Monday, March 28, 2011

Drought, Death and the Sun

And, for those who might find it interesting, an English summary of my PhD project, which I did at Lund University and published locally in 2012 - a revised, "international" version will be published in early 2014:

I study how drought is used as a symbol of death in the Old Testament and how these images relate to similar conceptions in the Canaanite texts from Ugarit (c. 14th century BC). I examine how the burning sun (represented in the form of the Ugaritic sun goddess Shapshu - also known as Shapsh or Shapash) is presented as the cause of drought and as a tool of the god of death, and I look at how these literary and linguistic expressions are inherited from a common North West Semitic background.

The thesis deals with the relationship between the Israelite religious texts we know as the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible and the closely related, but older cuneiform texts from Ugarit in modern Syria, texts that amongst other things describe how the god Baal fight his enemies Yamm ("Sea") and Mot ("Death"). The dominion of the god of death is often described in terms of the burning drought that prevents fertility. I begin with a detailed philological analysis of how this drought and its effect on the sun (Shapshu) is presented in the Ugaritic material, and then I examine how this death/drought-motif recurs in many places in the Old Testament, such as the story of Elijah on Carmel (1 Kgs 17-18), at the end of the book of Malachi, in the books of Hosea and Joel and in other places. The concept of drought as a reflection of the power of death is transformed as Israelite monotheism emerges, and I study how this initially hostile power step by step becomes a part of Yahweh's own retinue.

The basic questions are:

1) How do the concepts of drought, death and the sun relate to each other in the Ugaritic religious literature; how are these concepts used as metaphors to express basic tenets of Ugaritic myth and theology?

2) How are these concepts and their uses reflected in the literature and religion of Ancient Israel? How can the identification of these ancient reminiscences of a shared North West Semitic religious background help shed light on the interpretation of various passages in the Biblical text and on the relationship between the Old Testament and that of the surrounding North West Semitic culture?