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Hittites in the Bible: What Does Archaeology Say? Aharon Kempinski, BAR 5:05, Sep-Oct 1979.

One of the two lions guarding the entrance to the Hittite capitalPeople called Hittites are frequently mentioned in the Biblical account of Israelite history. In the past 100 years the archaeologist’s spade has unearthed Hittite civilization- It has proved to be both large and important. Does it accord, however, with what the Bible tells us about the Hittites?

One of the best-known references in the Bible to a Hittite appears in Genesis 23. In that chapter Ephron the Hittite sells Abraham the patriarchal burial ground of Machpelah at Hebron. Ephron lived with his kinsmen, the “children of Heth.” The Bible frequently refers to the Hittites by this appellation, a reference to their eponymous ancestor, the second son of Canaan (Genesis 10-15). Ephron offered to give the cave and field of Machpelah to Abraham, but Abraham wanted to make sure he held good title, so he insisted on paying for it. Ephron the Hittite then charged him full price—and more—400 shekel-weights of silver. Abraham paid the asking price and buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field. Later, he himself was buried there. Still later, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah were buried at Machpelah. Only Rachel, who died in childbirth on the way to Canaan, was buried elsewhere.

Esau, Jacob’s brother, married two Hittite women. This was a bitter grief to his mother and father, Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 26-34). At least in part because of her distaste for her Hittite daughters-in-law, Rebecca sent Jacob back to her brother Laban to find a wife (Genesis 27-46). In this story, the Hittite women are referred to as natives of the land of Canaan (Genesis 27-46), and even as Canaanite women (Genesis 28-6).

In numerous Biblical references to them, the Hittites are mentioned in conjunction with other peoples who inhabit the land of Canaan. Moses reminds the Israelites that once they are in Canaan, they should remember to think of the time, “When the Lord had brought [them] into the country of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites … ” (Exodus 13-5).

The 12 spies whom Moses sent to explore the Land of Canaan reported that the Amalekites live in the Negev, the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill-country to the north, and that the Canaanites live along the Jordan River and by the Mediterranean Sea (Numbers 13-29; see also Joshua 11-3).

We find a much later Biblical reference to the Hittites from the 10th century B.C. reign of King David (2 Samuel 11). David’s well-known illicit love, Bathsheba, was married to the Hittite Uriah.

In 1 Kings 9-20–21, we are told that David’s son Solomon put the survivors of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, including the survivors of Hittites, to forced labor (see also 2 Chronicles 8-7–8). Also from the time of Solomon, we find a reference to a king of the Hittites outside the land of Israel; indeed, Solomon included a Hittite woman among his many foreign wives, probably as part of a foreign alliance with a Neo-Hittite ruler of north Syria (1 Kings 10-29–11-2; 2 Chronicles 1-17).
The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the inhabitants of Jerusalem as the children of an Amorite father and a Hittite mother (Ezekiel 16-3, 45).

Until 100 years ago, this was all that was known of the Hittites. A standard turn-of-the-century concordance of the Bible (Young’s Analytical Concordance) describes the Hittites as “the descendants of Heth, son of Canaan, and inhabiting the mountainous country of Judah.”

Since then, archaeology and ancient Near Eastern historical research has radically altered this picture.

In the nineteenth century, when hieroglyphic records of Egyptian history were deciphered, scholars found a number of references to the Hittites in the inscriptions from the 18th and 19th Egyptian dynasties. The most important of these references described the famous battle of Kadesh (1285 B.C.)a which the Hittite King Muwattali fought against Pharaoh Ramesses II. Despite Ramesses’ claim of a smashing victory, the outcome was apparently indecisive and a peace treaty was later signed between Ramesses and Muwatalli’s brother, King Håatusûili III, a copy of which was inscribed in hieroglyphics on the walls of the Temple of Karnak at Luxor on the Nile.

Because Kadesh is situated on the Orontes River in Syria, most scholars inferred from the Karnak inscription that Syria was the center of the Hittite Kingdom. The inference was not inconsistent with the Biblical references. To suppose that the Hittites, whose center was Syria, also lived throughout Palestine, as seems to be reflected in the Bible, was entirely reasonable.

