HITTITES and the BIBLE
(Investigator 174, 2017 May)
The Old Testament mentions 48 times a people known as Hittites. Some
19th century critics considered the Hittites a myth because they were
unknown to archaeology. Wikipedia quotes a view from 1853:
Francis William Newman
expressed the critical view, common in the early
19th Century, that, if the Hittites existed at all, "no Hittite king
could have compared in power to the King of Judah..."
During the 19th century the Hittites slowly emerged from obscurity.
1812 John Burkhardt visits
Hamath in Syria and observes non-Egyptian hieroglyphs inscribed on
ancient stones and later describes his discoveries in Travels in Syria
and the Holy Land (1822).
1834 Frenchman Charles Textier
visits Bogazkale in central Turkey. Nearby he finds sculptured stones
and the remains of ancient streets and a wall 5km in circumference.
1835 William Hamilton confirms
Textier's discoveries and finds another ancient city 20km north known
to the Turks as Alacahoyuk.
1862 Another Frenchman, George
Perrot, visits Bogazkale, confirms the previous discoveries and finds a
rock-face inscribed with non-Egyptian hieroglyphics.
missionary/archaeologist William Wright arranges for some inscribed
stones to be sent to the Istanbul Museum and impressions of the writing
to the British Museum.
Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933) compares carved reliefs and pictorial
inscriptions across central Turkey and concludes that they represent a
lost empire which had stretched from western Turkey to northern
Sayce with William Wright identify the ruins seen by Textier and Perrot
as Hattusa the onetime Hittite capital.
1880 Sayce announces to the
Society for Biblical Archaeology (London) his belief that the
discovered monuments and inscriptions were produced by the Hittites of
1881 Sayce's book The Monuments
of the Hittites published.
1884 After decades of debate
among scholars the evidence in William Wright's book The Empire of the
Hittites proves decisive.
1887 Discovery in Egypt of the
Tel el Amarna letters which consist of Assyrian cuneiform writing on
clay tablets addressed to Pharoah Akhenaten. Two of the Amarna letters
have Hittite language inscribed in parallel with Assyrian and provided
the key to start deciphering Hittite writings. One Amarna letter was by
King Suppiluliumas addressed to Akhenaten, whose reign was known, and
thus provided the first name and date of a Hittite king.
1906-1912 German philologist
Hugo Winckler excavates at Hattusa and discovers 10,000 clay tablets.
1917 Czech linguist Bedrich
Hrozny (1879–1952) authors The
Language of the Hittites; Its Structure
and Its Membership in the Indo-European Linguistic Family.
1947 Helmuth Bossert, another
German philologist, discovers a bilingual inscription in southern
Turkey which enables scholars to decode Hittite hieroglyphs.
After 1947 Work on the Hittites
continued. Marchetti (2015), for example, reported excavations in
2011-2014 at Karkemish, the last Hittite capital, located on the
Turkish Euphrates. Previously, British excavations were conducted there
in 1878-1881, 1911-1914 and 1920. Karkemish was captured by Hittites
around 1600 BCE and again around 1300 BC.
However, it was Sayce's work along with the Amarna letters that brought
the Hittite Empire into mainstream history. Sayce became Professor of
Assyriology at Oxford and believed that his discoveries supported the
view that the Bible is reliable.
c. 2000 BC Hittites enter what
is now western Turkey and get established.
c. 1650 Hittites reach and take
Hattusa, a deserted city previous invaders destroyed. They rebuild
Hattussa, make it their capital, and create what scholars call "the Old
c. 1600-1450 First Hittite
Empire, centred in Hattusa. Hittites campaign as far as Mesopotamia and
even plunder Babylon.
c. 1350-1322 King Suppiluliuma
I creates the second Hittite Empire which stretches from central
Anatolia to Lebanon, making it the most powerful force in south-west
Asia. Hattusa's population peaks at 50,000.
1274 Decades of conflict
between Hittites and Egyptians culminate in the Battle of Kadesh near
the Syrian-Lebanon border, and involves 6000 chariots — history's
largest chariot battle. The Hittites retreat but the Egyptians fail to
1258 Egypt and Hittites
negotiate a permanent peace treaty.
c. 1200 Assyrians encroach on
Hittite territory from the east and "Sea Peoples" from the west and in
1180 Hattusa is burned to the ground. The back cover of the book 1177
B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed
In 1177 B.C., marauding
groups known only as the “Sea Peoples” invaded Egypt. The pharaoh’s
army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt
that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding
civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of
the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell
like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or
Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians...
c. 1150-750 Some small
Neo-Hittite kingdoms persist in northern Syria.
The word "Hittite(s)" occurs 48 times in the Bible and the phrase
"sons/daughters/children of Heth" — which may refer to Hittites —
occurs 11 times.
