Holman Bible Dictionary


Non-Semitic minorities within the population of Canaan who frequently became involved in the affairs of the Israelites.

Hittite and Hivite peoples of Indo-European origin, identified within the population of Canaan (as “sons” of Canaan) in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:15,Genesis 10:17), seemingly infiltrated from their cultural and political centers in the north and settled throughout Palestine. Although the history and culture of the Hittites is being clarified, a problem exists with the so-called “Hivites,” a name of unknown origin without any extra-biblical references. That they were uncircumcised (Genesis 34:2,Genesis 34:14) would suggest an Indo-European rather than Semitic origin. The more acceptable identification therefore would be with the biblical Horites (Hurrians) whose history and character are well-known from extra-biblical sources and consistent with role attributed to them in the biblical text. The Septuagint reading “Choraios” (Horite) for the Massoretic “Hivite” in Genesis 34:2 and Joshua 9:7 suggests this identification (see Horites; Hurrians).

Hittites in the Bible Hittites appear among the ethnic groups living in urban enclaves or as individuals in Canaan interacting with the Israelites from patriarchal times to the end of the monarchy (Genesis 15:20; Deuteronomy 7:1; Judges 3:5). As a significant segment of the Canaan's population, these “children of Heth” permanently became identified as “sons” of Canaan (Genesis 10:15). In patriarchal times, the reference to King Tidal (in Hittite Tudhaliya II) in Genesis 14:1 is a possible link to early imperial Hatti. In Canaan, the Hittites established a claim on the southern hill country, especially the Hebron area. As a result, Abraham lived among this native population as a “stranger and a sojourner” (Genesis 23:4). He was forced to purchase the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite as a family tomb, specifically for the immediate burial of Sarah (Genesis 23:1). Esau's marriage to two Hittite women (“daughters of Heth… daughters of the land”) greatly grieved and displeased his parents (Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 27:46).

The geographical reference to “all the land of the Hittites” (Joshua 1:4) on the northern frontier of the Promised Land may indicate a recognition of the Hittite/Egyptian border treaty established by Rameses II and the Hittites under King Hattusilis III of about 1270 B.C. Moses' listing of the inhabitants of the Promised Land included the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Exodus 13:5), a situation that was confirmed by the twelve spies sent to explore the land. They reported that Amalekites occupied the Negev, the Hittites, the Jebusites, and Amorites lived in the hill country, and the Canaanites were concentrated along the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan Valley (Numbers 13:29; Joshua 11:3); thus the Hittites were doomed to displacement by the infiltrating and invading Hebrews (Exodus 3:8,Exodus 3:17; Exodus 23:23; Exodus 33:2; etc.).

Devastation and pressures from the west by the Phrygians and the Sea Peoples brought another Hittite population to Canaan about 1200 B.C. Ezekiel recalled that Jerusalem had Amorite and Hittite origins (Ezekiel 16:3,Ezekiel 16:45). David purchased a threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:16-25) whose name may suggest a Hittite noble status (“arawanis” in Hittite meaning “freeman, noble”). Later, the account of David's illicit love affair with Bathsheba indicates that Uriah and possibly other Hittites were serving as mercenaries in David's army (2 Samuel 11:3,2 Samuel 11:6; 2 Samuel 23:39). The Hittite woman among Solomon's foreign wives was probably the result of a foreign alliance with a neo-Hittite king of north Syria (1 Kings 10:29-11:2; 2 Chronicles 1:17). Hittites together with other foreign elements appear to have been conscripted to forced labor during Solomon's reign (1 Kings 9:20-21).

Languages of the Hittite World Records of the Assyrian trade colonies in the “Land of Hatti” suggest an earlier sub-stratum of linguistic and cultural development in the vicinity of Kanesh. This non-Indo-European language also found in texts from the Boghazkoy archives has been called “Hattic.” It appears to have been at least one of the languages spoken in central Anatolia before the coming of the Hittite-Luwian branch of Indo-Europeans.

For several hundred years Kanesh was the primary center of Anatolian affairs. Its role as a major Assyrian trading colony provided access to the Mesopotamian cuneiform system of writing. As a result, “cuneiform” Hittite became the “official” language of the empire (about 1600-1200 B.C.) for its historical annals, laws, and international treaties and correspondence. It was a spoken language only within the vicinity of Hattusas, the capital and center of Hittite officialdom.

Speakers of an Indo-European language appear to have arrived in Anatolia from the north shortly before 4000 B.C. and gradually spread southward. These northwestern Anatolian settlers between 4000 and 3000 B.C. spoke an early form of Greek. The impression in Central Anatolia is of a generally peaceful spread of influence and language from the south and to a lesser extent from the west of Indo-Europeans whose ancestors recently had arrived from southeastern Europe. As a result from 3000 to 2000 B.C. much of Anatolia was occupied by various Indo-European elements who spoke closely related languages that included Hittite and Luwian (the Arzawans). However, soon after 1800 B.C., the kings of Kussara on the eastern frontier of Indo-European Anatolia assumed control. They conquered Kanesh and other central cities and established their capital at Hattusas. Their language, by this time clearly an archaic form of Hittite, was written in a hieroglyphic script. The iconography of this hieroglyphic script clearly suggests western origins. Hieroglyphic Hittite continued as the principal spoken language throughout the imperial and neo-Hittite periods to about 700 B.C.

