Freedom Speaks Hurrian: A Cuneiform Song of Liberation

Human history is sadly full of stories of people struggling for freedom and justice in opposition to other people’s desire for dominance and exploitation. And we can be certain that the concepts of subjugation and liberation have been with the human race since even before the first written records can inform us about them.

Tablets with theSong of Liberation

Credit: From Peter Neve, Die Oberstadt von Ḫattuša. Die Bauwerke, vol. I (Berlin: Mann, 1999)
The tablets containing the Song of Liberation were
excavated in 1983 under a Byzantine period church in the Hittite capital city of Hattusha.

Writing for the July–October 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Eva von Dassow of the University of Minnesota reports on an intriguing, fictitious account of subjugation and liberation from Late Bronze Age Levant. The epic poem was originally composed in the Hurrian language, around 1600 B.C.E., but the surviving text comes from a Hurrian-Hittite bilingual edition from around 1400 B.C.E. It is recorded in cuneiform writing on a series of clay tablets, which came to light only in 1983, when they were excavated in the ancient Hittite capital city of Hattusha.

Bearing the original title “Song of Liberation [or Release],” this literary composition tells a story of the people from the city of Igingallish being held as captives in the neighboring Ebla. Intriguingly, the plot does not concern the fate of the subjugated as much as it does the deliberations of the Eblaites–about whether or not to release the captives. Also, the consequences considered in these deliberations are not so much about the people of Igingallish as they are about the Eblaites themselves. This is because a god (Hurrian storm deity Teshub) demands of the king of Ebla the release of the captives—promising prosperity to Ebla if it complies with his demand, and destruction if it doesn’t.

Credit: Courtesy of Hethitologie-Archiv Mainz ( PhotArch Phb07314)
Megi, the king of Ebla, hears some strong language from
Zazalla, the speaker of the senate of Ebla in this part of Song of Liberation. It is the climactic
moment of the poem, which we cannot fully enjoy due to severe damage to this clay tablet.

We know from the archaeological record that Ebla was destroyed around 1600 B.C.E, which is the time when Song of Liberation was originally composed. Was the annihilation of Ebla due to gods’ view of the subjugation of the people of Igingallish as unjust? Von Dassow explains that the “poem develops a theological explanation for the destruction of Ebla,” and she speculates that it “may have been composed by the people of Igingallish—or of Ebla—who were taken captive” in the campaigns of Hattusili I, the founder of the Hittite kingdom in the late 17 th century B.C.E. “The poem epitomizes the political history of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 B.C.E.), during which the ideal of free men constituting free polities was increasingly threatened by the hierarchical organization of states and subjects under imperial rule,” concludes von Dassow.

To learn why Hurrian gods considered the subjugation of the people of Igingallish unjust and to explore contemporary views of amnesty and the concept of restoration, read the article “Song of Liberation: Freedom in the Late Bronze Age” by Eva von Dassow in the July–October 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Read more about the Hittites in Bible History Daily:

The Hittites: Between Tradition and History

Sacred Sex in the Hittite Temple of Yazilikaya

Hittites in the Bible: What Does Archaeology Say?

The Last Days of Hattusa

Subscribers: Read the full article “Song of Liberation: Freedom in the Late Bronze Age” by Eva von Dassow in the July–October 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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1 Responses

  1. ajobil says:

    Can’t wait to read the English translation!

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1 Responses

  1. ajobil says:

    Can’t wait to read the English translation!

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