Unsettling Sovereignty: Politics and Poetics in the Baal Cycle
Bodin, Jean, The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Cosmological speculations hold political ramifications. The breakdown of the hierarchical society of the European Middle Ages, for example, belonged to a general breakdown of hierarchical order in thought, belief, and action. (1) At the level of cosmology, this was exemplified in the turn from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican picture of the universe, since no analogy between above and below is possible in Copernican thought. (2) In the ancient Near East, the Babylonian epic Enama elis offers the most explicit expression of a parallel between political hierarchy and cosmological order. The late twelfth-century B.C. poem was intimately connected with the institution of Babylonian kingship. (3) By telling the story of Marduk's defeat of Tiamat (the primordial waters) and his subsequent organization of the universe, Enuma elis depicts the world as structured according to a fixed hierarchical order. Marduk sets heaven and earth in their proper places. (4) At the same time, the unequivocal acceptance of his kingship by the other gods establishes the hierarchy of rank among them. This hierarchy is reiterated on the spatial plane when Marduk fixes the position of his star Neberu as a reference point for the positions of all the others. (5) At the level of human politics, Marduk's cosmogonic act ushers in the establishment of Babylon. (6) That city's position at the apex of the world political order mirrors Marduk's position among the gods.
I. UGARITIC MYTH AND BRONZE AGE POLITICS
The Baal Cycle has often been compared to Enuma e1is. (7) Discovered in 1929 at the coastal Syrian site of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), the account of the storm-god Baal's exploits survives in a single exemplar of six fragmentary tablets that were likely inscribed a century or so before the Babylonian poem took shape. (8) Both the Ugaritic and Babylonian poems contain episodes in which their respective heroes battle the sea, but whereas Marduk's battle culminates in a restructuring of the universe that gives it its hierarchical structure, Baal's victory holds no cosmogonic implications. (9) Unlike Tiamat, the Ugaritic sea-god Yamm is not a primordial adversary and his defeat does not usher in a new epoch. The Baal Cycle does not set up a clear, temporally distinguished opposition between current order and primordial disorder. As a result, conflict takes on a different meaning in the Ugaritic poem--it is a constituent element of political life, not a means by which the political overcomes the primordial. In the Baal Cycle political rule does not bring about an eradication of disorder. The Baal Cycle's non-cosmogonic employment of the topos of divine battle against the sea is consistent with the poem's representation of political rank as unstable and ambiguous. (10)
The relationships among the Baal Cycle's divine protagonists run parallel to earthly political relationships. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the fundamentally hierarchical relationship between vassal and suzerain. The supreme god El states at one point that Baal is Yamm's vassal. (11) This has been taken to reflect "Ugarit's limited political situation lying between the great powers of the ancient Near East." (12) Baal was the patron god of Ugarit and Ugarit went through periods of vassalage to both Egypt and Hatti during the Bronze Age. (13) Yet the Baal Cycle offers not just a reflection of terrestrial realities, but critical reflection on the foundational claims of Late Bronze Age political institutions by calling into question the hierarchical principle that justifies them. Focusing primarily on the well-preserved "envoy scene" from the poem's second tablet that provides context for El's declaration, this essay will consider the implications of the Ugaritic poem's particular depiction of suzerainty and vassalage. (14) By presenting political positions that presuppose the idea of hierarchy--without actually affirming the principle that these positions depend upon--the Baal Cycle ultimately unsettles the traditional basis of sovereignty itself.
In a 1967 article on treaty terminology in the Bible, the renowned Northwest Semitic philologist Jonas Greenfield noted that several phrases in the Baal Cycle echo the language of Late Bronze Age treaties. In this way, the poem uses contemporary diplomatic conventions to evoke relationships among the poem's protagonists. (15) Greenfield draws attention to two passages in the Ugaritic poem. In one, Baal sends a message to Mot, the Ugaritic deity of death, stating, "I am your bondsman forever" ('bdk 'an. wd'lmk). (16) Greenfield glosses: "In this verse Baal declared himself Mot's eternal vassal." (17) The other passage is a speech that El makes in reply to messengers sent by Yamm. El declares that Baal is a vassal of Yamm and so must bring tribute to the sea-god. (18) As Greenfield notes, the passage employs the same terminology that would have been used to articulate relationships among polities in the Late Bronze Age--a vocabulary of parity, subjugation, and domination. It is, in fact, the kind of language found in numerous documents attesting to Ugarit's political relationship with the kingdom of Hatti, the great imperial power that controlled much of Syria in the Late Bronze Age. El's comment that Baal must bring tribute (ybl 'argmn) echoes an Ugaritic document that identifies "the tribute that Niqmaddu, king of Ugarit, shall bring to the Sun, the Great King, his lord" ('argmn . nqmd . mlk 'ugrt, d ybl . 3.0 mil< rb . b'lh). (19)
In addition to recognizing such political terminology in the Baal Cycle, scholars have begun to pay special attention to the familial relationships among the poem's deities. In his work on the patrimonial household at Ugarit, David Schloen maps those relationships onto the typical kinship relationships and rivalries found in Mediterranean joint-family households. (20) This model affords a vantage onto the interactions among deities in the poem. Building on Schloen's work, Mark Smith and Wayne Pitard have argued that the Baal Cycle's depiction of Baal's rise corresponds to the succession of a young king within a royal household. "The imagery used [in the Baal Cycle]," they write, "is that of regular royal succession, in which the old patriarch/king, toward the end of his reign, appoints his successor, who then takes on both the title of king and the duties delegated to him by the patriarch." (21) They argue that the poem ends in the establishment of co-regency between El and Baa1. (22) In this line of reading, the combats depicted in the poem are meant to evoke the struggles between competing successors to the throne.
