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Hittites

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

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    Hittites

    Among the people Israel found in Canaan were the “sons of Heth,” members of a Canaanite family (Gen. 10.15). Esau had married two of their women (Gen. 26.34), and later Ezekiel decried Israel's religious faithlessness by calling her a descendant from a Canaanite and a Hittite (Ezek. 16.3). Ephron the Hittite sold his field and cave near Hebron to Abraham (Gen. 23). The names given for these Hittites are all Semitic, and it is likely that all were members of a local Canaanite tribe.

    The Hittites of Anatolia (modern Turkey) were another people, forgotten until excavations at Boghazköy were begun in 1906. This was the site of their capital, Hattusha, containing a palace and temples. Clay tablets inscribed with Babylonian cuneiform writing preserve their language, the oldest recorded member of the Indo‐European family. Inscriptions show that the Hittites set up their kingdom about 1750 BCE, and that from about 1380 to 1200 BCE they rivaled the Egyptians and the Babylonians in international affairs. Their armies marched into Syria, where they faced Egyptian forces. After decades of war, the battle of Qadesh (ca. 1259 BCE) led to a treaty that established a line across northern Lebanon, the frontier between their zones of influence. This line provided the limit for Israel's territory (Josh. 1.4; 2 Sam. 24.6 [emended]).

    Hittite archives include many rituals for temple services with precise instructions for kings and priests, displaying concern for ritual purity and complexity of detail similar to the ritual laws of the Pentateuch. Treaties made by Hittite kings with vassal kings present a formula also found in biblical covenants, especially those made before the monarchy. Beside records in cuneiform, Hittite scribes used their own hieroglyphic script for royal monuments and perhaps on wooden tablets that have perished.

    After the Hittite empire had collapsed under attacks from migrant tribes (possibly including Philistines among the Sea Peoples), several princes held on to certain cities and created local kingdoms (e.g., Carchemish, Hamath), identified today by carved monuments with Hittite hieroglyphic inscriptions. These “neo‐Hittite” states were finally overwhelmed by Assyria in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE. Before that time they supplied wives for Solomon (1 Kings 11.1), perhaps soldiers for David (Uriah the Hittite, 2 Sam. 11; see Bathsheba), and presented a threat to Israel's Aramean enemies (2 Kings 7.6).

    Alan Millard

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