THREAD: What is Ugaritic?

Many of my threads involve Ugaritic texts, but I thought I might provide a brief introduction to the uninitiated.

If you're at all interested in the Hebrew Bible, I believe you should take some interest in the field of Ugaritic studies.
The WHAT: The terms Ugarit and Ugaritic refer to a Late Bronze Age (LBA) city-state and its people and language. This small kingdom flourished about 13 centuries before Christ, until it was destroyed along with many other cultures in the Late Bronze Age collapse.
The Late Bronze Age collapse was a series of catastophic events around 1200 BC which led to the destruction of many city states and kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean region. Scholars still debate the exact mix of conditions and peoples which precipitated such upheval.
The WHERE: The city of Ugarit was located close to the Mediterranean coast a few miles north of present-day Latakia in Syria. (Latakia is 422 kilometres north of Jerusalem, by way of reference.)
DISCOVERY: The ancient port of Ugarit, Minet el-Beida, was discovered by accident by a local farmer named Mahmoud Mella az-Zîr one morning in March of 1928 as he was ploughing with an ox-team.
His plough happened to strike part of a tomb, and an initial examination uncovered much pottery. Scholars were summoned, and on a hunch, they began excavations on the mound located less than a kilometre inland.

This turned out to be the ancient city of Ugarit.
The NAME: Scholars had previously known from other ancient sources that a LBA city called Ugarit existed somewhere in the upper Levantine region.
For example, references to Ugarit are found in the famous El-Amarna letters (discovered in Egypt in 1887), a collection of cuneiform tablets which contains correspondence between various powers and kingdoms in the LBA period.
One such letter (EA 89) compares the palace of the city of Tyre favourably to that of a certain city spelled [UR]U 𝘜́-𝘨𝘢-𝘳𝘪-𝘵𝘢 (thus implying that Ugarit was something of a regional model with its lavish palace).
When scholars began to excavate the new site in earnest, they discovered thousands of cuneiform tablets among which were many references to Ugarit, thus confirming that they had in fact found the location of the city state.
The TEXTS: Excavations eventually would uncover several thousand cuneiform clay tablets. Cuneiform is an ancient writing system which involves the use of a stylus making cone- or wedge-shaped impressions into wet clay (cuneiform derives its name from Latin cuneus 'wedge').
The wedges are combined in various ways to make individual signs. Cuneiform is in fact among the earliest devised methods for writing, originating from the ancient culture of Sumer, located in Mesopotamia.
The ancient Akkadians (a Semitic people who spoke a language related to Hebrew) took cuneiform and adapted it for their own language. The system is complex, involving hundreds of signs of several types.
In brief, sign categories include:

• syllables (such as -ta-, -ir-, -bad-)
• Sumerian words (such as DINGIR 'god')
• word classifiers called determinatives (such as GIŠ 'wood')
About 1500 cuneiform texts were discovered written in Akkadian at Ugarit. Scholars were immediately able to read these thanks to painstaking work done in the previous century in the area of deciphering the entire system. (Pictured is Sir Henry Rawlinson, involved in the work.)
However, an additional 1500 tablets discovered at Ugarit were written in an unknown native cuneiform script. This turned out to be a much simpler system––there were only 30 signs.
Rapid decipherment (in under two years) was accomplished and it was discovered that the native language of Ugarit was in fact Semitic, related to Akkadian, and (much more closely) to Hebrew.
The presence of only 30 signs meant that the writing system was an actual alphabet, specifically a consonantal alphabet (called an 'abjad'), in keeping with many other Semitic languages.
To the amazement of scholars, the order of the letters in several abecedaries (lists of signs) turned out to be identical to that of known Semitic alphabets.
Listed in order are the following Semitic alphabets:

• Ugaritic
• a Latin transliteration of the Ugaritic alphabet
• Hebrew
• (early) Arabic
• Syriac

(Note that even some of the order of our own alphabet matches, since it is ultimately also Semitic in origin.)
The native Ugaritic alphabet is thus a unique entity that combines Mesopotamian technology (cuneiform) with clear West Semitic/Canaanite influences in its writing system.
Even some of the individual sign shapes illustrate this wonderfully; compare the highlighted samekh sign in the famous Tel Dan stele (Canaanite script)...
...with the alternate 's' (ś) sign in the Ugaritic alphabet, mimicked with cuneiform wedges.

The two signs, graphically depicted, for comparison are: 𐤎 (Canaanite) / 𐎝 (Ugaritic)
CONCLUSION: I would like to do a separate thread illustrating the actual value of Ugaritic studies, but I hope this has been a useful brief crash course in a fascinating area that offers many benefits to students of Bible backgrounds, and others.

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More from @lettlander

11 Dec 20
THREAD: Latin vowels are interesting.

One of the first rules students of Latin learn is its simple accentuation system. The default stress is penultimate:

for-tū́-na, Rō-mā́-nī, a-mā́-mus

...unless the syllable is short, in which case stress the antepenult:

As an Indo-European language, Latin inherited a rather different accentual system, which was based on pitch and was mobile, as far as we can tell.

But in between the two systems, Latin went through a different intermediate phase: everything was stressed on the first syllable.
That's right. Archaic Latin had the stress system of the Germanic languages, Finnish, and Latvian (!).

How do we know this?

When we compare the vowel system in other archaic IE languages with that of classical Latin, we notice vowel changes in all but the initial syllable.
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10 Dec 20
Now, a session devoted to ongoing work in the critical editions of Samuel-Kings.

Craig Morisson, who is working in place of the late Stephan Pisano on BHQ Samuel presents on the role of the younger versions (Peshitta, Targums, and Vulgate) in the edition.

Next up is Guy Darshan, representing The Hebrew Bible, A Critical Edition (HBCE).

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9 Dec 20
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9 Dec 20
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8 Dec 20
Top scholars of the Homeric, Hebrew Bible, Qur'anic, Vedic textual traditions now inquiring of each other's work over Zoom, including the current state of development of digital tools such as optical character recognition.


#SBLAAR2020 Image
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The CBGM, for example, is specifically designed to tackle a highly contaminated manuscript tradition.

• The Hebrew Bible tradition instead needs to adjudicate between the MT and various versions.
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8 Dec 20
Signe Cohen now discussing the textual transmission of the Indic Vedas (a tradition I studied during my doctoral programme). For those Hebrew Bible text-critics complaining about the gap between our earliest manuscripts and the 'Ausgangstext', note the slide.

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