The Ugaritic Myth of Ba'al

copyright Lilinah biti-Anat, 1995-1997

In the late 1920's a Syrian farmer plowing a field on a hill turned up a strange clay tablet. A French archaeological team went to investigate. In 1928, that hill, behind Ras Shamra, a sleepy north Syrian port town, was discovered to be a tel, a mound which was actually the site of an ancient city. Within it were the ruins of Ugarit, a major Bronze Age Canaanite city, including a large palace and two temples. Many clay tablets were found during the course of the dig, including a number within the Chief Priest's quarters.

The tablets were in cuneiform, but examination quickly revealed that although the shapes of the characters were familiar, they were unrelated to the familiar cuneiforms of Sumer and Akkad. Rather than the usual thousands, there were only 28 characters. Here was evidence of the first alphabet! A relationship between this character set and Hebrew allowed the French team, led by Charles Virolleaud, to make early tentative translations between 1930-1933.

This discovery has had a major effect on the study of the Ancient Near East. Refinements have been in the translations during the succeeding 65 years, and current scholars involve linguistic knowledge of Arabic to augment their work. The information in the various tablets has spread beyond the field of archaeology, changing, among others, the face of history, religion, and mythology. Whereas previously knowledge of the Pagan religions of the region was limited to a few untrustworthy references in Greek and Roman writing, and moreso, the highly biased accounts in the Torah/ Bible and the negative writings of early religious writers of Judaism and Christianity. As Ancient Near Eastern scholar Cyrus Gordon says "...Ugaritic is the greatest literary discover from antiquity since the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform..." (The Ancient Near East, p. 99)

The important deities El, Athirat/ Asherah, Ba'al, and Anat emerge, assisted by other deities such as the sun goddess Shapash, the magician-craftsman Kothar-wa-Khasis, who were hitherto poorly known or unknown. Prior knowledge has been expanded and the influence of Canaanite religion and mythology on surrounding cultures, including the Egyptians, Hittites, and Greeks, and in Judaism, is much more apparent, as is the influence of these other cultures and those of Mesopotamia on the Canaanites. More information is available on El, Ba'al, Athirat/ Asherah, Anat and on Yahm, Shapash, Kothar-wa-Khasis, and Athtart/ Astarte.

I present here the most important of the mythological stories uncovered, the Myth of Ba'al. Seven tablets, written on both sides, five columns per side, contain the story. Unfortunately several were badly damaged during their almost 3200 years in the ground, so parts of the story are unclear. The language, however, is quite vivid, and in some cases very beautiful. Scholars now see that the writing style of the Torah is a continuity of that of the Canaanites, and certain expressions and descriptions are virtually identical, while some Canaanite Pagan vignettes have been rewritten in the Bible to support the newer religion. The language describing the deity YHWH shows that many of his characterestics are a combination of the Canaanite El and Ba'al.

The version which follows is my own, presented in four parts. I have compared four complete or nearly complete translations: Coogan, Gaster, Ginsberg, and Driver as edited by J. C. L. Gibson; three partial translations by Cassuto, de Moor, and Smith; and three transliterations of the Ugaritic by Driver (complete), de Moor (selections), and Smith (part one). For complete bibliographic information, see Sources.

In some cases, the scholars are essentially in agreement and the only difference is a choice among synonyms. In other cases, however, there are vast differences among them. I have had to make some choices, based on knowledge of the Canaanite culture as well as my Pagan background, which gives me a somewhat different view of the material than the primarily Jewish or Christian scholars. In the academic world, when faced with several possiblilties, a scholar takes a stand for one only. It seems to me that in some cases the use of word-play, common in the literature of all Semitic languages, is evident. In these instances i have combined the various different choices into one line integrating several of them.

Although there are vowels in the Ugaritic alphabet (the 6 additional characters beyond the standard 22), these were only used in transcribing words in foreign languages. For the Ugaritic, scholars must add some vowels as these were not all given. There is more than one way to do this; de Moor and Smith reflect the most current method.

Centered lines in italics indicate identification codes of tablets.
Col. obviously indicates which column on the tablet.
Numbers preceeding lines indicate which line it is in a particular column.
Words separated by a < / > are alternate meanings.

1995-1997 Lilinah biti-Anat