Interest in the Hittites was renewed in 1876, when the famous Biblical scholar and orientalist A. H. Sayce delivered a startling lecture at London’s Biblical Archaeology Society in which he suggested that certain strange, undeciphered hieroglyphic inscriptions found in the Syrian cities of Hamath and Aleppo as well as other cities in southern Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey) were in fact Hittite hieroglyphics. Nothing in this lecture disturbed the assumption that Hittite civilization centered in Syria, and although it was also found in southern Anatolia, it could easily have radiated southward into Palestine, as described in the Bible.

The next important discovery in the modern revelation of Hittite civilization were the Tell el-Amarna tablets, discovered in Egypt in 1887. This royal archive of diplomatic correspondence from the first half of the 14th century B.C. clearly reflects the importance of Hittite civilization. The letters in the archive describe a number of Hittite military engagements. One letter is actually from a Hittite King, Sðuppiluliuma, congratulating the heretic Pharaoh Akhnetan on his accession. For the first time this allowed scholars to date the reign of a Hittite king, in this case to about 1380 B.C.

But the most significant letters in the Amarna tablets for the study of Hittite civilization were two letters that could not be read.

In order to read an ancient text the language must be deciphered; the deciphering process is similar to breaking a code. This is particularly true of the two Amarna letters which were written in cuneiform signs made by impressing a wedge-shaped stylus into unbaked clay tablets. Various systems of cuneiform writing exist, each consisting of different signs. A cuneiform sign system can be used to write different languages, just as our Latin alphabet may be used to write English or French. The Amarna tablets employ a largely syllabic system of cuneiform signs and are written for the most part in the Akkadian language, which was the diplomatic lingua franca of its time.

Although scholars were well-versed in the Akkadian language, they were unable to read two particularly intriguing letters in the Amarna archive. Based on their knowledge of Akkadian, they could pronounce the words but they could not understand the language. The only fact known about these two tablets was that they were addressed to and by a king of a place named Arzawa.
During the next 15 years scholars made little progress either in finding Arzawa or in deciphering the two Arzawa tablets from the Amarna archive.

Then in 1904, an unusual cuneiform tablet came into the hands of Theodore Makridi Bey, an official at the Ottoman Museum in Constantinople. Makridi sent the strange tablet to Dr. Hugo Winckler, an acknowledged cuneiform expert at Berlin University. Winckler immediately recognized the wedge-shaped marks on the tablet to be in the same language as the two Arzawa tablets from the Amarna archives.

In hope of locating the find spot of the new tablet, Winckler left for Constantinople. When he arrived he was surprised to learn from Makridi that the tablets had been found in Anatolia—and in central Anatolia at that—rather than, as he had guessed, in Syria.

The two men proceeded to the find spot, a small Anatolian village named Bogûazko¬y. On and about the ancient ruins of the village, the two men found 34 additional tablets in the still unknown language of the Arzawa tablets. In 1906, Winckler returned to join Makridi Bey in excavating the site.

While pursuing their excavations—which continued until 1912—Winckler and Makridi uncovered over 10,000 cuneiform tablets and tablet fragments. Most of them were written in understandable Akkadian, but some were written in the still undeciphered language of the Arzawa tablets from the Amarna archive in Egypt.

The well-understood Akkadian tablets rather than the tablets in the unknown Arzawa language first signalled the extraordinary importance of Bogûazko¬y. Winckler immediately recognized that one of these tablets was the Akkadian copy of the peace treaty between Ramesses II and Håatusûili III, the Egyptian version of which had been inscribed in hieroglyphics on the walls of the Temple of Karnak. Known to scholars as the “Silver Peace” because it was brought to Egypt on a silver tablet engraved in cuneiform, this treaty was concluded following the famous battle of Kadesh in 1285 B.C. This Akkadian copy of the peace treaty would have been deposited in the archives at the Hittite capital, a fact confirmed by the balance of the tablets. The discovery of the Akkadian treaty signalled that the capital of the Hittite Empire had been found at Bogûazko¬y—not in Syria, but in central Anatolia.

These tablets from ancient Håattusûas, as Bogûazko¬y was then called, also confirmed what was already known from the Egyptian inscriptions—that the Hittites called their country Hatti.

Winckler died in 1913. He never was able to decipher the language of the tablets from Bogûazko¬y written in the local languageb now confidently known as Hittite.

The honor of decipherment ultimately went to a young Czechoslovakian named Bedrich Hrozny. Hrozny went to Istanbul in 1914 to copy and publish a transcription of the tablets in the hope that a wider distribution among scholars would result in someone’s accomplishing their decipherment. In the course of his copying, Hrozny noticed the repetition of a particular sentence- wa-a-tar a-ku-wa-an-zi NINDA.KUR. RA a-ta-an-zi.

