Who Were the Hittites?

Archaeology and the Bible give different answers

tudhaliya-iv

Who were the Hittites? At one time the Hittites were one of three superpowers in the ancient world. Tudhaliya IV (1237–1209 B.C.E.) ruled over the Hittite Kingdom during its heyday and is depicted here on a rock carving from the Hittites’ sacred open-air shrine at Yazilikaya, less than a mile from the Hittite capital of Hattusa in present-day Turkey. Photo: Sonia Halliday.

Who were the Hittites? This question is not as simple as it appears. There are lots of evidence from archaeology and the Biblical texts, but the two sources of information are not compatible, which adds an element of mystery to this ancient kingdom. The article “The Hittites—Between Tradition and History” in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review examines what archaeology and the Bible say about the Hittites.

Who were the Hittites according to archaeology? As early as 1900 B.C.E., an Indo-European people began to settle in what is now Turkey. By the 16th century B.C.E., they were powerful enough to invade Babylon. Their might continued to expand until they were a superpower on the level with Egypt and Assyria. Relations with Egypt were particularly volatile and included the famous Battle of Kadesh and the eventual signing of the world’s oldest peace treaty. The Hittite capital, Hattusa, has been excavated, revealing a formidable and religious empire.

Excavation evidence shows that Hattusa was invaded and burned in the early 12th century B.C.E., but this was after the city had largely been abandoned. In the 14th century B.C.E., Carchemish in northern Syria was made a vice-regal seat. As the Hittites began abandoning the land of Hatti during the region-wide decline at the end of the 12th century B.C.E., they may have fled to this location.

Who were the Hittites according to the Bible? The Hittites play a prominent role at key places in the Hebrew Bible: Ephron the Hittite sells Abraham the family burial ground (Genesis 23); Esau married Hittite women, and Rebecca despised them (Genesis 26:34); frequently they are listed as one of the inhabitants of Canaan (e.g., Exodus 13:5; Numbers 13:29; Joshua 11:3); King David had Uriah the Hittite killed in order to acquire Uriah’s wife (2 Samuel 11); King Solomon had Hittites among his many wives (1 Kings 10:29–11:2; 2 Chronicles 1:17); and the prophet Ezekiel degrades Israel with the metaphor of a Hittite mother (Ezekiel 16:3, 45).
 


 
Interested in the empires of the ancient Near East? Read about the great civilizations of Mesopotamia in our FREE eBook From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West.
 


 
“The impression is that many Hittites are living in the land of Canaan during the time of the Founding Families … And this impression is reinforced by Biblical references to Hittites during the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah,” notes the BAR article “The Hittites—Between Tradition and History.”

hattusa-wall

The wall around Hattusa was more than 6 miles long and had several decorated gates. Visitors to the city would enter through the Lion Gate—named for the stone lions on either side of the entrance. The lion was a symbol of protection, defiance and royalty in Hittite culture. Photo: Sonia Halliday Photographs/Photo by Jane Taylor.

According to the BAR article, “[T]his still leaves us with an open question regarding the references to the Hittites during the time of the patriarchs. To a certain extent, the composition history of the Pentateuch may be relevant to this discussion. If one were to assume that these narratives depict historical realities that were written down close to the time of occurrence, then one might conclude that the references are to the original Hittites rather than the Neo-Hittites. However, the majority of scholars believe that these narratives were composed hundreds of years after the events that they describe and often contain anachronisms for the time of composition superimposed on the narrative time. This would suggest that the references reflect the Neo-Hittites.”

So who were the Hittites? The older Hittites never self-identified as Hittites, but called their language Nesite and their land Hatti, referring to themselves as the people of Hatti. Had scholars known from the beginning what has been subsequently uncovered, these people would probably be called Nesites or perhaps Nesians. When the once-mighty kingdom collapsed, those in the former Syrian vassal states kept the culture alive, becoming the Neo-Hittites. The archaeological record reveals the story of the original Hittites, while the Bible refers mostly to the Neo-Hittites.

For more on the Hittites as told through archaeology and the Bible, read the full article “The Hittites—Between Tradition and History” in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full article “The Hittites—Between Tradition and History” in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
Interested in the empires of the ancient Near East? Read about the great civilizations of Mesopotamia in our FREE eBook From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West.
 


 

Read more about the Hittites in the BAS Library:

E. C. Krupp, “Sacred Sex in the Hittite Temple of Yazilikaya,” Archaeology Odyssey, March/April 2000.

Aharon Kempinski, “Hittites in the Bible: What Does Archaeology Say?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1979.

Trevor Bryce, “The Last Days of Hattusa,” Archaeology Odyssey January/February 2005.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on February 16, 2016.
 


 

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  • REV says

    Hittites, like many other peoples had a home base and many others who traveled far. Abram was from Ur. There is no reason why the Bible references and the archaeological record could not be both true. Ur is very far from Canaan, so that means Abram could not have been from there?

