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Dead Kings and Rephaim The Patrons of the Ugaritic Dynasty

Let us consider the paper by Baruch A. Levine and Jean-Michel de Tarragon, “Dead Kings and Rephaim: The Patrons of the Ugaritic Dynasty.”[1]

They note that Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee have “made possible a more confident interpretation” so that their “confirmed readings afford new possibilities of interpretation”[2] of a text of canonical liturgy known as KTU 1.161 but titled, “The written record of the sacred celebration [in honor] of the Patrons” (brackets by Levine and de Tarragon).

It “commemorate[s] the accession of Ammurapi (III), the last king of Ugarit, ca. 1200 B.C.E.” (an anti-Christians manner whereby to say “B.C.”) “and his queen Thar­yelli” and “initiated the cult of the dead in honor of his father, Niqmaddu (III) who had just died…in order to assure the legitimacy of the royal succession, the ancestors of the new king were to be worshipped” which was an aspect of “the royal cult of the dead at Ugarit.”

The text “begins with the summoning of the Patrons, who include the Rephaim of the netherworld and their council of Didanites” including “four individually named Rephaim” yet, “whose identity thus far eludes us.”

Reference is made to the “most ancient Rephaim” and “two departed kings, Niqmaddu and Ammishtamru, are then summoned” yet, “Each is called: ‘king,’ not ‘Rapha.’”


The text continues with a lamentation over the dead king, Niqmaddu. The narrator addresses the throne of the departed king, personified, and commands it to weep. He exhorts the footstool and royal table to shed tears (lines 13-17).

At this point, the narrator invokes the goddess Shapash, asking her to shine brightly and to locate the departed kings during her nocturnal circuit beneath the earth (lines 18-19).

Shapash responds from on high, telling the officiant (and perhaps the king and those assembled, as well) to descend into the netherworld, “below,” where Niqmaddu and Ammishtamru can be found near the Rephaim (lines 20-26).
The dead kings and the Rephaim arrive, and sacrifices are offered.

Based on what we know of the Rephaim we can assume that they and the former kings join their human hosts in the sacred feast (lines 27-30).

A translation of the text includes:

You summon the Rephaim of the netherworld;
You command the Council of the Didanites!
Summon Ulkn, the Rapha!
Summon Trmn, the Rapha!…
[All] summon the most ancient Rephaim!…
You command the Council of the Didanites!
Summon Ammishtamru, the king!
Summon, as well, Niqmaddu, the king!…
Go down low into the earth!…
Below are the most ancient Rephaim!

As an FYI: the other Rephaim are named Sdn-w-Rdn and Tr-cllmn—so keep those in mind if you are having to come up with names for your babies.

We are told:

…the zlm in whose honor this liturgy was recited are the ancient Rephaim and the departed dynastic kings of Ugarit, at least the most recent of them…they [are] called zlm “shades, shadows?”

Pitard ventured the suggestive rendering: “protectors,” for zlm when this reading was still uncertain.[3]

We prefer this interpretation over “shades, spirits.” We are conditioned by the image of the dead as shadowy ghosts.
Some even derive Ugaritic rpu, Hebrew rapa’ (also rapah) from a root meaning “to be weak, non-existent, gone.”

The metaphor through which “shade” comes to mean “shelter, protection” evokes different images. The shade of trees is shelter against the scorching heat of the sun, and one may be protected by being held or hidden under powerful wings or arms.

In any given literary context perceptions may differ as to how to treat the metaphor and whether to translate “shade” or “protection,” but the connotation is nonetheless clear. The basic image occurs in Isa 25:4: Shelter from rainstorm, shade (sel) from heat.[4]

At this point in reading the paper I wondered if that “the zlm…are the ancient Rephaim and the departed dynastic kings” note, “at least the most recent of them” then what are less recent ones called? Are the less recently deceased kings called “Rephaim”? In other words: does “Rephaim” simply refer to all deceased (very and exclusively human) kings—at least eventually?

