25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Ian M. Slater
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
For I have a word to tell you, / a message to recount to you:
the word of the tree and the whisper of the stone, / the murmur of the heavens to the earth, / of the seas to the stars.
I understand the lightning that the heavens do not know, / the word that people do not know, / and earth's masses cannot understand.
Come, I will reveal it: / in the midst of my mountain, divine Zaphon, / in the sanctuary, in the mountain of my inheritance, /in the pleasant place, in the hill of my victory. ("Baal," Tablet 3, col. 3, lines 21-31)
In terms of the specific texts included in it, Michael D. Coogan's "Stories from Ancient Canaan," in its new, revised and expanded edition of 2012 (with Mark Smith) must be considered the "latest word" in translations from Ugaritic. This is the language written in an alphabetic cuneiform script, on tablets found at Ras Shamra on the Syrian coast, in a series of excavations starting in 1928, a site soon identified as ancient Ugarit (mentioned in Egyptian texts).
The bulk of the contents, carried over from the first edition, concern battles for supremacy between gods, like those in Mesopotamian and Hittite myths, and, in Greek, in Hesiod's "Theogony," and encounters between gods and humans in "epic" settings reminding one of Homer. The 2012 edition also includes two additional, more purely mythological texts, "The Lovely Gods" and "El's Drinking Party."
The co-translators were able to make use of the latest text editions (naturally including those by Smith himself) and the latest grammatical and lexical studies, and apparently did exactly that, so, for the moment, they are at the leading edge, at least in English. According to the "Advance Praise" endorsements (from an impressive set of scholars), the translation has been thoroughly revised; not having a copy of the first edition at hand, I have to take their word for it.
Indeed, although the translators say "It is written for the reader without linguistic or scholarly background," readers who are familiar with more technical treatments might want to consider this one seriously, perhaps more so than the 1978 edition. Those who don't have the background -- like the undergraduates for whom the translation was originally intended -- will still find themselves in good hands.
Since sometime in the late 1960s I've read half-a-dozen translations of the myths and epics discovered in the early excavations. Some covered the whole range of material, others were selective. Some emphasized the relation of the language and poetic style to those of the Hebrew Bible, some de-emphasized it. Some pointed out connections to other mythologies, some let the readers reach their own conclusions (if any).
Along with the first edition of the present book, the list includes Cyrus H. Gordon's pioneering version, in two of its revisions; H.L. Ginsberg's 'Ugaritic Myths, Epics, and Legends' in Pritchard's "Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament" (1950 edition; pages 129-155); Theodor H. Gaster's wonderfully literate and richly annotated rendering of the Baal Cycle in "Thespis: Ritual, Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near East" (1950, revised 1966[?]); G.R. Driver's 1956 "Canaanite Myths and Legends" in the 'Old Testament Studies' series; the 1977 revision of Driver by J.C.L. Gibson; and, most recently, "Ugaritic Narrative Poetry," edited by Simon B. Parker, in the Society of Biblical Literature's 'Writings from the Ancient World' series (1997). [I have since reviewed this last; the two reviews should complement each other.]
And my memory insists I've left one out, but doesn't extend to the translator's name.... Or maybe its a collective image of all the studies of the subject I've read. Anyway, I have a pretty fair background for a lay reader.
I also can't recall whether Gordon's translation was the first I read, or H.L. Ginsberg's. Probably the latter, or the parts of it included in the paperback "Ancient Near East in Texts and Pictures," the abridged version of "Ancient Near Eastern Texts..." and "The Ancient Near East in Pictures," its companion volume. If Gordon's, it would have been in the 1965 edition of "The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilization," not the later "Poetic Legends and Myths from Ugarit," published in the journal "Berytus" in 1977.)
The one I later wished I had been able to read FIRST was Coogan's, which of course only appeared after I had read most of the others.
Why first? To begin with, it read smoothly, and the pages were not, like Ginsberg's and many others, a confusing mass of empty brackets, italicized restorations, diacritical marks, and other signs of scholarly rigor in representing the state of the damaged tablets and knowledge of the language. I eventually got used to that, but at first it was an annoying hindrance.
The new edition maintains this feature, useful in an introductory text, and when necessary briefly describes the problems rather than representing them typographically.
Nor was the translation competing with Gaster's distractingly interesting commentary, not all of which, it seemed to me, actually illuminated the text, however much it had to do with Gaster's theories of ritual, myth, and performance, or how interesting it was to learn about various storm gods and their respective weapons.
Coogan's work was not comprehensive for narrative texts, but it covered the three major works recovered early in the excavations, and one minor one: "Aqhat," the story of King Danel and his son and daughter; its possible sequel or companion, the fragmentary "Rephaim" text; "Kirta" (or Kret, or Keret; or, for the really cautious KRT), about a king who forgets to keep a vow, and the trouble that follows (most of the latter being missing); and "Baal" (or "Baal and Anat") about the storm-god Baal Hadad (and his sister Anat), and their battles with his enemies Sea and Death, as refereed by the High God El. (Or, depending on how the translator Biblicized, transliterated, or anglicized the names, Rapauma, Ba'lu, Haddu, Anath, Yamm, Mot, and Ilu.)
