Book Review: An Introduction To Ugaritic

An Introduction To Ugaritic, by John Huehnergard

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

What would lead someone to want to introduce themselves to Ugaritic, an extinct member of the Semitic language family that was spoken and, for at least a couple generations, written in an unusual cuneiform alphabet in the city of Ugarit on the coast of present-day Syria?  For one, the language itself is fairly similar to biblical Hebrew and not that much more distant from Arabic, and contains a great deal of influence from Akkadian, the first known written Semitic language.  For another, although most known Ugaritic texts are either letters from elites, legal texts, or heathen religious writings about Baal and other false gods, the language does help explain some difficult passages within biblical Hebrew and also provides some of the context of the heathen religious beliefs that the Bible is written against, and some expressions that were appropriated by the Israelites in the psalms, and also another manifestation of the parallelism that is so characteristic of Hebrew poetry.  So, if you are a fond student or scholar of ancient near east texts [1] who enjoys learning foreign languages [2], this is a worthwhile and enjoyable book to read to introduce oneself to Ugaritic.

Although this book is fairly short at less than 250 pages, the author manages to include a lot of material of interest to the reader.  The author begins by introducing the Ugaritic language, the city of Ugarit itself, the texts and genres found in that language, tools and resources, as well as the relationship between Ugaritic and biblical studies before discussing the scope and material of the book itself.  After this the author has chapters on the orthography, phonology (vowels and consonants), morphology (pronouns, nouns and adjectives, numerals, verbs, prepositions and prepositional phrases, adverbs, existential, presentation, and clitic particles, and conjunctions), syntax (including sections on verbless clauses, word order and agreement, apposition, coordination and subordination, and clause/tense sequences), and the features of Ugaritic poetic texts.  After this the author gives the reader the chance to work through translating some sample letters, legal texts, administrative/economic texts, as well as two of the more important historical and religious writings found in Ugaritic, before including a helpful glossary and a bibliography for future reading.  After this the author includes a Ugaritic alphabetic script by John Ellioson, the answer key to the practice exercises included, and some paradigms for handling various cases and tenses, including the oblique case for pronouns and prenominal suffixes for nouns.  The end of the book contains a large number of plates that show Ugaritic tablets as well as photos of the area of Ugarit for those readers who wish to get the most out of this volume.

Who would find a book like this useful or beneficial?  Someone with some familiarity with biblical Hebrew and an interest in comparative studies of literature will find a book like this to be a handy introductory volume to a language that is a lot like biblical Hebrew and shows the strong influence of Akkadian.  This is the sort of book that is useful both for individual study for a scholar interested in ancient Near East languages as well as for coursework on ancient Semitic languages at a seminar or university level.  If you are the sort of person who is fascinated with understanding the context and nature of consonant shifts in Semitic languages, which is related to the meaning of words, and want to become familiar with another language related to ancient Hebrew that has some intriguing literature in it, mostly from elite sources and a few scribal hands, Ugaritic is a worthwhile language, and this is a worthwhile book for instruction, one that will likely encourage many readers to take advantage of the many other resources that the author helpfully praises and discusses.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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16 Responses to Book Review: An Introduction To Ugaritic

  1. Reblogged this on Hendrickson Publishers Blog and commented:
    Read Nathan Albright’s review of An Introduction to Ugaritic by John Huehnergard!

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