Was the Ugaritic ml’ak a Member of the Divine Council?

E. Theodore Mullen has argued that the Ugaritic ml’ak was considered a member of the divine council, in that he was a warrior who fought on behalf of deities. I’d like to investigate that argument, briefly.

The word ml’ak (“messenger”) is attested 21 times in Ugaritic, nine times in KTU 1.2.1 alone. In the Ugaritic literature the ml’k is a subordinate that exists primarily to convey the will and direction of the gods and the sons of the gods.[1] Their messages follow the standard form of Ugaritic correspondences, and support the supposition that the Ugaritic letters discovered at Ras Shamra were read to their recipients by the messengers who carried them.[2] The Ugaritic ml’ak exhibit no will of their own, nor do they communicate anything other than what they are commanded. Likewise, in the Hebrew literature, we find the angels of God with no autonomy or identity. Their messages take on a more developed form, and they engage in actual conversation with the recipients of their messages, but they remain subordinate to God.

The ml’ak are referred to occasionally in the Ugaritic corpus as g’lm(m).[3] Mullen interprets this as an indication of their warrior status, which would equate them with the divine assembly. He bases this reading on two main considerations. First, the parallel use of the words g’lm and ḫnzr, which he argues overlap most clearly in their use as military references.[4] Nothing in the texts, however, demands that reading take precedence over understanding both terms simply to refer to some manner of junior official. His second piece of evidence is Anat’s battle with the g’lmm in KTU 1.3.2.1–35. As Pardee has pointed out, however, the text is corrupt, and the identification of these g’lmm is uncertain.[5] They may be messengers or simply warriors. Anat’s combatants are later referred to as l’im (“people”), ‘adm (“humans”), mhr (“fighter”), ḏmr (“soldier”), ṣb’u (“army”), and g’zrm (“warriors”), which casts doubt upon their identification with the ml’ak.[6] The term g’lmm most likely references Anat’s opponents in a generic diminutive sense. Mullen’s contention that the “warrior character of the messengers . . . cannot be disputed” is overstated.


[1] In the Ba’al myth, each member of the divine council seems to have their own retinue of messengers. Although the word is only attested in reference to the messengers of Yamm, the context also shows messengers being deployed by Ilu and perhaps by Ba’al and Anat.

[2] Mullen presupposes this conclusion. See Mullen, The Assembly of the Gods (Harvard Monographs 24; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1980), 211, n. 168. Pardee translates lḥt.ml’ak.ym as “the tablet of Yammu’s messengers” (“The Ba‘alu Myth,” trans. Dennis Pardee (COS 1.246).

[3] See, for example, KTU 1.2.1.19.

[4] Mullen, The Assembly of the Gods, 210–215.  He argues the Hebrew word (‘elem) refers to “a young man or military retainer,” citing 1 Sam 17:56 and 20:22, the only two occurrences of the word. Neither example demands the term refer to a military retainer, but rather simply occur in a story about war. The word is related to the Hebrew ‘ôlām and conveys a sense of lack of experience. See Koehler and Baumgartner, HALOT, 835.

[5] COS 1.250, n. 72.

[6] The terminology here is also distinct from that of other Ugaritic literature that references the ml’ak.


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