They then quote Psalm 121:5-6 wherein “this image becomes a metaphor”:

The Lord is your guardian (some reka),
The Lord is your protector (silka),
At your right hand.

Thus, they reason that “We are also able to translate sel as “protector” in Num 14:9. To alleviate their fears, the Israelites are told that the Canaanites can be defeated, because:
“Their protector (sillam) has departed, but the Lord remains with us!
They are “able to” due to “protection, expressed as “shade.”

Also note that “The simple stem of the root s-p-l in Ugaritic and Hebrew can mean ‘fall down, go down,’ etc.” which is interesting since the Hebrew root n-p-l has been interpreted the same way—as in naphal as in Nephilim.

Moving away from linguistics, we come back to that “The zlm of the Ugaritic dynasty are its protectors, its patrons; very ancient Rephaim, and departed, historic kings.” So we are still being told of “Rephaim, and departed, historic kings” as if they are two distinct groups (which, recall, may be a distinction based on having been recently or long ago deceased: we shall see if this gets ironed out).

As for “Didanites/ Ditanites” regarding the “reference to the Council of the Didanites” they are mentioned “in parallelism with the Rephaim of the netherworld” which “links this ritual to the area of origin of the Amorites” in the “late third millennium.”
They also elucidate, “Mention of the Didanites in our liturgy takes us to the area, way inland of the Syrian coast, to which the Ugaritians traced their origins. Chronologically, this same designation brings us far back in time. The eponym Didanu occurs in the Assyrian king lists, where it is the name of one of the ancestors of Shamshi-Adad I and is one of the seventeen kings who dwelt in tents.”

Now, “The cult of dead ancestors”:

…expresses the belief that the dead have the power to affect the living…the dead will become malevolent toward the living if unhappy with their own afterlife.

The cult of the dead has, therefore, two complementary objectives: It aims to afford the dead what they seek, and by so doing assure that the powerful dead will act benevolently toward the living.

In the context of the royal funerary cults this meant that if the successors of dead kings and the descendants of dead heroes acted to assure the afterlife of the dead in the nether-world, the dead, in turn, would assure the continuity and security of the royal successors on the throne.

A word of caution from those who interpret the Bible’s theology via Ancient Near East theology: this is not biblical theology.
Now, by “interpret the Bible’s theology via Ancient Near East theology” I am not referring to those who would rightly take the historical, cultural, and grammatical context into consideration but those who tell us that any and all reference to Rephaim, for example, refers to non-human or hybrid living-dead beings, etc., because some Ancient Near East theology portray or seem to portray them as such.

A text known as III Keret states, “Greatly exalted be Keret among the Rephaim of the nether­world. In the assembly of the Council of the Ditanites.”
Back to our text, it similarly states, “You summon the Rephaim of the nether-world. You command the Council of the Didanites.”

We then learn:

There is a limit as to how historically or chronologically we ought to treat myth….In attempting to arrive at a consistent identification of the Rephaim and a synthesis of the Ugaritic and biblical evidence scholars have been concerned about the apparent contradiction between the Keret passage, on the one hand, and most other references to Rephaim of the afterlife.

Yet, “Now that our liturgy is known, there can be no question that the passages in Keret and in our liturgy are speaking of the very same beings!”

As it turns out, “A hero who is granted progeny is blessed when he is assured of an esteemed place in the netherworld, among the Rephaim.”

And “Perhaps the epithet of Danel: mt rpi ‘one of the Rephaim’ simply refers to the hero’s career as one who was finally blessed with an heir, and was thereby assured of honor in the netherworld.”
Side not: to whom/what they are referring at this point is difficult to discern since 1) “Danel” is sic. and comes after a reference to “Daniel” so appears to be a mere typo yet, 2) the only reference to “Daniel” states, “the context of Daniel’s entreaty to be granted an heir. He longs for a son who will attend him during his life, but who will no less emphatically, worship him after his death-erecting memorials and offering sacrifice,” after which comes that which I quoted above so I know not of what/whom they speak.

