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]OURNAL OF ANCIENT

NEAR EASTERN RELIGIONS


VOLUME4

BRILL
LEIDEN BOSTON
2004

THE SACRED LAl"JDSCAPE OF THE KINGDOM


OF UGARIT
JORDI VIDAL

l. lntroduction
Thc sacred landscape of Indo-European Hispania was analysed by
F. Marco Simn (Marco Simn 1999)in a recent paper. Beyond the
specific traits of that particular geocultural setting, the author noted
the existence of certain common attitudes towards landscape present
in a great number of traditional societies. This shows, as Frazer or
Eliade had already pointed out, the existence of anthrapological
structures of the imaginary common to a certain extent among different cultures. Along this same line, the perception of landscape, its
shapes, and its various elements as supernatural ones is a recurrent
pattern. Certain realities were deemed worthy of expressing divine
presence, were perceived as alive, animated, and often granted
anthrapomorphic traits.
This paper aims at analyzing how this sacred conception of landscape was expressed in the Ugaritic world. Our main sources for this
study are the literary and ritual texts recovered fram various archives of the city. However it is toponomy which will allow us to
observe a set of attitudes and beliefs concerning landscape which
have left no trace in the 'official' literature, and which evoke a
deeper level of Ugaritic religion.
2. Sacred landscape

Our review begins with the forest, a space tradtionally perceived as


sacred, whose mystery either hid the invisible presence of the divine
or was identified with it. A passage fram the myth of Baal confirms
this perception of the forest as the favoured abode of divine characters in Ugarit:

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144

JORDI VIDAL

"The enemies of Baa1 grasp hold of (the trees of) the forest."
Sacralization of the forest also focuscd on trees, probably as signs of
both fertility and protection. We find the best example of it in an
incantation against snakes and scorpions recently found in U garito 2
In this incantation, the practitioner of therapeutic magic states '1 will
shake pieces of sacred tree' (amrmrn '5 qdS) in order to avoid the attack of snakes and scorpions, in what we regard as a clear reference
to the protecting and healing character attributed to the sacred tree.
In fact, certain trees such as tamarisk were repeatedly used in U garitic
magical practice. In one of the paramythological texts, the attributes
of tamarisk are referred to as determinant elements invoked to fight
the poisonous bite of the serpent.3 Another extremely interesting case
is recorded in a reference to a child's healing:
"Take (a bunch of) tamarisk(?) and put it in the child's house and it
will bring his illness to a head."4
The translation of bnt as tamarisk, fram the Akkadian bznu, poses certain
problems in this contexto In ritual and magical texts, the word used
for tamarisk is 'r'r. It is possible, then, that the actual meaning of bnt
here is 'figurine' (Sanmartn 1978). Del Olmo Lete (Del Olmo Lete
1992: 210 n. 63) has combined both possibilities bringing attention
to the habit of burying figurines made precisely of tamarisk in the
palace: a well attested pracedure of apotrapaic magic (Beaulieu 1990:
121). This reconstruction certainly reaffirms the importance granted
to sacred trees, and particularly tamarisks, in certain rituals of white
magic, as the previous example shows.
The existencc of a cult dedicated to trees is well attested in the
Canaanite sphere, thanks to the Hebrew Bible" and to various classical sources related to the Phoenician world.6 Such cults are sometimes linked to goddess Aserah. There are some data beyond the

RS 2.08+ (=KTU l.+):vn 35f


RS 92.2014 (=RSO 1452, p. 387).
3 RS 24.244 (=KTC 1.100):64.
+ RS 24.272 (=KTU 1.124):8ff.
" Deuteronorny 16:21: Joshua 24:26s: Judges 6:25: Isaiah 1:29; Hosea 4: 13,
etc.
6 Achilles Tatius, The Adi'entllres of Lellcippe and Clitophon 2: 14; Herodotus Histou
2:56.
1

