What is the significance of the Ras Shamra tablets?

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Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) began to be excavated in 1929 by the French led by C. F. A. Schaeffer. It is at present-day Minet el-Beida located on the coast in the northern part of Syria approximately eight miles North of Latakia. Schaeffer excavated for 11 seasons prior to WWII and then resumed from 1948-69. Marguerite Yon of the University of Lyons, France took over as director of the dig in 1978.

With such a long time spent in excavation, and with many people involved in the work much has been uncovered including the important Ras Shamra tablets. These refer to archives which were found in the royal palace, private homes and the Temple of Dagon.
The archives are written in seven different languages in all. The dominant script is what is known as a new Canaanite alphabetic script of thirty letters which is most interesting in that it closely resembles the Biblical Hebrew.

The dating of the tablets is primarily around the early 14th Century BC and they shed a great deal of light and background information relating to the Bible. There are a number of key areas of interest which relate specifically to the Bible itself and to theories relating to the Biblical text.

1. Canaanite Religion:
This is shown in great detail and is referred to in these terms:

"Canaanite religion with its orgiastic nature worship, the cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols, sensuous nudity, and gross mythology is revealed in its stark reality in these texts. No longer can critics accuse the God of Israel of injustice in ordering the extermination of these debilitating cults."

Source: Merril F. Unger The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody. Chicago, 1988. p 1066-1067.  2. Use of Levitical Terminology The use of a number of terms previously only deciphered through Egyptian cuneiform were found in connection with sacrifices in Canaanite religion. These terms include:

(1) ishsheh: the "offering made by fire"
(2) kalil: the "whole burnt offering"
(3) shelamin: the "peace offering"
(4) asham: the "guilt offering"

The implications relate quite specifically to the Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis which dates the Israelite religion as post-exilic. This discovery basically renders the theory of Wellhausen and others to be fallacious in that the terms used in Leviticus were in use at the time of Moses and not post-exile.
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