Some of the confusingly (dis)ordered Baal Cycle (or "Baal and Anath") was not (and is not) included: but it seems to be a principle that every translator MUST find a new order for its tablets, or exclude something, or both. (Like the joking claim by some Germanists that there will be as many interpretations of any given runic inscription as there are runologists who have published concerning it.)
The "Suggestions for Further Reading" seems to be up to date (for the moment, of course). I was surprised at first that it missed some titles (e.g., Gaster, and Driver/Gibson; but they are in a supplementary lists of critical translations and studies, a page or so farther in.
I've been reading this edition in its Kindle edition, using the Macintosh Kindle app, and have been quite happy with the digital conversion. Despite a tendency for everything (not just headings) to appear in bold print, the smaller-print comments really do show up in smaller print (not always the case ) and are still legible (also not always the case). The hyperlinked Table of Contents provides more fine detail about the contents than the app's Content list, but the latter includes links to things like the cover and copyright page, which the ToC doesn't.
Oh, there is one small coding problem; the app's Contents list shows "El's Drinking Party" as "El&x2019;s Drinking Party," which I can assure the reader is NOT a technical spelling of the god's name.
[Additional Note, August 19, 2013; The Biblical Archeology Society (BAS) has announced the winners of its biennial Publications Awards for 2011-2012; "Stories from Ancient Canaan" was the winner in the category of "Best Popular Book on Archeology"]
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Dr Conrade Yap
- Published on Amazon.com
Written by two experts in the studies of Ugaritic literature, this book offers readers a unique insight into the world of the Ancient Near East (ANE) and biblical times, in particular, in the Old Testament contexts. After three decades since the first edition, the editors and translators have updated this book with more new material and improvements. The main additions have been the last two chapters, "The Lovely Gods" and "El's Drinking Party." These labels seem to be a marked departure from ancient languages denoted in the earlier chapters. For instance, there is "Aqhat" written on three tablets that tell the story of the son of Danel. Three tablets tell the story of "Rephaim" which relates the inter-relationships between the living and the dead. The story of "Kirta" tells of a king's urgent search for a successor, an heir, and gives precious insights into the frenetic focus on fertility and the rites that accompany it. Six tablets tell the story of the military god, "Baal," on the power struggles between Baal and Death, El's son. One is given a fascinating insight into the world of gods and goddesses in Canaanite lands. In "The Lovely Gods" which is written in one tablet, and comprises a prescriptive part (rituals) as well as a mythic (stories) part. There are stories of feasting among the gods, rituals of death, song, and even a part on cooking! What is interesting is how one feast brings together all the different deities. Through the feasting, there are allusions to over-consumption, famine, and the dangers of infertility and lack of food. The final chapter on "El's Drinking Part" is admittedly very fragmented. It shows the difficulty not only on translating ancient texts, but trying to interpret them accurately. Finally, the glossary and the glossy pictures provide another way for readers to appreciate the ancient literature.
Ancient literature like the Ugaritic types are often written in tablets of clay. Due to the age of the tablets, not everything is legible. Much of the content has been lost and unable to be deciphered. It makes me more appreciative of the modern technologies that we have, and how easy it is to preserve, to duplicate, to distribute, and to study modern literature. Despite the best technology, we are still dependent on human interpretation to make sense out of ancient literature like the Ugaritic texts. Here, we rely heavily on the expertise of the editors to make the best sense out of it. I see three benefits in reading this book.
First, it gives Bible readers a fresh insight into the Old Testament times, and how the Israelites live in Canaan land. There are several passages of Scripture that the authors identified, and used the Ugaritic background to illuminate the meaning of Scripture, For instance, Baal's battle with Death makes Baal paranoid about windows (cf: Jeremiah 9:21).
Second, the book shows us how closely the ANE use the stories of gods and goddesses to reflect human living. Kings at that time are synonymous with a central figure of not only political and social leadership, it is also religious. Kings have a special way to interact with the gods, making them extremely powerful and influential in the lives of the people.
Third, the overwhelming interest in fertility rites helps us to understand why there is a highly acute survival instinct of people in the ANE. People fight hard to survive. They take agricultural and fertility rites very seriously. They know that food and heirs are keys to survival not only of their families, but for their civilization. The Ugaritic literature contains something that we in the modern world have frequently taken for granted.
There are a lot more lessons to learn. It goes to show how nuanced the stories can be. Perhaps, one of the biggest lessons learned is this. During the time of the ANE, people see the political, social, technological, the religious, and all walks of life as one unit, undivided. We in the modern world have dissected life into far too many components under the principle of secularization. While the Ugaritic literature may appear in fragmented forms, perhaps, the modern world may want to consider whether our world is even more fragmented, albeit in different ways.
This very unique book will supplement studies of ancient texts.
This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.