- Paperback: 244 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First Edition edition (July 2, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521704936
- ISBN-13: 978-0521704939
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
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- #712 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > Language Studies
- #1412 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Exegesis & Hermeneutics
- #2083 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Old Testament
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A Primer on Ugaritic: Language, Culture and Literature First Edition Edition
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"In contrast to many introductory Semitic language grammars, this volume is surprisingly readable. The presentation is clear, accessible, and largely jargon-free. Because of the thoughtful arrangement and composition of this primer, students will be able to learn the language more quickly and enjoyably. . . . Schniedewind and Hunt have produced a very fine grammar that will surely be a welcome mainstay in all levels of introductory Ugaritic courses whether they are undergraduate or graduate programs." ---The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures
A Primer on Ugaritic is an introduction to the language of the ancient city of Ugarit, placed in the context of the culture, literature, and religion of this ancient Semitic culture. The Ugaritic language and literature was a precursor to Canaanite and serves as one of our most important resources for understanding the Old Testament and the Hebrew language.
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I was a graduate student of Dr. Schniedewind's late predecessor at UCLA, Dr. Stanislav Segert, and I have read at lease a half a dozen Ugaritic textbooks cover to cover over the years. This is by far the best from a student perspective. Scholars can debate whether 'adrt really is derived from *<dr or if 'unt_ really is a "lehnwort" (loaned word derived) from Hurrian, but students don't really care. They just want to translate this or that text required for tomorrow's class. Students also don't want to carry a lexicon (dictionary of two languages), grammar, and a chrestomathy (collection of texts) to class as well as three different volumes to their Syriac class after that! Having one volume that provides them with texts (chrestomathy style), lexical aides (i.e. a glossary of every word in the texts), and notes on grammatical, historical, geographic, and cultural issues makes the life of the student much easier! When all is said and done, shouldn't textbooks be designed for students and not scholars?
Yes, $80 is a great deal of money for a book, but keep in mind that during my graduate studies at UCLA I remember spending about $1,500 one quarter for textbooks for one language class. This book is extremely well designed with the student and the pedagogical process in mind. Professors can assign the book with assurance that this single volume is all that is necessary for the instructor and the students for the duration of the introductory class.
No modern English as a second language class would start students with Ginsburg, Keats, Shakespeare, or Chaucer to learn beginning English. No beginning French class would start with La Disparition (Georges Perec's famous French novel that doesn't contain a single letter "E" in any of its 300 pages!). Why should students of ancient languages like Ugaritic start learning with the Aqhat or Keret epics? Schniedewind and Hunt's choice to start students with school texts followed by letters, administrative, legal, and only then literary texts is an extremely logical and pedagogically sound approach.
For students of the bible, semitic languages, ancient near eastern history, or literature, this primer is especially useful because of its diversity of subject matter. At some point in their academic career, students of semitic languages will have to learn that words that had the "th" sound in ancient times (so called "proto-semitic") use the letter or sign "sh" in Hebrew, Phoenician, and Akkadian; but "th" in Ugaritic, Arabic, and Aramaic. Therefore, "shad" in Hebrew could very well be the same as the word "thad" in Ugaritic, but "thad" in Hebrew would never be "shad" in Ugaritic etc. There are very consistent "rules" that every serious student of semitics must know. These and other linguistic rules are covered in a solid introductory way in this primer (e.g. pp. 150ff).
For students of the Hebrew bible, Ugaritic is the most important language after Hebrew itself. A century ago, serious students of Hebrew and the semitic languages studied Arabic as a second language because Arabic has a fairly conservatively evolved grammar and supposedly reflected a much older stage of the semitic languages. However, our primary corpus of "ancient" Arabic, the Koran, is from approximately 1,500 years after the literary origins of the Bible and it is about 3,000 years after Hebrew was evolving into the form that developed into "Biblical" Hebrew. However, Ugaritic is a language for which we have actual, physical texts from the very time that the stories in the Bible were evolving. Furthermore, these texts were written just a few miles from the lands of the Hebrew bible by a people with a similar culture and language to the writers of the Bible itself.
