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Relates archaeological material to the Hebrew Bible
on November 25, 2003
Ugarit, the ancient name for modern Ras Shamra, is in northern Syria on the Mediterranean coast. In 1928 a local farmer discovered--stumbled upon--the site, and in the following years thousands of cuneiform (wedge writing) texts were unearthed by French archaeologists. The languages of these cuneiform tablets is primarily Akkadian, Sumerian and Ugaritic (the last being an unknown language before 1928). The tablets all date to a time before 1200 B.C. (the approximate date when Ugarit was conquered and destroyed). The texts are "diplomatic correspondence, legal records, remedies for horses' ailments, long lists of gods, offerings, supplies, and personnel, dictionaries of word equivalents in the various languages used in the city, and the oldest complete alphabet, with an order substantially the same as that of our own."
Dr. Coogan's book is a translation of fifteen tablets recovered from the library of the priest Ilimilku from Shubbani, who was the chief priest of Baal in the city's main temple complex. The texts were commissioned under King Niqmaddu II (c. 1375-1345), and four stories from that commissioning are here translated and published by Dr. Coogan.
The first translated story is titled Aqhat, which is the story of a man, Danel, who wants a son. After entreating the chief god El, Aqhat is born to Danel. The story then traces Aqhat and his struggles with the gods, which ends in his death.
The second story is called The Healers, and is quite fragmentary and only takes up a page of translated text.
The third story is the story Kirta (Keret). King Kirta is a sort of Job figure who entreats El for children and then receives a dream and instructions. He follows the instructions of the dream and has children. However, in the process of carrying out the instructions, he makes a vow to the goddess Asherah which he fails to keep. Kirta is punished with disease, and the rest of the story is about his ability or inability to be a king (challenged, as he is, by his son).
The fourth and final story in Dr. Coogan's book is of the well known Baal cycle, which I will not summarize here.
Dr. Coogan provides introductory material to the whole book and to each chapter, and often has an eye to relating the Ugaritic stories to the Hebrew story. For example, he shows the relation of El to Yahweh, providing ample scriptural references (following through with the OT references is quite enlightening). Another profitable discussion is where he shows the connection of Mt. Zaphon (the abode of Baal) and the usage of Zaphon and mountain imagery in the Hebrew Scriptures. I suggest that even further study on this matter should lead one to Dr. Meredith G. Kline's 1996 article which, in part, traces the usage of Mt. Zaphon in Isaiah: "Har Magadon: The End of the Millennium" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society #39 (June 1996): pp 207-222.
Dr. Coogan writes from the perspective of the Harvard school of L. Stager, E. Bloch-Smith, etc., which is not intimidated by the minimalist schools, and therefore not afraid to locate the Hebrew ideas in the context of Canaan. Thus, this short and accessible book is a handy guide for students of Israel and the Bible.