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.
Not a subscriber yet? Join today.

Become a member of Biblical Archaeology Society, and gain All Access with your membership today

The BAS Library includes online access to more than 9,000 articles by world-renowned experts and 22,000 gorgeous color photos from…

  • more than 45 years of Biblical Archaeology Review
  • 20 years of Bible Review, critical interpretations of Biblical texts
  • 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey, exploring the ancient roots of the Western world
  • The fully-searchable New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, an authoritative work of the past century of archaeological study
  • Video lectures from world-renowned experts
  • Four books published by BAS and the Smithsonian Institution

Plus, you get access to so much more from your All-Access pass:

Biblical Archaeology Review print edition:

Enjoy our current issues in the convenient, time-tested, paper magazine format…

  • One year of print issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine

Biblical Archaeology Review digital edition:

Stay on top of the latest research! You get …

  • One year of issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, all on your iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle Fire
  • Instant access to the complete digital edition back-issue catalog of BAR from the January/February 2011 issue forward

All of this rich and detailed scholarship is available to you—right now—by becoming an All-Access member.

That’s right: when you join as an All-Access member, you get a ticket to four decades of study, insight and discovery. Why not join us right now and start your own exploration?

Whether you’re researching a paper, preparing a sermon, deepening your understanding of Scripture or history, or simply marveling at the complexity of the Bible – the most important book in history—the BAS All-Access pass is an invaluable tool that cannot be matched anywhere else.

You'll get to experience all the discoveries and debate in beautiful clarity with Biblical Archaeology Review, anytime, anywhere! And the Library is fully searchable by topic, author, title and keyword, and includes curated special collections on topics of particular interest.

The All-Access membership pass is the way to explore Bible history and biblical archaeology.

Related Posts

Sep 24
The Land of Salt?

By: Nathan Steinmeyer

Sep 23
Herod the Great and the Herodian Family Tree

By: Lawrence Mykytiuk

Bert de Vries
Sep 22
Milestones: Bert de Vries (1939-2021)

By: Barbara A. Porter

1 Responses

  1. ajobil says:

    Can’t wait to read the English translation!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Responses

  1. ajobil says:

    Can’t wait to read the English translation!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend