The Hittites, also spelled Hethites, were a group of people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Under the names בני-חת (bny-ḥt "children of Heth", who was the son of Canaan) and חתי (ḥty "native of Heth") they are described several times as living in or near Canaan between the time of Abraham (estimated to be between 2000 BC and 1500 BC) and the time of Ezra after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile (around 450 BC). Their ancestor was Heth (Hebrew: חֵת, Modern: H̱et, Tiberian: Ḥēṯ, ḥt in the consonant-only Hebrew script).

In the late 19th century, the biblical Hittites were identified with a newly discovered Indo-European-speaking empire of Anatolia, a major regional power through most of the 2nd millennium BC, who therefore came to be known as the Hittites. This nomenclature is used today as a matter of convention, regardless of debates about possible identities between the Anatolian Hittite Empire and the biblical Hittites.

Identification hypotheses

According to Genesis, the Hittite Ephron sold Abraham the cave of Machpelah in Hebron for use as a family tomb. Later, Esau married wives from the Hittites. In the Book of Joshua 1:4, when the Lord tells Joshua "From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border", this "land of the Hittites" on Canaan's border is seen to stretch between Lebanon and the Euphrates, and from there toward the setting Sun (i.e., to the west).

According to the Book of Judges 1:26, when the Israelites captured Bethel, they allowed one man to escape, and he went to the "land of the Hittites" where he founded the settlement of Luz. In King Solomon's era the Hittites are depicted in the Old Testament along with Syria as among his powerful neighbors.

From around 1900, archaeologists were aware of a country established in Anatolia and known to Assyrians as "Hatti". Because it was initially assumed that the people of Hatti were identical to the Hetti of the Hebrew Bible, the term Hittite Empire is still today used to describe the Anatolian state. Their language is known to have been a member of the Indo-European family. Because its speakers were originally based in Kanesh, they called their language "Neshili". The former inhabitants of Hatti and Hattusas are now called Hattites; and their Hattic language was not Indo-European, but is of unknown linguistic relationship.

After the fall of the Hittite Empire around 1178 BC, a remnant of them, still using the name "people of Hatti", established some city-states in the region of northern Syria. Therefore these are usually assumed to be the Hittites mentioned in Solomon's time.

The case for identity

Some scholars take the view that the two peoples are identical.[1] Apart from the similarity in names, the Anatolian Hittites were a powerful political entity in the region before the collapse of their empire in the 14th-12th centuries BC and so one would expect them to be mentioned in the Bible, just as the ḤTY post-Exodus are. Moreover, in the account of the conquest of Canaan, the Hittites are said to dwell "in the mountains" and "towards the north" of Canaan, a description that matches the general direction and geography of the original Hittite Empire, which had been influential in the region prior to the Battle of Kadesh.

Modern academics propose, based on much onomastic and archaeological evidence, that Anatolian populations moved south into Canaan as part of the waves of Sea Peoples who were migrating along the Mediterranean coastline at the time of the collapse of the Hittite Empire. Many kings of local city-states are shown to have had Hittite and Luwian names in the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age transition period. Indeed, even the name of Mount Zion may be Hittite in origin.[1]

The case for separation

Because of the perceived discrepancy between the picture of the Hittites as developed in the Bible and the archaeological discoveries, some biblical scholars reject Archibald Sayce's identification of the two peoples, and believe that the similarity in names is only a coincidence. For example E. A. Speiser, referring to "the children of Heth" in the Book of Genesis writes "For reasons of both history and geography, it is most unlikely that this group name has any direct connection either with the Hattians of Anatolia or with their 'Hittite' successors."[2]

Intermediate hypotheses

Trevor Bryce suggests that biblical references to Hittites may be separated into two distinct groups.[3] The first, the majority, are to a Canaanite tribe as encountered by Abraham and his family. The names of these Hittites are for the most part of a Semitic type; for example Ephron at Genesis 23:8–17 etc., Judith at Genesis 26:34 and Zohar at Genesis 23:8. These were presumably the Hittites who were subject to Solomon (1 Kings 11:1–2, 1 Kings 9:20–21, 2 Chronicles 8:7) and who were elsewhere in conflict with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 20:17, Judges 3:5). They were a small group living in the hills, and clearly to be distinguished from the Hittites of the Anatolian Kingdom.

But there are other biblical references which are not compatible with the notion of a small Canaanite hill tribe. Most notable among these is 2 Kings 7:6: "For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us."

This conveys the impression that the Hittite kings were commensurate in importance and power with the Egyptian pharaohs. A similar impression is conveyed by 2 Chronicles 1:17: "And they fetched up, and brought forth out of Egypt a chariot for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty: and so brought they out horses for all the kings of the Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, by their means." In these cases there can be little doubt that the references are to the neo-Hittite kingdoms of Syria.

If the references to the Canaanite tribe are distinct from those to the neo-Hittite kingdom, the similarity between the names (only two significant consonants) could easily be due to chance.

List of Biblical references

Source and ordering of citations

Listed below are all the occurrences of the words "Heth", "Hittite" or "Hittites" in the King James Bible, found through a University of Virginia search service.[4] The same information is available in book form in Jones.[5] Compare also the occurrences of cheth (H2845)[6] and chittiy (H2850)[7] in Strong's Concordance.

