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This page considers the word "Hittite" as used in various parts of the Old Testament, and discusses some implications of this.
It is tentatively suggested that the single translation "Hittite" does not do justice to the variations of use through the Old Testament, and that very few of the references should be solidly linked to the Anatolian people of that name. Instead, the words often refer to a Canaanite tribe living mostly in the hill-country region. Other possible interpretations are considered below.
There are two root words used:
A possible link is with châthath, to break down, to be/make afraid but this is not certain: equally it could be of foreign derivation. Uses of the two words differ slightly.
So, to whom is the Old Testament referring? In particular, should any or all of the references be linked with the Anatolian people who flourished during the Middle and Late Bronze Age, or to other (later) uses of the word Hatti or Khatti? Usage outside the Old Testament will be considered below.
As explained above, chêth is restricted to Genesis (both on its own and in combination), except for the single 1 Chronicles 1 reference which is not found in the Septuagint. This may be viewed simply as a patronymic way of identifying a particular tribal group. The term apparently refers to a Semitic-speaking group in the hill country of Israel, with quite similar customs to those of Abraham and his family. The alternative word chittîy is also used of this group, with no obvious difference in use.
The most frequent use of chittîy is as one member of a collection of tribes paraded as enemies of Israel. This usage will be considered below. Excluding this, what is there? The term is applied to a number of specific individuals in the time of the united monarchy (Achimelekh and Uriah) as well as the uses already discussed in Genesis. There is no indication where David had recruited these followers from. However, if the Merenptah stele does indeed refer to a group of Anatolians who had settled in Canaan, there is the possibility that these warriors were recruited from amongst them - in the conventional chronology Merenptah was about 200 years before the united monarchy, which arguably would be long enough for them to become assimilated by a Semitic culture.
This leaves a very small number of plural uses, listed below:
It will be seen that there are very few uses overall. They are clustered in two areas: during the conquest of the land, and during the early part of the monarchy. Around the time of the conquest, the term is only used in a group sense - in other words we do not find uses of the kind X the Hittite. In Joshua and Judges the term is used to indicate ownership of part of the land: however we do not find a word used in the abstract for Hatti-land. This contrasts strongly with the nonBiblical use outlined below, and with the Biblical practice for other major nations. For example we have a word for Egyptian people (mitsrîy), and a distinct word for Egypt (mitsrayim), not simply the phrase land of the Egyptians (’erets hammitsrîy). This is a most important distinction.
In the United Monarchy, we once again find individual people called X the Hittite (Achimelech and Uriah). These were part of David's following, seemingly from an early stage of his rise to power. We find Solomon marrying Hittite women and trading with Hittite kings. Later in the monarchy period, we have a single reference to kings of the Hittites in a generic way, with no particular geographic connection except that the Aramaeans are loosely connected with them. This could - but need not - suggest that they were located to the north of Israel.
The Anatolian Hittites who founded first a kingdom and then an empire able to contend with Egypt for control of Syria-Palestine are frequently mentioned in surviving texts. Available evidence indicates that these were not Semitic, and that their principal language was Indo-European (though with some unusual features). However, a considerable number of texts in different languages have been found archaeologically, including Semitic ones. This perhaps suggests that they were comfortable in communicating with other nations in whatever language the occasion demanded. Their land is referred to by the terms:
The Merenptah stele includes the line: Hatti is pacified or at peace. This most likely refers to the Anatolian region, in common with other cases in Egyptian writing. Merenptah did not have the ability to campaign against them, nor the need on account of the peace treaty made by Rameses II and still in place - he provided food supplies to help at one point in his reign. However, at this point of the coda of the Stele, the author is indicating in an inclusive way the whole of the Mediterranean borderlands from west (Tehenu, or Libya) to north-east (Hatti). After this large-scale inclusion, the other peoples listed are within the Syro-Palestinian region. However, it has been suggested that this line refers to a Hittite enclave resident in Canaan. Conventionally this would be during the Judges era, and in the New Chronology this period aligns with the early divided monarchy.
After the demise of the Hittite empire at the end of the Late Bronze Age, various smaller neo-Hittite states outlived it for some time - this would be slightly later than the time of the Merenptah stele.
It is also the case that the term Khatti came from the 8th century onwards (ie the last Assyrian rulers, the neoBabylonians, and the Persian era) to be used for the whole of Syria-Palestine, roughly synonymous with the western half of these Mesopotamian empires. The monarchy-era uses of kings of the Hittites might be seen as reflecting this practice. However, it is important to note, as mentioned above, that the Old Testament does not have an equivalent to Khatti as a territorial indicator.
If for other reasons it is proposed that the patriarchal accounts should remain in the early 2nd millennium, can this be reconciled? If the Old Testament Hittites are to be regularly linked with the Anatolian people, then the patriarchal accounts - or at least these aspects of them - would be misplaced temporally, as there is no evidence that an enclave of these people had penetrated so far south at this time. The earliest external reference would appear to be in the Late Bronze Age, in the reign of Tudhaliyas IV.
However, there are certain distinct differences between the patriarchal and later references - the patriarchs dealt with these people as fellow-Semites and cultural equals, whereas, with the exception of a few specific individuals such as Uriah, the later mentions are remote and cold - trading partners or mercenaries rather than close allies or siblings. There are three main possibilities:
The two uses in Joshua, and the single use in Judges remain to be discussed, as they form a bridge between the patriarchal and monarchy uses, and in terms of the internal chronology are roughly half-way between them. It is perhaps significant that the Septuagint lacks the Joshua 1:4 reference - this verse reads more like the monarchy-era usage, wheras the other two are more akin to the patriarchal use. This would suggest it could be the annotation of a later editor of the main text. Commentators differ as to which of the Hebrew or Septuagint source texts here represents the older tradition: the Septuagint of Joshua is shorter and has less details that appear to be editorial glosses, but other details suggest the primacy of the Hebrew text.
Starting in Genesis 15, there are a total of 19 of these lists in which Hittites feature. The earliest (Genesis 15:19-21) contains the most extensive list - 10 tribal names in total. They are:
Also appearing in the later lists, but not present in Genesis 15, are the Hivites. In Jacob's time some of this tribe lived around Shechem. The Gibeonites, who persuaded Joshua into making a treaty with them, are said to be Hivites (Josh. 9:7), but other related groups are said to have lived towards Mt. Hermon and Lebanon (see Josh. 11:3, Jdg. 3:3).
The order of tribes mentioned varies considerably. It may be said that the Canaanites, Hittites and Amorites typically appear at the start of the lists, and the Hivites and Jebusites typically at the end, but the authors clearly felt no compulsion to repeat the same pattern on each occasion. On most occasions 6 tribes are named, but 5 and 7 are each found on several occasions. The practice is most common in Exodus and Joshua (which together account for nearly 2/3 of the lists) and is not found in the monarchy period after Solomon's reign.