In This Article Ugarit

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Biblical Studies Ugarit
by
Robert Hawley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0063

Introduction

Ugarit (also spelled “Ougarit,” especially in French publications) was the name of an ancient city (as well as the surrounding kingdom of which it served as capital) located on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Its ruins are found on the tell of Ras Shamra, located some ten kilometers north of the modern port city of Latakia. The French (and subsequently Syro-French) archaeological excavations conducted on the site since 1929 (and which continue to this day) provide evidence for an essentially continuous occupation of the site from the Neolithic (8th millennium BCE) through the end of the Bronze Age (2nd millennium BCE). The city was destroyed, and apparently never subsequently reoccupied on a comparably large scale, in the early 12th century BCE. It is above all this final period of the city’s history that is best known: the Late Bronze Age levels (especially 14th–12th centuries BCE) have furnished an abundant documentation, not only architectural and archaeological but also epigraphic (nearly five thousand inscribed objects, mostly in some form of cuneiform writing, have been discovered). Such an epigraphic corpus (in a variety of scripts and languages, but especially in the local vernacular and in Akkadian) is relatively modest in comparison with that of other ancient sites such as Hattuša and Ebla, but it is nevertheless of considerable importance, because it provides one of the most direct witnesses to the indigenous scribal and intellectual traditions of the Levantine coast in the 2nd millennium BCE. Indeed, the particular fame of Ugarit owes to the discovery there of texts written in a previously unknown local script and language that have come to be known as “Ugaritic” (named after the kingdom where it served as the local vernacular). The texts in Ugaritic provide the oldest significant corpus discovered to date of texts in a local West Semitic language of the Levantine area. It was the linguistic and literary similarities with Biblical Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible that assured the fame of Ugarit in the beginning of the 20th century, but the study of Ugaritic has today moved beyond the frame of reference of biblical studies. Because the author of this bibliography is a philologist (and not an archaeologist or an art historian), the primary focus here will be on the texts, and because the author’s work is primarily on the texts in the Ugaritic language, it is the bibliography on those texts that will be covered most thoroughly.

General Overviews

Though various individual scholars have published general studies of Ugarit, the most useful overviews for research purposes remain Courtois, et al. 1979 and Watson and Wyatt 1999. The first, though rapidly becoming outdated, is more detailed than the second and still retains its usefulness in many areas. As with most such collections, the quality varies from author to author, with the orientation of each chapter or subchapter depending on the interests of that particular author. Saadé’s firsthand knowledge of the region makes his overviews (Saadé 1979, Saadé 2011) especially valuable. Yon, et al. 1992 and van Soldt 1995 are briefer, but still useful, general overviews.

  • Courtois, Jacques-Claude, Mario Liverani, Daniel Arnaud,et al. “Ras Shamra (Ugarit ou Ougarit).” In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible. Vol. 9. Edited by Henri Cazelles and André Feuillet, cols. 1123–1466. Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1979.

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    Very detailed coverage of the archaeology and history of Ras Shamra, of the Ugaritic textual materials, and of connections with the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps most influential of these contributions has been Mario Liverani’s reconstruction of Ugaritic socioeconomic history, based on a “two-sector” model (see Socioeconomic History).

  • Saadé, Gabriel. Ougarit: Métropole cananéenne. Beirut, Lebanon: Imprimerie Catholique, 1979.

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    An account by a local specialist of the discovery of Ugarit at Ras Shamra and the excavations, and an overview of the archaeological and epigraphic discoveries. Contains the most detailed data available on the personnel involved in each of the first thirty-seven campaigns (1929–1976), the specific dates of each campaign, and the areas excavated; there is a separate charting of all the soundings.

  • Saadé, Gabriel. Ougarit et son royaume: Des origines à sa destruction. Edited by Marguerite Yon. Bibliothèque Archéologique et Historique 193. Beirut, Lebanon: Presses de l’Institut Français du Proche-Orient, 2011.

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    Posthumous synthesis of the Latakia scholar’s research on ancient Ugarit, supplementing and updating Saadé 1979. Especially important is the final section, devoted to the kingdom’s countryside and its archaeological remains.

  • van Soldt, Wilfred. “Ugarit: A Second Millennium Kingdom on the Mediterranean Coast.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Vol. 2. Edited by Jack M. Sasson, 1255–1266. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995.

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    Another brief but informed introduction to the kingdom and its history and literature.

  • Watson, Wilfred G. E., and Nicolas Wyatt, eds. Handbook of Ugaritic Studies. Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abteilung 1: Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten 39. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1999.

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    After an overview of the written sources and of the Ugaritic language, the various literary genres are covered, some attested primarily in Ugaritic, others more linguistically varied. Also includes a series of thematic chapters, dealing with such broad categories as economy, society, religion, and political history.

  • Yon, Marguerite, Dennis Pardee, and Pierre Bordreuil. “Ugarit.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 695–721. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    A brief but well-informed presentation of the kingdom of Ugarit, by the excavator (from 1978–1999) and two members of the epigraphic team.

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