For students of ancient religious history, this book will help them to understand the ancient northwest semitic pantheon in early and pre-biblical times. For students of literature, the book will serve as a excellent introduction to ancient genres likely to be encountered in later studies. For an introductory text both the diversity and depth are impressive.
The publishers are to be commended for letting the authors show alphabetic texts in their original scripts rather than transliteration. Seeing Hebrew texts in Hebrew characters (E.g. pg. 113 and the glossary) and Ugaritic texts in Ugaritic characters makes learning easier over time because one doesn't have to jump through the mental hoops of transliterating before translating each word. The addition of photographs of actual texts (e.g. Zuckerman's photos of the MRZHU text on pages 109-110) help the student learn to recognize texts in context. This is an important skill. (It is shocking to see senior Hebrew scholars who read hebrew fluently but couldn't make sense of a real manuscript because they have never read anything but modern printed editions of texts!) On the other hand, the choice to transliterate Akkadian is also logical and pedagogically sound because, unlike Ugaritic and Hebrew, Akkadian has no alphabet and the writing system takes far longer to master than the language itself! It is unlikely that students would be able to recognize Akkadian signs and give then accurate interpretation independently of context so transliteration is an appropriate choice here.
For serious students of the Bible, I would recommend the study of Hebrew and Greek first. For students of the Hebrew bible, Ugaritic is the most important language after Hebrew itself. For students who choose (or are required) to learn Ugaritic, Schniedewind and Hunt's primer is currently the best available choice for a solid start in learning the language, texts, and culture. For $80, that's a bargin in my opinion....
The book caters to students who already have a handle on Hebrew. It is not just that its vocabulary is related first to Hebrew cognates; that much, I understand, given their close relationship. It is also that its grammatical *jargon*, like "qal" and "hiphil", is comprehensible only to students of Hebrew. My main Semitic language when I bought the book in 2009 was Modern-Standard Arabic. The author clearly does not think much of Arabic as an aid to Ugaritic; he prefers Akkadian and Aramaic. I wonder if the book had been written today, in the light of Safaitic (=Arabic B.C.), whether the author would reconsider, at least for the vocabulary. At any rate I could not handle this book in 2009. Only now, having studied some Hebrew, can I handle it.
When those characteristics (I won't call them flaws) are taken into account, we get an engaging and (moderately) easy-to-read guide through the most important (para-)Canaanite language known to modern scholarship. It also describes the styles of literature which Ugaritic scribes wrote: besides formal letters, they did poetry, which is pretty much the same sort of poetry and rhetoric we read in the Bible (and Qur'an!).
One nit I do wish to pick. The author points out that Ugaritic did not undergo the Canaanite Shift. As a result he excludes Ugaritic from the Canaanite languages. I am unconvinced that this one isogloss is sufficient. In most other respects Ugaritic does behave like a primitive Canaanite language, and not like - say - an Aramaic or an Arabian language. Too much attention to single obvious isoglosses is what has led Semiticists not to count Safaitic as ancestral Arabic (or at least as a cluster of dialects which included proto-Arabic). And the author himself relies upon this Canaanitic behaviour whenever he reaches into the Hebrew literature and lexicon to explain some trait in a Ugaritic document, which he will do All. The. Time. The author elsewhere counts "(north)east Semitic" - Akkadian and Eblaite - as Semitic, despite that they are the most variant branch on the tree; he does not classify Akkadian as "para-semitic". So it makes no sense for him to treat Ugaritic as para-canaanite.
So for students of the Bible and of West Semitic philology, I recommend this book as a *second* book to read. After an introduction to Biblical Hebrew itself.
text is translated and explained line by line. Finally, grammatical information is given. It seems to pull information from many other works and put it all together, saving time and effort on the part of the reader.