Who Were the Hittites?
THE Hittites are identified in an ancient book that traces the history of mankind to its very beginning. This book, the Bible, reveals that they were the descendants of Noah’s great-grandson Heth. Since Heth was a son of Canaan and a grandson of Ham, the Hittites were Canaanites.—Gen. 10:1, 6, 15.
Even before the patriarch Abraham moved to Canaan in 1943 B.C.E., the Hittites were well established there. They are known to have lived in the mountainous region of southern Palestine, more specifically in Hebron and its vicinity. (Gen. 15:18-20; 23:2-20) Centuries later they were still to be found inhabiting mountainous regions, but the extent of their territory is not precisely described in the Bible.—Num. 13:29; Josh. 11:3.
Of the Canaanites, seemingly only the Hittites maintained prominence and strength as a nation for a considerable period after the Israelite conquest. (1 Ki. 10:29) They are mentioned in the Scriptures as having kings and military strength as late as the reign of King Jehoram of Israel (c. 917-905 B.C.E.). (2 Ki. 7:6) However, the Syrian, Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of the land apparently shattered their power.
In view of the prominence of the Hittites in ancient times, one might expect that archaeological findings have provided additional details. Numerous reference works indicate that this is the case and that archaeology has, in fact, vindicated the Bible’s testimony concerning the existence of the Hittites. This gives rise to the question, Does the archaeological evidence rest on a solid foundation or is it subject to question?
References to “Hatti” in Assyrian cuneiform texts usually place it in Syria or Palestine and, therefore, may allude to the Biblical Hittites. On the basis of the name “Hatti,” certain scholars, however, have gone beyond the Assyrian cuneiform texts and tried to link the Hittites of the Bible record with an empire that had its capital in Asia Minor, far to the north and west of the land of Canaan.
At Bogazkoy (formerly called Hattusas), the site of what is thought to have been the capital of this empire, many ancient texts have been unearthed. Based on the similarity of the sound of the words “Hattusas” and “Hatti,” some scholars have called the language of certain texts discovered at Bogazkoy “Hattic” or “Hittite.” Modern theory holds that the early inhabitants of the area were overrun by conquerors who brought in a different language. This language used cuneiform script. Later still another language, one using hieroglyphic script, superseded the cuneiform script. It has been suggested that the three different languages represent three groups of people.
But there is no way to establish with certainty that any of these groups should be identified with the Hittites of the Bible. Acknowledging the difficulty of identification, one historian, E. A. Speiser, observes: “The problem of the Hittites in the Bible is . . . complex. To begin with, there is the question as to which type of Hittites may be involved in any given Biblical passage: Hattians, Indo-European Hittites of the cuneiform records, or hieroglyphic Hittites.”—The World History of the Jewish People, 1964, Vol. One, p. 160.
It is also noteworthy that none of the cuneiform texts found at Bogazkoy in themselves refer to the language as being “Hittite.” This is merely the conclusion drawn by some scholars. And, concerning the “Hittite” hieroglyphic writing, I. J. Gelb states: “The beginnings of the Hittite hieroglyphic writing are still rather obscure, but all indications point toward the Aegean cultural area as its source of origin.” (A Study of Writing, 1952, p. 83) The Aegean Sea lies between Asia Minor and Greece. This would seem to remove it from the realm of the Hittites of the Bible.
From the foregoing it can be seen that any identification of the Hittites of the Bible with the “Hittite Empire” that had as its capital city Hattusas cannot be established with certainty. The similarity between the names “Hittite” and “Hattusas” can hardly be considered strong evidence for making an identification.
However, the fact that extra-Biblical sources do not provide certain identification should not be a cause for concern. Since archaeological findings are often subject to various interpretations, they are not a sound foundation for basing one’s belief in the Holy Scriptures. Right within the pages of the Bible there is ample evidence that it is a book of truth. One cannot help but notice the wisdom and practicality of its counsel for daily living, its candor and its harmony, as well as its many prophecies and their fulfillment.