Image: A Hittite Monument
When I was doing my graduate studies at The Southern Baptist Seminary, I wrote a resaerch paper, 100 pages long, on the Hittites and their contribution to the Ancient Near East. As a result of that work, I almost became a Hittitologist.
Some day I may share my work on the Hittites with the readers of this blog. Because of my research, I gained as new appreciation for the Hittites, their culture, and the legacy they left behind.
The Hittites called themselves “A Nation of a Thousand Gods.” There is a book, written in French, that lists more than 800 names of the gods in the Hittite pantheon. One of these thousand gods was the God of the Hebrews. Some day I will explain this title in more detail.
Haaretz has a review of a book that describes the Hittites, their language, and civilization. It is a good review and it provides a good introduction to the Hittites. The only problem is that the book is in Hebrew.
I have taken the liberty to reproduce the review in its entirety. The reason I do so is because most people know little about the Hittites and because this review offers an excellent introduction to the nation of a thousand gods.
The Hittites and Their Civilization, by Itamar Singer. The Bialik Institute, the Library of the Encyclopaedia Biblica, and the Project for the Translation of Literary Masterpieces (Hebrew), 312 pages, NIS 111I hope Singer’s book will be translated into English as soon as possible.
During the Late Bronze Age, in the second half of the second millennium B.C.E., the Hittites ruled a mighty empire that stretched from Anatolia (modern Turkey) and northern Syria toward Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria and Ahhiyawa (the Mycenaean entity in the Aegean). As was the way of ancient empires, the Hittites' state collapsed and their rich culture sank into oblivion. Apart from mentions in the Bible, no written traces were know to have survived. And though Hittite civilization has been excavated and published extensively over the past hundred years, it still remains largely unknown to the general public.
This long-awaited book from Itamar Singer, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, and one of our generation's leading Hittitologists, is the first in Hebrew on the topic. It is an up-to-date volume that addresses the general - although it must be said, educated - public. Basing himself on texts and archaeology, he reconstructs Hittite culture in a captivating way, so that even the uninitiated can follow the Hittites' cultural history. Each chapter is devoted to a specific topic and documents translated into clear and simple Hebrew can be found at the end of the book. The author also offers suggestions for additional reading.
The roots of Hittite culture are Indo-European, mingled with native Anatolian traditions of proto-Hattian in the north and Hurrian elements in the east and south (we owe much of our knowledge of these traditions to the Hittite archives). Added to these were Mesopotamian and Syrian influences. The Hittite language is an Indo-European language, like Persian, Sanskrit and its offshoots, and most of the languages of Europe. It is the oldest of the Indo-European languages to have been written - in cuneiform; even more ancient than Greek and Latin.
However, the breakthrough in the deciphering of Hittite is credited to Czech Assyriologist Bedrich Hrozny, who based his work on Knudtzon's insights. In a lecture Hrozny delivered in 1915 to the German Oriental Society, which had put at scholars' disposal the tablets discovered at Hattusa (modern Bogazkoy, Turkey), he focused on the sentence nu NINDA-an ezzatteni watar-ma ekutteni.
As an Assyriologist familiar with Akkadian and Sumerian cuneiform, Hrozny recognized the ideogram "NINDA" - "bread" - and assumed that the word "ezzatteni" would represent eating, from a root common to Greek, Latin and the German word essen. The word "watar" resembles English "water," German "Wasser," and it is followed by a conjugation of the verb "to drink" - "ekutteni." The suffix "-teni" at the end of the verbs was identified as second-person plural, and so he translated: "Then you will eat bread and drink water."
Bogazkoy is what remains of the site of ancient Hattusa, capital of "The Land of Hatti" (as it was called by its inhabitants of various ethnic origins), about 160 kilometers east of Ankara. Its excavation began in 1906 with funding from the German Oriental Society, and today it is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The city's excavations yielded tens of thousands of cuneiform diplomatic, administrative and legal documents as well as religious and mythological texts, from which it is possible to reconstruct the history of the Hittite kingdom, society and religion.
The documents also describe the religious rites and the items that were provided to those ceremonies' participants from temple storehouses - for example, the large temple in Hattusa was surrounded by storehouses and the officiants lived in its annex. The descriptions of Hittite festival observances illuminate the rituals in temples both inside the city and outside of it, in nature. Images of the kingdom's gods were engraved in the smooth rock faces of the chambers of the sanctuary at Yazilikaya, north of Bogazkoy, which was dedicated to the main pair of gods in the Hittite pantheon - the Storm God and his mate. In the large gallery, a procession of gods stride toward a procession of goddesses, gathering in the temple for the New Year. Above them, their (Hurrian) names are carved in Luwian hieroglyphics (named after an Indo-European language the Hittites used for writing on seals and on stone). The small gallery may have served as a royal funerary shrine as suggested by the gods of the underworld depicted in it.
One can also learn about the gods' appearance from the documents and from the archaeology. Documents from the end of the empire detail the shape of divine statues, their symbols and dwellings. It emerges that "the thousand gods of Hatti" can appear in the shape of humans, of animals or of various objects and monuments.
Leaving their mark on Israel
Many diplomatic treaties were found in the Hattusa archives, which constitute a milestone in the development of political thought. In the 13th century, after the Battle of Kadesh, the policy pursued by King Hattusili III led to the signing of the "Silver Peace" (so called because of the silver tablets on which the original treaty was inscribed) with Ramses II. A reproduction of it is set into the entrance to the Security Council chamber at the United Nations as a model for the nations of the world. The original Akkadian version of the silver peace treaty, on clay tablets, was discovered by Hugo Winckler in 1906 and its translation into the ancient Egyptian language is inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Amun at Karnak.
In the treaty, the powers agree to refrain from hostile actions and to cooperate with each other. Eventually Ramses II even married a Hittite princess. In the era of the Hittite-Egyptian peace, the two powers enjoyed stable relations and exchanges of gifts. Diplomats, merchants, craftsmen and members of other professions passed back and forth through Palestine (and perhaps even settled there), leaving behind material objects, mostly seals and a handful of works of art. Along with the objects, technologies and ideas were also transmitted that left their marks on the cultures of Canaan and Israel.
There is also a clear parallel between the Bible and Hittite writings in other areas. In the mythological texts, there is the creation of man from clay, an idea shared by the cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. Or in the law - in the statutes on marital status, the law of levirate marriage and the laws concerning rape.
With the fall of the empire, Hittite fugitives from Anatolia fled to relatively peaceful southern Anatolia and northern Syria, where some measure of Hittite culture could still be found. Neo-Hittite kingdoms arose there, most notably Carchemish, which was ruled by viceroys, sons of the Hittite king starting in the 14th century B.C.E. These kingdoms, which survived the tempestuous period of the 12th century into the first millennium B.C.E., continued Hittite traditions such as monumental inscriptions in Luwian. These are the Hittites whom the biblical author had in mind when labeling some foreigners as Hittites.
Itamar Singer's book is a treasure trove of knowledge celebrating the Hittites. It answers to the lack of a Hebrew book on the Hittites and their culture, which is one of the pillars of Western civilization.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Archaeology, Itamar Singer, Hittites