Ugaritian head

Ugarit (10 kilometers north of the Syrian port of Latakia) is a very ancient site located in modern day Syria on the Mediterranean coast, east of the northeast coast of Cyprus. It was an important 14th century B.C. Mediterranean port and the next great Canaanite city to arise after Ebla. Tablets found at Ugarit indicated it was involved in the trade of box and juniper wood, olive oil and wine.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:. “Its ruins, in the form of a mound or tell, lie half a mile from the shore. Although the name of the city was known from Egyptian and Hittite sources, its location and history were a mystery until the accidental discovery in 1928 of an ancient tomb at the small Arab village of Ras Shamra. “The city's location ensured its importance through trade. To the west lay a good harbor (the bay of Minet el Beidha), while to the east a pass led to the heart of Syria and northern Mesopotamia through the mountain range that lies parallel with the coast. The city also sat astride an important north-south coastal trade route linking Anatolia and Egypt.[Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Ugarit", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“Ugarit was a flourishing city, its streets lined with two-story houses dominated on the northeastern side of the tell by an acropolis with two temples dedicated to the gods Baal and Dagan. A large palace, built from finely dressed stones and consisting of numerous courtyards, pillared halls, and a columned entrance gate, occupied the western edge of the city. In a special wing of the palace were a number of rooms apparently devoted to administration, since hundreds of cuneiform tablets were discovered there covering almost all aspects of the life of Ugarit from the fourteenth to the twelfth century B.C. It is clear that the city dominated the surrounding land (though the full extent of the kingdom is uncertain).. \^/

“Merchants figure prominently in Ugarit's archives. The citizens engaged in trade and many foreign merchants were based in the state, for example from Cyprus exchanging copper ingots in the shape of ox hides. The presence of Minoan and Mycenaean pottery suggests Aegean contacts with the city. It was also the central storage place for grain supplies moving from the wheat plains of northern Syria to the Hittite court.” \^/

Books: Curtis, Adrian Ugarit (Ras Shamra). Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1985. Soldt, W. H. van "Ugarit: A Second-Millennium Kingdom on the Mediterranean Coast." In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 2, edited by Jack M. Sasson, pp. 1255–66.. New York: Scribner, 1995.

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site; British Museum ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia ; Louvre ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago ; Iraq Museum Database ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

History of Ugarit

Ugarit location on the Mediterrean at the border of Syria and Lebanon

Ugarit had a long history. The first evidence of habitation is a Neolithic settlement that dates to around 6000 B.C.. The oldest written references are found in some texts from the nearby city of Ebla written around 1800 B.C.. At that time both Ebla and Ugarit were under Egyptian hegemony. The population of Ugarit at that time was roughly 7635 people. The city of Ugarit continued to be dominated by the Egyptians through 1400 B.C..

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “It is clear from excavations that Ugarit was first settled in the Neolithic period (about 6500 B.C.) and had grown into a substantial town by the early third millennium B.C. Ugarit is mentioned in cuneiform documents discovered at Mari on the Euphrates dating to the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000–1600 B.C.). However, it was in the fourteenth century B.C. that the city entered its golden age. At that time, the prince of Byblos, the wealthy trading coastal city (in modern Lebanon), wrote to the Egyptian king Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten, r. ca. 1353–1336 B.C.) to warn him about the power of the neighboring city Tyre and compared its magnificence with that of Ugarit: [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Ugarit", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“From around 1500 B.C., the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni had dominated much of Syria, but by 1400 B.C., when the earliest tablets at Ugarit were written, Mitanni was in decline. This was mainly a result of repeated attacks by the Hittites of Central Anatolia. Eventually, around 1350 B.C., Ugarit, along with much of Syria as far south as Damascus, fell under Hittite domination. According to the texts, other states had tried to draw Ugarit into an anti-Hittite alliance, but the city refused and called on the Hittites for help. After the Hittites conquered the region, a treaty was drawn up that made Ugarit a Hittite subject-state. The Akkadian version of the treaty, covering several tablets, was recovered at Ugarit. The Ugarit state grew as a result, gaining territories from the defeated alliance. The Hittite king also recognized the ruling dynasty's right to the throne. Texts, however, suggest that an enormous tribute was paid to the Hittites. \^/

Discovery of Ugarit and the Ugaritic Texts

Ugarit judicial text

A French archaeological mission under the direction of Claude F.-A. Schaeffer (1898–1982) began excavations of Ugarit in 1929. This was followed by a series of digs through 1939. Limited work was undertaken in 1948, but full-scale work did not resume until 1950.