Hrozny understood the word NINDA.KUR.RA. meaning “bread,” because it was written in Sumerian, a language already known to scholars. Hittite scribes sometimes used Sumerian instead of Hittite signs to write certain words or phrases. The endings of the second and fourth words in the repeated sentence were identical, and for this reason Hrozny concluded that these were the inflections of a verb. The word “bread” attached to a verb could be connected with eating. Hrozny noticed that the end of the first word resembled that of the word for “water” in Indo-European languages (water, wasser).1 Because the form of the verb (a-ku-wa-an-zi) reminded him of the word for water in Latin (aqua), Hrozny translated the sentence- “They drink water (and) bread do they eat.”

The key to the decipherment was the realization that the Hittite language was Indo-European, one of that vast family of languages spoken today from America to India, rather than a Semitic language like most of the languages of the Middle East. Within a year of this breakthrough, Hrozny had deciphered the remainder of the language and published a lengthy article regarding the language’s Indo-European character.2

The discovery of the Hittite capital of Håattusûas at Bogûazko¬y in north-central Anatolia and the discovery that the Hittite language is Indo-European raised obvious questions for the Biblical text. Clearly, the Hittites were not a Semitic people with a tribal center in Palestine or in Syria. On the contrary, they were an Indo-European people who governed a vast empire which at its height extended as far south as Kadesh in Syria.

Since Hrozny’s decipherment of cuneiform Hittite, scholars have learned an enormous amount about Hittite civilization.

We now have some basis for thinking that the Hittites, together with the Luwians and the Palaians, (two people very closely related to the Hittites), came from Europe via the Dardanelles3 at the beginning of the third millennium B.C. At first they spread over western Anatolia, and only afterward, toward the second half of the millennium, did they penetrate into the heart of the Anatolian plateau. There they mixed with the autochthonous (proto-) Hattic populations.4

During the twentieth to the eighteenth centuries B.C., the period of the Assyrian commercial colonies in Anatolia, the Hittites were already settled in most of the areas of central Anatolia where they established petty princedoms. In the eighteenth century the central Hittite kingdom began to crystallize under the leadership of the kings of Kushar, a city in southeastern Anatolia. Håatusûili I came from this city at the end of the seventeenth century B.C. and is famous for his conquests throughout Anatolia and northern Syria. He is the first Hittite king to burst the confines of Anatolia in an attempt to found an early Hittite empire. His son Mursûili I surpassed his father and, in 1595 B.C., in a daring campaign, arrived at Babylon, conquered the city, and dethroned Samsuditana, the last of the descendants of Hammurabi, the founder of the Old Babylonian Dynasty (1792–1750 B.C.).

In the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries B.C., the Hittite empire shrunk and the kingdom retreated from northern Syria and western Anatolia. The heart of Anatolia was retained as the kernel of the reduced Hittite kingdom. At the beginning of the fourteenth century however, Sðuppiluliuma I restored the Hittite kingdom to its former glory.

Sðuppiluliuma and his son Mursûili ruled over a gigantic empire which the father founded at the cost of much effort expended over many years. At the end of Sðuppiluliuma’s reign, the empire extended from northern Mesopotamia to the Aegean Sea, and from the Pontus Mountains in northern Anatolia to southern Lebanon. In the time of Mursûili, relations with Egypt began to worsen mainly as the result of the assassination of the Hittite Prince Zananza by the Egyptians and the renewed strength of Egypt under the 19th Dynasty. Numerous clashes between Egyptians and Hittites in Syria ensued.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century in the time of Muwatalli, matters came to an all-out clash between the two empires and one of the most important and interesting battles of antiquity was fought—the Battle of Kadesh. This battle, which is a fascinating topic in its own right, and which we cannot treat in detail here, was fought by the Hittite King Muwatalli against Pharaoh Ramesses II in the fifth year of the Pharaoh’s reign (1285 B.C.). The result of the battle was that the armies of Hatti reached Damascus (the Land of Upa in Hittite sources)! This was the last time that regular forces of the Hittite army were to reach the northern border of Canaan.

The result of the Hittite victory was implemented about sixteen years afterwards, when Ramesses II and Håatusûili II, King of Hatti, signed the “Silver Peace” treaty (1269 B.C.). From 1269 B.C. on a period of close cooperation between the two empires developed. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, when the Hittite empire was subjected to ever-increasing pressure from the peoples at the periphery of the empire on the one hand, and from cyclic droughts on the other, its ally Egypt provided aid in the form of consignments of produce sent to help relieve the distress caused by the famine among the population of Anatolia.

