Yarihk once again makes the news as NASA announced yesterday that they have discovered a substantial amount of water on the moon. I’m still reeling as if I’d joined Yarikh at the Marzeah. Although the local paper only deemed it page 2-worthy, this is a paradigm-shifting discovery! The arid, airless, lifeless, dead rock daily racing around our world has suddenly blossomed with new potential. Water on the moon? It seems as unlikely as satisfactory jobs for all graduate students.
Students are generally surprised to learn that in the Ancient Near East the moon was often considered superior to the sun. Given our knowledge of astronomy and physics it is difficult to look behind the curtain to see that it is not self-evident that the moon reflects sunshine without the subsequent development of a scientific outlook. For ancients the moon provided the gentler light that illuminated night — when you really need some light anyway — and was responsible for generating dew, a necessary source of water in regions where summer rains are unheard of. The benevolent moon waxes and wanes, forming a perfect circle and, by degrees, the crescent shape of the horns of divinity, and finally disappearing completely to start the cycle all over.
At Ugarit Yarikh is a thirsty character in text 114. He marries a foxy Hurrian goddess in the myth of Nikkal, a princess much above his station, then he easily fades into the background from the dearth of textual sources. Some have suggested a lunar connection for El as well, the very head of the gods. If El was lunar, perhaps Yahweh also drove the moon. Whoever is in charge, however, thought to pack water for the journey and as we further explore our nearest astronomical companion we will discover that Yarikh is just as interesting as the denizens of Ugarit had suggested.