Hittite Old Kingdom The growing pressure of the Hurrians about 1780 B.C. forced a Hittite consolidation and the eventual establishment of their fortress capital at Hattusas within the crescent of the Halys River. There, Hattusilis I quickly consolidated and expanded what is referred to as the Old Hittite Kingdom. To restore lost tin and copper supplies, he immediately extended his control over a line of cities from Hattusas through the Cilician Gates to the Mediterranean Sea. He intended to gain control over the trade route along the Euphrates by capturing Aleppo, the route's northern terminus. He destroyed Alalakh in the Aleppo region between 1650 and 1600 B.C. and then led eastern campaigns that eventually led to a raid on Babylon about 1560 B.C. and the fall of the first Babylonian dynasty. With continuing Hurrian pressure and palace rivalries at Hattusas, Mursilis withdrew only to be murdered by his brother-in-law upon his return to the palace. The subsequent internal weakness fostered the independence of occupied areas. At his accession to the throne about 1500 B.C., Telepinus faced the renewed confinement of the kingdom within central Anatolia. His reign proved to be a period of consolidation with renewed military activity into Syria and an alliance with Kizzuwadna, a new Indo-Aryan dynasty in Cilicia. The Old Kingdom came to an end with Telepinus, but his policies set a pattern for the kings of the Hittite Empire that followed.

Hittite Empire The vitality of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni and the Egyptian military incursions into Syria under Thutmose III about 1450 B.C. stifled Hittite development until the death of the Egyptian pharaoh about 1436 B.C. Tudhaliyas I, the new Hittite king, relieved of Egyptian tribute, defeated Aleppo and Mitanni and reclaimed control of the Mesopotamian trade route. During his reign other significant battles were won, but Hittite territories were besieged on all sides with the result that when Tudhaliyas died, the Hittite kingdom suffered a disastrous decline. About 1380 B.C. after a series of victories against Hittite enemies, Suppiluliumas gained the throne and moved southward against Mitanni. He soon claimed all territories west of the Euphrates. Following a treaty with Babylon and domination of Mitanni, he reorganized northern Syria to ensure Hittite supremacy and control of the trade routes of the region.

When Suppiluliumas died in 1334 B.C., his younger son Mursilis II followed with a very successful reign that included expansion in the west and preparation for the major confrontation that would come during his successor's reign. Muwahytillis (about 1308-1285 B.C.) concentrated all the forces of the Hittite Empire in northern Syria to meet the challenge of Ramses II of Egypt at Kadesh. Although the battle in 1286 was indecisive, the subsequent treaty sixteen years later (1270 B.C.) in which Egypt conceded all territories north of Damascus to the Hittites would seem to suggest that the balance of power, for a time at least, favored the Hittites. On the eastern frontier, however, Mitanni became an Assyrian vassal.

Dangers on both east and west were magnified by an internal power struggle between Mursilis III, Muwatallis' son and successor, and his uncle Hattusilis, who ultimately exiled Mursilis and became king (about 1278). Western lands in Asia Minor were lost. Assyria continued its westward move and, in spite of the Egypt-Hittite treaty, reached the Euphrates and cut off Hittite copper supplies.

During the early reign of Tudhaliyas IV (1250-1220), the Hittites maintained control over the Syrian coast and invaded Cyprus for its copper mines. The Hittite treaty with Amurru, along the Syrian coast, prohibited trade with Assyria. The greater threat existed in new migrations from the west. Hittite lands were overrun and their capital destroyed by the hordes identified as “Sea Peoples,” who, dislodged from their traditional homelands in the Greek-Aegean world, swept into Anatolia and the Levant (about 1200 B.C.). The Hittite empire was destroyed, and its capital was burned to the ground. For 250 years it had been a leading power by maintaining control over the vital trade routes and the distribution of mineral and agricultural wealth of the ancient Near East.

Neo-Hittite Period Following the end of the Hittite empire, a large number of Hittite principalities were established in northern Syria, Cilicia, and the regions of the Taurus and Anti-Taurus. They maintained a distinct identity as a minority within a predominantly Semitic environment for over four hundred years. When Urartu was defeated as Assyria's rival for the resources of Anatolia, the neo-Hittite states of northern Syria, now without Urartian support, could not withstand Assyrian pressure. By the end of 700 B.C. the Hittites had been absorbed into the Assyrian empire.

George L. Kelm

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'HITTITES AND HIVITES'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T2796>. 1991.