Hittites—Exodus 3:8

The Hittites were an ancient people who inhabited the region of Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, before 1700 BC. According to Genesis 10:15, the Hittites were the descendants of Heth, the son of Canaan, who was Noah’s grandson through Ham (Gen. 10:1, 6). The Hittite Empire of central Anatolia played a significant role in ancient Near Eastern history, especially in its struggle with Egypt. But the Bible does not refer to it or its people directly. It does mention both a people dwelling in the Levant from the patriarchial age through the Exodus and Conquest and the neo-Hittite peoples and kingdoms of Syria during the first millennium as Hittites. Scholars have struggled to determine who exactly they were, especially those during the earlier periods. Some scholars believe that Scripture uses the term “Hittites” pejoratively for pre-Israelites, a view that might seem to be collaborated by Ezekiel 16:3, 45. There the prophet reminds the inhabitants of Jerusalem of the city’s pre-Israelite population, which included the Hittites. Others claim that a Hittite source tells of Hittites migrating to “Egypt,” which could mean Egyptian-held territories, including Canaan.

Some of the earlier group labeled as Hittites inhabited the neighborhood of Hebron during the time of Abraham (Gen. 15:18-20). The patriarch bought a burial place, the famous cave of Machpelah, from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:3-20). Two of Esau’s wives probably belonged to these Hittites (Gen. 26:34; 36:2). Rebecca was deeply dissatisfied with her son’s choice of wives and wanted to prevent her other son Jacob from marrying a Hittite woman (Gen. 27:46).

Scripture speaks of Hittites during the Israelite invasion of Canaan (Exod. 3:8). The spies sent out by Moses to inspect the land of Canaan found Hittites residing in the hill country (Num. 13:29). The book of Joshua records that the Hittites opposed the Israelites at the time of their conquest of the Promised Land (Josh. 9:1, 2; 11:3). According to Judges 1:26, when the Israelite spies released a man who showed them the entrance to the city of Bethel, he went to the land of the Hittites and built a city named Luz. The Hittites seem to have remained in the land and some cases, intermarried with the Israelites after the land was conquered and divided among the tribes of Israel. They continue to appear in various places in the Bible. King David had valiant Hittite soldiers in his army, including Ahimelech the Hittite (1 Sam. 26:6) and Uriah the Hittite, whom David had killed for his wife Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). King Solomon married women of the Hittites (1 Kings 11:1) and had some of the Hittites as his forced labor workers (1 Kings 9:20-22). Solomon’s Hittite wives were most likely princesses from the north Syrian Hittite city-states. Solomon most likely had extensive trade dealings with their kings (1 Kings 10:29; 2 Chron. 1:17). On one occasion, an army of Syrians lifted its siege of Samaria and fled because they thought that the kings of the Hittites were coming to help the Israelites (2 Kings 7:6).

As for the Hittite Empire itself, the Hittites entered the central-western part of Anatolia as early as the eighteenth century BC and possibly even a century before that. They spoke an Indo-European language. Their western boundary was the Halys, a river that began in the western mountains of eastern Anatolia then flowed south-southwest before turning north to empty into the Black Sea.

Historians still do not fully understand the Hittite culture’s complex development. Indo-European immigrants quickly integrated into the local Anatolian population to shape what would become the Hittite Empire. A ruler named Anitta found an inscription by a ruler in the Hittite capital of Hattusa. It tells how his father, Pithana, in the middle of the eighteenth century BC, conquered the city of Nesa in western Anatolia. The presence of their names in Assyrian trade documents suggests that both of them ruled in Nesa. Anitta later conquered Hattusa and burned it. But the existence of a historical gap between Anitta and the Old Hittite Kingdom has led some to doubt if the two rulers were indeed part of the Indo-European culture at all.

But what is more historically certain is that Labarna, the first known Hittite king, has formed a new dynasty. About 1450 BC, another dynasty emerged with Šuppiluliuma as a king.

During one period, the Hittites ruled not only the central/western part of Anatolia but also northern Mesopotamia, Aleppo, and many Syrian territories. They also raided Babylon and threatened the Egyptian empire. A treaty found in the Amarna letters tells of one king switching allegiance from Egypt to the Hittites. Although the Hittites and Egyptians eventually fought a major battle against each other (that most probably was at best a draw). In 1284, Hattusili III made a peace treaty with Egypt. In 1271 gave his daughter to Ramses as a wife.

Ash levels in various archaeological sites record the eventual destruction of the Hittite empire but do not reveal how or by whom. Ramses III, in 1190 BC, mentions the attack of the “Peoples of the Sea” who took over all the countries “from Hatti on.”

The Hittite religion and culture are still somewhat obscure. The Hittites referred to their panteon as “the thousand gods, ” though scholars have yet to find that many divine names. The Hittites worshipped an assembly of deities that they adopted from local and foreign cults. People would worship each deity in the language of its origin. The male head of the pantheon was a storm god, and the female head a solar goddess. The Hittite gods were depicted by their animal totems, sitting on the backs of animals or enthroned between them. They were portrayed in human terms as needing to eat, sleep, and have sexual intercourse. The Hittite gods were born and could get killed. Although the Hittite gods shared human characteristics and desires, they possessed higher degrees of power and knowledge than humans. Each king had his own patron deity.

Knowledge about the Hittite society has increased since the deciphering of the cuneiform tablets found in the early twentieth century at Bogazkoy (ancient Hattusas) in Turkey. The Hittites possessed iron mines, and for some time held a monopoly in the production of iron tools and weapons, helping to initiate the Iron Age. The Hittite sites included some locations that later became prominent centers of Christianity, such as Tarsus, Iconium, and Lystra.


Jewish Virtual Library, “Encyclopedia Judaica: Hittites.”