The pressures of the other peoples, combined with this succession of drought years which accompanied them, finally brought about the destruction of the Hittite empire in the time of the last Hittite king, Sðuppiluliuma II. It is one of those ironies of history that the Hittite empire began at the start of the fourteenth century with Sðuppiluliuma I and ended with the second king of the same name, at the beginning of the twelfth century B.C. The last Hittite and Ugaritic documents which have come down to us tell of bitter naval battles with the Sea Peoples. What the archaeologist possesses are the silent remains of the destruction of the Hittite cities in Anatolia, probably a result of internal revolts of indigenous Anatolian people against their Hittite overlords.

In Syria, by contrast, we witness the continuation and even the renewed flowering of Hittite-Luwian culture after its brief period of destruction in Anatolia in the later part of the twelfth century B.C.

Turning to archaeological evidence for Hittite presence in the ancient Near East, we are not surprised to find evidence from earliest times of trade and travel between Canaan and the north, as far as Anatolia. Chunks of obsidian (volcanic glass) dating from as early as the Neolithic period (5500–4000 B.C.) have been found in Palestine. Extracted in central Anatolia, obsidian was an important raw material for the blade-making industry.

In the middle of the third millennium (about 2650 B.C.) Anatolian pottery formsc and techniques as well as jewelry, braziers and even architecture appear in Syria and Palestine. These artifacts, strictly speaking, cannot be Hittite since the Indo-European Hittites did not arrive in central Anatolia until about 2300 B.C.

When the Hittites asserted control in Anatolia, archaeological evidence not only of trade, but of cultural influence abounds. Two Hittite jugs imported from the center of the Anatolian plateau were found in a Megiddo tomb dating from about 1650 B.C.5 From the Late Bronze Age (1600 B.C.–1200 B.C.) archaeologists have found in Palestine hieroglyphic Hittite seals, Syro-Hittite ivories (which were used as inlays in furniture), jewelry and other objects which were imported either from Hatti itself (Anatolia) or from the Syrian provinces of the Hittite Empire. Hittite or Syro-Hittite influence can also be seen in Palestinian architecture. An especially impressive example are the lions at the entrance to the Canaanite temple from Area H at Hazor; the Hazor lions express a similar religious and architectural idea to the lion gate at the Hittite capital at Bogûazko¬y (Håattusûas). The columns of the Hazor temple portico also demonstrate the strong influence which Syro-Hittite culture exerted on northern Palestine.6

The Hittite cultural influence on Palestine increased during the 13th century, no doubt as a result of the Silver Peace of 1269 B.C. This treaty ushered in a period of cooperation between the Hittite Empire (which extended as far south as Kadesh) and the Egyptian empire which abutted the Hittite empire at the Kadesh border.

The archaeological evidence for the strengthening of Hittite cultural influence in Palestine during the thirteenth century now finds strong support in the important epigraphic finds recently made in the excavations at Aphekd in Israel. In the summer of 1976 excavations at Aphek in the area of the Late Bronze Age palace turned up a fragment of a Hittite bulla (a seal impression on a chunk of unbaked clay attached to a letter or consignment). On the bulla was written the title of its owner, “‘Son’ of the King.” Unfortunately, his name is broken and illegible.

In the summer of 1978, in the same Aphek palace but at a significant distance from the bulla, a letter was found which had been sent by the “Major domo” of Ugarit, (sûakin matUgarit), a city under Hittite rule in northern Syria. The name of this high official is TakuhÉli(na). The letter was sent to the Egyptian governor in Palestine whose seat was in Aphek at the time of the receipt of the letter. The contents of the letter have not yet been published, but the main part of the correspondence deals with quantities of grain for a number of people who are cited in the document.7 TakuhÉli, who served as “Major domo” of the palace during the last third of the thirteenth century, is well known from the Akkadian letters at Ugarit.

