Baal and the Politics of Poetry: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Baal and the Politics of Poetry

1st Edition

By Aaron Tugendhaft


166 pages

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pub: 2017-11-02
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Baal and the Politics of Poetry provides a thoroughly new interpretation of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle that simultaneously inaugurates an innovative approach to studying ancient Near Eastern literature within the political context of its production. The book argues that the poem, written in the last decades of the Bronze Age, takes aim at the reigning political-theological norms of its day and uses the depiction of a divine world to educate its audience about the nature of human politics. By attuning ourselves to the specific historical context of this one poem, we can develop more nuanced appreciation of how poetry, politics, and religion have interacted—in antiquity, and beyond.


"Aaron Tugendhaft's book comes as a very welcome contribution. For he means to overturn the standard interpretation of the well-known ancient Ugaritic poem about the god Ba'al, which sees it as a myth establishing the kingship of Ba'al in heaven, bringing cosmic order by defeating the enemy deities who would disrupt it. For Tugendhaft, rather, the poem is a meditation on kingship, divine as well as human, and its limitations; it has an open ending, leaving the establishment of a firm sovereignty, whether of Ba'al or another deity, up in the air. Tugendhaft makes a compelling case, which should provoke serious discussion. Based on an insightful scrutiny of the ancient evidence, it is a case that, as he shows, is relevant on a much wider scale as well: indeed, for the very nature of myth in modern as well as ancient culture." - Peter Machinist, Harvard University, USA

"Tugendhaft’s bold interpretation of the Baal Cycle is built on his mutually enlightening reading of poetry and political texts. His work highlights the need for biblical scholars and historians of religion to engage with the texts from Ugarit that document the world out of which the literary texts emerged. Baal and the Politics of Poetry is a model for how this much needed work might be done." - Christine Neal Thomas, Review of Biblical Literature 2019

"Baal and the Politics of Poetry offers a persuasive and nuanced interpretation of the Baal Cycle. Tugendhaft does an excellent job of re-embedding the Baal Cycle in its historical context with his frequent and illuminating references to administrative and diplomatic texts from the Late Bronze Age … Tugendhaft is to be congratulated for significantly advancing the scholarship on the Baal Cycle." - Aren M. Wilson-Wright, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018

"Not only does Aaron Tugendhaft's interpretation shed considerable light on the cycle in its coherence, but the cycle itself, read in this way, makes it possible to grasp how international relations and conceptions of kinship fit together." - Christophe Lemardelé, Semitica et Classica 2019

"[this book] opens new ways in the research on the function of this myth and its relationship to history … the major strength of the book remains the light that is [shone] on the scribes in Ugarit, their influence but also the practice and practice of their art or their authority." - Stéphanie Anthonioz, Syria journal 2018

"Not only learned but incredibly well-written" - Christopher B. Hays, Fuller Theological Seminary, USA

"I [have] described Tugendhaft’s work as based on careful study of the texts and on deep reflection. For this, he is to be congratulated, and his book should be, and certainly will be, widely read." - Dennis Pardee, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2019

"[a] fascinating book" - Eric Schliesser, Digressions & Impressions blog:

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Baal and the Modern Study of Myth

Chapter 2: The Baal Cycle and Bronze Age Politics

Chapter 3: Divine Combat as Political Discourse at Mari

Chapter 4: The Politics of Time

Chapter 5: Unsettling Sovereignty

Chapter 6: Kinship Contested


Appendix: The Envoy Scene (Ktu 1.2 I)



About the Author

Aaron Tugendhaft is Collegiate Assistant Professor of the Humanities and Harper Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

About the Series

The Ancient Word

New Discoveries in Religion and Language From the Biblical and Near Eastern World

The Ancient Word is dedicated to publishing exciting, broadly relevant new research in ancient Near Eastern and biblical studies. Each book represents an advance both philologically, in our understanding of ancient sources, and intellectually, in providing fresh ways to think about what the remote past means. Herder once imagined an "archive of paradise" containing the first writing in the world from its oldest civilization: primordial texts holding the keys to understanding our formation. In unearthing the remains of the ancient Near East, we have something like this archive - but it remains mostly unread. Herder's bold search has been replaced with safer techniques, from sweeping theories of oral vs. literate societies to reductive legitimation theories that boil culture down to power. This series showcases fresh work that helps unlock this archive's potential.

If you would like to discuss contributing to the series, please contact Seth Sanders - [email protected]du.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Ancient / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology