Tag Archives: Hittites

The Secret Of The Hittites * C.W. Ceram (1956)

This book was first published in 1955 under the vague title “Enge Schlucht und schwarzer Berg” (‘Narrow canyon and black mountain’), but soon translated to English. It is not a book about the Hittites, but a book about ‘Hittitology’, the branch of science that came after the investigations started with a few lucky findings. Ceram (a pseudonym for Kurt Marek) is not a ‘Hittitologist’ either, but a man who started writing for newspapers and later dedicated his skills to books. The book gives the fascinating story of the discovery of an ’empire’ that had long been thought to have been just one of the Palestinean tribes mentioned in the Bible. Different archeologists have made some lucky discoveries in areas far away from eachother in the late 19th century. Later these findings were connected to the same peoples and (falsely) called “Hittites”. As investigations continued, the Hittites proved to have been a power not only living between the Egyptians and the Sumerians, but also of comparable power and eloquence. Ceram fills his book with anecdotes about the people digging for treasures, their adventures in the inhabitable lands of nowadays Turkey, the people trying to decipher the ‘unknown script from an unknown culture in an unknown language’, the problems of dating the findings and all the problems the scholars of a new science run into. The book reads easily and is well-written. There is of course some information about the Hittites, but the Hittites themselves are not the subject of this book. Ceram’s book is an amusing read, but I hoped for other sort of information.
1956 Phoenix Press, isbn 1842122959

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

Hittite Myths * Harry A. Hoffner jr. (1998)

In the last Heidnisches Jahrbuch I read about the Hittites. The article caught my attention because we are supposedly speaking about an Indo-European near-Eastern peoples of which texts remain older than the Vedas, usually regarded the oldest Indo-European texts. In fact the ages of both writings are about the same, from 1500 BCE as oldest text going well further towards the beginning of the era. The Hittite myths are closely akin to the more famous Sumerian myths of the same area and Sumerian Gods and Goddesses are mentioned frequently. There are said to be many texts that survived, yet Hoffner made a book of only about 90 pages with myths. The texts are left on stone tablets in different languages. The tablets are often heavily damaged, so the translations contain a lot of gaps, some parts are even unreadable. What is left are enjoyable myths about Gods and Goddesses, about Gods and men and here and there about some hero. There are storm gods, sky gods and earth gods, some have names, some do not. The myths go from very simple to very elaborate and also the lengths differ greatly. Hoffner sometimes give different versions of the same myth or uses different versions to come to a better result. The myths are nice to read. They are sometimes indeed Indo-European, but overall remind me more of the Sumerian kind of mythology. I have also two books about the Hittites which I will review when I finished them. I usually prefer to read the texts themselves, so I started with this little book. In the same series there are other kinds of Hittite texts available.

[The Storm God of the Sky set out towards the steppe], the meadow, [and the moor(?). He carried off plenty, prosperity, and abundance. The Storm God departed], and barley [and wheat] no longer [ripened. Cattle, sheep], and hmand did not [become pregnant]. And those wo [were pregnant did not give birth] from that time.

1998 (2nd edition, the first edition is of 1990) society of biblical literature, isbn 0788504886