I am inclined to connect both finds, the letters and the bulla, and come to the following conclusions-

Although the name of the “‘Son’ of the King” which is written on the bulla is illegible, it seems possible that his residence was located at Carchemish, a city which was the center of the Hittite empire in Syria, and a sort of second imperial capital from which the affairs of Syria were administered. The seal from Aphek, and particularly its decorative hieroglyphic elements, most closely resembles another seal which was found at Ugarit—the seal of Arma-Ziti which also bore the title Son of the King. Thus far, three seals or their seal-impressions have been attributed to Arma-Ziti.8 Since he not only managed the affairs of Ugarit on behalf of Carchemish, but also managed commercial and political affairs with the Egyptian governor in Canaan, the seal from Aphek might also belong to Arma-Ziti. But we cannot be sure that the bulla from Aphek does indeed belong to the same man. It could belong to another “‘Son’ of the King” in the court at Carchemish.

In addition to this archaeological and epigraphical evidence of contacts between Hatti and Canaan, a most interesting document testifies to a settlement of Hittites in the area south of Kadesh. This document is composed of two parts, “The Deeds of Sðuppiluliuma” and the “Plague Prayers” which were written by two different authors just before the reign of Sðuppiluliuma I. The first source, “The Deeds of Sðuppiluliuma,” was named for the great imperial leader mentioned earlier who founded the Hittite Empire. Written during the reign of his son Mursûili, the “Deeds” record historical events at the time of Sðuppiluliuma I’s reign.9

The “Deeds” recount how the widowed Queen of Pharaoh Tutankhamen wrote to Sðuppiluliuma asking him to send one of his sons to be her husband and Pharaoh of Egypt. Although initially suspicious, Sðuppiluliuma later agreed, and sent one of his sons (Zananza) to the Egyptian queen to be her husband. On the way to Egypt Sðuppiluliuma’s son was murdered, and the great joinder of the Hittite and Egyptian houses was aborted. While outlining this story, the “Deeds” also detail the long history of good relations maintained with the Egyptians and Hatti during the early imperial period. In this connection, the text refers to an earlier treaty between Egypt and the early imperial period which told “how formerly the Storm-god took the people of Kurusûtamma, sons of Hatti, and carried them to Egypt and made them Egyptians.”

Apparently, the Hittite people of Kurusûtamma, a city in northern Anatolia near the Pontus Mountains, had re-settled somewhere in Egypt as that term was understood by the Hittites. For the Hittites, Egypt included all of the area under Egyptian rule, including Palestine and part of Syria. The Hittites from Kurusûtamma may have resettled, then, in Palestine.10

The same King Mursûili, in whose time the “Deeds of Sðuppiluliuma” were written, is the author of what scholars refer to as “Plague Prayers.”11 In Mursûili’s time a plague struck the Hittites.
Often extremely moving, the Plague Prayers reflect the king’s efforts to investigate the cause of the plague and to placate the Gods, especially the Storm god. In his effort to find the source of the plague, Mursûili consulted an oracle from which he learned of two ancient tablets. In the second of these tablets he learned of the time “when the Hattian Storm-god had brought people of Kurusûtamma to the country of Egypt.” According to the tablet, the Hittites from Kurusûtamma were under an oath to the Hattian Storm-god, as were the Egyptians. By attacking the Egyptian army, Sðuppiluliuma, the father of Mursûili, abrogated the oath and apparently caused the plague. This second reference to Hittites living in Egyptian territory (which included Palestine) indicates that the settlement must have been one of some importance.

By the end of the 13th century the Hittite Empire was under ever-increasing pressure from dissident elements on the periphery of the Empire as well as from outside forces such as the Sea Peoples and the Phrygians. At the same time the Hittite Empire suffered from a protracted drought. The convergence of these elements led to the destruction of the Hittite Empire at the time of Sðuppiluliuma II, the last Hittite king. Both Hittite and Ugaritic documents tell of bitter naval battles near the shore of Cyprus and the Cilician coast between the Hittites and the Peoples of the Sea. The victories of the latter are confirmed by destruction layers in Hittite sites in both Anatolia and Syria.

Despite the permanent destruction of the Hittite cultural center in Anatolia, the former provincial Hittite capitals in Syria experienced a new flowering of so-called Neo-Hittite culture after a brief period of decline at the end of the 12th century. As a result of the upheaval at the beginning of the 12th century B.C. new Hittite centers were found at sites which formerly had no Hittite population. For example, at Hamath the archaeological evidence suggests an influx from south Anatolia of emigrants who introduced into this area a new ceramic repertory, Hittite architectural styles, and Hittite burial customs. Burial urns containing the cremated ashes of the deceased were found here for the first time. The origin of this burial custom—as we know both from excavations and Hittite texts—is Hittite Anatolia.12

The stream of emigrants from the north most likely settled not only in Syria, but continued south into Canaan, then still an Egyptian province and a former Hittite ally from the days of the Silver Peace. Especially in the southern part of Canaan, tranquility prevailed for most of the twelfth century.13 This area would have been an attractive one to refugees fleeing strife-torn areas in the north.

