Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition
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Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

Michael D. Coogan, Mark S. Smith

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eBook - ePub

Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

Michael D. Coogan, Mark S. Smith

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About This Book

The texts from ancient Ugarit are among the most important modern discoveries for understanding the Bible. For more than thirty years, Stories from Ancient Canaan has been recognized as a highly authoritative and readable presentation of the principal Canaanite myths and epics discovered at Ugarit. This fully revised edition takes into account advances in the reading, understanding, and interpretation of these stories since 1978. It also includes two additional texts, expanded introductions, and illustrations. Coogan and Smith have collaborated to bring this classic up to date in order to provide accessible and accurate translations of these texts for a new generation of students.

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“Our king is Baal the Conqueror.” This affirmation is the theme of the Baal cycle. Kirta describes the role of the human king of a Canaanite city-state; the six tablets that contain Ilimilku’s version of Baal narrate the story of Baal’s rise to kingship over the gods by his defeat of the forces of destruction, Sea and Death. The struggles through which Baal proved himself and the challenges that he met reflect the process by which Baal became the most important deity in Ugaritic religion. Apart from the texts translated here, seven other tablets, all in bad condition, contain variants and other episodes of the cycle, attesting to its importance and to the preeminence of its divine hero in Ugarit.
The first episode begins with Sea’s demand that the Assembly of the gods surrender Baal to him. The council was terrified by the rude menacing approach of Sea’s envoys, and despite Baal’s willingness to act as the gods’ spokesperson, it was El, the head of the Assembly, who replied to the messengers and promised to hand Baal over to Sea. Baal’s ambitions are evident: he would be the leader of the gods; his rebuke of them underlined his courage. But who was Sea, and why did the gods fear him? For an answer we must leave Ugarit and move to Mesopotamia, where the Babylonian work Enuma Elish provides some illuminating parallels.
Enuma Elish, named after its opening words, “When on high,” is a long hymn celebrating the assumption of supreme power among the gods by Marduk, the national god of Babylon. It begins with a theogony, relating the origin of the pantheon from the mingling of the waters of Tiamat, the sea, and Apsu, the sweet water. The younger generations of gods were noisy and rambunctious, and Apsu complained:
By day I find no relief, nor repose by night.
I will destroy, I will wreck their ways,
that quiet may be restored. Let us have rest!
His plans, however, were discovered, and he was killed by the other gods. This enraged Tiamat, and although she had earlier been unwilling to see her children put to death, now “she prepared for battle against the gods, her offspring.” The gods were alarmed:
No god can go to battle and,
facing Tiamat, escape with his life.
The only deity strong enough to resist was Marduk, and he became the champion of the gods, receiving absolute authority in heaven and on earth.
The fuller account in the Babylonian poem provides the motivation for the gods’ fear missing in the Ugaritic text. But there are differences. Tiamat, whose name means “sea,” was female, while the Canaanite Prince Sea was male. Tiamat was the mother of the first generation of gods, and thus the ancestor of them all; Prince Sea’s genealogy is uncertain. Finally, in contrast to the antagonism between Tiamat and Anu, the Mesopotamian sky god and El’s counterpart, the relationship between Prince Sea and El is harmonious, as shown by one of Sea’s epithets, “El’s Darling”; since this same title is applied to Baal’s other adversary, Death, and since it was El who promised to surrender Baal to Prince Sea, it may be that El and Sea were at least tacitly allied in wishing to dispose of the young god who was the latter’s rival and who challenged the former’s position as king.
Despite El’s promise, Baal did not submit to Sea but fought with and defeated him, aided by two clubs fashioned by Kothar-wa-Hasis. Afterward Astarte proclaimed:
“Hail, Baal the Conqueror!
Hail, Rider on the Clouds!
Prince Sea is our captive,
Judge River is our captive.”
While the description of the battle between Baal and Sea is much terser than that of the contest between Marduk and Tiamat, the characteristics of Baal and Marduk are similar. Both are associated with the storm: Marduk’s name probably means “son of the storm,” and Baal’s title, “Rider on the Clouds,” recalls Marduk’s “storm chariot.” Before his contest Marduk had been proclaimed king of the gods, and during the feast that celebrated his victory his praises were sung by the divine Assembly. While Ast...

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