A couple of years back, when I was still with Gorgias Press, a colleague pointed me to a website advertising Ugarit Cola. (A product of the Ugarit Trading Company, not far from Latakia, Syria. Their logo boldly features the image of the two boys suckling a goddess found among the royal ivories of Ugarit. Guess what they’re pulling down! Check out their website for more information on this environmentally friendly soft drink producer.) It seems that yet another gift bestowed upon the world has its origins near those of the alphabet: the sweet, sticky, carbonated, yet refreshing elixir of kings — cola! (You can’t drink the Syrian water, in any case.) Ugarit Cola reminds me of my days volunteering at Tel Dor under the hot Israeli sun, and passing the afternoon by trying to down a Maccabee Beer or two. Named after Judas Maccabeus (“the hammerer”), the name, although not the taste, has remained near the top of my favorite tipple title list, along with Skullsplitter, Bishop’s Finger, and He-Brew (Exile never tasted so good!). When my former boss returned from Syria last year he wasn’t allowed to transport the beverage on the plane, but he did bring me a label off the bottle.
In the parts of the world where poverty is a reality for far too high a percentage of the population, the exploitation of what should be one of the world’s most famous ancient cities is but a venial sin. These were, after all, the people who gave the Greeks a workable alphabet. And the color purple! Why not celebrate with a cola? At least they are trying to do something about it!
Sitting around dusky tables with colleagues at professional conferences back in a former life, I used to discuss the amazing disappearance of Ugarit from the cultural radar screen. Apart from a low-budget Indiana Jones knock-off movie entitled “Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure of Ugarit,” the city has failed to excite the modern imagination. My colleagues and I decided that what was needed was a scandal. The Dead Sea Scrolls, boring by comparison, have done very well by finding a scandal to hook onto. So today’s assignment is to invent a scandal for Ugarit! Perhaps an Ugarit Cola bottle might be unearthed there, making the Ugaritans the inventors of cola. (For the real story of cola, however, see Tom Standage’s excellent A History of the World in Six Glasses, Walker & Company, 2005.) Or it may take a miracle and the Bible-reading public might begin to wonder about one of the best resources available for understanding the Hebrew Bible that has ever been unearthed. Better pour yourself a cold one; this could take some time.