The earlier emigration of the Hittites from Kurusûtamma at the end of the early imperial period, which is attested for the moment only by literary evidence, shows that such movement was quite possible and that what happened before the time of Sðuppiluliuma I could be repeated on a much larger scale during the last decade of the Hittite Empire.

Recent archaeological finds suggest that Hittite immigration at the end of the 13th century and at the beginning of the 12th century (the beginning of the Iron Age) extended into Canaan as well as into Syria.14 Further archaeological evidence is likely to be uncovered in the years to come.

For example, in the Jezreel Valley at Kfar Yehoshua, an ancient burial was discovered in which a 40-year-old man had been interred in a receptacle formed by joining two granary jars shoulder-to-shoulder. The rims and necks of the jars had been cut off at the shoulder before the joinder was made. Buried with the man was pottery clearly datable to the beginning of the 12th century. Burial in attached jars is typically Hittite, and many examples of this burial custom have been found in Anatolia during the period of the Hittite Empire.15 No doubt the deceased man from Kfar Yehoshua was a Hittite who was buried by his Hittite friends according to the “custom of Hatti.”

Since the discovery of this Hittite burial at Kfar Yehoshua, similar jar burials have been found at the cemetery of Azor, a few miles from Tel Aviv.16 In the Azor cemetery, the excavators also found burial urns containing cremated ashes, similar to Hittite burials found at Hamath in Syria. Both the jar burials and cremation urns are foreign to Canaan, but were widespread in the Hittite Empire.

A recently found artifact also suggests that some Hittites penetrated into Palestine. At Khirbete Raddana near Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, the American archaeologist Joseph Callaway found a unique krater among pottery from a typical Israelite settlement of the last third of the 13th century, the period of Israelite occupation of Canaan.17 The krater itself is a typical Israelite krater, except for one detail. It is decorated with a hollow piping which runs around the entire vessel below the everted lip of the rim. Two bull heads protrude from the piping toward the inside of the bowl. Since only about half of the bowl was found, we may assume that two additional bull heads were on the opposite side of the bowl. The hollow piping joins the heads in a way that permits liquid to pass from the piping into the bull head, out the bull’s mouth, and into the bowl. The spout into which the liquid was poured is missing.

Callaway correctly notes that the closest functional analogues of this complicated form of ritual vessel have been found in central Anatolia dating to the early Hittite Old Kingdom. Probably this complex ritual vessel continued to be used during the period of the Hittite Empire, although, by that time, most such vessels in Anatolia were made of metal which was robbed or melted down and for this reason have not been found.18

Here, as in the case of the jar burials and the cremation urns, we have no precedent for this ritual form in Canaanite culture. It is tempting to think some Israelite settlers at Raddana adopted this detail of Hittite ritual from the Hittite emigrants or refugees who entered Palestine at about this time. So precise a form as appears on the Raddana krater could have come to Palestine only with a population of Hittites, large or small.

Thus, although the movement is not yet well-documented, we can presume that at the beginning of the 12th century, a stream of Hittite emigrants or refugees established the principality of Hamath in central Syria, while other Hittites continued on to Canaan—whether as mercenaries, professionals, other kinds of experts, or simply as emigrants, we cannot be sure. In any event, these Hittites apparently settled in cities which had not yet been overrun by the wave of Israelite settlers. Since the Hittites came from an outstanding urban society, they settled in Canaanite cities or came to serve the Philistines near the Mediterranean coast. Those Canaanite cities such as Jerusalem, which had withstood the Israelite incursions were certainly ideal places for the Hittites to settle.

No single solution can encompass all the references to the Hittites in the Bible. We shall try, then, to list the various possible solutions.

1. The Bible may preserve some early traditions which are connected with early imperial Hatti. The mention of a king’s name Tid’al (in Hittite TudhÉaliya [II]) in Genesis 14-1 is one such reference. Various geographical references such as “all the land of the Hittites” (Joshua 1-4) demonstrates only a partial knowledge of the borders of Hatti in the thirteenth century B.C. and may also preserve an early tradition. The narrative of the siege of Beth-El and the founding of Luz (Lud? Lydia of the Iron Age in Anatolia) in the land of the Hittites also preserves an early tradition (Judges 1-26).