Though the poem no doubt plays upon recognizable aspects of familial rivalry, I want to suggest a different tack. Rather than approach the poem as a depiction of royal succession within a single political dynasty, I believe the epic employs kinship as a metaphor for international politics. This is in keeping with the practice among monarchs of Ugarit's day who used kinship language to define their relations to each other, as though the international system were one large family. (23) Approaching the poem in this way makes better sense of the phrases discussed by Greenfield. Whereas the Bronze Age supplies clear evidence of international diplomatic discourse employing familial language, there is to my knowledge no evidence of relationships within an actual household being described metaphorically with terminology taken from the realm of foreign affairs. Though a term like 'servant' ('bd) can be found in both contexts, it is difficult to see what the bringing of tribute (ybl 'argmn) would mean in a household situation. Greenfield's observations point toward reading the divine familial relationships in light of the contemporary political metaphor. To the extent that the poem unsettles the suzerain-vassal relationship, it throws into question the suitability of the kinship metaphor for articulating the nature of international relations.
II. THE POETICS OF SOVEREIGNTY
The Baal Cycle depicts El as responsible for establishing Yamm in his kingship. The father of the gods appears to name Yamm as a king in an early fragment of the poem, (24) and he later orders the craftsman-god Kothar-wa-Hasis to build the sea-god a royal abode. (25) It was standard practice in the Late Bronze Age for higher-ranked kings to grant kingdoms to their subordinates. In Hittite vassal treaties, the sovereign bestows kingdoms on subject kings, even in cases where the subject king's royal house long predated the subjugation to Hatti. (26) The recipient king then becomes the vassal of his more powerful benefactor. At the point of the poem when Yamm sends an envoy to El, we would expect a vassal-suzerain relationship to govern the association between the two deities. Remarkably, however, Yamm's actual behavior is not in line with such expectations.
The envoy scene opens with Yamm dictating instructions to his messengers. The sea-god declares:
Go, lads, don't dally, head for the assembled council, for Mount Lalu. Don't fall at El's feet, nor bow to the assembled council. Standing, speak the speech, recite your instructions. Say to the Bull, [my] father [El], recite to the assembled council: "Message of Yamm, your lord, your master, Ruler Nahar: Give up, gods, the one you obey, the one the multitude fears; Give up Baal so I may humble him, Dagan's son, so I may seize his gold." (27)
A number of features of this speech are unsettling coming from the mouth of a vassal. Most blatant is the instruction for the messengers not to bow before El and the assembled council. As we learn from a letter discovered at Mari, only the messengers of a vassal king were required to bow when presenting their message at a foreign court. (28) By telling his messengers not to bow, Yamm asserts that he is not subject to El. The wording of his message reinforces this idea and pushes it one step further. Not only is Yamm not subject to El, Yamm's message declares, but rather El is subject to him. Yamm presents himself as the lord and master of El and the other gods. This is astounding behavior for one who owes his crown to El.
It is not only the disjunction between how Yamm acts and how a vassal would be expected to act that is perturbing about Yamm's behavior. If we take him at his word and accept his claim to be the lord and master of the other gods, other dissonant details emerge. Yamm's message to the other gods is modeled on contemporary epistolary practice. (29) First the message's recipients are named (El and the assembled council), followed by the sender (Yamm/Ruler Nahar). Yamm also identifies his own status by including the phrase "your master/lord." Though rank-identifying phrases are not uncommon in epistles of this kind, it is unusual for a superior to include one when addressing an inferior. Kings did not make a habit of explicitly naming their superior position when addressing their subjects. (30) To one familiar with local epistolary style, Yamm's assertion of his rank would have appeared out of place. Yamm's use of the phrase "your master/lord" comes across as an attempt at persuasion. Writing about the nature of authority, Bruce Lincoln has argued that persuasion is "actualized only when those who claim authority sense that they have begun to lose the trust of those over whom they seek to exercise it." (31) It is precisely such overcompensation which is at work in Yamm's message. Indeed the message itself reveals the source of Yamm's anxiety: by referring to Baal as "the one you obey" (dtqh), (32) Yamm admits that the authority he claims on the basis of political rank goes unrecognized. Yet the Ugaritic poem never resolves the crisis of Yamm's authority, nor does it affirm the principle of sovereignty to which he appeals.
