Reviews of

A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition

In Ancient Near East, Brill, Kurtis Peters, Semitics, Ugaritic on July 17, 2015 at 5:04 am


2015.07.17 | Gregorio del Olmo Lete and Joaquín Sanmartín. A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Third Revised Edition. 2 vols. Translated and Edited by Wilfred G.E. Watson. (Leiden, Brill: 2015. $330. pp xliv + 989. ISBN: 978-90-04-28864-5).

Review by Kurtis Peters.

Many thanks to Brill for providing a review copy.

The value of Ugaritic studies for the understanding of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament needs hardly to be underscored. Countless comparisons, accurate or otherwise, between the Ba’al cycle and the Canaanite/Israelite worship of said deity have already been made. One cannot question the wealth of information that Ugaritic texts have provided us about religion in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age. They have also illuminated a good deal of the geopolitical situation during that time period. But one would be remiss to neglect the impact of Ugaritic studies on the study of Semitic philology and linguistics.

As with religion, many fanciful comparisons have been made between, for example, Ugaritic and Hebrew languages. But many more observations have been both careful and insightful. Therefore, the modern study of the Hebrew Bible owes a great deal to the discovery of the texts at Ras Shamra and its environs, that is, ancient Ugarit. Whether one wishes to mine the Ugaritic texts merely to compare them to the Hebrew Bible (or any other ANE corpus), or rather to study them for their own intrinsic value, one thing is certain: a good dictionary to hand is a must.

To think of an Ugaritic dictionary is to think of the work of del Olmo Lete, Sanmartín, and Watson. There really is no comparable work. Since 2002, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition (hereafter, the Dictionary) has been the standard lexicographical work in Ugaritic. Before then, Ugaritic lexicography was piecemeal and nowhere as thorough as this work has proven to be. Now, in 2015, a third revised edition of the Dictionary has arrived, with much enthusiasm from the scholarly community. The reasons for this newly revised edition are given in the preface (vii-viii) and can be summarized as: accounting for critical reviews of the previous edition, correcting typological errors, unifying translations across entries, updating bibliographies and removing older bibliography, including lexemes from recently published texts, adopting readings from the recently published third edition of KTU (the standard publication of Ugaritic texts in transliteration – KTU3), and removal of unnecessary information in entries. All these revisions have amounted to making an already excellent resource even better.

Differences between second and third editions can be seen already on the first page of lexemes. In the second edition, the very first entry is: i (I) interr. adv. “where”. On the first lexeme page of the third edition, however, one will find this entry as the second on the page under: ỉ (II) see ỉy.[1] Then thumbing to page 130, the user now comes across the interrogative adverb in its newly appointed place. A new location is not the only difference between the earlier and later entries for this lexeme. While the 2nd edition has a secondary bibliography spanning approximately 7 lines of text, the 3rd edition is satisfied with 2-3 lines. The example texts cited for the lexeme are also different, and the 3rd edition adds a brief section discussing the syllabic Ugaritic form of the lexeme. Lastly, the 3rd edition has added another section listing other entries whose forms use the element ỉy as part of a larger compound form. It is clear, then, that this newly revised edition is not merely a new coat of paint on an old house but evidently is a thoroughgoing revision. Much is gained by such an updating, but one may not want to discard the 2nd edition, for, as seen already in this one entry, the 2nd edition contains a greater, albeit older, bibliography of secondary sources than does the 3rd. Therefore, the wise Ugaritologist will have an eye on both editions. The Hebraist or biblical scholar may not be too concerned.

On a practical level, one may ask what to expect out of a dictionary of a Semitic language. Judging from other standard dictionaries of other Semitic languages, one could expect root information, glosses, comparisons to other Semitic languages, lists and possibly examples from texts where the lexeme occurs, grammatical designations (part of speech, gender, etc.), and relevant scholarly literature. This dictionary has all such things in spades. While that may make it a great lexicon, does that make it a good dictionary? That is, it may have all the information one could want, but is that information accessible – is it easy to use? It will be helpful to compare it to two other Brill lexica/dictionaries of Semitic languages, here for the entries with the root ’-b-d: Köhler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament and Hoftijzer and Jongeling Dictionary of Northwest Semitic Inscriptions.

It turns out that typeface and arrangement on a page can make a significant difference in the accessibility of the material. Hoftijzer and Jongeling’s dictionary reads almost like the ancient inscriptions they work with – nearly continuous words with negligible word or line breaks between them. It takes significant effort simply to read what they have written. HALOT, on the other hand, though not as easy to use as a modern language dictionary, nevertheless benefits from simple features such as paragraph divisions, significant use of bold text, offsetting features, em dashes, and clear organization into sections. The Ugaritic Dictionary can presumably be placed between the two others. While it does contain a good deal of text, some of which runs continuously together, it also maintains a few paragraph breaks and other features such as clear bold text to help the user sift through the material s/he is faced with. If there ever is a 4th revised edition, one could hope that the accessibility for the user can be taken into even greater consideration. Perhaps, though, publishers are in the business of printing as much as possible on the page, especially for volumes that are not on the best-seller lists.

In the end, despite some minor criticism regarding accessibility, the Dictionary is an excellent addition to the world of Ugaritic studies. Anyone studying Ugaritic will need to have access to it, and serious students of Hebrew ought to consider how they might put it to good use as well. Gratitude is certainly in order to the work of del Olmo Lete and Sanmartín, as well as that of the vigorous yet humble Watson, who both edited and translated the work into English.

Kurtis Peters
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories
BC, Canada
KRPeters [ at ]

1Note also that the third edition is using the new Brill font, which has a wider range of diacritics, including the various ’aleph forms, such as ỉ seen here. This font choice, which is known for being space-economical, may also be one reason that whereas the final page for the second edition was 1006, the third edition has as its final page 989.


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