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more specifically the ritualistic behaviors of societies in the ancient Near East is a difficult task for the postmodern mind to comprehend. It requires a departure from our societal conventions and an understanding of the way in which ancient people interacted with the world around them. The mound of Ras Shamra (“Fenel Head”), located eight miles north of Latakia on the Syrian coast, is the site of the ancient polity Ugarit. The late Claude Schaeffer discovered the royal archives of this vassal state of the Hittite Empire together with impressions of Hittite royal seals, which have provided the clue to the life and culture of this ancient society. The local language of Ugarit is now called Ugaritic. The relationship of this tongue to the rest of the Semitic family and the light shed by Ugaritic literature on the Old Testament background have gained far more attention than most other aspects of Ugaritology. However Schaeffer’s excavations also comprise a welcome and valuable addition to our knowledge of history and society in north Syria during the Late Bronze age. During the Middle Bronze Age (2100 - 1550 BC), Ugarit had risen to the position of a wealthy commercial center. Close contacts with Egypt are proven by the appearance of inscriptions from Egyptian kings and officials. Ugarit also enjoyed relations in this period with the Middle Euphrates kingdom in Mari. The Egyptian inscriptions were mostly found smashed in pieces and some have suggested that this was due to the Hyksos invasion, which overran Syria, Palestine and Egypt in the mid-2nd millennium BC (Dussaud, 15). The golden age of Ugarit’s history came during the Late Bronze age, from about 1450 B.C. until around 1200. At that time, Ugarit was a flourishing metropolis serving as the center for commerce and trade for peoples from all of the great civilizations in the Late Bronze age: Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Mycean, and Syro-Palestinian. It is from this period that the literary and administrative archives have come (Rainey, 102). These texts make Ugarit the only Late Bronze site presently known at which the cultural life and social institutions may be studied from texts in a West Semitic language with controls from tablets written in the contemporary lingua franca, the East Semitic Akkadian. However, there are several limitations to such a study that must be recognized. One is that of the texts themselves. Literary pieces such as myths and legends do not always reflect the prevailing life situation. On the other hand, the administrative documents take for granted an extensive background that investigator can only reconstruct from inference. The texts from Ras Shamra represent a revolution. For the first time authentic religious texts, including myths and religious sacrifices, were found in the Canaanite area. They are written in a previously unknown alphabetic cuneiform script (in which vowels are not written) in an archaic form of the Canaanite language, and give an extremely good
which seem to have been accompanied by some chant or song. The basic sacrificial types appear to reflect a need to feed and to care for the divinities and to establish a form of communion with them. social. and a whole series of other categories defined by ethnic. and geographical terms. but sacrificial activity also increased at the second and third quarters. At the end of another list he appears again apparently to don a ritual costume and visit the dwellings of the gods: (To) the places of the gods he goes on foot. 234). there are many similarities and differences between Hebrew and Ugaritic religion and cult.002." "anger. Suffice it to say. From the mythological texts." and "impatience. The most exciting ritual tablet is that of a ceremony for “forgiveness of soul. the sacrifice of a donkey in each of the last two sections appears to 2 . the second tablet discovered at Ras Shamra in 1929. 1440-1360 BC (Ringrin.. mentions things such as "sin. played a role in sacrificial rite (Levine. but the broken context makes interpretation difficult. Specifically mentioned are the king and the queen. which has six sections divided into three for the men of Ugarit and three for the women. The king is mentioned on a list of offerings to various gods on certain days." We also know that a great number of deities existed in the Ugaritic pantheon. At the end of each section.” Amid the usual list of offerings one finds the statement that “the king shall ride…” RS 1. over two hundred of which are known at present. appears to be to foster national unity by erasing all sources of tension amongst society. There is a reference to his ceremonial washing (Pardee 1995. For example. There is not a clear overlap between the mythological texts and the ritual ones other than in the fact that certain deities appear in both . The festivals of the new moon and the full moon were the most important. at the beginning of the lunar "weeks. 105). (Pardee. The sacrifice reflects a cultic meal in which the offeror partook in the same meal as was offered to the god. as elsewhere. the birthplace of the Jewish and Christian religions. This translated Ugarit word for "peace offerings. the sacrifice of a single animal is given. 3). i. but they are unclear.” Elsewhere on the tablet is an allusion to “when Ashtoreth enters the field of the king’s house” and “when the Reshephs enter the king’s house (UT 2004).picture of the religious situation at the height of Ugarit’s prosperity c. we know that the Ugaritians had highly developed views of how the deities interrelated with each other and with humans. the men and the women who live within the walls of the city of Ugarit. The Ugaritic cultic system was based on animal sacrifice that was particularly tied in with the phases of the moon.e." The burden of the rite. There exist references in ritual texts to the role that the king played in formal worship.that would allow us to see more clearly the ideology and theology behind the ritual acts. 127). which at Ugarit. The king shall go on foot Seven times to all of them (UT 5:24-26) One important list is headed by the entry: “Wine which is being held by [personal name] for the king’s sacrifices." opens a window on the interconnections between these West Semites of Northwest Syria and the better-known inhabitants of Canaan.