The citations were arranged approximately in chronological order, more precisely according to the epoch in which the events in question are supposed to have occurred. Note that this is not always the time in which the words were actually written. In particular, the covenant with Abraham about the future conquest of Canaan is treated as if it were contemporary with the latter. The epochs are indicated by the names of the biblical characters (Patriarchs, Judges, Kings or Prophets) prominent at the time.

From Noah to Abraham

The biblical view of the genetic relationships among humanity is set forth in Genesis 10 (the "Table of Nations"), where various peoples are described as different lines of descent from Noah. In particular, Canaan is one of the sons of Ham, who is also said to be the ancestor of the Egyptians and the Philistines. The sons of Canaan are given as Sidon, Heth, then the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgasites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and the Hamathites.


From Abraham to Egypt

In this period, which is conjectured to start sometime after 2000 BC and end sometime before 1200 BC, the "children of Heth" (בני-חת, BNY-HT) and the label "Hittite" (HTY) are mentioned multiple times, but referring to essentially only two events.

In Genesis 23:2, towards the end of Abraham's life, he was staying in Hebron, on lands belonging to the "children of Heth", and from them he obtained a plot of land with a cave to bury his wife Sarah. One of them (Ephron) is labeled "the Hittite", several times. This deal is mentioned three more times (with almost the same words), upon the deaths of Abraham and Jacob.

Decades later, in Genesis 26:34, Abraham's grandson Esau is said to have taken two Hittite wives, and a Hivite one. This claim is repeated, with somewhat different names, in Genesis 36:2. In Genesis 27:46, Rebekah is worried that Jacob will do the same.


Esau and Jacob

This passage refers to Jacob being buried in Machpelah. Joseph was buried in Shechem Joshua 24.32 "And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph."

Exodus and the conquest of Canaan

This period is conjectured to start sometime after 1800 BC and end sometime before 1000 BC. In this period (in which can be included the promise made to Abraham, centuries earlier, and its recall by Nehemiah half a millennium later), the Hittites are mentioned about a dozen times as part of an almost fixed formula that lists the "seven nations greater and mightier than [the Hebrews]" whose lands will be eventually conquered. Five other "major nations" are mentioned in almost all instances of the formula: Canaanites, Amorites, Hivites, Jebusites, and Perizzites. The Girgashites are mentioned only five times. Abraham's covenant in Genesis 15:18 omits the Hivites but includes the Kadmonites, Kenites, Kenizzites, and Rephaim.

Among the five references to the Hittites that cannot be classified as a variant of that formula, two (Numbers 13:29 and Joshua 11:3) declare that the Hittites "dwell in the mountains", together with the Jebusites, Amorites, and Perizzites, whereas the Canaanites live "on the east and on the west", on the coast of Jordan, and the Amalekites live "in the south". In Joshua 1:4 the land of the Hittites is said to extend "from the wilderness and this Lebanon", from "the Euphrates unto the great sea". In Judges 1:18, the traitor from Bethel who led the Hebrews into the city is said to have gone to live among the Hittites where he built a city called Luz. Finally in Judges 3:5 it is said that the Hebrew lived and intermarried with the Hittites as well as with the other five "major nations".

Abraham's covenant




Kingdoms period

In this period the Hittites are mentioned as the ethnic label of two soldiers under king David (around 1000 BC), Ahimelech and Uriah;[9] the latter is murdered by David for the sake of his wife Bathsheba.

In Solomon's reign (around 950 BC), the Hittites are listed as people whom the Hebrews had not been able "utterly to destroy" in their conquest of Canaan and who paid tribute to Israel. The kings of the Hittites are mentioned (in two similar passages), together with Egypt and the kings of Syria, as senders of lavish tribute to Solomon. Then Hittites are said to be among the "strange women" that Solomon loved, along with "the daughter of the pharaoh" and women from the other peoples in the region.

In the time of the prophet Elisha (around 850 BC) there is a passage in 2 Kings 7:6 where the Syrians flee in the night after hearing a terrible noise of horses and chariots, believing that Israel had hired "the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians".





Babylonian exile and return

In Ezekiel 16:1, Jerusalem is said to be the daughter of a Hittite mother and an Amorite father, sister of Samaria and Sodom. The intent is clearly offensive, but it is not clear whether the reference to the Hittites is concrete or only symbolic. However, a century later, Ezra is dismayed to learn, on his arrival from Babylon, that the leaders who had remained on the land had been "polluted" by mixing with other people, including the Hittites.



See also


  1. ^ a b Mendenhall, George (1973). The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-1654-8.
  2. ^ Speiser, E. A. (1964). Genesis: Introduction, Translation and Notes. The Anchor Bible. Vol. 1. Doubleday & Co. pp. 172. ISBN 0-385-00854-6.
  3. ^ Bryce, Trevor (1998). The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 389–391. ISBN 0-19-814095-9.
  4. ^ University of Virginia.
  5. ^ Jones, Alfred (1990) [1856]. Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names. Kregel Publications.
  6. ^ "Lexicon results for cheth (Strong's H2845)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 6 July 2019. incorporating Strong's concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857).
  7. ^ "Lexicon results for chittiy (Strong's H2850)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 6 July 2019. incorporating Strong's concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857).
  8. ^ Genesis 23:6: American Standard Version and other translations
  9. ^ 2 Samuel 11:3