THE SACRED LANDSCAPE OF THE Kl;\lGDOM OF UGARIT

145

biblical text' confrrming that the tree was the symbol of the goddess;
the physical reality manifesting her presence. This can be observed
in various figurines found in Ugarit representing Aserah with a
branch or tree situated between the navel and the pubic region
(Negbi 1976: 96ff).8
It may now be asked if the cults dedicated to trees were such that
they were regarded as the physical manifestations of Aserah, or if
they themselves were somehow sacralized. In our opinion, two traits
identified in Ugaritic literature favour the latter possibility. The fact
that in certain passages an obvious anthropomorphization
of trees
takes place, with no reference to Aserah,9 and trees' connection to
stones which are worshipped in the Near East to this day (Kriss-KrissHeinrich 1960-1962), point to their sacralization independent of their
association with a particular deity:
"A matter of wood (shaft) and a chatter of stone (tip)." 10
"Trees that do not emit (a sound), stones (that) do not whisper."ll
"The mother of the stallion, the mare, the daughter of the spring,
the daughter of stone, the daughter of the heavens and the abyss." 12
T o condude with the refercnces to this first sphere it is necessary to
observe the great number ofUgaritic place names related to the forest
or certain types of tree: gpn ("trees"), dprnm ('junipers"),
zl dprn
("Shadow of the juniper"), y'rt ("Wood, Forest"), n1;l ("Date-palm"),
sfy ("Tree?"), 'rgz ("(Wal)nut"), slrby ("(Place of the) MedIar"), tmrm
("Date-palm(s)"), tpb ("Apple- or Apricot-tree"), tr;;y ("Hardwood-tree"),
lrmn ("Cypress") (Bordreuil 1996: 63ff; Watson 2001). This sample
can be better understood when one bears in mind the richness of a
landscape less degraded than our own, as well as the deep religious
significance attributed to this kind of vegetation.
The mountain was another element of the landscape traditionally

See Binger 1997: llOff.; Smith 2002: 108ff.


Wiggins differs: "the 'tree' here is so highly stylized that its identification as
a plant hardly seems secure" (Wiggins 2001: 183).
9 As vViggins points out: "nowhere
in the extant Ugaritic texts does Asherah
appear to have been particularly associated with trees" (Wiggins 2001: 180).
10 RS 2.14+ (=KTU
1.3):IlI 22f.
11 RS 15.134 (=KTU
1.82):43.
12 RS 24.244 (=KTU
1.100):1.
8

146

JORDI VIDAL

granted a religious significance as a suitable setting


and as a place of the union of sky and earth. Due
features the mountain offered a perfect symbolic
resenting the connection with the transcendental
tu al level.

for the gods' abode


to its very physical
expression for repat a higher spiri-

The sacred mountain in U garit par excellence was Saphon, known


todayas Gabal al-Aqra'. Significantly, a Ugaritic text groups together
a list of divinities under the heading of the 'gods of Saphon' (il $pn). 13
However, it is Ba'al who on various occasions was granted the title
'the Lord of Saphon' (b'l $pn) 14 as the god who had a special relationship with that mountain.
In fact, mount Saphon itself was deified (Koch 1993) and as such
appears in some passages of epic literature,15 and in various god lists16
and rituals as rcceiving offerings of ewes, 17rams, 18birds 19and cows.20
It also has its own sacrificial pit (j;b $pn).21
However, the perception of the mountain as a sacred place was
not limited to mount Saphon. Mountains play an important role in
the geographical configuration of the Netherworld. In a passage of
the myth recounting the construction ofBa'al's palace, the route followed by the messengers of the storm god, Gupan and U gar, to get
to the abode of Mot, the god of Death, is described. In this passage
we find the most accurate description of the geography of the
Netherworld in Ugaritic literature. According to this description, the
entrance to the Netherworld was marked by two mountains, Targuziza
and Tarrummagi, 'the nvo heights of the confines of the earth' (tlm

RS 1.17 (= KTU 1.47).


RS 1.01 (= KTU 1.39):10;RS 1.09 (= KTU 1.46):12, 14; RS 1.17 (= KTU
1.47):5; RS 4.474 (= KTU 1.65):10; RS 20.24 (= Ug 5 18):4; RS 24.253 (= KTU
1.109):5,9,29, 32s; RS 24.256 (= KTU 1.112):22s;RS 24.264+ (= KTU 1.118):4;
RS 24.284 (= KTU 1.130):2, 7,9; RS 24.643 (= KTU 1.148):10,27; RS 92.2004
(= RSO 1422):7, etc. See a1soRS 3.325+ (= KTU 1.16):16 ...
15 RS 3.322+ (= KTU 1.19):II 35.
16 RS 20.24 (= Ug 5 18):14; RS 24.264+ (= KTU 1.118):14; RS 24.643 (=
KTU 1.148):6, RS 92.2004 (= RSO 1422):10.
17 RS 1.03+ (= KTU 1.41):34,42; RS 1.09 (= KTU 1.46):4,6; RS 18.56 (=
KTU 1.87):37,46; RS 24.253 (= KTU 1.109):10, 34.
18 RS 24.643 (= KTU 1.148):6, 29.
19 RS 1.03 (= KTU 1.41):24; RS 18.56 (= KTU 1.87):27; RS 24.249 (= KTU
1.105): 24'; RS 24.284 (= KTU 1.130):8, 10.
20 RS Varia 20 (= KTU 1.162):19.
21 RS 24.249 (= KTU 1.105):21'.
22 RS 2.08+ (= KTU 1.4):VIII 1-20.
13

