Review: A Manual of Ugaritic (Bordreuil and Pardee)

A Manual of Ugaritic

Many thanks to Jim Eisenbraun (and Gina Hannah) for sending me a copy of EisenbruansA Manual of Ugaritic (by Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee) to review.

Anyone who teaches or studies Ugaritic will want to take a serious look at adding this book to his or her collection of resources. I had high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed.

The manual was first published as Manuel d’Ougaritique in 2004 (by Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner S. A.). This 2009 edition not only provides an English translation, but also incorporates corrections, modifications (of some grammatical presentations and also some text interpretations), and updates to the bibliography. The authors note in the preface that the “most important of the modifications is in the presentation of the verbal system particular to poetry.”

The hardcover book is 355 pages and contains three parts: A grammar (82 pages), a selection of texts, and a glossary (165 pages). The book includes a CD. After using the material for a while, I think I would promote this as a CD accompanied by a hardcopy book! The CD has the entire book in PDF format, full-color photos of all the texts in the book and hand-copies of all the texts. The PDFs are hyperlinked so that it is easy to move from text, to hand-drawn plate, to color photograph very easily. I quickly found myself preferring the electronic version. I am able to easily search the contents to find specific information, can print out pages for marking up translation practice, and can enlarge the photographs up to 600% before losing definition. Some of the texts can be found online at Inscriptifact in better resolution, but the ease of access and the hyperlinked connections to the other material in the book make the digital material of this manual hard to beat.

The first part of the book begins with an introduction (20 pages) to the history and culture of Ugarit and the discovery of the cuneiform tablets. Topics in this section include: geography, decipherment of the alphabetic cuneiform writing system, languages in use at Ugarit, archives of Ugarit, history of the kingdom, descriptions of texts found at Ras Shamra, and an overview of the Ugaritic language.

The grammar section of the book is organized into 8 categories:

  • Writing System
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Derivational Processes
  • Compounding
  • Syntax
  • Vocabulary/Lexicon
  • Particularities of Poetic Texts

Features of the grammar are illustrated with numerous examples (often from the texts presented later in the manual). This is not a typical language “textbook” per se, in that it does not have lessons or explicit exercises. Nevertheless, it would make a fine text for a Ugaritic course.

The brevity of grammar presentation is consistent with the intent that this manual is a rudimentary introduction and not meant to be a comprehensive reference of Ugaritic grammar. The authors suggest that those who desire to become more proficient should expand their knowledge in three principal ways:

  1. immerse themselves in the study of the Ugaritic texts;
  2. consult a wide variety of secondary sources, some of which are indicated in the list of works cited;
  3. learn at least one other Semitic language, preferably a language for which the (or a) vocalization is known, such as Arabic, Aramaic, or Hebrew.

This, of course, is the best way to develop skill and proficiency in any ancient language. Namely, by reading as many texts as possible in that language.

One great strength of this book is the diversity of literary genre for the texts selected for inclusion: Mythological Texts, Ritual Texts, Incantations, “Scientific” Texts, Letters, Legal Texts, Administrative Texts, and Abecedaries. A total of 55 texts are presented. All but the abecedaries have a transcription of the cuneiform signs into Roman characters, an English translation, a vocalized text, and notes (which explain epigraphic difficulties, and aid the reader in the analysis of a word, a formula, or a text). Each of the 55 texts appears in the textbook as a hand drawn facsimile of the tablet and on the CD in both the hand-drawn form and as a color photograph. The photographs for the book are all new (with one exception) and greatly add to the pedagogical value of the book. In fact, the ability to reference the photographs and facsimiles of each text makes it more likely for students and teachers to incorporate learning and using the cuneiforms, rather than relying on transcriptions. This is a significant advantage that other Ugaritic manuals/grammars/textbooks are missing (e.g., Sivan’s A Grammar of the Ugaritic Language).

The glossary includes all attestations of each word in the selected texts (except for the conjunction w). The glossary is organized by root, but nominal forms, which begin with a consonant other than the initial consonant of the root, are given a cross-reference entry. The order utilized follows the sequence of the Ugaritic alphabet (as found in several abecedaries). I found the 165-page glossary easy to navigate and useful in the information included. Again, with the ability to search the PDF version, it was even quicker to find entries.

I’ve mentioned several times that I like having the hyperlinks in the PDF of this manual. However, I wish that the publishers had taken this opportunity to go one step further with the hyperlinks. This manual would be even more useful if all the attestations in the glossary had hyperlinks to the text (and from the word in the text to the glossary). This would allow a reader to quickly move not only from text to photograph/plate but also directly to the glossary and then to another attestation of the same word in another context.