One might respond that the poem never reaffirms Yamm's authority because his claim to sovereignty is spurious from the start. Then it wouldn't be sovereignty as such, but only Yamm's spurious claim to sovereignty that the poem marks as problematic. But the gods' own response to Yamm's messengers complicates such an interpretation. I have already mentioned El's response above, because it is the basis for much of Greenfield's argument. In reply to Yamm's demand, El proclaims:
Baal is your vassal, O Yamm, Baal is your vassal, 0 Nahar, Dagan's son, your prisoner. He will indeed bring you tribute, like the gods he'll bring you a gift, the sons of the Holy One, offerings. (33)
Despite the affront to El's position inherent in the form of Yamm's message and the failure of his messengers to bow, El still agrees to the sea-god's demand. Furthermore, El's response acknowledges Yamm's position as suzerain over the other gods. Though it is not certain whether El includes himself in this collective, the parallel with Yamm's assertion of sovereignty over both El and the assembled council suggests that he does. As their behavior following El's speech shows, the other gods also accept Yamm's authority. The poem could easily have clarified matters by depicting a response to Yamm's envoy that unmasked the spurious nature of the sea-god's claim to sovereignty. Instead, it adds a further disjunctive twist. In fact, the disjunction is exacerbated by the line preceding El's speech that introduces the god as "Bull El, his father" (tr. abh . 'il). (34) While the narrator identifies El with a kinship term that marks him as Yamm's political superior, El presents himself as Yamm's subject.
Putting aside for the moment El's acquiescence to Yamm's behavior, it is in itself not surprising that the father of the gods would side with Yamm against Baal at this point in the narrative. The fragmentary early portions of the poem not only point to El's enthronement of Yamm, but also suggest that El invested the sea-god with the task of attacking Baa1. (35) Though El's motivations remain mysterious, the few hints we possess imply that the divine father was no friend to Baal. An element of this antagonism between El and Baal may be glimpsed as well in the lead-up to El's reply to Yamm's messengers. The poet describes the gathering of gods at Mount Lalu:
Meanwhile the gods sit down to feast, the sons of the Holy One, to dine. Baal serving?/standing up to El. (36)
The phrase b'l. qm. 'l. 'il is difficult. The line has traditionally been taken to depict Baal as standing in a subservient position with respect to El. Mark Smith, for instance, translates the line "Baal waits on El," while Dennis Pardee has similarly rendered it "Ba'lu attending on 'Ilu." (37) As far as I can tell, this way of rendering the idiom goes back to H. L. Ginsberg, who took it to mean "attend upon." (38) Smith has claimed that the idiom "characterizes a courtier before his lord" such that "Baal seems subservient by 'standing before' (qm '1) the enthroned El, while El appears as the leader of the divine council." (39)
The linguistic grounds for this translation of the idiom are arguable. Following Frank Cross and others, Smith provides a list of passages from the Hebrew Bible that supposedly approximate the Ugaritic idiom. None of them actually does so. They attest to an idiom combining the preposition 'l with the verb *'md ('to stand') and not with the verb *qwm ('to rise'). Cross blurs this distinction by stating that "this idiomatic use of 'l with a verb of 'standing' is well known." (4) But only the Hebrew idiom 'md '1 is used to convey the subservient standing of a courtier before his lord; by contrast, the Hebrew idiom qwm 'l consistently conveys the antagonistic sense of "to stand up against."41 Examples abound. For instance, in Deut. 19:11 the idiom describes someone who sets upon and strikes another; it is also often used to describe enemies who stand up against Israel (e.g., Deut. 28:7); and, perhaps most interestingly, it is used by Jotham in his accusation of the people of Shechem for turning against ('tm qmtm 'l) his father's house by proclaiming Abimelech king (Judg. 9:18). This antagonistic sense of the Hebrew idiom also belongs to its Aramaic counterpart. According to Jonas Greenfield, qwm 'l means 'rise against', not 'stand by'--which is expressed by the distinct idiom qwm l. (42) The standard translation of the Ugaritic line, therefore, is unsupported by the parallels usually brought to validate it. The Hebrew and Aramaic evidence suggests, rather, that the text means to denote some form of antagonism towards El. (43) Considering the general tenor of the scene, it may be preferable to interpret the Ugaritic idiom in line with its Northwest Semitic parallels. (44) If so, the scene on Mount Lalu is already marked by tensions in authority even before Yamm's messengers arrive to state the sea-god's demand.
