Review: Sang Youl Cho, Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible

Sang Youl Cho, Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Study of Their Nature and Roles. Deities and Angels of the Ancient World 2; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007. Pp. xxvii, 352. ISBN: 978-1-59333-820-6. $124.00.

Gorgias Press


This publication comprises a revision of sections of San Youl Cho’s Edinburgh dissertation. Its aim is to compare the nature and roles of the lesser deities of the divine assembly within the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible, and identify whatever affinities exist. The book has five chapters, which evaluate (1) the membership of the lesser deities, (2) kinship of the lesser deities, (3) messenger deities, (4) warrior deities, and (5) other lesser deities. Each chapter is divided into sections which evaluate the Ugaritic evidence followed by the biblical evidence. Each section has a brief summary, as does each chapter.

Chapter one focuses on membership of the lesser deities in the divine assembly. Several designations are evaluated from the Ugaritic texts which refer to groupings of deities, like ’ilm, “gods,” dr dt šmm, “circle of heaven,” sd, “council,” and several others. Their biblical counterparts, where they exist, are also discussed. The position of the various deities within these groupings is also evaluated. As with the entire book, a great deal of lexical information (sometimes excessive) is provided in these evaluations.

Chapter two establishes the filial nature of the lesser deities with the high God El. As the phrase bn ’ilm (בני אלהים), “sons of El,” can also be read simply as “deities,” scholars have long disagreed over the relationship shared between El and the lesser deities, especially as it bears on their representation in the Hebrew Bible. Cho reviews the theogonic aspects of El’s literature from Ugarit and the various ways in which the deities are described as “sons of El” to show their clear filial relationship with him. He also shows the biblical use of the terminology associated with the divine council appeals to the same relationship. The physical appearance of the gods (described as having wings or horns, for instance) is also discussed in this chapter.

Chapter three is devoted to messenger deities. After a review of the associated Ugaritic terminology, Cho discusses named messenger deities and binomial deities, focusing primarily on the messenger deities Gupan and Ugar (gpn w ugr), which Cho suggests are related to later archangel ideology. The methods of message delivery are also discussed. The associated terminology and named messenger deities from the biblical corpus are also discussed, as are the methods of message delivery within that literary tradition. Cho finds a simplification of the role of the divine messenger in the Hebrew Bible.

The next chapter discusses the final main taxonomy of lesser deities, namely warrior deities. In relation to the Ugaritic texts, Qadesh-and-Amurr is the most important named warrior deity and he receives the majority of Cho’s attention. That the warrior deity may also act as a messenger deity is an important contribution in this chapter. There are a number of warrior deities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but the only named deity that Cho finds is Michael. Unfortunately, little discussion of the מלאך יהוה occurs.

The final chapter discusses other lesser deities, such as mediator, guardian, chanter, and servant deities. Guardian and chanter deities in the Hebrew Bible deservedly receive a great deal of attention in this section. This chapter also shows one of the strongest relationships between the deities of the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible.

A critical weakness in this book is Cho’s synchronic perspective and his reticence regarding the many textual layers of the Hebrew Bible. In discussing the מלאך יהוה, for instance, Cho presupposes the integrity of the text: “Although the messenger of Yahweh is recognized apparently as the sender in the Hebrew Bible, it is obviously the divine messenger himself who appears before a mortal . . . . Thus, the ‘first person’ speech of the divine messengers can be understood as a delivering technique” (p. 190). Despite citing Wyatt on the interpolation of the messenger (“Originally El himself appeared.”), Cho ignores the discussion so he can find a link to the Ugaritic method of “first person speech.” On p. 123, note 235, Cho cites Morgenstern regarding Elyon’s distinction from Yhwh in Ps 82:6 and dismisses the claim, stating that Elyon “appears explicitly as an epithet of Yahweh in Gen 14:22 (cf. v. 18).” Cho forgets that the name Yhwh that appears in v. 22 is a late interpolation that is not found in the Greek, the Syriac, or in the Genesis Apocryphon. That the identification of the two developed at a later time period is not considered (see also p. 120).

At points the footnotes were unnecessarily excessive. They seemed to me to indicate the book was anticipating a largely lay audience. On p. 125, for instance, note 243 alerts the reader that אלהים should be read as the plural “gods” since the pronoun is the second person plural אתם. On p. 117, n. 200 tells the reader that the Hebrew ב can introduce a “temporal infinitive-clause.” Some of Cho’s footnotes also seemed quite lopsided. Nicolas Wyatt’s scholarship plays a central role (27 publications of his are cited). There are also some gaps in the bibliography—Samuel Meier’s “Angel of Yahweh” entry in DDD, Mark Smith’s 2001 Origins of Biblical Monotheism, and Michael Heiser’s 2004 dissertation, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” for instance. The author also would have done well to refer to the Göttingen editions of the Septuagint, rather than exclusively Rahlfs.

The layout, typesetting, and editing also suffer from a number of problems. The transliteration font does not accommodate the ayin very well, especially in the name b‘l (see the bottom of p. 97, for instance—it appears they tried to remedy this by adding a space after the ayin in the subheading on p. 15). In the bold section headings and subheadings the Hebrew font is sloppy. There are also numerous errors in the Hebrew. For instance, in note 6 on p. 10 there is no semicolon separating סוד יהוה from עדת אל. Instead a patah appears under the samek. The typesetter failed to switch the keyboard configuration back to English. Additionally, the typesetter, with Hebrew texts that run over a single line, has the beginning of the Hebrew on the bottom line, and the end on the top. In note 170 on p. 279 three phrases listed from Ezek 41:18–19 are in reverse order. The period that should have ended the sentence is in the middle of the Hebrew. In the bibliography, David N. Freedman’s 1995 כְּרוּב article from TDOT is listed as כְּרוּם. On page 117, Qumran’s attestation to Deut 32:8 is simply listed as “4QDeut,” rather than 4QDeutj. There is no index of modern authors, which would have been helpful, and the subject index is spotty and incredibly short (despite the padding added by listing every individual page, even if the subject appears on over 20 consecutive pages). In the scriptural index, the book of Judges has two sections, one labeled “Judg,” and the other “Judges.” Although some of the same verses are listed in both sections, different page numbers follow.

Despite a number of editorial deficiencies, this book consolidates an impressive amount of data and reviews important discussions on different concerns related to the nature and organization of the lesser deities of the Ugaritic and biblical pantheons. For that alone it provides a useful reference for future research. The author’s conclusions, however, add little to the scholarly discourse.


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