The Introduction could have benefitted from maps and photographs of the archeological site. I know these materials are available elsewhere, but it would have been helpful (for a classroom, for instance) to have them accessible from the PDF version.

Not everyone will agree with all the decisions on describing the Ugaritic grammar. This is to be expected. However, Bordreuil and Pardee are well-qualified (and respected) in their field and anyone who is serious about studying Ugaritic would do well to give attention to their presentation. Even if you do not agree, you will surely need to understand their position in order to be part of the ongoing scholarly conversation.

I wonder how the PDF of this manual would work on an iPad or other eReader? I am very interested to see how publishers are moving forward to take advantage of new technologies. One additional benefit of having the PDF version, is that (if you have a full version of Acrobat, and not just the Reader) you can insert your own comments and notes into the text. Of course, you would have to do a “save as” onto your hard drive in order to save user comments and markup.

Eisenbrauns has taken a risk in providing the PDF of the entire manual on the CD. Pirating of such electronic versions of books is, unfortunately, becoming too common and threatens to force publishers to protect their products in ways that remove some of the benefits of the electronic versions. The Manual of Ugaritic is listed at $69.50 (but is currently for sale with a 10% discount at Eisenbrauns ) and I think it is a very reasonable cost for the resource (especially compared to some other Ugaritic resources). I encourage readers to honor this trust that the publisher has given its readers and not illegally share the document. I applaud Eisenbrauns for making the Ugaritic manual so useful by being generous in including the photographs, plates, and entire book in electronic hyptertexted format. Please take the time to report any misuse to the publisher. This is the only way we will be able to continue to receive such helpful resources.

Bottom line: Do you study Ugaritic? Buy the book!

If you need a bookmark for this text, you can download my Ugaritic Transliteration Bookmark!

11 thoughts on “Review: A Manual of Ugaritic (Bordreuil and Pardee)

  1. Pingback: The Naked Bible » Review of New Ugaritic Grammar

  2. J. P.

    Thanks for this–I enjoy Ugaritic/NWS and had pawed the book at the Eisenbrauns booth several times during the NOLA SBL but this review makes me want to buy it even more!

    1. Karyn Post author

      Ken, this is a good question. This would be worthy of another post, but I’ll summarize some of the main points here:
      1. Primer has an excellent introduction (with a few photo/maps and a line drawing of Tell Ras Shamra)
      2. “P” uses a cuneiform font throughout the book, so there is an emphasis on knowing more than transliteration
      3. “P” employs an inductive approach, plunging students into texts quickly
      4. “P” does not have as many texts as “Manual” (less than half as many) but does have a variety of genres (administrative, legal, and literary)
      5. Hardcover cost is $89 on Amazon; Paperback is $41.99 ($37.99 at 10% off)
      6. “P” glossary information is much simpler; no attestation cross-references. Glossary does list a Hebrew word to compare many forms to.

      The Primer is a useful and worthy addition to the Ugaritic textbook bookshelf. It can not compare with the Manual‘s CD access to photographs of actual tablets (although they do point the student/reader to the InscriptiFact database, where high resolution photos can be found). It is a good first introduction to Ugaritic and is not overwhelming. It does an excellent job of explaining the basics.

      Ken (or anyone else), do you use the Primer?

  3. Ken

    Thanks for the comparison. I do not own the Primer. I would like to begin studying Ugaritic on my own and have been wondering whether the Primer or the Manual would be the better option.

  4. Karyn Post author

    Ken, for people doing self-study I always recommend that, if possible, you use two books. It helps to have two different “voices” describe various details of a language. That said, the Primer is a bit more “explanatory” and the Manual is a bit more “descriptive” in the introductory Ugaritic material (at least, that’s my opinion). The Primer would get your feet wet, and the Manual would give you more to continue your study. They are both worthwhile.

  5. Ken

    I appreciate that sensible recommendation.
    BTW, I met you at the BT conference in Dallas, in the cafeteria line. And I just finished reading another book you recommended, Fieldwork. I have recommended it to my colleague Yancy, who is now reading it.

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  7. Benj

    Good review–thanks, Karyn.

    I have been teaching myself Ugaritic using both “A Manual” and “Primer,” and I have found the two-pronged approach to be very useful. I started by reading quickly through the grammar section of the Manual, then reading through a lot of texts in the transliteration–starting with the letters and descriptive texts. The photos and hand-copies of the symbols are a great help. The “Primer” filled in a lot of the gaps for me.

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