  • Gonzo says

    @Hagop I must disagree the hurrians were actually Porto Armenian. hittites are most definitely not armanian or Turks either, as the Turks came more from the north eastern central Asian steppe. I believe the Turks are honestly i newer expansion of the Huns which Hungary was named after. but truthfully I think all indo European tribes stemmed from Central Asia and were pushed further and further west which would make the most of Europeans in fact Eurasians and the others that are of Mediterranean decent ancient North Africans from the Mediterranean parts of north Africa that left moved north into Spain and into northern parts of the northern Mediterranean or Ireland I also believe the celts to be originally from Central Asia as in biblical times there where parts of Asia Minor named Galicia which means they were also nomadic people that moved I believe they may have split off one half going through North Africa the other going the through Anatolia into Europe and onto the island and up into Spain and Portugal from following the south Mediterranean Sea the NorthAfrican root this is just my opinion it might not be approved by the victors who wrote history but I do not always believe the victors story as the victors believe life as we know it only existed 8000 or so years ago which is complete BS and most of us that are smart enough know enough to question authority when regarding that statement I look into ancient text read thoroughly look into language markers as certain areas were ruled by the tongue of the time and a lot of people assimilated different languages as to coming into contact with new people and so the story goes that’s why it’s very hard to decipher who’s who I’ve seen some stuff about the Hittites that points to them being possibly Jewish or either that or the Jews were conquered by the Hittites and then the Jews took the lion of the hitti and made it they’re emblem hence the lion of Judah, hence the lion of heptusha not saying they are directly related but the hittites used the lion in they’re symbolism so did the Jews. or specifically the tribe of Judah, is there any relation here between Judah and the hittites. did the Jews assimilate borrow/steal another piece of an ancient superpowers history because it looked good on them? Will never really know we do know they lived very close to the Jews/Hebrews/Aramaic so didn’t the Egyptians and also many signs show the Jews borrowed from the Egyptians as well but this doesn’t make the Jews/Hebrews/Aramaics related to the Egyptians nor does it make the Jews/Hebrews/Aramaic s related to the hittites as they would not be related to the hittites because the Hittites language stems from indo European tongue which directly stems from ancient India or Central Asia either way same vicinity and the Aramaic or Hebrew is Afro Asiatic which doesn’t correlate To Indo European people at all now the Elamites,hurrian,hittites,Sumerian,Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryen are all tongues that have to do with the ancient Indo European people regardless if your Persian or Armanian or Central Asian the Indo European stock of people has been proven to have stemmed from the Central Asian and Pontiac steppe in ancient times these people would’ve lived under the latitude and longitude of the ice caps in the last ice age and would have started a migration once they knew the ice caps were melting also there is a plausible case that has been made but this is not been Proven there was once a ancient land bridge that connected Sri Lanka to southern India there has been speculation that when the last ice age was in its melt the Dravidian people came to shore the land of India and the northerners moved out on a great migration away from the dravidians there are still people to this day that are on the islands of remote Indian Ocean that have these islanders that do not look Indian at all look closer related to Africans or aboriginal australians and not to say the least that at the last ice age melt there islands in the ocean sunk and they had to move to higher grounds which struck conflict with the northern Aryen Indians and they decided to get out and moved in all different directions apparently all peoples of north and South America Europe and parts of Asia share a common ancestor to Central Asia 25,000yrs ago but the victors don’t have that written in they’re book now do they?

  • AudibleSunrise says

    The Hittites, most likely came from what is now Macedonia, or Southern Russia. The Hittites did not come in one fell swoop. Their migration was piecemeal, a slow gradual expansion. They spoke a Indo-European tongue, which influenced later Greek, Latin and Germanic languages/dialects. But, a lot is not known and sadly may never be known, such is the fog of antiquity. To state unequivocally that the Hittites were ‘Armenian’ is a colossal misreading of the facts.

  • Hagop says

    All of the above proposed “history” and discussion” is a bunch of BS. The Hittites were proto-Armenians and “historians”, namely who are Turkish, Israeli and British try their best to hide this fact. Why? It does not fit into their imperialist world view, and it has the potential to change a lot of things once this truth is revealed. For Turks who committed the Genocide against Armenians, and which is denied by the two key nations of Israel and UK, this can mean bigger claims of Armenian territory for the future and mean that the true original and real owners of “Anatolia” as well as parts of the lower Middle East are today’s Armenians. Indeed no other people existing today can make this claim other than perhaps the Greeks. All other peoples in this land are “newcomers”. Thus, the entirety of “Anatolia” is actually a join historical homeland of Armenians and Greeks. Not surprisingly, both these nations went through a Genocide by the Turks and their international handlers in order to remove traces of the real history and original inhabitants of Asia Minor.

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