Bowing Seven Times at Ugarit

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

In a previous post on Jacob bowing seven times before Esau, I wrote:

When Jacob bowed before Esau, Jacob indirectly recognized him as a god. Jacob said: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10).

Thus, it is possible that the act of bowing seven times before a person in a superior position was to acknowledge that person as having the characteristics or the attributes of a god.

In that post I listed three examples from the Amarna Letters in which vassals of Pharaoh bow seven times and call him “my Sun-god” or “the Sun-god of the lands.” I then concluded: “Thus, bowing seven times before Pharaoh was an act that acknowledged him to be not only lord and king, but also a god.”

At the end of my post, I made the following statement:

It would be interesting to find out whether in other literature of the Ancient Near East the vassals bowed seven times before their overlords and called them gods.

In a recent post, Chip Hardy at Daily Hebrew has provided several Ugaritic epistolary examples that mention progressive bowing. According to Chip, “The Ugaritic examples provide additional evidence of the broader ‘Amorite’ practice.”

Chip wrote:

In a common Ugaritic epistolary formula, one finds a similar practice of the progressive genuflection in multiples of seven, demonstrating subservience from an inferior to a superior between non-royal, servant to master relations (see RS 29.093:8-10, l . pʿn . bʿlny’ ṯnỉd . šbʿd mrḥqtm . qlny “At the feet of our lord, we fall fourteen times at a distance”; also RS 19.102 and RS 92.2010), non-royal to royal personages (RS 9.479A:6-11, l . pʿn ʾadty šbʿd w . šbʿʾid mrḥqtm qlt “At the feet of my lady, I fall at a distance seven times and seven times”), and between royal personages (an abbreviated formula is found in RS 11.872:5-6, l . pʿn . ủmy qlt “Before the feet of my mother, I fall”; also RS 16.379 et passim).

I want to thank Chip for this informative update that confirms my view that progressive bowing was also practiced in other societies of the Ancient Near East.

NOTE: For a comprehensive collection of studies on the Book of Genesis, read my post Studies on the Book of Genesis.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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