Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith (editors and translators). Stories from Ancient Canaan, 2nd Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 192 pp., $26.00 (paperback).
*I would like to express my gratitude to Westminster John Knox Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Additionally, because the first edition was published in 1978, I will primarily focus on the newest additions, rather than repeat any old critiques.
First published in 1978, Michael Coogan and Mark Smith’s Stories from Ancient Canaan was a hit. At that time it made Ugaritic literature accesible to non-professional readers. By presenting the principle Canaanite texts, Coogan and Smith open up the ancient world to student of history, the Bible, and literature. The first edition includes an introduction, Aqhat, The Rephaim, Kirta, and The Baal Cycle. The 1st edition expands improves translations and introductions to include developments in Ugaritic studies and language. Most notably, the 2nd edition includes The Lovely Gods and El’s Drinking Party. Beyond mere additional reading material, the two additional texts provide an improved and sharped snapshot of how Ugaritic peoples represented and understood their gods.
I find intriguing, for example, the differences between the first four myths and El’s Drinking Party. El’s Drinking Party provides a less dignified representation of El, such as when Habayu smears him with his crap and piss (paraphrase inspired from the translation on page 172). Such contrasts between El’s glorified representation in things like the Baal Cycle and Aqhat challenge the reader, especially the reader of the Hebrew Bible, to rethink how they conceptualize literature rooted in ancient Israelite society. Especially for non-professionals attempting to engage with ancient Israel’s context, the 2nd edition of Stories from Ancient Canaan is extremely beneficial.
Regarding resource, I also appreciate the updated bibliographies in the book. The bibliography includes works by Carl Ehrlich, W. G. E. Watson, N. Wyatt, and much more. In short, it provides a point by which passionate students and non-professionals can move forward in expanding their understanding of the ancient Ugarit.
Without a doubt, Stories from Ancient Canaan is an excellent choice for auto didactic study. The glossary in the back of the book, clarity of writing, and lack of ubiquitous style lets it be extremely approachable by any person. For undergraduate students in an ancient Near Eastern course or Hebrew Bible course, it is also an excellent addition to their personal libraries. The inexpensiveness of the book partnered with the long term value of easy access to understandable translations of major Ugaritic literature justifies the purchase. While graduate students will want to address more critical translations, it still may be of some value, such as simple weekend reading. All-in-all, I highly recommend Stories from Ancient Canaan for it’s clarity, ease in reading, and making accessible introduction to and translations of valuable literature of the ancient world and humanity.