14

THE SACRED LAJ'\'DSCAPE OF THE KINGDOM OF UGARIT

147

The name of these mountains cou1d be of Hurrian origin,


re1ated to the deities Tarbu and Sarruma. Due to thc northern origin of these deities, some scho1ars place such mountains in the north
ofCanaan, in Hurrian territory (Gaster 1961: 197; Astour 1980: 229).23
Others, presuming a clear parallelism with the two twin mountains
(Mas u) mentioned in the Baby10nian Gilgames epic, maintain that
Targuziza y Iarrummagi
were the mountains of the West behind
which Sapas, the sun goddess, hid every day (Tsevat 1974; Marga1it
1980: 75). Finally, a third option identifies them with mount Saphon
(Wyatt 1998: 112 n. 175).
Pardee (Pardee 1997: 263 n. 195) has recently put forward a revision of the physica1 traits ofboth mountains. In his opinion it is possib1e
that the Ugaritic word tl, rather than referring to a natural mountain, refers to the concept of ruin. If this is so, Targuziza and
Iarrummagi
cou1d have been imagined as two ruins mounds; two
great mounts of rubb1e signa1ing access to the 1and of the dead. It is
necessary, then, to abandon any attempt to identify these p1ace-names
with any concrete physica1 rea1ity, and to definitively conceptua1ize
them as two mythica1 mountains a1ien to the geography of Canaan
and its surroundings.
An apparently contradictory version of this geography of the
Netherwor1d may be found in another passage from the myth of
Ba'ap4 There, an unknown deity, probab1y Sapas or Mot himself,
instructs Ba'a1 on how to reach the kingdom ofthe dead. According
to this passage it was on1y mount Kankanay, not mounts Targuziza
and Iarrummagi,
that signalled the entry to the Netherworld. The
existence of contradictory versions about this matter is not unusual
in the Mcsopotamian sphere, due to the absence of any official doctrine unifying the various traditions (Bottro 1980). The Ugaritic case,
however, is rather more problematic because the two versions do
not appear, as could happen in Mesopotamian tradition, in various
literary passages produced at different times and in different intellectual spheres. Rather, both figure in the mythological cycle ofBa'al,
thus making it difficult to explain the apparent lack of harmony.
The solution to this problem necessitates that one understands
Kankanay not as a place-name but as a common name (Xella 1987:
131). As Pardee (Pardee 1997: 267 n. 229) pointed out, the presence
g$t ar$).22

23 Tsevat (Tsevat 1974), however, interprets these as the mountains ofthe horizon;
the sun rises and/or sets between them.
24 RS 2.22+ (= KTU l.S):Y 6-17.

148

JORDI VIDAL

of the sufEx -y confirms this possibi1ity. In fact the term knkn comes
from the root knn (Arabic: 'to cover, cover up, hide'). So, the correct
trans1ation of the expression gr knkny wou1d not be "the mountain
Kankanay" but "the mountains of my covert", i.e., Targuziza and
Tarrummagi25. In this way, in addition to reso1ving the relationship
between Kankanay and Targuziza-Iarrummagi,
the idea ofthe two
mountains as a point of access to the Netherworld is maintained, an
idea, as we have seen, also present in Mesopotamian mythology (Vidal
2004b).
Taking up again the theme of the mountain as the gods' favoured
abode, it should be noted that according to the myth of the battle
between Bacal and Yam, El's abode was placed at the top ofmount
Kas,26 the assembly of gods was placed on mount Lalu27 (Smith 1994:
225ff.),28 and Anat's home29 (a goddess particularly associated with
mount Saphon),30 on mount Inbub, literally 'the god (ofthe) Mountain'.31 Finally, a divinity known as 'J\1ountains and Waters of the
Abyss' (grm w thmt),32 who receives sacrificial offerings,33 is also found
in god lists.
In fact, another of the fundamental elements of sacred landscape,
namely water, appears in the name of this last divinity associated
with the mountain. Its importance as such lies in the perception of
water as a source of life, purification and regeneration. It is not surprising that in Ugarit, where agriculture, particularly dry farming,
depended to a great extent on rain, a deity such as Bacal, the god of

