Wayne Pitard: The Significance of Ugaritic Tablets for Biblical Studies

Wayne T. Pitard, “Before Israel: Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age,” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Michael D. Coogan, editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 53.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Ugaritic tablets have revolutionized the study of the Bible. Until their discovery, we had almost no direct information about Canaanite religion. The discoveries at Ugarit opened up for the first time a major part of the Canaanite religio-mythological, out of which Israelite religion developed, and have allowed us to see the enormous number of Canaanite reflexes in the Bible. They have provided insight into the earliest period of biblical religion by illuminating aspects of the ancestral narratives of Genesis that preserve authentic ancient memories. In addition, the epic tales have thematic parallels to biblical texts and thus have helped develop new understanding about the literary nature of the Genesis narratives. Ugaritic poetry is closely related to the style of Hebrew poetry and has shed light on a number of their common characteristics. Ugaritic vocabulary, being closely related to Hebrew, can often clarify obscure passages in the biblical text. At the same time, there is a danger in drawing too many parallels between Ugarit and biblical Israel. Scholars have sometimes assumed that the Canaanite culture of Palestine was identical to that of Ugarit, and they have reached conclusions about Israel’s relationship to Canaanite culture that go beyond the evidence. Although a cultural connection existed between Ugarit, Palestinian Canaan, and Israel, each was in many ways distinctive. Caution is necessary when using Ugaritic culture as a point of comparison to Israel.

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