Drought, Death and the Sun in Ugarit and Ancient Israel : A Philological and Comparative Study
Abstract: The sun and its heat are two of the most universal symbols known to humanity, yet their supposed meanings vary greatly. The sun can be thought of as a giver of life, but its hot and scorching rays can also be associated with drought and the powers of destruction. The present study concerns the latter view of the sun and related ideas as reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the cuneiform alphabetic texts from Ugarit. The Ugaritic texts (especially the so-called Baal Cycle) appear to portray the sun goddess, Shapshu, as the sender of terrible drought; she manifests the temporary rule of the god of death, Mot, through her burning rays. The author discusses the philology of these passages in detail and then attempts to follow the motif of solar drought and its connections with the netherworld into the literature of ancient Israel, noting the transformations of the motif when it is influenced by the rising prominence of YHWH. The study traces specific pieces of terminology that appear to involve references to the ancient motifs of drought, death and the sun, using both comparative linguistic and religio-historical analyses. Biblical texts such as 1 Kings 17-18, Jeremiah 14, Hosea 13, Joel 1 and Malachi 3, as well as various passages from the Psalms and Job, come into focus in the study of the Israelite reception of ideas and terminology concerning the land of the dead, the heat of the sun and the power of drought. The basic questions underlying the study are the following: 1) How do the concepts of drought, death and the sun relate to each other in the Ugaritic religious literature; how are these concepts used as metaphors to express basic tenets of Ugaritic myth and theology? 2) How are these concepts and their uses reflected in the literature and religion of Ancient Israel? How can the identification of these ancient reminiscences of a shared Northwest Semitic religious background help shed light on the interpretation of various difficult passages in the biblical text and on the relationship between Old Testament theology and that of the surrounding Northwest Semitic cultures?
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