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SBL National Paper on Kirtu Accepted

March 4, 2011

Today I received word that a paper I proposed for the Society of Biblical Literature national meeting has been accepted. It seems strange to be thinking about the fall conference, when the spring MidAtlantic Regional is still two weeks away. The approved abstract I submitted to the Ugaritic Studies and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy unit is below the fold for your viewing pleasure (with my apologies to Lemony Snicket).

A Series of Infelicitous Events: Cascading Ritual Infelicity in Kirtu

Scholars have long recognized infelicitous ritual activity in the legend of Kirtu. The tragedy at the center of the tale involves an unfulfilled vow to Athiratu, which results in a plague upon the king and the ironic disavowal of the very heir that the vow was meant to insure. This paper argues that the unfulfilled vow is merely the last of a series of ritual improprieties by Kirtu by examining the ritual activities of the king, with special attention to markers of temporary cultic status change. At the outset of the tale, Kirtu is alone and in need of an heir. The king is given explicit ritual instructions by the Ilu involving washing, reddening, a tower ritual and other preparations for war. Kirtu’s washing and reddening can be seen as preparation for both the roof ritual and subsequent war. In an immediate sense, the washing and reddening is construed as allowing him to perform the tower ritual; in an elongated sense this ritual enables him to proceed with the military campaign to insure a wife. The tower ritual is as a manifestation of Ba‘lu’s divine favor that helps assure Kirtu of success. However, the narrative clearly depicts Kirtu as unconvinced of such assurances, having him make the additional vow to Athiratu. Kirtu does not satisfy the requirements for any of these temporary rites of cultic transition since the text nowhere subsequently indicates a return to a quotidian state. By viewing the vow as the last in a series of status changes placed upon Kirtu, this paper argues that the text is heaping such status changes, one upon another, onto Kirtu without a return to the quotidian, without a ritual resolution. Such a ritual understanding helps explicate the need for Ilu—as opposed to Athiratu—to intervene late in the story.

  1. Michael Singer permalink
    September 23, 2011 9:12 am

    Hey Jim –

    Would you be so kind as to share your paper with me? It looks like my dissertation is going to focus on ritual infelicity in Daniel and Esther, and I would really enjoy reading your thoughts (and methodological considerations).


    • September 23, 2011 9:38 am

      Michael, not a problem. I’m still tweaking the paper, but I would be glad to share it with you when it’s in “conference form.” We should definitely meet up at SBL. Your topic sounds very interesting.

      • Michael Singer permalink
        October 3, 2011 10:01 pm

        Sounds good, and thank you in advance.

  2. Michael Singer permalink
    September 23, 2011 9:13 am

    also, hope to see you at SBL Frisco!


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