Ugarit and the Old Testament

Image result for ugarit

Peter C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983).

This is probably the best short introduction to Ugaritic culture as it relates to the Bible. It can be read in one sitting and even the parts that have Cuneiform aren’t too hard to read (and you can even decipher them, if you want to).

Craigie tells the amusing story of how the archeologist Villeroud, fearing that the locals might steal some artifacts, had the Turks and the Alawites–mortal enemies–work in the same units. He reasoned that if one side started stealing artifacts, the other would snitch on them.

Deciphering the Cuneiform

As the cuneiform tablets were different from the Mesopotamian kind, how did they “crack” the code? Craigie explains in some detail: “ He noted that the writing system was alphabetic and that words were separated by a small vertical wedge shape. Identification of the word divider was important, for it enabled him to recognize that most words were short, consisting of only three or four le!ers; the shortness of the words made it highly unlikely that the language concealed by the script was Greek or an ancient relative of Greek” (15).

Assuming the language was akin to either Hebrew or Phoenician, Virolleaud guess that the single mark on an axehead was probably a preposition, such as “to,” or the consonant “l.” He then figured that the word “king” would be prominent, and since this was a Semitic language, he would be looking for the lemma mlk. Same with Baal. Here is another way to demonstrate the method:

If the language was Semitic:

(a)Prefixes must include: ’, y, m, n, t (and possibly b, h, w, k, l).

(b)Suffixes must include: h, k, m, n, t, (and possibly w and y).

(c)Single-le”er words: l, m, (and possibly b, k, w).

Old Testament Parallels

Ugaritic and Psalm 29. While the biblical author certainly did not “copy” Ugaritic poetry, he certainly used the form as a vehicle for the divine words.

“Cooking a kid in its mother’s milk.” This isn’t just a command against animal cruelty. It’s related to Canaanite cosmogony. Craigie writes: “Canaanite (Ugaritic) text appears to describe some kind of ritual which related to fertility and sexuality; it is possible that the ritual involved sexual activity by the participants. Cooking of a kid in milk would simply be one small part of the larger ritual” (66). That could be the case, but later scholarship is far from certain.

Psalm 104. There are parallels to the “rider in the clouds.”

Of course, none of this means that the OT writers “stole” from Ugarit. Rather, these concepts would have been common currency. Of course a strong deity would ride on the clouds.


One thought on “Ugarit and the Old Testament

  1. Pingback: The Day the Earth Stands Still (Peck and Gilbert) | Suburban Agrarian

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