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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Unburning Fame: Horses, Dragons, Beings of Smoke, and Other Indo-European Motifs in Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible
Wikander, Ola

Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2017 pp. xi + 185. $33.95

Series Information
Coniectanea Biblica: Old Testament Series, 62

Description: In this book, Ola Wikander studies Indo-European influences in the literary world of the Hebrew Bible and the Ugaritic texts, tracing a number of poetic motifs and other concepts originating in the Indo-European linguistic milieux of the greater Ancient Near East (e.g., among Anatolians and in Indo-European traditions transmitted through Mitanni)—and possibly at earlier, reconstructible levels—as they influenced what became Northwest Semitic poetic culture. The methodology used is what Wikander refers to as “etymological poetics”: the study of poetic and mythological structures as transmitted through specific lexical material. Among the motifs studied are “smoke” as a simile for human life, the great serpent-battling tales of Northwest Semitic in comparison with similar stories among Indo-European-speakers (focusing on the titulature of the combatants and on the reconstruction of inherited and calqued poetic formulas), the etymology of the divine name “Dagan,” and terminology and ideas related to borders and living outside of established social norms, including the concept of the ger, the “sojourner” or “resident alien.” The study discusses the importance of early poetic borrowings for tracing the interactions between cultural and linguistic contexts, and—using the methodology of “etymological poetics”—employs these motifs and their history as a way of uncovering new, exegetically relevant interpretations of key texts. Ugaritic passages from the Baal and Aqhat texts, as well as biblical passages from (among others) Hosea, Psalms, 1 Kings, and Judges are given new interpretations. One of the motifs discussed is that of destroying heat being used as a metaphor for forgetting important cultural memories and, consequently, of the resilience of such memories being expressed as resistance to burning. Thus, bringing these ancient connections between Indo-European and Northwest Semitic culture into the open is, in a sense, showing their “Unburning Fame.”

Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Literature, Methods, Linguistics, Ugaritic

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Review by Joanna Töyräänvuori
Published 7/4/2019
Citation: Joanna Töyräänvuori, review of Ola Wikander, Unburning Fame: Horses, Dragons, Beings of Smoke, and Other Indo-European Motifs in Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2019).

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