On hearing El's reply, Baal becomes furious ('ap . 'ans . zbl . b'l) and attacks Yamm's messengers. The act is a quintessential affront to diplomatic norms. (45) Prior to this point in the episode, the assembled gods had complied with Baal's demand that they meet Yamm's messengers with heads lifted high. At that moment Yamm seemed justified in his accusation that the gods obey Baal rather than himself. Now, following Baal's battering of the messengers, the gods line up against him:
Anat grabs his right hand, Athtart grabs his left. "How could you batter Yamm's envoys, the embassy of Ruler Nahar?" (46)
The gods respond to Baal's assault by restraining the storm-god and rebuking him. Like El, the other gods ultimately defer to Yamm's authority. This despite the poem's signals to its audience that the legitimacy of Yamm's rule is far from unambiguous.
The final surviving lines of the episode reiterate the schism between Baal and the gods regarding the question of sovereignty. Baal begins a speech: "I, for my part, say to Yamm, your lord/ [your] master, [Ruler Nahar]" (an rgmt . lym . b'lkm . I ad[nkm . tpt nhr). (47) With language that echoes the opening formula of Yamm's message, Baal refers to the sea-god as your lord and your master. With these pronouns, Baal sets himself apart from those subject to Yamm's authority. Not only does Baal dispute Yamm's assertion of authority over himself, but he also indicates that through their present actions the other gods have affirmed Yamm's claim over themselves. Baal's use of the first person independent pronoun 'an, which here has the force of the English phrase "for my part," emphasizes this distinction. (48) Baal's remark suggests that lordship is a matter of acquiescence, not a feature of a fixed order.
As a result of its layering of disjunctive elements and ambiguous stance regarding legitimate rule, this episode of the Baal Cycle appears to confirm the implication of Baal's statement that no such fixed order exists. Instead, the poem gives prominence to speeches that enact--rather than simply reiterate--a set order, and thereby insinuates that sovereign authority is not a fixed entity but the result of successfully made claims. Lincoln has noted that authority's "success in some measure depends on naturalizing itself and obscuring the very processes of which it is the product." (49) The foregoing should suffice to suggest that the poet of the Baal Cycle employs a variety of techniques to contravene such naturalizing tendencies in the production of authority as it was understood to inhere in the vassal-suzerain relationship in the Late Bronze Age.
III. THE HERO AS REBEL
What light might be shed on the notion of sovereign authority if we were to look beyond the Ugaritic poem and place it in relation to several roughly contemporaneous sources?
Mark Smith has compared the account of Yamm's messengers to a passage in the Hebrew Bible that also features messengers sent to deliver a royal demand. (50) The Hebrew text in Kings belongs to the account of a war between King Ben-Hadad of Aram and King Ahab of Israel:
And Ben-Hadad the king of Aram gathered all his army, and there were thirty-two kings with him, and horses, and chariots; and he went up and besieged Samaria, making war on it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, and said to him, "Thus says Ben-Hadad: 'Your silver and your gold are mine; your fairest wives and children also are mine.' And the king of Israel answered, "As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have." (51)
Smith notes five elements this scene shares with the Ugaritic episode. First, Ben-Hadad, like Yamm, makes use of messengers. Second, the messengers in the biblical passage quote the introductory formula "Thus says Ben-Hadad," just as Yamm's messengers repeat "Message of Yamm, your lord." Third, the message in both texts is memorized and proclaimed orally before the adversary. Fourth, the envoys demand the possessions of the surrendering foe. Fifth, and finally, both passages contain an expression of submission on the part of the defeated. Along with these similarities, Smith mentions one divergence: whereas Ahab submits to Ben-Hadad himself, "it is El who on behalf of the divine assembly formally declares Baal's surrender. Baal does not express his own surrender." (52)
The comparison rests on an analogy between Baal and Ahab as figures under pressure. But the respective positions of Baal and Ahab are not actually analogous. Consider a simple diagram consisting of three terms:
DEMANDER addresses DEMANDEE
(with respect to)
In the biblical passage the demander is Ben-Hadad, the demandee is Ahab, and the object demanded is tribute (silver, gold, fairest wives, and children). In the Ugaritic episode, Yamm, of course, is the demander. But what about Baal? Rather than fitting the slot of demandee, Baal plays instead the role of object demanded. In the Ugaritic poem the demandee is El. What is the significance of this difference?
A different Hebrew text helps clarify the political stakes in the Ugaritic episode. Toward the end of the Book of Samuel, a rebellion seizes King David's realm. Sheba the son of Bichri publicly denies David's authority and as a result all but the tribe of Judah withdraw their allegiance from the king. In response, David sends out his army to capture Sheba. The latter takes refuge in Abel of Beth-maacah, leading David's general Joab to lay siege to that city. A woman standing on the city walls pleads with Joab to spare the city. Joab replies that his intention is not to destroy the city but only to capture the man who "has raised his hand against the king, against David." (53) If only they hand him over, Joab explains, all will go well for the city.
