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Old Testament parallels to Ugaritic writing - Poetry

A number of substantial song-cycles, often of a religious nature, have been recovered from Ugarit. The major examples include the Baal-Anath cycle, the Legend of King Keret, and the Tale of Aqhat. As well as individual words and phrases (which are covered elsewhere on this site), the overall style of these poems can be compared to poetic sections found in the Old Testament. The point of greatest similarity is found in Miriam's Song following the Israelites crossing the sea and being delivered from the Egyptian army.

Ugaritic poems consist, on the whole, of short phrases using repetitive patterns. Some examples are:

(KTU 1.2 i)
Baal is your slave, O Yam;
Baal is your slave, Nahar.

(KTU 1.13 v)
may the celestial messengers bless the prince;
may the celestial messengers send you strength.

This sort of phrasing is found in the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15:1-18), for example:

Yahweh is a man of war
Yahweh is his name

Your right hand, Yahweh - glorious in power!
Your right hand, Yahweh - it shattered the enemy!

while they pass by - your people, Yahweh
while they pass by - the people you have purchased

The parallel extends to specific word usage. In particular, the phrase mountain of inheritance is shared between the Baal-Anath cycle and Miriam's Song. Exodus 15:17 reads:

You gather them in and establish them on the mountain of your inheritance,
the place you made for your rest, Yahweh,
the sacred place established by your hands, o my Lord.

The highlighted phrase is behar nachalâtekâ, or in consonant only form,    b.h.r

Ugaritic tablet 1.3 iii 28-32 (amongst numerous other similar places) reads:

Come and I shall reveal it
in the midst of my divine mountain Tsaphon,
in the sanctuary, on the mountain of my inheritance,
in Paradise, on the height of victory.

The speaker is El, and the highlighted phrase is The phrase is functionally identical, the only difference being the pronoun ending reflecting the change from attribution to direct speech. Thus, the Ugaritic belief that El had Tsaphon as the mountain of his inheritance, on which he revealed certain secrets to the other gods, has metamorphosed into Yahweh having such a mountain onto which his people will be gathered and established. Whilst the word inheritance is of course found many times elsewhere in the Old Testament, only in Miriam's Song is the phrase mountain of inheritance found at all.

Each line in Miriam's Song consists of two or three Hebrew words (often lengthened in translation), and show the same kind of repetitive phases as the Ugaritic examples. By the time of Deborah's Song the pattern has changed. Here, we find repetition of single words within larger phrases or verse units offering parallel ideas, and a progression of words developing a theme. Deborah's Song shows a development intermediate between the simple repetition of Miriam's Song, and the more extensive parallels found in the Psalms. For example, we have:

Yahweh! At your coming out from Seir,
At your marching from the land of Edom,

The land quaked, the skies wept,
water dropped from the clouds,
the mountains melted before Yahweh -

but also
Arise, arise Deborah!
Arise, arise, tell this in song!

Other poetic sections of the Pentateuch, for example the Song and final Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 32 and 33), or the Blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49) show a different style, with elaborate plays on words. These are discussed elsewhere.

In conclusion then, Miriam's Song shows a high degree of similarity with Ugaritic poems, and later Old Testament poetry shows a rather different style.

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