the temple he had it engraved with a great number of artistic forms. That there was a bronze serpent in the temple as well is well known.

The Israelites did not leave as many artisitic pieces behind as did their Canaanite neighbors. And what they did leave behind show traces of being heavily influenced by these Canaanites.

9. Conclusion

Since the discovery of the Ugaritic texts, study of the Old Testament has never been the same. We now have a much clearer picture of Canaanite religion than we ever had before. We also understand the Biblical literature itself much better as we are now able to clarify difficult words due to their Ugaritic cognates.

14th September 2011, 03:34
Ugarit and the Bible:

The discovery of Ugaritic literature greatly increased our understanding of the pagan world within which Israelite Religion developed.

The Israelites appropriated their literary and artistic higher culture from the Canaanites and Egyptians. The channel was either the scribes, architects and artists of local cities such as Jerusalem, whose Jebusite-Canaanite population remained in the city after it became the Israelite capital, or from the Phoenician cities of present-day Lebanon whose Canaanite culture flourished unbroken from the Middle Bronze age until Hellenistic times.

The adoption of the Egyptian administrative system, and its cultural values, may have led to greater stratification in Israelite society, a deliberate distancing of the rulers from the ruled, the splitting of the kingdom after the death of Solomon and exacerbated the social problems denounced by some of the prophets.

The cultural interaction with the Canaanites was even more problematic. For one thing, the Israelites lived cheek-by-jowl with the Canaanites for centuries. They spoke the same language and, indeed, much of the Israelite population may have been Canaanite by origin.

The Ugaritic tablets revealed, to the incredulous eyes of the epigraphers, was a literature written down in about 1375 BCE. This literature described the exploits of the Canaanite gods, known from the Hebrew Bible, in the form of great epic cycles. Among the interesting revelations is that, in the words of Pfeiffer:

Many of the sacrifices mentioned in the Ugaritic texts have names which are identical to those described in the book of Leviticus. Ugaritic texts speak of the Burnt Offering, the Whole Burnt Offering, the Trespass Offering, the Offering for Expiation of the Soul; the Wave Offering, the Tribute Offering, the First Fruits Offering, the Peace Offering, and the New Moon Offering. The term "offering without blemish" also appears in the Ugaritic literature.

Up until now we have had only the Israelite view of Canaanite religion. The authors-editors-redactors of the Bible loathed and denounced Canaanite Religion not least because the common Israelite people had been attracted by it. One can imagine how accurate a picture one can get of any complex cultural phenomenon if the only description available is that provided by vitriolic attacks of the propaganda of a mortal enemy.

Now, Ugaritic literature has provided us with the point of view of scribes and poets who were proponents of the Canaanite cult. This, for the first time, enables scholars to contrast and compare Israelite and Canaanite religious and moral values, ceremonies etc.

A Few Gods from the Ugaritic Pantheon with Special Relevance to the Hebrew Bible

El (‘ēl) (also called Latipan, and possibly Dagon)

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, likely correctly,:

“…El, (was) the ancestral deity of the Semites. (“El” appears also (in Arabia) under the augmentative form “Ilah,” who’s plural of majesty is the Hebrew “Elohim”)…. The names ending in ‘ēl and in ‘ilah are more numerous in the various proto-Arabic dialects than those in honor of any other deity. Taken as a whole, they are to be considered as survivals, for it has been proved that they were preponderant in ancient Akkadian and in proto-Aramaic. Since the word ‘ēl corresponds to the word god, it has been rightly concluded that the proto-Semites invoked only El. In fact, if the word god had applied to various deities, the personal names in ‘ēl would have had an equivocal meaning. It is legitimate to translate El as god but this practical monotheism does not imply a clear awareness that the gods adored by neighbouring peoples did not exist.”

In the Bible El both means god and the Israelite God.

In the Ugaritic literature El:

Is the greatest of all the gods with full ultimate authority though he tends to sit back and let other gods, especially Baal, take the spotlight;
is the creator of all things;
Fathered the other gods who participate, under El’s headship in the Divine Assembly;
El’s epithets or descriptions include: Bull, Father of Men, Holy, Ancient, Merciful, Supreme Judge, guardian of the cosmic order, Kindly One and Compassionate. Ugaritic El can be drunken and, though he copulates freely with numerous females, his consort is Asherah.
He is represented as an aged man. El wore bull's horns, the symbol of strength, and was usually depicted as seated.

“The common identity shared by El and Yahweh is impressive…. In the various texts El and Yahweh were both portrayed as:
father figures, judges, compassionate and merciful, revealing themselves through dreams, capable of healing those who are sick, dwelling in a cosmic tent. dwelling over the great cosmic waters or at the source of the primordial rivers, which is also on top of a mountain, favourable to the widow, kings in the heavenly realm exercising authority over the other gods, who may be called ‘sons of gods’, warrior deities who led the other gods in battle, creator deities, aged and venerable in appearance, and most significantly, capable of guiding the destinies of people in the social arena.”

Baal (ba`al)

Baal is a son of El. His name (meaning – lord, owner, husband) is the normal Ugaritic-Canaanite epithet for the Canaanite rain god Haddu or Haddad (probably meaning “thunderer”) and hence, is the god of rain and fertility as well as being a war god.

Baal is not a creator, like El, but is the preserver and giver of fertility (cf. Vishnu in Hinduism);

Baal is almost El’s prime minister. He is the executive of the divine assembly. Baal is the champion of divine order against chaos. Lightening is his weapon, and he can be found in storms and thunder;

When Baal falls into the hands of Mot, the god of death, there is drought and sterility, growth ceases. With his rescue, by his consort, rains return and vegetation is returned to the earth;

In the beginning of all things, Baal-Haddad warred with and conquered Yamm (Sea), and so brought the unruly waters of Chaos under divine authority and control.

Baal was the main god worshiped at Ugarit and, apparently, in many areas of Canaan;

Baal is always paired with a female sister-wife whose name varied with place and time – Anat (at Ugarit), Ashtart (paired with the vowels of boshet=shame to make the artificial name Ashtoreth in the Bible) or Asherah (in the Bible the Asherah is either the consort of Baal or a cult pole which may stand for the goddess or fertility).

Baal’s consort, whatever her name, had 3 characteristics:
Sexual lust;
Fecundity; and,
Being a bloody goddess of war e.g. Anat, at Ugarit, wading up to her thighs in the blood of her enemies.
Baal’s epithets include Mighty and Rider of the Clouds.

'Baal's land', that is to say, land where cultivation depends on the activity of the god manifests in the autumn and winter rains. The term Baal-land as distinct from irrigated land was used in Mishnaic Hebrew (2nd century CE) and has survived down to the present day in Muslim.

Anat (`anat)

Goddess of love and war. Sister/wife of Baal. Anat often aids Baal in his battles and takes his part in defeat. (cf. Goddess Durga-Parvati-Lalita in Hinduism).

Mot (Death)(mwt)

Baal is killed by Mot (in the autumn) and he remains dead until the spring. His victory over death was celebrated as his enthronement over the other gods. It depicts the prevailing order of things as the result of struggles among the gods--successive bids for power in which Yamm and Mot are confined to their present bounds and Baal and Anat (associated with fertility and military prowess, respectively) prevail. Having descended into the underworld and survived Death, Baal embodies the assertiveness and continuity of life.

Yam(m) (Sea)

Yam was the god of primordial chaos and Baal’s enemy. Before the great combat with Baal Yam sent emissaries to the Assembly of the Gods demanding tribute to include his receiving Baal as a slave. Baal drove the emissaries from the assembly hall thus opening the war.