25 Wyatt (Wyatt 1998: 124 n. 43), e.g., differs: 'Mountain ofmy gullet'. In his
opinion this alludes to some natural cave on J\ft. Saphon which was understood to
be an entrance to the Netherworld.
26 RS 3.361 (= KTU 1.1):III 12.
27 RS 3.367+ (= KTU 1.2):120 and par.
28 Del Olmo Lete (del Olmo Lete 1998: 61 n. 55), e.g., differs;for him Ijursanu,
Kas and Lalu were in fact different names all referring to the 'Canaanite 01ympus',
the location of the assemb1y of gods and home of El.
2g RS 24.244 (= KTU 1.100):20.
30 RS 1.09 (= KTU 1.46):17; RS 24.253 (= KTU 1.109):13-14, 17,36; RS
24.284 (= KTU 1.130):26.
31 DULAT p. 78; vVatson 2001: 112.
32 RS 20.24 (= Ug 5 18):18; RS 24.264+ (= KTU 1.118):18; RS 24.643 (=
KTU 1.148):41;RS 92.2004 (= RSO 1422):29. See Pardee 2000 and Pardee 2002.
33 RS 24.643 (= KTU 1.148):6,41.
34 RS 1.03 (= KTU 1.41):34f;RS 4.474 (= KTU 1.65):lOf;RS 18.56 (= KTU
1.87):36f; RS 24.249 (= KTU 1.105):6'; RS 24.253 (= KTU 1.109):11, 16, 34,

THE SACRED LANDSCAPE OF THE KINGDOM OF UGARIT

149

the storm and ferti1ity ofthe fields, was p1aced at the top ofthe Ugaritic
pantheon, crowned as the 'Lord ofUgarit' (b'l ugrt)34 and celebrated
as 'Mighty Ba'a1' (aliJn b'0,35 'mightiest of the heroes' (aliJ qrdm)36
and 'The Powerfu1' (dmrn),37 patron and protector of the city and
the kingdom (Wyatt 1999: 544f; Herrmann 1999: 132ft).
The importance of water for Ugarit's population is well attested
in the plethora of place-names related to springs, rivers, marshes,
etc.38 A pattern, not only in U garit but practically in all traditional
societies, is the conception of wells and springs as abodes and manifestations of divinities, for they high1ight such a valuable commodity
as water. In fact, an Ugaritic incantation against a snake bite locates
El's abode at 'the springs of the Two- Rivers' (mbk nhrm).39
In relation to this concept, I wou1d 1ike to underscore two U garitic
place-names: 'Source of Mky' Cnmk(y)) and 'source of Qpat' Cnqpat),
that cou1d refer precisely to two deities connected to springs. It is
certainly possible that both Mky and Qpat were really two proper
names and if this were so, the place names wou1d not contain any
religious or divine reference. However, neither ofthese proper names
are attested in Ugaritic texts.40 They do not appear in the ritual texts
either. In any case, this wou1d only underline the fact that we might
be dealing with two divinities or rural genies associated with a very
specific and restricted geographica1 reality, with no impact upon the
urban pantheon we are familiar with, something that wou1d easily
explain their absence in such a sphcrc.
As for the perception of water as a destructive force, which is a
well attested aspect in Ugaritic sources,4! we find the god Yam. Yam
whose divine profile is well developed in Ugaritic mythology, is, as
his name shows, the Sea-God, but he is also a god related to rivers.

35[; RS 24.256 (= KTU 1.112):23; RS 24.266 (= KTU 1.119):3,9[,12,21'[; RS


24.284 (= KTU 1.130):11,23.
35 E.g., RS 2.22+ (= KTU 1.5):VI 9.
3(i E.g., RS 2.14+ (= KTU 1.3):III 14.
37 E.g., RS 2.08 (= KTU 1.4):VII 39.
38 agm ('Swamp'), bir ('Well'), nb/pk ('\Vell', 'Spring'), nbkm (Two springs'), nlpy
('Riverine'), slb ('Watered fields'), sql ('Marsh'?), f;y(n)dr ('River o[ (Mount) Ndr'?) ....
See Bordreuil 1996:61ss; Watson 2001.
39 RS 24.244 (= KTU 1.100):3.
40 In Mari (ARM IX 294 1. 7, ARM XXII !O, MARI 5 p. 598 no. 4) (Millet,
personal communication) and in the Phoenician world (Benz 1972: 138) the name
mky is attested.
11 See, [or example, the shipwrcck in RS 18.31 (= KTU 2.38).