In Genesis 15:18-21 God tells Abraham:
To your descendants I
will give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the
river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the
Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites,
the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. (Genesis 15:18-21)
It might seem that all ten of the listed peoples inhabited land up to
the River Euphrates. But the statement would also be true if nine lived
in Canaan and only one extended to the Euphrates. Joshua 1:4 points to
the Hittites as that "one".
Around 1450 BC Israel's leader, Joshua, is told by God:
From the wilderness and
the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the
land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea [the Mediterranean] in the west
shall be your territory. (Joshua 1:4)
This apparently states that Hittite territory in Joshua's time extended
from the River Euphrates to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. An area
of that size makes Hittite territory an empire. Hittite territory also
included much of Turkey but Joshua 1:4 omits this point probably
because the Bible is concerned with peoples and kings who interacted
with Israel and the Hittite homeland in central Turkey rarely did.
The Hittites whom the Bible is mainly concerned with lived in "the hill
country" of Canaan (Joshua 11:3; Numbers 13:29) and the majority of Old
Testament references to Hittites refer to the Hittites of
This led to scholarly debate in the 20th century.
Some scholars believed that the Anatolian Hittites and Syrian Hittites
and Canaan Hittites were unrelated peoples with a similar name. Others
argued that Hittites from the Hittite Empire, or from Hittite
migrations before the Empire was established, migrated to Canaan and
there eventually created independent Hittite kingdoms.
Cline (2014) writes:
And just as former
parts of the British Empire continue to play cricket and drink
afternoon tea, long after the original empire vanished, so too some of
the former parts of the Hittite Empire in northern Syria retained
portions of Hittite culture, language, and religion—so much so that we
now refer to them as the Neo-Hittites, who flourished during the early
first millennium BC. By the time the Bible was written down … the Neo
Hittites were firmly established in the northern part of Canaan. (p. 34)
The Bible records that a Syrian army besieged Samaria (capital of
Israel) about 850 BC and suddenly withdrew:
For the LORD had caused
the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of
horses—the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, 'Look,
the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and
the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!' (II Kings 7:6)
For the Syrians to equally fear Hittites and Egyptians, implies the
Hittites were a significant military power. The Hittite Empire had
disintegrated over 2½ centuries earlier and the Hittites of
Canaan/Israel are not known to have recovered as a military power after
their defeat by the Israelites: "You shall annihilate them — the
Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the
Hivites and the Jebusites…" (Deuteronomy 20:17)
Therefore the Hittites the Syrians feared around 850 BC were probably
the Neo-Hittite kingdoms in Syria. A similar impression of Hittite
power is conveyed in II Chronicles 1:17 where Solomon exports Egyptian
horses to Hittite kingdoms.
OTHER BIBLE VERSES
In Genesis 23 Abraham obtains some land from "Ephron the Hittite" near
Hebron, about 30km SW of Jerusalem. This was in the 19th century BC.
Apparently a segment of Hittites had settled near Hebron during or
prior to Abraham's lifetime — this being perhaps a similar event to
Abraham's own migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan.
Genesis mentions individual Hittites by name:
• Ephron (23:10; 49:29; 50:13)
• Zohar (25:9)
• Beeri (26:34)
• Elon (36:2)
Around 1000 BC in David's and Solomon's time the Bible mentions:
• Ahimelech the Hittite (1 Samuel 26:6)
• Uriah the Hittite (II Samuel 11:3; 12:9; 23:39)
Solomon conscripted surviving Canaanites including Hittites for forced
labour. (I Kings 9:20-21) He also purchased horses from Egypt to resell
to "all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria…" (I
Around 450 BC Hittites were still identifiable and some Israelites had
Hittite wives — Ezra 9:1
The biblical evidence for Hittites as an empire is less clear as that
for Cush (Sudan) as an empire. (See:
However, we apparently now have two empires, Cush and the Hittites that
were revealed in the Bible but otherwise forgotten for thousands of
The Hittite Empire plundered Babylon and fought Egypt to a standstill,
but was forgotten except in the Bible where its scope, reaching the
Euphrates River, was remembered.
If military "superpowers" could be erased from history, making the
Bible appear wrong when it wasn't, then what else?
Castleden, R. 1995 The Concise
Encyclopedia of World History, The Book Company
Cline, E. 2014 1177 B.C. The Year
Civilization Collapsed, Princeton University
Down, D. The Hittites a civilization lost and found, Archaeological Diggings, May/June
2016, pp 41-47
Könemann, L. et al 2010 Historical
Atlas of the World, Parragon Books
Marchetti, N. Karkemish New Discoveries In The Last Hittite Capital, Current World Archaeology, Issue
70, April/May 2015, 18-25
Newman, Francis William 1853 A
history of the Hebrew monarchy: from the administration of Samuel to
the Babylonish Captivity 2nd Edition, John Chapman, London, p.
Sayce, A.R. 1888 The Hittites: the
story of a forgotten empire, Queen's College, Oxford