I’m continuing my way through Mark Smith’s Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century. I have two items from today’s reading:
1. I’ll actually start this first item with something from yesterday’s reading. On pages 31-32, Smith states the following about Cyrus Gordon:
“…Gordon’s background as a nonobservant Jew made him suspect in Jewish circles but perhaps ‘too’ Jewish in non-Jewish circles. (In a letter of recommendation to Sir Leonard Woolley, the director of the University Museum at Penn remarked that ‘while he [Gordon] is of Hebraic origin, it is not too obvious.’) Owing to his problems with Speiser and his Jewish background, Gordon thought that Albright would not push hard for his candidacy in most university.”
This took me aback. Was W.F. Albright an anti-Semite? On pages 69-70, Smith documents that, while Johns Hopkins University indeed did try to restrict its number of Jewish students, Albright himself was quite friendly with Jews. As Smith states, “Few other programs of the postwar era would have had [Jew] Moshe Held and [Catholic] Joseph Fitzmyer together in a Ugaritic class.” Albright also associated with Jewish scholars and Jewish institutions, such as Jewish Theological Seminary and Dropsie College (which was later absorbed into the University of Pennsylvania). And Smith notes that “Albright [in 1936] deplored American anti-Semitism even as he saw it gathering force in Germany.”
Smith also talks about Albright’s attitudes towards Catholicism on page 70. While Albright did have “anti-Catholic prejudices in his background”, he became open to the religion. His wife converted to Catholicism, and he himself contemplated doing so because he was unhappy with the liberal direction that the Methodist church was going. Albright also taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute for a while, and he had good relationships with Catholic scholars.
2. On page 94, Smith talks about the afterlife and whether or not Baal was a dying and rising god. Smith states that Ugaritic kings were believed to have an afterlife, which should add nuance to the scholarly claim I have heard that ancient Near Eastern cultures (apart from Egypt) lacked a rigorous conception of the afterlife. Regarding Baal, Smith points out on page 92 that “there are approximately seventy ritual texts from Ugarit, and not one of them clearly reflects the notion of Baal as a ‘dying and rising god.'” But Smith then discusses a royal funerary text that presents Baal as dead, and then alive again (although the text does not specifically describe his return to life, but Baal is alive after a gap in the text). Smith does not see evidence that the death and resurrection of Baal were celebrated ritually. But he does believe that the death of Baal corresponded with a lack of agricultural fertility and threats to societal order. Smith focuses on the Baal Cycle as something that is literary, not ritual: “The Baal Cycle offers a literary rendering of the god that encodes the fertility and fragility of life on the natural, human, and cosmic levels.”
And, speaking of the “literary or ritual” issue, Smith on pages 95-96 talks about whether or not certain Psalms were used in the Sukkoth festival. The context of this discussion is Mowinckel’s application of many Psalms to a New Year’s Festival, and A. Fitzgerald’s argument (against Mowinckel’s detractors) that many Psalms indeed were cultic and related to the renewal of nature—but they were used during Sukkoth. Smith is open to some of those kinds of Psalms being used for Sukkoth, but there are other such Psalms that he regards as primarily literary, not as cultic. For example, Psalm 63 uses the imagery of fall rains metaphorically, as the Psalmist describes himself as “parched like a waterless land” (Smith’s words). Some Psalms lack liturgical aspects, such as communal refrains. Some Psalms mention Moses, Aaron, and Samuel rather than the king, which may imply a post-exilic adaptation, and which prompted even Mowinckel to acknowledge “the issue of a literary versus a cultic setting.” For Smith, in short, Psalms that talk about rain or renewal may have been influenced by Sukkoth, but not all of those kinds of Psalms were necessarily part of the Sukkoth liturgy.