to explain seasonal fluctuations. the cult played a central role in the lives of the people. It is believed by many that there was an autumn festival in Ugarit comparable to Sukkoth among the Hebrews that involved such a recitation and certain rituals believed to be associated with the ongoing fertility of the land. “creator”. demons. The reason Israel was so attracted to Baal was that 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. this description is also used of Yahweh in Psalm 68:5. This perspective asserts that when “there is no rain in its time 'Ba'al fails' (UM I and Aqhat 43). the temples of Baal and Dagon and the library (sometimes referred to as the high priest's house). He agrees with de Moor's conclusion that “Baal 'embodies an early attempt of man to give a comprehensive explanation of the mechanism of the climate in the Ugaritians surroundings'. and goddesses. This is most likely because the Hebrews also adopted these Canaanite ideas.underscore the theme of political goodness announced in the first line of each of these sections. 75) and thus the Baal Cycle would be offered in hopes of Baal's resurrection and therefore the restoration of the land to fruitfulness via timely rains. The Baal cycle represents Baal's destruction of Yam (the chaos sea monster). demonstrating the relationship of Canaanite chaoskampf. 86-87). Yam (the god of the sea) and Mot (the god of death). the god of drought and sterility” (Oldenburg. or to celebrate the apotheosis of eponymous ancestors” (Young. Within these structures atop the acropolis numerous invaluable mythological texts were found. KTU 1. What is of great interest here is that Yam is the Hebrew word for sea and Mot is the Hebrew word for death. 143). the Bronze Age city. (Jastrow. 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. being swallowed up by Môt." In the north-east quarter of the walled enclosure the remains of three significant buildings were unearthed. Baal is described as the “rider on the clouds” in KTU 1.3 II 40. Asherah. The most important of these lesser gods were Baal. In Ugarit. The “ancient Canaanites had a very vivid imagination and fine intuition and understood how to clothe the realities of their religion with dramatic myth in which explanations were given for changes in their religion” (Oldenburg.”10 De Moor even goes so far as to give precise dates and 3 . were divided into "quarters. The important textual finds from the Ras Shamra (Ugarit) site shed a great deal of light upon the cultic life of the city (The foundations of Ras Shamra. There were also lesser gods. Many authors have supported a seasonal ritual interpretation of the Baal Cycle. Since the 1930s these texts have opened some initial understanding of the Canaanite mythological world. Interestingly enough. and “creator of the creation”. or 'Ba'al is dead' (UM 67:VI:23). the god of fertility.2 IV 10). with those of Mesopotamia and the Aegean: a warrior god rises up as the hero of the new pantheon to defeat chaos and bring order. Jack Sasson believes that the Baal cycle along with Keret and Aqhat were “destined to function as vehicles for the propagation of cultic festivities. For these Israelites Yahweh was useful in the desert but not much help in the land. In the story. El was the chief god at Ugarit and is called the “father of men”. 131). One of the central Ugaritic myths was the story of Baal’s enthronement as king.
This was because the worshippers were attempting to convince Baal to send rain to their crops. 112).connect these to (explicit. We also understand the Biblical literature itself much better as we are now able to clarify difficult words due to their Ugaritic cognates. 4 . (cf. and Lev 10:8-11). Since the discovery of the Ugaritic texts. also fairly consistently interpreted ‘Canaanite religion’. and explained the myths concerning Baal as allegories of the seasons (Wyatt. Since rain and semen were seen in the ancient world as the same thing. Is 28:7-8. Worship at Ugarit was essentially a drunken orgy in which priests and worshippers indulged in excessive drinking and excessive sexuality. implicit or merely conjectural) festivals and other particularly important annual events in Ugarit (De Moor. We now have a much clearer picture of Canaanite religion than we ever had before. 101-108) The rituals performed in Ugaritic worship involved a great deal of alcohol and sexual promiscuity. as a ‘fertility cult’. study of the Old Testament has never been the same. Early interpretations. in the fashion of the time. within which Ugaritian religion was automatically included. Hos 4:11-14. it simply makes sense that participants in fertility religion behaved this way.
ed. Space and time in the religious life of the Near East. No. De Moor. Pardee.F. The Conflict Between El and Ba‛al in Canaanite Religion (Leiden: Brill. 1981. Ugarit Ritual Text. The Kingdom of Ugarit. 1-5. P. 28. Inc. Wyatt. 2004. Les Decouvertes de Ras Shamra et l'Ancien Testament. Religious Beliefs of Babylonia and Assyria. (1937). M. New York. Jastrow. p 15-25. Young. Johannes C. 86-87 5 .Works Cited B. Gordon Douglas. NY. XVII (1963). 2d ed. Ugarit in Retrospect: Fifty Years of Ugarit and Ugaritic. 143. Dussaud. No. Benjamin Blom. 1971. pp.. Leiden: Brill. Paris: Geuthner. 111-112. 101-125 Ulf Oldenburg. The Oriental Institute News and Notes. Dennis. Rainey A. Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 1965) pp. Gregorio Del Olmo Lete. 1969). Winona Lake. Pp. 105-11 R. Nick. 1987. An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit. 2001. IN: Eisenbrauns. Winter 2002. Sheffield Academic Pr. 4 (Dec. Pp.. Vol. 172. Levine. Canaanite Religion: According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit. 101-108. The Biblical Archaeologist.
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