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Lesser Deities In The Ugaritic Texts And The He...

A comparative work on the nature and various roles of the lesser deities, the so-called angels, in the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible. Sang Youl Cho insists on the necessity for a comparative study between the two religious literatures from Ugarit and ancient Israel. The present study is interested in their membership in the heavenly council, their kinship among the deities, and their roles such as messengers, warriors, mediators, or servants, which have numerous similarities in the Ugaritic texts and the Old Testament.

Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the He...

The Ugaritic pantheon included deities of local origin, many of whom are also known from Eblaite sources from the third millennium BCE or Amorite ones from the early second millennium BCE, as well as Hurrian and Mesopotamian ones.[2] The Ugaritic pantheon is considered better documented than other aspects of Ugaritic religion, such as the life of the clergy or the social context of various offerings.[3] Over two hundred names of deities are known from Ugaritic texts, though it has been argued the number of these who were an object of active worship was lower.[4] Many of the names are binomial, and as such may refer either to a single deity and their epithet, to two deities syncretized into one, or to a closely associated pair.[5]

Qudšu-wa-Amrur was referred to as the "fisherman of Athirat" (dgy aṯrt); researchers who assume that two deities are meant accordingly translate the epithet as plural, "fishermen of Athirat".[1] Attempts to translate dgy as the name of a hypothetical merman-like mythical being are regarded as implausible.[17] Qudšu-wa-Amrur's role might be related to this goddess' own connection to the sea, exemplified by the phrase "Lady Athirat of the Sea" (rbt aṯrt ym),[18][17] which occurs twenty one times in known Ugaritic texts, which makes it one of the four best attested epithets in the entire text corpus.[19] Aicha Rahmouni points out that the designation of minor deities as fishermen of other members of the pantheon finds a parallel in Mesopotamian texts, such as the god list An = Anum, and notes that the analogous Mesopotamian divine fishermen were apparently believed to provide the temples of deities they served with fish.[17] Qudšu-wa-Amrur was also believed to act as Athirat's messenger.[20] Little is known about the character of the relation between these deities otherwise.[9]

Ugaritic mythological tablets describe the activities of the main gods and goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon. Although there existed no single state theology, the major gods reflect local geographical concerns about the fertility of the earth and the importance of water as well as relationships to the sky and the underworld. The universe was believed to be ruled in tandem by the older god El and a main warrior-god, Baal, surrounded by a council of deities and a lower level of attendant gods. The divine council included the older generation of the god El and his wife Athirat, known in the Bible as Asherah, as well as a younger group of figures that included the war god Baal and the war goddesses Anat and Astarte. Forces of destruction included Yamm, the god of the sea (also known as Nahar, the River), and Mot, the god of death as well as burning (Resheph) and pestilence (Deber), a god described in the Bible (Habakkuk 3). In total, more than 234 deities are recorded in Ugaritic texts, and these gods, unlike humans, were thought to have eternal lives.

When archaeologists and other scholars began working on this significant collection of Ugaritic texts, they were amazed to discover extensive documentation of a language and a culture that flourished north of Israel, around the time of the biblical judges. Many of the cuneiform texts (an ancient writing system that made use of various combinations of wedge-impressions made in wet clay tablets) are records of mundane economic activities and other facets of daily life. A select few, however, provide invaluable information about the religious practices of the ancient city-state of Ugarit, including the deities worshiped there, and the temple rituals carried out within the kingdom.

4. The Ugaritic Pantheon.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.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.For instances, read KTU 1. 2 I 13-32 and compare it to many of the Psalms. Also, read Ps 82:1, 89:6-8!). 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 BCE) say:I bless you through Yahweh of Samaria,and through his Asherah!

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 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.

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. 5. Worship at Ugarit and in Ancient IsraelIn 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)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. 041b061a72


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