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By Society of Biblical Literature / 2002/
The Ugaritic ritual texts provide the only extensive documentary data for Late Bronze cultic practice in the greater Syro-Palestinian region. These texts, in a West-Semitic language that belongs to the same family as Hebrew and Aramaic, reflect the actual practice of a sacrificial cult in the city of Ugarit in the late twelfth–early eleventh centuries BCE. Based on new collations of the tablets, these texts and translations provide ready access to this direct witness to the form taken by one of the predecessors of the biblical sacrificial cult. In addition to the narrowly ritual texts, which were composed in prose and in a very laconic form of expression, a number of poetic texts are presented that reveal the ideological link that existed between cultic practice and the concept of royalty. While the prose ritual texts document a regular system of offerings to the great deities of the pantheon, related directly to the lunar cycle and less directly to the solar year, some of the poetic texts reveal the desire on the part of the kings of Ugarit to maintain ties with their departed ancestors.
The kings saw their effective power as consisting of a continuum from the royal ancestors through to the reigning king and the passage of this power as being effected by ritual practice. More mundane concerns were also addressed ritually, such as protecting horses or other equids from snakebite, finding a cure for a sick child, or defending people from attack by sorcerers. The practice of divination at Ugarit is documented by other texts, both in the form of “manuals,” collections of collections of omens from past practice, and in the form of accounts of real-world consultations of a divinatory priest by someone seeking guidance.
Dennis Pardee is Professor of Northwest Semitics in The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, which is where he received his Ph.D. in 1974. His other interests lie in Ugaritic/Hebrew poetry, epistolography, and ritual. He is the author of Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Letters.