The Kirta epic (Job 1)

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In 1930 excavators at Ras Shamra discovered the fragments of an epic poem among the writings of Ugarit. The text, called Kirta (or Keret) after the name of its hero, is sometimes compared to the story of Job or to that of David. There are similarities, but we are wise to exercise caution not to make too much of these correlations.

The poem depicts Kirta as a king who loses all of his wives and children to various disasters. He weeps bitterly, but in a dream the god El tells him what to do: He must make a sacrifice to El and then lead his army in an assault on the city of Udmu. He complies, with the result that Pabil, king of Udmu, submits to Kirta and allows him to take his daughter Hurraya as his wife. Hurraya bears Kirta many children, after which he falls seriously ill, apparently because of a failure to keep a vow to the goddess Ashera. Hurraya procedes to prepare a banquet to mourn her husband’s grave condition, and his som Iluhau and daughter Thitmanatu especially grieve the prospect of his death. El then fashions a female healer, who restores Kirta’s health. After this, however, another of Kira’s sons, Yassubu, declares that Kirta is no longer fit to reign and asks him to abdicate so that he, Yassubu, may take his place. The tale ends somewhat inconcluively, with Kirta cursing Yassubu.

The epic of Kirta at least superficially recalls the story of Job: It portrays a hero who loses his children (Job 1) and his health (Job 2) but who also moves toward restauration (Job 42). And the rebellion of Yassubu recalls Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne (2 Samuel 15-18) in the story of David. Even so, the differences between Kirta and the Biblical narratives are enormous, and we can hardly suggest that either Scriptural account may have been derived from Kirta. Even the similarities are apparently coincidental: The account of Absalom’s rebellion, for example, has nothing in common with that of Yassubu beyond the fact that both concern a son who desires to overthrow his father (hardly an unusual theme in ancient monarchical societies). While Kirta is a pagan tale of myth and magic that follows the ups and downs in the career of its hero, the Biblical texts focus on the repercussions of human behaviour and the theological problem of evil. Job in particular wrestles with the questions of justice, suffering and divine involvement in the world on a profound level, while Kirta does none of this.


 

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