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: ““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 B.C.. [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ]

“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. All of the tablets found at Ugarit were written in the last period of its life (around 1300- 1200 B.C.). The kings of this last and greatest period were: 1349 Ammittamru I; 1325 Niqmaddu II; 1315 Arhalba; 1291 Niqmepa 2; 1236 Ammitt; 1193 Niqmaddu III; 1185 Ammurapi

“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.

Ugarit Alphabet

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the earliest example of alphabetic writing was a clay tablet with 32 cuneiform letters found in Ugarit, Syria and dated to 1450 B.C. The Ugarits condensed the Eblaite writing, with its hundreds of symbols, into a concise 30-letter alphabet that was the precursor of the Phoenician alphabet.

The Ugarites reduced all symbols with multiple consonant sounds to signs with a single consent sound. In the Ugarite system each sign consisted of one consonant plus any vowel. That the sign for “p” could be “pa," “pi” or “pu." Ugarit was passed on to the Semitic tribes of the Middle east, which included the Phoenician, Hebrews and later the Arabs.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The population was mixed with Canaanites (inhabitants of the Levant) and Hurrians from Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Foreign languages written in cuneiform at Ugarit include Akkadian, Hittite, Hurrian, and Cypro-Minoan. But most important is the local alphabetic script that records the native Semitic language "Ugaritic." From evidence at other sites, it is certain that most areas of the Levant used a variety of alphabetic scripts at this time. The Ugaritic examples survive because the writing was on clay using cuneiform signs, rather than drawn on hide, wood, or papyrus. While most of the texts are administrative, legal, and economic, there are also a large number of literary texts with close parallels to some of the poetry found in the Hebrew Bible” [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Ugarit", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Ugaratic chart of letters

Ugarit Trade

Abdelnour Farras wrote in “Trade at Ugarit In The 13th Century B.C”: In the thirteenth century B.C., the Levant was the scene of an antagonism between the area's two superpowers, The Hittites from Anatolia on the north, and Egypt. The Hittite influence in the Levant was expanding at the expense of a shrinking Egyptian sphere of influence. The inevitable clash came at about 1286 B.C. between Hittite King Mursilis and Pharaoh Ramses II at Qadesh, on the Orontes river. The outcome of the battle is not known for certain though it is believed that the Hittites won the battle. In 1272, the two sides signed a non-aggression pact, believed to be the oldest document of its kind in recorded history. The peace resulting from the accord was to have far-reaching effects on the fate of Phoenicia, including such cities as Tyre, Byblos, and Ugarit. The latter, located near what is now the Syrian village of Ras-el-Shamra, is now known best for being the discovery site of the earliest alphabetic system used exclusively for writing, dating back to the fourteenth century. However, Ugarit was also for a period of three centuries the main site of import and export on the Eastern Mediterranean. [Source: Abdelnour Farras, “Trade at Ugarit In The 13th Century B.C” Alamouna webzine, April 1996, Internet Archive ~~]

“Though it had to pay the Hittites an annual tribute in gold, silver, and purple wool, Ugarit took great advantage from the atmosphere of peace that followed the Egyptian-Hittite accord. It became a major terminal for land travel to, and from, Anatolia, inner Syria, and Mesopotamia as well as a trading port, serving merchants and travelers from Greece and Egypt. ~~

“Documents discovered at Ugarit mention a wide spectrum of trading goods. Amongst those are such foodstuffs as wheat, olives, barley, dates, honey, wine and cummin; metals such as copper, tin, bronze, lead and iron (then considered rare and valuable) were traded in the form of weapons, vessels or tools. Livestock traders dealt in horses, donkeys, sheep, cattle, geese and other birds. The Levant's forests made timber an important Ugaritic export: the customer could specify the desired measurements and variety of the needed timber and the king of Ugarit would send the timber logs of appropriate size. For example an order from the king of nearby Carshemish goes as follows:
Thus says the king of Carshemish to Ibirani king of Ugarit:
Greetings to you! Now the dimensions-length and breadth-I have sent to you.
Send two junipers according to those dimensions. Let them be as long as the (specified) length and as wide as the (specified) breadth.

