Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Tale of Aqhat

In Robert Alter's Genesis: Translation and Commentary, he makes note of the similarity between the "annunciation" story of Genesis 18 in which angels inform Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son and an Ancient Near Eastern Text:

The whole scene seems to be a montheistic adaptation to the seminomadic early Hebrew setting from the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat (tabet V:6-7) in which the childless Dan'el is visited by the craftsman-God Kothar. As Moshe Weinfeld has observed there are several links between the two texts: Dan'el also is sitting by an entrance, overshadowed by a tree; he also "lifts up his eyes" to behold the divine visitor and similarly enjoins his wife to prepare a meal from the choice of the flock.

Here is tablet V from Tale of Aqhat as translated in Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament:
(Some 13 lines missing at the top. The preserved portion begins in the middle of a speech of the craftsman-god addressed to Daniel:)
(abraded except for traces)

"I myself will bring the bow,
    Even I will convey the darts."
And behold, on the seventh day--
Straightway Daniel the Rapha-man,
    Forthwith Ghazir the Harr1am[iyy]-man,
Is upright, sitting before the gate,
    Beneath a mighty tree on the threshing floor,
Judging the cause of the widow,
    Adjudicating the case of the fatherless.
Lifting up his eyes, he beholds:
    From a thousand fields, ten thousand acres(1)
The march of Kothar(2) he espies,
    He espies the onrush of Khasis,(3)
See, he bringeth a bow;
    Lo, he conveyeth darts.
Straightway Daniel the Rapha-man,
    Forthwith Daniel the Harnamiyy—man,
Loudly unto his wife doth call:
"Hearken, Lady Danatiya,(4)
    Prepare a lamb from the flock
For the desire of Ko[th]ar wa-Khasis,(5)
    For the appetite of Hayyin(6) of the Handicrafts.
Give food, give drink to the godhead;
    Serve, honor him,
    The Lord of Hikpat—El,(7) all of it.
Lady Danatiya obeys,
    She prepares a lamb from the flock
For the desire of Kothar wa—Khasis,
    For the appetite of Hayyin of the Handicrafts.
Afterwards, Kothar wa-Khasis comes.
The bow he delivers into Daniel’s hand;
    The darts he places upon his knees.
Straightway Lady Danatiya
    Gives food, gives drink to the godhead;
She serves, honors him,
    The Lord of Hikpat-El, all of it.
Kothar departs for(8) his tent,
Hayyin departs for(8) his tabernacle.
Straightway Daniel the Rapha-man,
    Forthwith Ghazir the Harnamiyy-man,
The bow doth [...]..., upon Aqhat he doth ...
"The first of thy game, O my son,
    The first of thy ...[...],
The game of thy ...[...]."(9)
(some 12 lines missing)

Re-edited Footnotes:
1 i.e. in the distance.
2 "Skillful," the commonest name of the craftsman-god.
3 "Clever," another of his names.
4 The name means "God judges." Juding the cause of the widow and the fatherless is Daniel's special concern. His wife's name, Danatiya, is from the same root.
5 "Skillful and Clever"; see nn. 2 and 3.
6 "Deft," still another of his monikers.
7 The name of the craftsman-god’s "estate."
8 Or "from," if Daniel’s tent is meant rather than Kothar’s.
9 Perhaps Daniel here impresses upon his son the duty of offering some of his game to the gods. "First" may mean "choicest" here.
It has been said that there are only 7 basic plots in all of literature (for example, see here and here.) In the same way, some apologists would like to claim that Bible critics look at similarities to ANE texts and conclude that the Bible has engaged in large-scale borrowing from earlier texts, rather than admitting to the common use of universal themes. Most OrthoFundies are less sophisticated and know nothing about ANE texts, and simply reject the similarities as mere coincidence. Certainly from a religious point of view such similarities are largely irrelevant, for it is in the differences that the real theological uniqueness of the Biblical text shines through.

But I ask you, are the similarities between Genesis 18:1-9 and tablet V of The Tale of Aqhat compelling enough to suggest that the Biblical story has borrowed components from the Ugaritic one?

1 comment:

David A.M. Wilensky said...

Whether the author's of either text were explicitly aware of each other's texts or not, clearly these texts, like many ancient near-eastern texts influenced each other in some way.