“Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition” Edited and Translated by Michael Coogan and Mark Smith

Stories-from-Ancient-Canaan-Second-EditionMichael 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.

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5 thoughts on ““Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition” Edited and Translated by Michael Coogan and Mark Smith

  1. I may read this book sometime. Often, Christian apologists and conservative Christian biblical scholars present Canaanite culture and religion as really evil so as to justify the Israelite conquest of the Bible, and I am curious about what Ugaritic texts themselves have to say. Based on your reading of the book, would you say that Canaanite religion was that evil? Did it have good elements, like righteousness and justice?

    • Definitely not. That was actually something I left out of the review. I really enjoyed how well-balanced Coogan and Smith were. Their goal was simply to discuss and present major Ugarit myth, with some comparisons to other biblical literature and ancient Near Eastern literature. The best way to answer whether or not Canaanites were evil, based on my reading, is that I can’t, nor should anybody, judge that in reading the texts. For me, that isn’t even a question that I consider when reading the text.

      As for elements of righteousness and justice, it did. But then again, just like the Hebrew Bible, they aren’t appropriated into our modern ideas of what constitutes righteousness and justice. Also, because this is just a selection of the major myths, it is not a book by which to make that sort of judgement.

      While it does discuss Ugarit’s relationship to ancient Israel, do keep in mind that it is not the focus. The focus is on Canaanite myth with a nod towards biblical literature and other ancient Near Eastern literature, not comparative literature. Does that help?

  2. I read the first edition and enjoyed it, though I don’t think I’ll be buying the second edition anytime soon. By the way, how do you do this review copy business? Looks fun, might try it on my (sadly neglected since I started grad school) blog.

    • Once you have a consist amount of visitors, send a book review request to the media of a publisher. Tis’ that simple!

      And that is quite understandable. It isn’t worth the upgrade, but it is worth picking up for 5 additional minutes of reading.

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