boar rhyton imported from Mycenae

“Other objects of commerce included hippo teeth, elephant tusks, baskets, scales, cosmetics and glass. And, as to be expected from a wealthy city, slaves constituted a trade commodity as well. Carpenters produced beds, chests, and other wooden furniture. Other artisans worked on bows and metal shaping. There was a marine industry which produced ships not only for the Ugaritic traders, but also for such maritime cities as Byblos and Tyre. ~~

“The trade objects came from great distances, from as far away east as Afghanistan, and from the west as far away as central Africa. As to be expected, Ugarit was a very cosmopolitan city. Foreign nationals resided there, as well as some diplomatic personnel including Hittites, Hurrians, Assyrians, Cretans and Cypriots. The existence of so many foreigners led to a flourishing real estate industry and to the intervention of the state to regulate the industry. ~~

“Ugarit's merchants received promotions in the form of grants of land in return for their undertaking trading activities on the behalf of the king though their trading was far from limited to making deals for the monarchy. We are told, for example, of a group of four merchants jointly investing a total of 1000 shekels for a trading expedition to Egypt. Of course, being a trader abroad was not risk-free. Ugaritic records mention compensations to foreign merchants killed either there or in other cities. The importance of trade to the king of Ugarit was such that townsmen were made responsible for the safety of foreign merchants doing business in their town. If a merchant were robbed and murdered and the guilty party were not caught, the citizens had to pay compensation.” ~~

Ugaritic Gods

Ugarit texts refer to deities such as El, Asherah, Baak and Dagan, previously known only from the Bible and a handful of other texts. Ugarit literature is full of epic stories about gods and goddesses. This form of religion was revived by the early Hebrew prophets. An 11-inch-high silver-and-gold statuette of a god, circa 1900 B.C., was unearthed at Ugarit.


According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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. [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ] “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. 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 B.C.) 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 the Ugarit text 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.

Worship at Ugarit and in Ancient Israel

seated goddess making a peace sign

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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) [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ]

“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).

Ugarit Cult of the Dead

Ugarit tomb

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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.[Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA,]

“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.

Influence of Ugarit

Lenticular make-up box

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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. [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ]

“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. 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.”

Ugarit and the Old Testament

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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 B.C. and thus its period of greatness corresponds with the entry of Israel into Canaan. [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ]

Baal casting lightening

“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.

“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.”

From Ugarit to the Bible

According to the Quartz Hill School of Theology: “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. [Source: Quartz Hill School of Theology, Quartz Hill, CA, ]

“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"silver lips" 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 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 a word 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.”

End of Ugarit

“In the period 1200 - 1180 B.C. the city steeply declined and then mysteriously came to an end. Farras wrote: “Around 1200 B.C., the area experienced a reduced peasant population and thus a reduction in agricultural resources. The crisis had serious consequences. The city-state's economy was weak, the internal politics was becoming unstable. The city was unable to defend itself. The torch was passed to the maritime cities south of Ugarit such as Tyre, Byblos and Sidon. Ugarit's fate was sealed around 1200 B.C. with the invasion of "The Sea People" and the destruction that followed. The city disappeared from history thereafter. The destruction of Ugarit marked the end of a brilliant phase in the history of Middle Eastern civilizations. [Source: Abdelnour Farras, “Trade at Ugarit In The 13th Century B.C” Alamouna webzine, April 1996, Internet Archive ~~]

ruins of Ugarit today

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: ““Around 1150 B.C., the Hittite empire suddenly collapsed. Many letters of this late period are preserved at Ugarit and reveal a city suffering from raids by pirates. One of the groups, the Shikala, can be connected with "sea peoples" who appear in contemporary Egyptian inscriptions as a vast hoard of looting vandals. Whether the fall of the Hittites and Ugarit should be attributed to these people is not certain, and they may have been more a result than a cause. However, the magnificent palace, harbor, and much of the city were destroyed and Ugarit was never resettled.” [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Ugarit", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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