Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament -- By: Mitchell Dahood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 08:2 (Spring 1979)
Article: Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament
Author: Mitchell Dahood

Ebla, Ugarit and the Old Testament

Mitchell Dahood, S.J.

.. . Continued from the Winter issue.

The source of the imagery in Isaiah 27:1 was identified in 1934 with the publication of a mythological text from Ugarit. The biblical passage reads, “In that day Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea”, and the Ras Shamra tablet, “When you smite Lotan the fleeing serpent, annihilate the twisting serpent, Shalayat of the seven heads”. The adjective rendered “fleeing” is bariakh in Hebrew and, with no vowels written, brkh, in Ugaritic. Since there is a Hebrew adjective bariakh, “fleeing”, scholars generally applied this meaning to the Ugaritic adjective as well. But now a bilingual vocabulary from Ebla gives as the equivalent of Sumerian khul, “evil”, the Canaanite word be-ri-um which is the cuneiform writing of Ugaritic brkh and Hebrew bariakh. Hence one must probably translate “the evil serpent” instead of “the fleeing serpent” in both Ugaritic and Isaiah. Several scholars have already proposed this on the strength of an Arabic etymology but now the attestation of this root in Northwest Semitic sources authorizes the lexicographer to admit it into Hebrew.

Exegetes have from internal grounds long recognized the polemical character of Isaiah 60:19–20, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you, but for you Yahweh will be the everlasting light, and your God will be your glory”. The publication of the Ugaritic tablets revealed the

pervasiveness of the cult of the sun goddess Shapash in Canaanite religion of the second millennium and in Phoenician practice of the first millennium where the sun was worshipped as “the everlasting Sun”. In the Ebla tablets as well, the god or goddess Sun is frequently attested and further shows how ancient and deep-seated sun-worship was. In verse 20 Isaiah goes on, “Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself”. With Yahweh as their God, the Israelites had no further need of divinities like the sun and the moon. A Ugaritic nuptial blessing augurs, using the chiastic or “x” pattern of words, “Let shine the Moon, and may the Moon shine for you”, a blessing that Isaiah does not want to find on the lips of an Israelite.

One of the most successful puns in prophetic literature is found in

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