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Baal Hammon: Recherches sur l'identite et l'histoire d'un dieu phenico-punique.

Xella's study of the deity Baal Hammon is the first of a planned series of monographs on Phoenician-Punic religion. That the well-known Italian scholar should present the first volume in French is explained in part by the fact that an important factor in the genesis of the manuscript was a series of lectures at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris in January of 1990. The author is to be congratulated for bringing the work to completion in so relatively short a time.

Though Baal Hammon is perhaps the best known of the Punic deities--this because of his frequent linkage with the tophet-institution, itself often linked with child sacrifice--little is known about the deity beyond the mention of the name in thousands of repetitive inscriptions. Xella attempts to break through this veil of banality by bringing together all of the relevant sources, both epigraphic and iconographic, and subjecting them to a thorough analysis. After a ten-page introduction, the second part of the book, about 110 pages long, is devoted to this overview of sources. In the third section, about twenty-five pages are devoted to previous explanations of the name Baal Hammon itself. The fourth section, entitled "Nouvelles voies de recherche: Baal 'Seigneur du Hammon'," is devoted to Xella's own interpretation of the name, particularly to a discussion of the element hmn/hmn in Ugaritic, later Aramaic (Palmyrene and Nabataean), and Biblical Hebrew. It does not give a totally new interpretation of the form of the divine name, reinterpreting primarily the second element of the widely accepted interpretation "Baal of the incense altar" (on the ambiguity in Xella's interpretation of the element bl, see below). A connection is made between the divine name and the fairly recent redefinition (by V. Fritz and H. J. W. Drijvers, in particular) of the cultic entity as a building of some sort, rather than as an incense altar. Because the Ugaritic form of this term is spelled hmn, rather than hmn, the old etymology (HMM, 'be hot') must be abandoned and with it the etymological explanation based on burning. Xella's etymological explanation involves a basic root HM, attested in both Ugaritic and in Arabic as denoting a tent-dwelling of some kind.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Fritz-Drijvers-Xella reinterpretation of the cultic entity is basically correct and that Xella's link with the Ugaritic cultic term and the entailed conclusions regarding etymology are on the mark. The Fritz-Drijvers demonstration was based on the analysis of several Palmyrene texts in which the interpretation 'incense altar' is simply out of the question. Xella's interpretation of the Ugaritic term hmn is equally compelling. The nature of the evidence regarding the proposed link between this common noun and the divine name is, however, such that one cannot attain anywhere near the same level of certainty there as can be attained when defining a common noun. Let us now rehearse some of the criticisms that can be made of Xella's interpretation--I am here playing the role of advocatus diaboli, of course, for no explanation is obvious and Xella's may well be correct.

First, the divine name blhmn is not yet attested in a writing system, such as Ugaritic, which differentiates between /h/ and /h/, and the possibility of the second element being etymological HMN must be maintained.

Second, at the level of argumentation, Xella claims to be leaving the etymological question until the end of the book, but the assumption visible from the very beginning is that the DN is founded on the cultic entity (e.g., p. 26, where we are informed that "la recherche s'est en grande mesure centree sur la nature du HMN," i.e., the cultic entity in question--it goes without saying that if the DN has nothing to do with the cultic entity the research is completely off center). Though Xella gets around to making his etymological point reasonably well (see following points), one is often tempted when reading the presentation to cry petitio principii.

Third, the name type DN + cultic entity is not well attested in West Semitic proper names. A name-type of the form DN + GN would be much better attested.

This leads to the fourth point, which is that Xella does not present the data as extensively as one would wish in his attempt to lay to rest the hypothesis that the DN means "Baal of the Amanus." On p. 163, he asserts that the mountain name is always written in second-millennium cuneiform sources with initial a-, in first-millennium sources with ha-. The only reference is to S. Parpola's Neo-Assyrian Toponyms. In this context, I must add that I agree with Xella's analysis of amn in a Ugaritic letter as denoting the Amanus and find his arguments against the existence of two mountains in the same area, one Amanus, the other H/Hamanus, to be convincing. It appears to me that the ball is clearly in the court of those who want the divine name to mean "Baal of the Hamanus mountain." But the fact remains that he did not drive the point home by adequate citation of the cuneiform evidence.

Fifth, Xella never gives a grammatical analysis of the proper name and makes various assumptions and equations in the course of the discussion that only muddy his translation "Baal 'Seigneur du Hammon'." Near the beginning of the book he adduces the Ugaritic DN bdhmn as proof of the divine nature of hmn, near the end he says that the divinity in question is "qualifiee de 'Baal'", while in the sections on classical sources (e.g., pp. 101, 103) and on iconography (e.g., pp. 118-19) he is forced to come to terms with the hypothesis that Baal Hammon is a title of the divinity El. Does the name in fact mean "lord of the hammon," in which case why not accept the equation with El? Or does it mean "Baal of the hammon," in which case how does one explain the El-characteristics? And what does all of this have to do with a divinity hmn? If such a divinity is brought into the explanation, one might expect, instead of a genitive phrase, an appositional one "lord/Baal (is) Hammon." A clear grammatical explanation of the name form would at least have made clear Xella's view of the matter.

Up to this point, I have mentioned problems that have come to the attention of a philologist reading the book. But on the level of the history of religions, Xella's own primary area of expertise, I felt that there was a serious failure to explain the data in such a way as to make them comprehensible to someone such as myself. That failure lay in the area mentioned under the preceding problem, i.e., in the explanation of the El-characteristics. Xella seems to be attempting to walk a tightrope between the identification with El that certain data seem to require and the identification with Baal that the name itself seems to suppose. This is why I made such a point above of the simple grammatical analysis of the name. Is "Baal" (with upper-case "B") part of the name or not? However that may be, Xella only allows himself to go so far as to admit that Baal Hammon is to be identified with a deity "du type d'El" (p. 101, italics his). But this does not answer the essential question: is Baal Hammon a hypostasis of El, a hypostasis of Baal, a hypostasis of a deity named Hammon (|is less than~ Hammanu), or a title of yet a fourth deity whose "real name" could be known? From the sub-title given to section IV ("Baal 'Seigneur du Hammon'") one must assume that in Xella's mind the deity in question is a hypostasis of Baal. If so, how can he be a deity "du type d'El"? Could Baal be both a young storm deity full of fight and an old bearded deity whose primary act is one of blessing? In his conclusions, Xella speaks of the evolution of deities known from second-millennium sources into various late first-millennium forms. But what evidence do we have that Baal took on such El-like characteristics as the first millennium progressed? From a totally different perspective, how does the fact that the proper name Baal itself arose as a common noun, functioning as the title of another deity, enter into the question of the "meaning" of this compound divine name?

In sum, this is the best and most complete study to date of the cultic entity hmn/hmn, and Xella's conclusions are convincing. It is also the best and most complete study of the divinity Baal Hammon. The least satisfying part of the study, in part because of the nature of the data, in part because of the questions asked, is the explanation of the etymology of the divine name. Since for many readers such philological questions are of only passing interest, for them this will not be counted as much of a loss. I cannot help believing, however, that stricter attention paid to basic questions of grammatical form might have yielded dividends in answering some of the higher-level questions in a more precise fashion.

However that may be, the author is to be congratulated for providing us with so thorough a study of this deity, so important for Semitic religion in the late first millennium B.C. It is to be hoped that each of the monographs inaugurated by this volume will be equally informative and so great a contribution to science.
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Author:Pardee, Dennis
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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