2. As a result of continual droughts, dissension at the periphery of the empire, and pressure from outside forces such as the Sea Peoples and the Phrygians, a Hittite population arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century B.C. The refugees or emigrants settled in several Canaanite cities. In this way it is possible to explain the existence of the Hittites in Hebron and the integration of the Hittites in the narrative of Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah. The early version of the narrative was certainly already told at the time of David’s reign in Hebron, while its first written form was set down during the time of Solomon (the “J” source). It is most likely that the story originally referred to some of the “children of Hatti” who settled in pre-Davidic Hebron.

The existence of Hittites in Jerusalem is not impossible, but has not been proven. The key to this question lies in the meaning of the name Jebus/Jebusite.

In compiling an early genealogy of the tribes of Canaan, the early Biblical ethnographer (10th century B.C.) included the Hittites with the Jebusites. Accordingly we read in Genesis 10-15–18-

And Canaan begot Sidon his first-born, and Heth; and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sibites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites branched out.

In this early list the Hittites (Heth) are related to Canaan and are included alongside Sidon with the cities of the Phoenician coast and central Syria (Hamath). The inclusion of the Jebusite, the Girgashite, and the Hivite on the Amoritef side in the same group shows that, in the opinion of the early ethnographer, all of them belonged to a family which was originally close geographically. The assignment of Heth to a group which belongs primarily to Syria and the Phoenician coast would seem to prove that in the tenth century, an authentic tradition still existed which attributed the Hittites to the northern region and at the same time, of course, to Syria. The connection of the Jebusite to Heth may indicate the connections between them as they were reflected in the opinion of the author of the list in the time of David or Solomon.

The evidence from Jerusalem, however, for the identification of the Jebusites as a Hittite tribe is insufficient. The pre-Davidic population more likely included mainly Hurrian (a population whose origin was in southeastern Anatolia) elements.19

Thus, another theory proposes that the local story of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah had originally referred to Hurrians, and that the changes in the narrative were made in a later version—perhaps by the scribe of the P source (approximately sixth and fifth centuries B.C.).20
Remnants of the Hurrian population may have dwelled in ancient Israel up to the time of David. The title for the king of pre-Davidic Jerusalem is ha-Aravna (2 Samuel 24-16). This title has been metathesized (that is, the letters were transposed) from ewri-na, which means “the lord” in Hurrian.21

3. The Neo-Hittite (Luwian) kings of central and northern Syria in the time of the united monarchy, such as Toc (Tuhhiya in Hittite) king of Hamath may have been the source of some Biblical references; the Hittite wives of Solomon, and the kings of the Hittites (2 Kings 1-6) mentioned during the ninth century are examples.

4. The phrases “Hittites” or “Hittites and Amorites” are used in the Bible to designate the autochthonous population of Syria and Palestine in the first millennium B.C. The terms entered the Bible from Assyrian and Babylonian phraseology.22 In fact the people to whom the phrases referred were Neo-Hittites and were not direct descendants of the Hittites of the second millennium B.C. In Ezekiel 16-3, 45, the names Hittites and Amorites are used as a form of reproach to the inhabitants of Jerusalem- “Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.” It is possible that behind Ezekiel’s words lies the memory of obscure traditions relating to the presence of Hittites in the territories of Canaan during the period of the Israelite settlement.


1. Hrozny was not the first to suggest the language might be Indo-European; as early as 1906 Jorgen Alexander Knudtzon, the publisher of the Amarna tablets, proposed that the two Arzawa letters were written in an Indo-European language.

2. The Sumerian words which are used in other cuneiform languages (technically known as “Sumerograms”) are words which are written in their Sumerian form but are pronounced in Akkadian, Hittite, or Hurrian just as today we write Arabic numerals whose origin is in medieval Arabic mathematics, but are pronounced by each people in its own language.

3. The Dardanelles are a mountain range in western Turkey. They act as a boundary marker between Europe and Asia

4. This refers to pre-Hittite population in Anatolia, which was not Indo-European. In the scholarly literature, the name “Hattians” or “proto-Hattians” is used to refer to this indigenous population. It is from this that the Hittites received their name.

