Hittite Prayers

By Getz, James R., Jr. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Hittite Prayers


Getz, James R., Jr., Journal of Biblical Literature


Hittite Prayers, by Itamar Singer. SBLWAW 11. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002. Pp. xv + 141. $24.95 (paper).

In keeping with the series mandate to provide up-to-date English translations of texts from the ancient Near East, Itamar Singer has prepared a volume on Hittite prayers for the Writings of the Ancient World series. The work contains some twenty-four prayers covering the history of the Late Bronze Age Anatolian kingdom (ca. 1500-1200 B.C.E.), and includes an introduction to the corpus as a whole as well as to each chapter and individual prayer.

The introduction is useful to the specialist and nonspecialist alike. Singer begins by defining the corpus of texts to be covered in his survey. He takes pains to clarify his criteria for the distinctions between prayers, hymns, oracles, and rituals, explaining why the latter three have been excluded from this volume. While Singer admits that the distinction between hymns and prayers is ambiguous, he excludes hymns primarily because they served a pedagogical rather than cultic function. Oracles and rituals, while often stimulating and accompanying prayers respectively, are excluded because the genre needs a volume all to itself.

Singer defines the Hittite terms used in prayers and notes that they represent specifie formal elements in the compositions rather than independent prayer types. Hittite prayers may include an invocation, hymn of praise, confession, and petition, though few prayers contain all these elements. These prayers often take the form of a court case, with the author (or, more precisely, the patron) as the detendant, the offended god(s) us prosecutor, and various other gods as witnesses for the defense. Several strategies are used to entreat the offended god(s), including protestation of the accusation, minimization of the offense, pragmatics (i.e., Who will worship you if you kill all your people?), and even bribery. These matters are complicated for supplicants by the fact that they are often forced to deal not only with their own sins but also with those of their forebears as well. While comparisons could be made to similar traits found in biblical or Mesopotamian prayers, overall Singer refrains from comparative analysis. Rather, in the introduction and throughout the work Singer lets the Hittite prayers stand on their own. While some might consider this a defect in the work, I found it a benefit. By dealing only with the texts at hand and the interrelation of these texts, Singer allows readers to form their own opinions and corollaries with ancient Near Eastern literature.

The prayers in the Hittite corpus are mostly of high-ranking bureaucrats and are full of references to the political reality of the supplicants. Singer has used these allusions to help divide the prayers into chapters along an essentially chronological axis: each chapter deals with a particular time period in some way. Prayers believed to be written before the fourteenth century are arranged in a chapter of "Early Invocations." The criteria for this group are the presence of the rhetoric of kingship ideology as well as an absence of Mesopotamian or Hurrian influence. Singer follows this with a chapter entitled "Early Empire Prayers." After the fourteenth century, as the Hittites expanded their political boundaries, they expanded their supplicational repertoire to include both Mesopotamian and Hurrian elements. An additional result of this expansion was increased conflict with the areas north and west of the Hittite homeland. Prayers in this chapter include those of Kantuzzili, Amuwanda, and Asmunikal, a summary (though not translation) of a Hurrian prayer by Taduhepa, and translations of several prayers that appear to conform to the historical and political situation of this period. …

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