The OT, Hebrew, and Ugaritic Studies (Williams)

 Around the 18th century BC to around the 12th century BC there was a region 200 miles North of Israel called Ugarit.  It probably existed before the 18th century BC, but most of the information archaeologists have found about this area sheds light on the time period between the above two dates.  It’s a very fascinating history!

Why is this important for students of Scripture? For one thing, it was a culture that was close enough to Israel to help us learn more about the historical context of Israel and the history of the nations surrounding Israel.  For another thing, the Ugaritic language has some overlap with Hebrew.  In some ways, this can help us understand more about the Hebrew language.  I don’t have time to explain it in detail, but I appreciate how Michael Willams talks about it:

“One of the most exciting aspects of the study of Ugaritic for students of the Bible is the light it has the potential to shed on many aspects of biblical scholarship.  Among these are the elucidation of the names and functions of deities, literary figures and concepts, textual difficulties, and perhaps even the thought world shared by biblical writers.

Williams then spends some time explaining a few deities in Ugaritic literature and how they relate to the deities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  He also compares some literary figures and concepts that Ugaritic literature and the Bible share.  I appreciate the level-headed approach Williams uses.  He doesn’t say that Ugaritic literature will revolutionize our understanding of the Hebrew Bible or result in all kinds of major changes in our understanding of the OT.  But he does say it is beneficial:

“In summary, there is indeed potential for the study of Ugaritic texts to yield significant insights into our understanding of biblical texts, both in terms of their meaning and in terms of the practices they narrate.  However, care must be taken to avoid the many potential pitfalls. This care, unfortunately, has not always been taken, and often much of the crumbly results of poor scholarship must be removed before surer footing can be found.

Quite apart from any light it might shed on any other discipline, there is great value in the study of Ugaritic in its own right.  Knowledge of the Ugaritic language is our passport to another world.  This world is ancient and largely unfamiliar to most of us, and there is much to explore.

If you know Hebrew and want to learn the basics of ancient Ugaritic, I very much recommend Michael Williams’ Basics of Ancient Ugaritic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015