By supplying the gloss "against David" to the phrase "against the king," Joab signals on the semantic level the crisis of political authority that the story narrates. The equivalence that should reign between the two terms "David" and "king" is put into question. The town's response will determine whether the people accept the equation that Joab articulates. The story concludes:
And the woman said to Joab, "Look, his head is about to be flung to you from the wall." And the woman came in her wisdom to all the people, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and flung it to Joab. And he blew the ram's horn and they dispersed from the town, every man to his tent, but Joab came back to Jerusalem. (54)
By handing over Sheba (or, at any rate, his head), the city acknowledges its allegiance to David as king. The crisis is resolved and all returns to normal.
Structurally, the situation in the Baal Cycle corresponds more closely to this passage from the Book of Samuel than it does to the one in the Book of Kings. The monarchs Yamm and David both reside at a distance from the main scene of action. Yamm sends his messengers; David sends Joab. (55) Both are tasked with the capture of an individual who refuses to show obeisance to the king. When they arrive at their destination, neither Yamm's messengers nor Joab address themselves directly to the sought-after individual. Yamm's messengers state their demand to El and the assembled gods, Joab to the woman as spokesperson for the town collective. Both Yamm's messengers and Joab demand that their addressees give up the wanted man. (The Ugaritic text using the G-stem imperative of the verb * ytn in the sense of "give up, surrender, hand over," (56) while the Hebrew uses the imperative from the cognate root * ntn.) In both episodes, those addressed choose to meet the demands of the distant king. By having Yamm's messengers address El rather than Baal, the Ugaritic poem evokes a narrative tradition that puts Baal in the position of a rebel seeking refuge from his legal lord.
Whereas the people cut off Sheba's head, El's decision to hand over Baal incites the storm-god to attack Yamm's messengers. By the end of the biblical story, the crisis of authority in Israel is resolved. Not so in the Ugaritic poem. Baal's resistance to being handed over only exacerbates the crisis of Yamm's authority. Baal shows himself more formidable than Sheba. Far from finding a resolution, the crisis of authority--signified by the demand for a fugitive rebel--only deepens.
Though the biblical text dates to the Iron Age, the literary topos of the demand for a fugitive rebel is much older. The Old Hittite "Tale of Zalpa" tells the story of Happi, an out-of-favor Hittite prince who incited the city of Zalpa to rebel against the king of Hatti. The Hittite sovereign learns of this and sets out with his troops. The Hittites and Zalpans then meet in battle. The Hittites triumph, but Happi escapes and takes refuge within the city of Zalpa. Some time later, the king initiates another campaign to capture the rebel prince:
In the third year the king went and blockaded Zalpa. He remained there for two years. He demanded the extradition of Tabama and Happi, but the men of the city would not give them up. So (the Hittite troops) besieged them until they all died. The king returned to Hattusa to worship the gods, but he left the old king there. He went up against the city (saying) "I will become your king."But the population was with them (the rebels), so he destroyed the city. (57)
As in the story of Sheba, a rebel leader incites a population against a sovereign ruler, who in turn dispatches an army against the rebel. As a result, the rebel takes refuge in a city, which leads in turn to a siege. While besieging the city, the royal authority demands that the city give up the rebel. The city is faced with a choice: either give up the rebel--an act that would prove its loyalty to the king and therefore save it from destruction--or harbor the fugitive and take his guilt upon itself. (58) The wise woman of Abel of Beth-maacah persuaded her compatriots to opt for the first option; the population of Zalpa takes the second course. In the Hebrew story the city is saved, while in the Hittite account it is destroyed. Yet both stories conclude with the suppression of the revolt and hence a resolution to the crisis. As these two stories show, the authority of the king can be restored in one of two ways: either the people demonstrate their allegiance to the king by handing over the rebel, who then gets his comeuppance, or they show themselves disloyal and are collectively annihilated. Either way, the topos is used to reassert the legitimacy of the reigning authority by representing the successful suppression of a challenge to the traditional order.
The literary depictions of the demand for a fugitive reflect real-world experience. Turning to non-literary texts, we come across the issue of fugitives and their return throughout the extant sources. A letter unearthed at Ugarit is a good place to begin because it shares with our poetic passage both thematic and lexical parallels. The queen of Ugarit writes to one Yarmihaddu regarding a servant that she has been trying to retrieve:
[Me]ssage of the queen: To Yarmihaddu, my brother, say: (As for) the tablet (in which I said): "Your man whom I took [...]; and I, for my part, gave his wife to you; and that man labored on my farm; but that man returned to his wife at your house; and you are the lord [...]; so this man must be seized, and deliver him over to my messenger-party." Now, seeing that he has not moved, and (that) I have not sent a messenger to the king, but to you have I sent, so now, you must deliver him over to my messenger-party. (59)
If Yamm's message is modeled on contemporary epistolary style, then this letter provides a relevant example of the kind of material that served as a model for the poet. The queen's letter opens with the word Om followed by the sender's name, the recipient's name (in the poem the recipient is named earlier), and a "household metaphor." The tone is not particularly deferential. (60) This is as fitting to her purposes as it is appropriate to Yamm's needs.
