The Ugaritic Baal Myth, tablet four
Artifact: Clay tablet
Provenience: Ras Shamra
Period: Late Bronze Age (c. 1400-1200 BCE)
Current location: The National Museum of Aleppo, Syria
Text genre, language: Mythology, narrative poetry; alphabetic Ugaritic
Description: The ancient city of Ugarit, the royal center of a small kingdom of the same name, was located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, near what is now modern day Lattakia, Syria. The six tablets that comprise the Ugaritic Baal Myth were discovered mostly during the first three seasons of excavation at the site of Ras Shamra, ancient Ugarit. (One fragment was discovered in the fifth season.) Tablet four, in most part, recounts the planning and building of Baal’s palace.
“Depart, Kothar-wa-Hasisu. Hurry, build a house.
Hurry, raise a palace. Hurry, build a house.
Hurry, start raising a palace
in the midst of the high places of Sapanu,
the house holding 1,000 fields.
the palace holding 10,000 plots.” (CTA 4 v 50-57)
Over the span of six clay tablets (2,350 lines in 1,500 poetic verses [Pardee (1997]), an erudite royal scribe named Ilimilku composed a sweeping tale of Baal’s struggle for an elevated position in the divine pantheon. In a style called narrative poetry, the epic describes Baal’s defeat of Yammu, “the sea,” his subsequent construction of a royal palace on his divine mountain, and his conflict with the god Môtu, “death,” which leads to Baal’s death and ultimate resurrection. Baal is not portrayed as the single most dominant god in the Ugaritic pantheon. In fact other deities like the elderly father-god Ilu and the gloriously violent young girl Anat play a major role in Baal’s successes. In broad terms, the myth deals with themes of royalty, family, and the relationships between the gods. Interpretations vary, from seeing in the myth a symbolic representation of the seasonal agricultural cycle, to finding cosmogonic meaning, to seeing a specific historical context (Smith : 60-114). ￼ The text of the myth is memorable and beautiful, at times impenetrable and confusing. In a message that Baal sends to Anat we read,
“To me let your feet run,
to me let your legs hurry;
as I have a word of which I would tell you,
a matter of which I would relate to you;
words of wood and whispers of stone, conversations of the heavens with the earth,
the deep with the stars.” (CTA 3 iii 19-25)
The themes explored in the Baal myth were still present and relevant in the cultural milieu centuries later when the people who would eventually compose the Hebrew Bible were formulating their own literature.
(Dr. Miller C. Prosser, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)
Bibliography: Virolleaud, Charles. 1932. Un nouveau Chant de Poéme d'Aleïn-Baal. Syria 13:113-63.
Herdner, Andrée. 1963. Corpus des tablettes en cunéiformes alphabétiques découvertes à Ras Shamra-Ugarit de 1929 à 1939. Mission de Ras Shamra 10. Paris: Institut français d’archéologie de Beyrouth = CTA.
Smith, Mark S. 1994. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 55. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Dietrich, Manfried, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín. 1995. The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU: second, enlarged edition). Abhandlungen zur Literatur Alt-Syrien-Palästinas und Mesopotamiens 8. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
Smith, Mark S., and Wayne T. Pitard. 2009. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume II: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU/CAT 1.3-1.4. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 114. Leiden: Brill.
Translations:Pardee, Dennis. 1997. The Baʽlu Myth. In William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture 1: 241-274. Leiden, New York: Brill.
Smith, Mark S. 1997. The Baal Cycle. In Simon B. Parker and Mark S. Smith, eds., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry: 81-180. Atlanta: Scholars Press.