In: Mighty Baal
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Mark S. Smith stood before a packed hall to deliver his inaugural lecture as the Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary on the evening of February 11, 2020. Those who have listened to Mark’s undergraduate lectures can attest to his ability to entertain a crowd. But this evening, his tone was more earnest as he reflected on some of the themes of his life’s work. “A major piece of my journey,” he began, “has been what I would like to address today, namely what we may discern of the impacts of cultures outside of Israel on Israel’s Bible and its God.” The evening was a reminder not just of Mark’s many contributions to the field but also of the deeply personal nature of his unflinching pursuit of the complex story of divinity in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern documents, especially the Ugaritic texts. On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, this volume celebrates Mark’s intellectual journey and its impact on us.

We first met Mark while we were doctoral students at New York University, where he served as Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from 2000 through 2016. Mark supervised Stephen’s dissertation and served on Esther’s dissertation committee. Throughout our doctoral programs and in the many years since, Mark has pushed us to be better scholars while giving us the freedom to pursue intellectual paths that differed from his own. In countless conversations at colloquia and seminars in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, and even in occasional serendipitous encounters on the New York City subway or Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, we’ve enjoyed discussing with Mark his next book, our research, our lives—and his next next book.

Mark’s many circles of friendship extend far beyond the small group that pays him tribute here. We are grateful to the authors of this volume’s chapters for gamely taking up their diverse topics on the theme of Baal and for their hard work in keeping the volume on track for publication in time for Mark’s sixty-fifth birthday.

We thank Michael Coogan, director of publications at the Harvard Semitic Museum and a former teacher of Mark, for accepting the volume for publication in the Harvard Semitic Studies series. Almost three decades ago, Mark published his work on the origins and development of the waw-consecutive as Volume 39 in the series, and it is a pleasure to publish this tribute to him in the same venue. Michael provided enormously helpful advice and direction at many stages of the project’s development. Joseph A. Greene, deputy director and curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum, assisted us at the start of our relationship with our publishers. Katie Chin, acquisitions editor for ancient Near East and Jewish studies at Brill, was exceptionally supportive of the project. Erika Mandarino and the entire production team at Brill were a pleasure to work with. Mary Funchion’s copyediting saved us from many errors, and Maurya Horgan and Paul Kobelski made the volume all the more useful to the reader by producing the index.

Funding for this work was provided by a grant from the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College and by a PSC-CUNY Award, jointly funded by The Professional Staff Congress and The City University of New York.

In the twenty years since we first met Mark, we’ve each gotten married—Stephen to Julie, Esther to Jack—and have had the most wonderful children—Olivia and Jonah, respectively. Family life has given us a fresh appreciation of the beautiful life Mark has made with Liz, Benjamin, Rachael, and Shula. Sitting at one Philadelphia café or another, we often interrupt our work to regale one another with tales of our families. Dearest Julie and Olivia, Jack and Jonah, thank you.

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