Form aside, there are important parallels in content between the two messages. Both the queen and Yamm send messengers with the task of escorting a sought-after individual back to his master. For the queen, this is her second attempt. She refers to her previous effort as a lht, literally a 'tablet'. Her demand is equated with the physical item upon which it was written. (61) Similarly, in the poem Baal rebukes the other gods for not answering "the tablet (lht) of Yamm's messengers." (62) He, too, has in mind the demand written upon the tablet. In both places, the demand is phrased using the verb * ytn to designate the action that the addressee is ordered to accomplish. (63) And finally, the demand is in each case addressed to a party other than the person being sought. Like the queen's servant, Baal is spoken about rather than spoken to.
The queen's letter refers to the runaway as a bns ('man, laborer'). Though the letter corresponds in remarkable ways to the passage from the Baal Cycle, the queen's concerns are not political in the way Yamm's are. In the context of the poem, the return of a runaway dependent constitutes an extradition of a rebellious subject--just as it does in the cases of Sheba and Happi. Concerned with maintaining the political status quo, the great kings of the Late Bronze Age worked hard to embed extradition rules into the legal fabric of international relations. A number of stipulations in treaties from the period address the return of fugitives. 64 A treaty between Hatti and Kizzuwatna phrases the issue this way: "If a subject of the Great King plots against his lord and then enters the land of Kizzuwatna, and the Great King sends after the fugitive, saying thus: 'He revolted against me. I will have him returned!' [...] The fugitive must be returned." (65) A similar clause is found in a Hittite treaty with Ugarit, according to which "if a fugitive flees from Hatti and comes to the land of Ugarit, Niqmepa shall seize him and return him to Hatti." (66) In this way, opposition to a suzerain was deemed a fundamental infraction of the universal legal order.
Take, for example, the story of Mashuiluwa, king of Mira. According to the official Hittite version recorded in the historical prologue to Mursili II's treaty with Kupanta-Kurunta, palace intrigue forced Mashuiluwa to flee his native land in western Anatolia. Taking refuge in Hattusa, Mashuiluwa was welcomed by Suppiluliuma I, who gave to him a Hittite princess in marriage. After Suppiluliuma's death, Mursili continued his father's policy of goodwill towards Mashuiluwa, installing him as lord of Mira. Despite this treatment, "Mashuiluwa quarreled with me (scil. Mursili), stirred up the land of Pitassa and the Hittites, my own subjects, against me, and would have [begun war] against me." (67) Mursili's first response was to demand of Mashuiluwa that he travel to Hattusa and present himself before his lord. This direct appeal failed, says Mursili, "because Mashuiluwa saw his offense [and] accordingly refused." (68) Concluding that dealing directly with Mashuiluwa was futile, Mursili turned to the men of Masa. As he tells it:
Then I, the Sun, sent a man to the other men of the land of Masa to whom Mashuiluwa had gone over. I wrote to them as follows: "Mashuiluwa was my sworn ally, but he quarreled with me, stirred up my subjects against me, and would have begun war against me. Now he has fled before me and has just come to you. Seize him and turn him over to me! If you do not seize him and turn him over to me, I will come and destroy you, together with your land." And when the men of the land of Masa heard this, they became frightened and seized Mashuiluwa, and turned him over to me. I took him by the hand, and [because] he had offended [against me, the Sun], I took him to Hattusa. (69)
The Hittite Great King describes how he sent an envoy with an extradition order to the men of Masa, demanding that they hand over a vassal who was refusing to behave properly towards his lord. Those addressed obeyed the command and handed over the wanted man. Once again, by bringing the crisis to an end in conformity with the reigning law, sovereign authority is reinforced.
While the Ugaritic poem utilizes the legal topos of an extradition demand, it maps it onto a mythological type-scene in which a sea-god poses a threat to the other gods. Two poetic fragments that also depict a divine council's response to a sea-god's demands throw the Baal Cycle's version of this scene into sharper relief. The first fragment, discovered in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, belongs to a poem known as the "Song of the Sea." (70) The extant Hittite text is likely a translation or reworking of a Human composition. Though the text is obscure, it seems to describe a flood produced by the sea that reaches up to the heavens, touching the sun, the moon, and the stars. Threatened, Kumarbi (roughly the Hittite equivalent of El) orders that tribute of lapis lazuli, ivory, silver, and gold be handed over to the sea. The goddess Ishtar is then mentioned, probably as the one who conveys the tribute.
The image of floodwaters reaching to the sky suggests that the cosmic order--and with it the current divine regime--is being threatened. The sea's antagonist is not just one disobedient god (Baal), but rather the reigning order of the gods itself. In order to appease the sea, the gods send tribute. (71) They do so as a collective because the sea opposes them all equally. They strive to preserve order in a situation where the sea is the disturber of order. By contrast, in the Baal Cycle, Yamm is depicted, together with the gods, as on the side of order, while it is Baal who breaks the law. Though both texts depict an exchange between the gods and the sea, the meaning of that exchange is not the same. In the Hittite text, the gods send gifts to the sea as an act of appeasement designed to save the rule of law that they themselves, in opposition to the sea, embody. On the other hand, in the Ugaritic poem the gods hand over Baal in accord with the law that Yamm himself represents.