5. And see P. L. O. Guy and R. Engherg, Megiddo Tombs, Tome No. 49; Plate 25 No. 6.

6. For a much more detailed discussion in connection with the Syro-Hittite influences in northern Palestine, see Aharon Kempinski and Michael Avi-Yonah, Syria-Palestine II, Geneve, 1978, pp. 68–72. Concerning a jar-handle incised in Hittite style from Hazor, see H. Shanks, “An Incised Handle from Hazor Depicting a Syro-Hittite Deity,” Israel Exploration Journal 23, (1973), pp. 234–235.

7. The Hittite bulla was published by I. Singer, “A Hittite Hieroglyphic from Aphek,” Tel Aviv 4, pp. 178–190.

8. See Claude Schaffer, Ugaritica III (Paris, 1958) pp. 33–35 and figure 48.

9. Translated by H. G. Gueterbock, “The Deeds of Suppiluliuma,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Volume 10 (1956), p. 98.

10. The contention that these references to Hittite settlement in “Egypt” might help explain the Biblical references to Hittites in Canaan was first put forward in the 1930’s by a brilliant Hittite scholar Emil Forrer. Forrer’s suggestion was not widely accepted by scholars. In light of new evidence for Hittite settlement in Canaan at the time of the breakup of the Hittite Empire in the late 13th and 12th centuries, it now deserves to be reconsidered. See Emil Forrer, “The Hittites in Egypt,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly Number 68, 1936, pp. 190–203; Number 69, 1937, pp. 100–115.

11. “The Plague Prayers” were translated by Albrecht Goetze, Kleinasiatische Forschungen, I, 1929, pp. 209–213; idem Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 394–395.

12. And see H. Otten, Hethitische Totenrituale, Berlin 1958.

13. The mountainous portions of Canaan were at that time held by the Israelite tribes and the process of settlement there was already at its height. In the Shephelah and in the valleys, the refugees from the north could still find a place to settle among the urban population. A portion of the Canaanite cities in which the refugees settled afterwards came under Philistine control.

14. The idea of the emigration of Hittite groups after the destruction of the Empire has been formulated along general lines by Benjamin Maisler (Mazar), Untersuchungen zur alten Geschichte und Ethnographie Syriens und Palastinas, Giessen 1930.

15. Concerning the jar-burials among the Hittites, see, e.g. M. J. Melink, A Hittite Cemetery at Gordion Philadelphia 1954. This form of burial should not be confused with infant or child burial in jars (single jars not connected). This form of infant burial was used in Palestine throughout the Bronze Age.

16. For the publication of the tomb from Kfar Yehoshua, see A. Droks, “A Hittite Burial near Kfar Yehoshua,” Bulletin of the Israel Exploration Society XXX (1966), pp. 213–220. The Azor burials were published by Moshe Dothan, Encyclopaedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land s.v. Azor.

17. The krater was published by Joseph A. Callaway and R.E. Cooley, “A Salvage Excavation at Raddana in Bireh,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 201, 1971, pp. 15–19.

18. For clear evidence of this custom see Aharon Kempinski and S. Kosak, Hittite Metal “Inventories;” Tel Aviv, 4, 1977, p. 87.

19. The name of Uriah the Hittite (who sold Abraham the Machpelah in Hebron in Genesis 23) may conceal a Hurrian name behind a seemingly Semitic form. See M. Vieyra, Revue Hittite et Asianique 35 (1933), pp. 113 ff. The element ewri (“lord” in Hurrian) appears in the root of the name.

20. And this is mainly because of the existence of two rulers with the same Hurrian names Sheshai and Talmi/Talmai in Hebronite tradition which refers to the early rulers of the city (“the children of Anak”). See Aharon Kempinski, Encyclopaedia Biblica, Volume 8, s.v. Tlmi.

21. See Maisler (Mazar) Lesonenu XV (1947) p. 42.

22. This theory has in fact been in existence since the beginning of scholarly research in the field. An excellent short version of it can be found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Volume I, s.v. Amorites; in B. Landsberger, “Period IV 1100–1500-” “ … In addition, the name Hatti came to be used almost synonymously with Amurru- this shift of meaning for these two historical terms is paralleled by the use of the term Emori and Hitti in the Old Testament.”

a. The chronology used here is the “high” Egyptian chronology.

b. This was the language of the Arzawa tablets from Tell el-Amarna.

c. So-called Khirbet Kerak ware.

d. I should like to thank Professor Moshe Kochavi for permitting me to publish this information here. Also see Aaron Demsky and Moshe Kochavi, “An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges,” BAR 04:03.

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