The Tale of Aqhat (Job 20)

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In Job 20 Zophar attested that God punishes all evildoers. Although his comprehension was inadequate, Zophar correctly understood that God is fundamentally just and does not capriciously inflict pain upon people. While this may seem self-evident to the modern Christian reader, it is not a viewpoint an ancient pagan would have shared or even considered. The Ugaritic tale of Aqhat (also called Aqhatu), located at Ras Shamra in 1930, illustrates this.

The tale begins with the hero Dani-El, who makes sacrifices and prays for a son. At last his desire is granted: He is given a son, Aqhat, to whom the god Kothar-wa-Hasis bequeaths a powerful warrior’s bow. But the goddess Anat (also called Anatu) covets the bow and seeks to barter with Aqhat for it. Aqhat is unwilling to part with it but offers to give her all she needs in order to have Kothar-wa-Hasis fashion a similar bow for her. Still, she wants only Aqhat’s bow – and offers him eternal life for it. Aqhat, recognizing this as a fraudulent offer, tactlessly refuses. Infuriated, Anat demands permission from the hign god El to avenge herself upon Aqhat, threatening violence against El himself if he refuses. When El accedes, Anat murders Aqhat with the aid of her henchman and gloats over her deed. What follows is incomplete and somewhat confused, but it seems that a draught ensues, Dani-El morns his son, and Aqhat’s sister Pugat seeks to avenge his death.

Readers of the Illiad and the Odessey are familiar with pagan tales of jealous, violent and petty gods. This understanding prevailed in the ancient Near East. Israel’s belief in a righteous God was truly distinctive.

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