The second fragment comes from a papyrus discovered in Egypt, commonly known as "Astarte and the Tribute to the Sea." (72) But this title is deceptive. Philippe Collombert and Laurent Coulon have recently identified another fragment as belonging to the same papyrus roll--consisting, in fact, of the incipit to the text. (73) As a result, we now know that the text's main protagonist was Seth (equated in Egyptian thinking of the period with Baal), (74) whereas Astarte plays merely a supporting role. As has long been noted, the work displays clear links with Levantine mythology--both in theme and terminology. (75) The "Astarte Papyrus" and the Baal Cycle emerge from a set of shared traditions; their divergences are therefore that much more telling.
The newly recognized opening portion of the text identifies the composition's main purpose as celebrating the exploits of Seth-Baal. The god was likely understood as a divine model for the Egyptian sovereign Amenhotep II. (76) Among the god's praiseworthy exploits was a combat with the sea. In fact, the introduction names "that which he (scil. Seth-Baal) did for the Ennead in fighting the sea" as the work's main theme. (77) In light of the discussion so far, this line is revealing. Like the Hittite poetic fragment, this Egyptian composition depicts a conflict between the gods and the sea. Moreover, here the deity Seth-Baal is explicitly credited as the gods' champion. (78)
The actual account of the battle between Seth-Baal and the sea is missing from the extant fragments of the papyrus. The rise of Seth-Baal as the gods' champion and his defeat of the sea must have been told in a later, lost portion of the narrative. The known early episode provides a background to Seth-Baal's exploits. Like our passage from the Baal Cycle and the Hittite fragment, the scene depicts the sea as making a demand of the gods. In this case, the demand seems to consist first of tribute of "silver, gold, and lapis lazuli," but then also of Astarte as a wife. In this latter detail, the Egyptian text resembles the Baal Cycle in that an individual is demanded--though of course demanding a fugitive and demanding a wife are not the same. Whereas the former is a mark of the rule of law, the latter (if undesired) only serves to exacerbate injustice.
The poem's explicit purpose of celebrating Seth-Baal's act of championing the gods against the sea suggests that this marriage (and the tribute) was in fact imposed upon the gods against their will. The Egyptian account presents the sea's demands as unjust. As long as they continue, the authority of the gods remains in crisis. With the defeat of the sea by Seth-Baal, that crisis is resolved and the authority of the gods restored. As their champion, Seth-Baal achieves the will of the gods against the tyranny of the sea. By contrast, in the parallel scene in the Ugaritic poem Yamm demands the extradition of a rebel rather than the payment of tribute or the delivery of a wife. As such, the narrative depicts Yamm as the upholder of justice.
The two poetic fragments just surveyed--the Hittite "Song of the Sea" and the Egyptian "Astarte Papyrus"--provide valuable comparative evidence for how demands made to the divine council by the sea could be formulated in literature of the Late Bronze Age. The Baal Cycle stands out in that it does not use the type-scene to reaffirm the legitimacy of the reigning law and the political positions that that law enshrines.
As a final comparison, I would like to return to Enuma elis. Like the Baal Cycle, the Babylonian poem depicts both a threat to the assembly of gods and an extradition demand for a rebel. But unlike the Baal Cycle, Enuma elis does not incorporate these two topoi in the same scene. Recognizing how they work separately in Babylon helps to clarify the significance of their fusion at Ugarit.
The Babylonian poem recounts the rise of Marduk to his supreme position in the pantheon. Marduk achieves this status by saving the gods from attack by Tiamat. At the height of the gods' panic over Tiamat's threat, when they have been unable to find a champion to defend them, Marduk steps forward. He makes it very clear that should he defend them they must recognize him unequivocally and grant him full authority. He sets the following conditions:
If indeed I am to champion you, Subdue Tiamat and save your lives, Convene the assembly, nominate me for supreme destiny! Take your places in the Assembly Place of the Gods. All of you, in joyful mood, When I speak, let me ordain destinies instead of you. Let nothing that I shall bring about be altered, Nor what I say be revoked or changed. (79)
These conditions not only determine Marduk's status once the battle is won. They also grant legitimacy to the very act of combating Tiamat. By agreeing to his conditions, the gods ensure that any fighting Marduk does has their full backing. This is how the gods respond:
When the gods his fathers saw what he commanded, Joyfully they hailed, "Marduk is King!" They bestowed in full measure scepter, throne, and staff, They gave him unstoppable weaponry that vanquishes enemies. "Go, cut off the life of Tiamat, Let the winds bear her blood away as glad tidings!" The gods, his fathers, ordained the Lord's destiny, On the path to success and authority did they send him marching. (80)
There is no question that when Marduk goes out to fight Tiamat, he goes on behalf of the gods. Nor can there be any doubt that the regime Marduk establishes following his defeat of Tiamat enjoys full legitimacy.
