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A historico-religious study focusing on "priesthood" and "priest" has to face many difficulties, in terms of terminology and of content. On the one hand, it is methodologically incorrect to link "priesthood" to debated modern concepts such as "religion" or "cult" which, like the former, need to be (even conventionally) defined each time for every particular culture, and not to be assumed as universal keys of historical understanding. On the other hand, previous studies on the topic - where the aim has been to determine latent forms and/or particular manifestations of "priesthood" in other cultures and also to write a "general history" of this phenomenon - exhibit the total historical irrelevance of such an approach, based only on our modern (Christian) concept of "priest(hood)." In order to limit ethnocentrism and, at the same time, to employ useful conceptual categories, new heuristic parameters must be found. In addition to the criterion indicated by J. Rüpke (the religious specialist as a control-agent within the framework of symbolic systems), I propose to distinguish between professional specialisation and practical (cultic) function. The case study I present here to illustrate some aspects and problems of this research is that of ancient Syrian (Ugaritic) culture, where "priests" in our meaning are difficult to be found, whereas a fully new concept emerges if we look at the issue from a functional (and "emic") perspective.


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