The Value of Ugaritic for Old Testament Studies -- By: Kenneth L. Barker

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 133:530 (Apr 1976)
Article: The Value of Ugaritic for Old Testament Studies
Author: Kenneth L. Barker

The Value of Ugaritic for Old Testament Studies

Kenneth L. Barker

[Kenneth L. Barker, Professor of Semitic Languages and Old Testament Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]


Ugaritic is the language of the North Canaanite literature unearthed by French excavating teams in 1929 and following at the ancient site of Ugarit, located at modern Ras Shamra and the nearby harbor Minet el-Beida. Ugarit is situated eight miles north of Latakia on the Syrian coast. The literary texts, dating from around 1400 B.C., include mythological epics about Keret, Aqhat, and Baal and Anat.1

A thorough treatment of the subject of this article would include the values of Ugaritic for the study of Hebrew and Canaanite phonology, morphology, poetic style,2 culture (including religion and morality), etc. However, it is the purpose of this more limited study to focus on only three principal areas in which Ugaritic makes some significant contributions to the study of the Old Testament-polemic thrusts, etymologies, and new meanings of certain words.

Since this article is a survey, the reader who wishes to pursue the subject in greater depth is referred to the works cited throughout the article.3

Polemic Thrusts

Cassuto pointed out that the biblical record of creation in Genesis 1:1–2:3 is a polemic that opposes the false teachings of the nations in the ancient Near East:

The purpose of the Torah in this section is to teach us that the whole world and all that it contains were created by the word of the one God according to His will, which operates without restraint. It is thus opposed to the concepts current among the peoples of the ancient East who were lsrael’s neighbors; and in some respects it is also in conflict with certain ideas that had already found their way into the into the ranks of our people. The language, however, is tranquil, undisturbed by polemic or dispute; the controversial note is heard indirectly, as it were, through the deliberate, quiet utterances of Scripture, which sets the opposing views at nought by silence or by subtle hint.4

After reviewing some of those concepts current among Israel’s neighbors, Cassuto adds:

Then came the Torah and soared aloft, as on eagles’ wings, above all these notions. Not many gods but one God; not theogony, for a god has no famil...

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