The Archives Of Ugarit -- By: G. Herbert Livingston

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 10:2 (Spring 1997)
Article: The Archives Of Ugarit
Author: G. Herbert Livingston

The Archives Of Ugarit

G. Herbert Livingston

G. Herbert Livingston is emeritus professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY. He is author of The Pentateuch in its Cultural Environment, 2nd ed. (Baker, 1987) and a regular contributor to Bible and Spade.

The area where the archives of Ugarit were found had long been known by the Arabs living on the Mediterranean Sea coast of modern Syria as Tell Ras Shamra. Tell Ras Shamra is located near the coastal bay called Minet el Beida not far south of the Turkish border. No one suspected that beneath the dusty soil lay the rich treasures of an important, ancient city. Not until a farmer who was plowing a field struck a hard object. Brushing away the soil he found a flat stone and overturning it discovered a passage-way to a tomb. He found man-made objects and sold them to a dealer in a nearby town. This event occurred in the spring of 1928.

Organizing an Excavation

News about the farmer’s discovery soon reached the French authorities at nearby Latakia. Since World War I the area had been designated as a French Mandate by the Supreme Council of Allies. The French governor, M. Schoeffler, checked the matter out and notified Charles Virolleaud, Director of the Antiquities Service of Syria and Lebanon, located at Beirut. In Paris, Virolleaud showed artifacts from the tomb to Rene Dussaud, Curator of Oriental Antiquities in the Louvre. Impressed, the two men made preparations during the winter of 1928–29 for an archaeological team to go to Tell Ras Shamra. Thirty-year-old Claude F. A. Schaeffer was chosen to head the expedition, supported by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, the Ministry of Education, the Louvre, and the local government at Latakia. The team arrived at Latakia in March, 1929.

The trip from Latakia to Tell Ras Shamra was neither easy nor safe. Camels were hired to carry supplies and 20 French soldiers guarded the caravan. On the morning of April 2, the excavation was begun with the help of some of the soldiers and a few local inhabitants. Near the bay, evidence of a cemetery came to light. At a depth of several feet, pottery, a statue of the god Resheph, and a statue of the goddess Astarte were found.

Schaeffer noticed that nearby was a mound that could be the remains of an ancient settlement. At the suggestion of Rene Dassaud, who was visiting the site, the team moved to this mound on May 9 and began digging at its highest point on the northeast side. The mound

covered 50 acres and was approximately 60 ft high. Guided by some rocks that were lined up like a wall, Schaeffer’s men began throwing dirt to the side.

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