In any case, the issue is that “Perhaps” being “one of the Rephaim” was a designation regarding “the hero’s career” appended to that he “was finally blessed with an heir” and so was “assured of honor in the netherworld” and the honor may have been to be called a Repha.

Now, they still write in terms of “the consistent distinction between Rephaim and kings…which effectively separates the Rephaim from the two historical kings” in the text in question.

However, note the qualifying terms when they write that, “the historic kings are not among ‘the most ancient Rephaim’!” (emphasis added for emphasis).

Yet, “our text compels us to conclude that the Rephaim are long departed kings (and heroes) who dwell in the netherworld” (emphasis added).

Furthermore, “One the other hand, ‘king’ is the term reserved for a dead king of the historic dynasty.”

Thus, they ask “do kings become Rephaim?” and take an aside to note that “If we knew the identity of the four Rephaim who stand in the text between the pre-dynastic Rephaim and the historic kings, we would be in a better position to answer this question” (emphasis added).

Yet, they seek to answer it, in part, by referring to A. Caquot who held the “view that the Rephaim of our text are royal ancestors[5] (emphasis added).

Also, “Yaqaru, the founder of the Ugaritic dynasty…is called a Rapha-being, in two Ugaritic texts”[6] such as a text known as Ugaritica V, 2 (= KTU 1.108) that refers to Yaqaru as “the Rapha-being, king of the netherworld.”

We are then told that “while awaiting further evidence” which we always seem to await as who knows what archeologists will uncover in the future, “it is inescapable that the temporal gap between the last historic kings and the most ancient Rephaim is enough to permit divinization: Kings and heroes do, ultimately, become Rephaim” (emphasis added) so the distinction is not ontological, not between kings and/or heroes and Rephaim because they are different in nature and essence, such as human versus hybrid and/or living-dead, but as touched upon earlier, the distinction is chronological since “Kings and heroes do, ultimately, become Rephaim.”

Also, “In our liturgy, Shapash’s role is to locate the summoned kings and Rephaim…Ammishtamru and Niqmaddu are to be found where the Rephaim are…The kings are not Rephaim” and we now know they are not Rephaim as of yet since the one is still alive and the other only recently deceased, “but they inhabit the land of the Rephaim!”

The text also includes a “listing of the ancestors, in which the word tht ‘below’ links the dead kings to the Rephaim” (emphasis added).

Also, “In ritual, the Rephaim and the recently departed kings are brought back by means of invocation, the pronouncement of their names in the summons; and by the attraction of the sacrifice” (emphasis added to emphasize that the distinction is “recently departed”).

These issues are very important in dealing with post-flood Nephilim theorist who upon realizing that they have no evidence for their theory (besides basing the entire theory upon one single verse: the rebuked “evil report” in Numbers 13:33) claim, out of whole cloth (or rather, moth-eaten cloth) that “Rephaim” is just a post-flood aka for “Nephilim” (conveniently momentarily forgetting Numbers 13:33) and that Rephaim are, as aforementioned but unsubstantiated, the hybrid-living-dead.

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[1] Baruch A. Levine and Jean-Michel de Tarragon, “Dead Kings and Rephaim: The Patrons of the Ugaritic Dynasty,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 104, No. 4, Oct-Dec 1984, pp. 649-659, published by the American Oriental Society

[2] Pierre Bordreuil et Dennis Pardee, “Le rituel funeraire ougaritique RS 34.126,” Syria 59, 1982, 121-28

[3] W. T. Pitard, “The Ugaritic Funerary Text RS 34. 126,” BA SOR 232, 1978, 65-75, especially 68

[4] Also note the parallelism: seter// sel// “shelter// protection” in Ps 91: I, and forms of the verb s-t-r “to shelter, protect, conceal,” in Isa 49:2-3, Ps 17:8, etc.

[5] A. Caquot, Annuaire du College de France 75, 1975, 427-29

[6] Ibid.