The Hittites * O.R. Gurney (1952/1990)

A while ago I read about the Hittites, a people who lived in Asia Minor and held the middle between Indo-European and the Sumerian peoples. After having read a book with myths, here we have a book about the Hittites themselves. Gurney wrote his book in 1952, it has been revised three times by the time the version that I bought was printed. The book is mostly a history lesson. It goes from “the earliest period” to “the old kingdom” (1680-1420), “the empire” (1420-appr. 1200) to “the neo-Hittite kingdoms”. That is the first part of the book. In the next parts Gurney continues with the subjects “Hittite state and society”, “life and economy”, “law and institutions”, “warfare”, “languages and races”, “religion”, “literature” and “art”. The Hittites are known from the Old Testament as an Israelic tribe. The summing up of the Hittites as one of those tribes does not give them the credit they deserve. In fact, the Hittites formed a mighty people, rivaling with the Egyptians and the Sumerians of their time. Actually there was no thing as the Hittites. There were different peoples with different languages and different texts living in different times. Moreover, when the Hittites were at the peak of their power, they had excellent contact with other powerfull peoples and correspondence (often chiseled in stone!) was in a variety of languages, several with cuniform letters, but also one using hieroglyphs that are not unlike the Egyptian. The same goes for the divine pantheon. Inspite of the fact that there was a state religion, which was somewhat of an artificial conglomerate of the rest, the state supported local cults and also the Gods and Goddesses of neighbouring peoples found their places in the hearts of the Hittites. Especially because of the mix of Indo-European with non-Indo-European elements, the Hittites make an interesting, but not easy subject for study. Then there is the fact that scholars have not been able to make sense of every text that was found. Several texts are found in different versions, even in different languages. Since they are found on stone tablets which have been damaged in the course of time, many texts display greater or smaller lancunas. The sort of texts that are found is of a great variety. This varries from letters of one king to another, laws, religious texts with ceremonies, stories, a few myths have been left and there are many magical inscriptions found. The latter the author shoves under the label “primitive”, a term that the author uses now and then for the “lower” elements within the “high” society. All in all this little book (just over 200 pages Penguin format) is a nice introduction to an interesting piece of history. I am personally not immensely interested in the purely historical part of what king followed who and when some tribe moved to another place, but the (short) part about religion and the quotes from the texts that are left are interesting.
1952 (1990 revised reprint) Penguin Books, isbn 0140126015

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