Problems with Divine Kingship at Ugarit
As I mentioned before, I’ve been working through Religion and Power: Divine Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond, ed Nicole Brisch (available here). There are some serious implication for divine kingship at Ugarit posed by Irene Winter’s arguments in “Touched by the Gods: Visual Evidence for the Divine Status of Rulers in the Ancient Near East.”
Winter works through images of kings and gods from the entire history on Mesopotamia. Her basic proposition is that
even when not explicitly accorded divinity per se, rulers nevertheless could be represented verbally and visually as if they occupied a place in society that merited divine attributes, qualities, and status… (p. 75).
A fine example of such a visual representation is the depiction of Hammurapi on his law stele (image from here). While Hammurapi is not being depicted in the blatantly divine manner that we find in the victory stele of Naram-Sin, Winter argues that there are subtle indication that Hammurapi still is being accorded divine status. Note that Hammurapi is on eye level with Shamash. Indeed, he stands slightly taller than Shamash in this depiction. While scholars have tended to see here the aspects of the king’s subservience to the deity, Winter thinks that the stele actually portrays parity.
This called to mind the quite different depiction of divine relations with the king one finds at Ugarit. On the Baʿlu Stele (image found here) the deity is depicted as gigantic as opposed to the tiny human to the right. Conventional exegesis hold that this figure is in fact the king. The mighty god standing behind (literally) the earthly monarch.
This representation has been marshaled as proof of the divinity of the king at Ugarit; but in light of Winter’s argument, I find this interpretation unconvincing. Granting that the king is the most likely candidate for the figure, I don’t see divinity at play. Yes, the king rules by divine rite, but that does not indicate that he is, himself, divine. Using Winter’s methodology from this article, it would seem that the visual representation in now way implies that the king holds “divine attributes, qualities, and status.”
The king is to be feared and followed (least the wrath of Baʿlu be unleashed), but he’s still a mere mortal.