In an effort to emphasize just retribution theology in Job 18:13-14, Bildad refers to two terms—the Firstborn of Death and the King of Terrors—which seemingly function as appellatives for entities related to the Canaanite god Mot. Since these monikers would have likely been recognized in the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, it is important to grasp what the poet of Job may have been communicating in that milieu.
In the Ugaritic composition The Baal Cycle, Mot is depicted as a ravenous consumer of gods and men with an immense mouth and appetite. Through this, an idea emerges from within the ancient Near Eastern conceptual world concerning death. Death was personified/deified and depicted as having a voracious appetite. This imagery of insatiable Mot provides an intriguing backdrop for the reference to the Firstborn of Death preying upon the wicked in v. 13. However, the origin of this character is ambiguous since the epithet Firstborn of Death only appears once in the Bible and has not yet been found in any Ugaritic text.
The grim allusion to the personified King of Terrors (18:14) concerning the punishment of the wicked is in close proximity to the mention of the Firstborn of Death. This further provokes an inquiry into Canaanite imagery that might clarify the identity of this peculiar being. The fact that Death was perceived as a monarch who reigned over the underworld in various ancient cultures (i.e. Babylonian and Greek) has led to many commentators likening the King of Terrors to the Canaanite deity Mot. This is reasonable at first glance, considering the mythopoetic images stemming from ancient cultures as well as the context of Bildad’s retributive claim. Nevertheless, Mot is never called a “king” in the Ugaritic corpus and the epithet “King of Terrors” has yet to be found.
The Israelites—and thereby, the poet of Job—were part of the ancient Near Eastern thought world in which Death was seemingly personified and considered to be a voracious entity. This paper will evaluate whether the Firstborn of Death and the King of Terrors were derived from the Ugaritic deity Mot, or whether they emerged within the ancient Israelite milieu.