(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.

1872 Irish 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.

1870s Orientalist/scholar 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 Mesopotamia.
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 the Bible.

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 Kingdom".

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 take Kadesh.

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 (2014) says:

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 Canaan/Israel.

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.


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 Kings 10:28)  

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: Investigator 124)

However, we apparently now have two empires, Cush and the Hittites that were revealed in the Bible but otherwise forgotten for thousands of years.

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. 179

Sayce, A.R. 1888 The Hittites: the story of a forgotten empire, Queen's College, Oxford