- The Background to Jewish Studies in the Bible and in the Ancient East
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 12, Number 4, Summer 1994
- pp. 1-46
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Background to Jewish Studies in the Ancient East THE BACKGROUND TO JEWISH STUDIES IN THE BIBLE AND IN THE ANCIENT EAST by Cyrus H. Gordon Cyrus Gordon received his professional training (A.B., M.A., Ph.D.) at the University of Pennsylvania. He is emeritus professor at both Brandeis University and New York University, where he taught Hebrew and Near Eastern Studies. From 1931 to 1935 he was a field archaeologist on expeditions of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem and Baghdad. He is the author of about six hundred publications including over twenty books or monographs on the Mediterranean and Near East. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Royal Asiatic Society has made him an Honorary Fellow for his contributions to the fields of Comparative Semitics, Ugaritic, and Minoan. The present paper is an e::tpanded version of the Abe and Ida Miller Lecture given at Purdue University, December 4, 1991. Foreword 1 The beginnings of this study go back to the summer of 1989 while I was preparing for a lecture tour that autumn in Japan and Korea. My Korean sponsors requested that I submit in advance a typescript of four lectures that I would deliver on topics of my choice, relating to the Hebrew Bible. Those topics constitute the first four chapters of this essay. The first two deal with the bearing of the cuneiform tablets from Ugarit and Ebla on the Hebrew Scriptures, while the last two are essays designed to help us evaluate the Old Testament as a whole. Chapters I-IV deal with 2 SHOFAR Summer 1994 Vol. 12, No.4 the Bible in the cultural context of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean . Meanwhile, in late 1987, I became involved in the complex but important link between the Bible world and the Far East. This has broadened our geographical horizons far beyond the Near East. I have delineated this new development in Chapter V. Dr. Gordon D. Young, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Jewish Studies Committee at Purdue University at that time, invited me to give a public lecture on the Near Eastern background of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies on 4 December 1991 and a seminar on the following day for his advanced students in ancient Near Eastern history. The public lecture, entitled "Jewish Studies, The Bible, and the Ancient Near East," was based on material selected from Chapters I-IV, while the seminar dealt with the topic in Chapter V. I. Ugarit and the Old Testament The status of any subject cannot remain the same when new and pertinent facts come to light. The abundance of new texts and monuments emerging from the soil of the Bible Lands obliges us to modify, and often abandon, long-held views, while enabling us to see things we did not see before. We shall start our survey with the most important group of finds bearing on the Hebrew Bible that have come to light in the last hundred years. Ugarit, whose modern name is Ras Shamra, was the capital of a flourishing city-state and cultural center, particularly in the Late Bronze Age from about 1400 to 1200 B.C.E. As a seaport on the Syrian coast, fairly close to Cyprus, it was well located for trade between the mainland and the Mediterranean and, via overland routes, with Anatolia, Mesopotamia, all of Canaan, and Egypt. Shortly after excavations began early in 1929, clay tablets were found in two cuneiform scripts: one was the Akkadian syllabary of Mesopotamia and the other a completely new alphabet ofthirty letters. Within a year the alphabet was deciphered, and the language proved to be a hitherto unknown branch ofWest Semitic related to Hebrew. The translation of the alphabetic Ugaritic tablets progressed quickly, thanks largely to Hebrew scholars who brought the evidence of the Old Testament to bear on the Ugaritic texts. Eventually the thirty alphabetic letters, always arranged in the same fIXed order, were found on a number of Ugaritic school texts. The sequence of the Ugaritic "ABC" is the one maintained in the Hebrew, Background to Jewish Studies in the Ancient East 3 'dew...