150

JORDI VIDAL

This is clearly expressed in his titles 'Prince Sea' (bht ym) and 'Ru1er
River' (IN nhr). In such contexts, rivers are construed as destructive
powers. Yam personifies the chaotic side of water. This image is
reinforced by assocations with monsters such as Lotan, the seven
headed serpent, Tunnan, the primordial dragon, Aris, the Demander,
and 'Atik, the Binder described as I1u's ca1f.42Yam, in sum, represents the power of chaos assocated with rivers and the sea (Sto1z
1999: 739ft).
The last great space within U garitic sacred 1andscape is the desert,
a biotope a1ien to the ecological reality of the kingdom of U garit,
but which was, however, represented in 1iterary and cultic texts. In
one instance the desert Say is recognized as adivine desert,43 the
place where of E1's concubines will go to in order to give birth to
those creatures known as the 'Voracious Ones' (aklm), 'Destructive
Ones' ('qqm) and 'Thirsty Ones' (gllm). In another text, probab1y recording a ritual re1ated to the question of fertility (Del Olmo Lete
1981: 437ff; De Moor 1987: 117f),44 the concept of a holy desert
inhabited by the Voracious Ones ready to devour any element of
life, reappears.45
The images reflected in these texts translate a clearly negative
conception of this space, one common to all Ancent Near Eastern
urban civilizations. Such a conception may be found in Mesopotamian
literature in works such as the poem of Atrabasis, the epic of Erra,
the epic of Gilgame?3 and, particularly, in magical literature. In the
latter, the desert and the steppe are often represented as place s of
barbarity, destruction and death, populated by demons, bandits and
wild beasts (Lackenbacher 1989).
In addition to these four great elements oflandscape (forest, mountain, water, desert) Ugaritic toponomy has left us evidence of particular spaces to which other sacred traits are also attached. Some
place names attest to the preferential protection of certain divinities
in whose care such sites were placed: ilftm' ('The (place of) the 'l of
Listening', gb'ly ('Site ofBa'al), lbil ('May El Return'), mril (uncertain
meaning, but contains i0. Others remind us of the manifestation of

RS 2.14 (= KTU 1.3):III 44.


RS 2.12 (= KTU 1.12):122.
44 Far Dietrich and Loretz (Dietrich-Loretz 1988: 350ft) it is an incantation
against ma1ign farces of nature.
45 RS 2.02 (= KTU 1.23).
42

43

THE SACRED LANDSCAPE OF THE KINGDOM OF UGARIT

151

divinity that occurred in a given moment in the past: lq ('(Place of)


Thunder (?)),rrl$ bt ('Memorial'). Finally, the names of some sites contain
a more generic reference relating them to the sacred sphere: ubre ('Place
of Ascent'(?)), dmt qdf ('Sacred Tower'), ndb ('(Place of) Offering')
(Watson 2001).
3. Conclusions

The conception of landscape reflected by the quoted evidence allows for a clear appreciation of the sacralization of four great spheres
(forest, mountain, water, desert), which a poetic view of the world
associated with the sphere of the supernatural. The sum of these four
great elements, or their constitutive parts, acquired an essential religious significance through a series of repeated processes: anthropomorphization (mountain, sea/river, tree, stone), their association with
divine characters (mountain, tree, springs) and their conception as
space populated by supernatural creatures (sea, desert, wood). Those
elements of landscape were 'trans-figured', thus acquiring a meaning beyond their primary or natural one. U garitic landscape appears
in the sources as a reality rich with symbols but not with signs, in
which each of the mentioned elements was attributed a meaning
related to it (e.g. desert-desolation; water-fertility/purification),
while
lacking any arbitrariness. What the interest raised by landscape,
perceived as a reality capable of representing the divine, denotes is,
in short, the close connection that the U garitic individual, as a member
of an agricultural and herding society,46 kept with nature; a nature
he barely controlled and which conditioned, to a great extent, the
course of his life.

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