Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Kingdom of the Hittites: The Least Known Empire of the Second Millennium B.C.E

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

The Kingdom of the Hittites: The Least Known Empire of the Second Millennium B.C.E

Article excerpt

A Review of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The Hittites and their civilization). By Itamar Singer. The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 26. Pp. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] + 312. Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 2009. Paper, $30.95.

While scholarly and popular books concerning the Bible are still being published in Hebrew in great numbers, Hebrew books on the cultures of the ancient Near East (ANE), cultures that form the essential background for understanding the world from which the Bible emerged, are few and far between. It is therefore no wonder that Professor Itamar Singer's The Hittites and Their Civilization is the first comprehensive volume in Hebrew dedicated to the Hittites, who are the less celebrated ancient inhabitants of the region, compared with the Egyptians, Babylonians, or Assyrians. The publication of a detailed study of the Hittites and their culture in Hebrew, written by the leading Israeli Hittitologist, is therefore a particularly happy occasion. The book, which is based on the most up-to-date scholarship, is written in a popular format. It is highly readable and of much interest as an introduction to this great and ancient civilization.

The culture of the Hittites flourished in Anatolia during the second millennium B.C.E., first as a localized kingdom and eventually as a powerful regional empire. At its zenith, the empire brought large parts of northern Mesopotamia and Syria under its domination and confronted the powerful Egyptian empire under Ramses II with equal force. The capital of the Hittites, Hattusa, was the mightiest metropolis of the ancient world, and even a century of extensive excavations has not exhausted its treasures. However, both the kingdom and capital, as well as the culture of the Hittites were lost and forgotten, and their rediscovery came relatively late compared with those of ancient Egypt, Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Greece, all of which reemerged from the shadows of the past during the nineteenth century owing to the inspired work of archaeologists, historians, linguists, and the decipherers of forgotten scripts. The Hittite empire was rediscovered only about a century ago, and to a certain extent remained marginal in spite of the exciting discoveries associated with it. For example, the Hittite language, which was written in cuneiform script, turns out to be the earliest documented Indo-European language, a coveted prize for historical linguists. Several other neighboring languages were also discovered, including Luwian, which was written in a hieroglyphic script, and Paleic, both Indo-European languages, as well as the autochthonic language, Hattic, which was spoken by people who resided in Anatolia before the arrival of the Hittites from an undetermined location. Another language is the Hurrian language, which appeared in eastern Anatolia and was adopted by the Hittites with its religion. The Hittites absorbed many cultural assets from their predecessors and neighbors, but eventually developed their own institutions, creating religion, literature, law, government, and visual arts of their own. The excavation of Hittite sites yielded tens of thousands of inscriptions, mostly on clay tablets, but also as seal impressions, rock inscriptions, and on metal objects, making possible the gradual reconstruction of the history and culture of the Hittite kingdom. The recent decade or two has witnessed a remarkable flourishing in scholarly publications concerning the history and religion of the Hittites, bringing new insights to this ever-developing field of study. (1)

Yet many intriguing questions still remain, even after a century of extensive research: what brought about the decline and fall of the great empire? What kind of relations did the Hittites have with their more famous western neighbors, the early Greeks and the kingdom of Troy? What kinds of mutual influence can be traced between them and their eastern and southern neighbors in Mesopotamia, Syria, Canaan, and as far as Egypt? …

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