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The Heart of my Problem with Wyatt

January 13, 2008

While I think that Nicolas Wyatt is an amazing Ugaritic scholar and one of probably the top three interpreters of Ugartic myth alive today, I nonetheless often find myself at odds with many of his readings (especially of the Baʿlu Cycle). In reading his essay “The Religious Role of the King in Ugarit” I think I’ve found the heart of my problem with Wyatt.

In discussing the theological and royal dimensions of the Baʿlu Cycle, Wyatt contends:

The theological dimension is always a function of the real world, whether it offers a validation or a critique of it. It has no other conceivable purpose. (47)

Now, I’m all for an ideological reading of the Baʿlu Cycle; but to say that the royal dimension has no other conceivable purpose than to critique or validate (and for Wyatt, it is the latter) is reductio ad absurdum. If the scribes of Ugarit are to be considered on par with those of ancient Greece (see Wyatt, 46), shouldn’t we also hold that Ugaritic works could be multivalent in the way that those of Hesiod or Homer have been shown to be?

While my actual differences with Wyatt are numerous (mostly relating to his tendency to make up rituals for his reading of mythic texts), I think this reductionist logic is actually the heart of my problem with his writings.

Wyatt, Nicholas. “The Religious Role of the King in Ugarit.” Pages 41-74 in Ugarit at Seventy-Five. Edited by K. Lawson Younger Jr. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007.

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