The Babylonian poets employ the "demand for a fugitive" trope to underscore this legitimacy. Toward the end of the narrative, after Marduk has achieved his victory and been fully enthroned, Tiamat's colleague Qingu remains to be dealt with. To tie up loose ends, Marduk addresses the minor gods who had sided with Tiamat during the battle:
Who was It that made war, Suborned Tiamat and drew up for battle? Let him be given over to me, the one who made war, I shall make him bear his punishment, you shall be released. (81)
Marduk's demand resembles that of Joab. Possessing wisdom like the woman of Abel of Beth-maacah, the defeated gods know what they must do. They promptly name Qingu as responsible and deliver him to Marduk. With the eradication of Qingu, nothing is left to disturb Marduk's ordered rule of the universe. (82) The trope of a king's demand that a fugitive be handed over belongs to poetic devices that establish this point.
In Enuma elis, all elements line up: the threat to divine order is depicted as demonic and chaotic; the hero is endorsed by the gods; the hero is victorious over the enemy and this victory is depicted as an act of freeing the gods from bondage; the victorious god is associated with the only form of legitimate law; the enemy of the victorious god is depicted as a fugitive rebel; all the gods endorse the rule of the victor by handing over the criminal.
The Baal Cycle could not be more different. Instead of alignment, we find a series of disjunctions: the threat is directed against a lone god, Baal, not the collectivity of gods; it is presented as the lawful punishment of a figure who is in transgression of the reigning law; the hero of the poem is at odds with the other gods, not their champion; the demand for a fugitive does not issue in a resolution to the crisis (through extradition or collective destruction), but only exacerbates it; and finally, rather than unequivocally indicating the seat of sovereignty, the scene depicts several claimants vying for authority without clearly indicating where legitimacy lies.
The envoy scene repeatedly plays on the dichotomy between up and down. The messengers are instructed to stand rather than bow. Yamm says he intends to "humble" Baal (w'nnh), an act that holds connotations--in their culture as much as in ours--of lowering, subordinating, or cutting down that which is high. By contrast, Baal is said to 'rise up' (qm)--regardless of how one translates the idiom qwm 'l, the base meaning of verb itself denotes movement upwards. Moreover, a lengthy exchange in the middle of the episode revolves around a description of the gods lowering and raising their heads. These details draw attention to the central theme of the episode--namely, what underlies the hierarchical political relationship between vassal and suzerain. The passage does not ascribe sovereign authority to an enduring order; on the contrary, it works to unsettle any absolute notion of above and below. In the world of the Baal Cycle, no fixed hierarchy underlies political relations. If Baal eventually acquires the right to rule, it is not because his kingship is a constituent element of an ordered universe. By implication, neither the kingship of Baal's human devotee (the king of Ugarit) nor the suzerainty of that king's overlord (the king of Hatti) enjoys cosmic grounding.
Ugarit's experience as a vassal-state subservient to Hatti constituted the basis for its poetic representation of politics. According to Bronze Age conventions, vassal status was grounded in an international order that reflected the organization of a kin-based household--with its fathers, sons, brothers, slaves, and masters. The extension of these kinship relations to the international sphere rested upon a legal fiction that aimed to bolster the idea that politics conformed to a natural hierarchy. Rather than reinforce this fiction, the Baal Cycle throws it into doubt. Witness to and participant in a world of incessant power struggles and competing assertions of authority, Ugarit engendered a poem that compels engagement with a universe that lacks the comforts of order. The story of Baal's rise within such a world served as the vehicle for a critical form of political wisdom.
APPENDIX: KTU 1.21 11-46
Yamm sends envoys,
Ruler Nahar, an embassy. [They rejoice].
"Go, lads, don't dally,
head for the assembled council,
for Mount Lalu.
Don't fall at El's feet,
nor bow to the assembled council.
Standing, speak the speech,
recite your instructions.
Say to the Bull, [my] father [E1],
recite to the assembled council:
Message of Yamm, your lord,
your master, Ruler Nahar:
Give up, gods, the one you obey,
the one the multitude fears;
Give up Baal so I may humble him,
Dagan's son, so I may seize his gold."
The lads depart. They don't dally.
They head for Mount Lalu,
for the assembled council.
Meanwhile the gods sit down to feast,
the sons of the Holy One, to dine.
Baal standing up to? El.
The gods see them,
they see Yamm's envoys,
the embassy of Ruler Nahar.
The gods lower their heads to their knees, onto their princely thrones.
Baal rebukes them:
"Why, gods, do you lower your heads to your knees,
onto your princely thrones?
As one the gods must answer
the tablet of Yamm's envoys,
the embassy of Ruler Nahar.
Raise, gods, your heads from your