Why the Hittites were at Hebron in Palestine


We read in Genesis 23:7 that 'Abraham stood up and then bowed low to the Hittites, the people of that country'. The only trouble about this is that, according to our extremely sound archaeological knowledge, there should not have been any Hittites in 'that country' - namely, at Hebron in Palestine. The Hittite conquests never extended that far south.


So what do we do with this riddle?

In his book The Hittites, Professor Oliver Gurney has an entire section (pp. 59-62) entitled 'The Hittites in Palestine'.


In it he says:

We have now to deal with the paradoxical fact that, whereas the Hittites appear in the Old Testament as a Palestinian tribe, increasing knowledge of the history of the ancient people of Hatti has led us ever farther from Palestine, until their homeland has been discovered in the heart of the Anatolian plateau.


Moreover, the preceding outline of Hittite history will have shown us that before the reign of Suppiluliumas there was no Hittite state south of the Taurus; that the Syrian vassal states of the Hittite Empire were confined to the area north of Kadesh on the Orontes; and that although Hittite armies reached Damascus, they never entered Palestine itself. Of the neo-Hittite states there was none south of Hamath, and the latter did not include any part of Palestine within its territories, being separated from it by the Aramean kingdom of Damascus.

The presence of Hittites in Palestine before the Israelite conquest thus presents a curious problem. So far from explaining it, all our accumulated knowledge of the people of Hatti [the Hittites] has only made it more perplexing.

References in the Bible include Genesis 23 (entire), Genesis 26:9-11, 34-5; 27:46 (where Rebecca says to Isaac: 'I am weary to death of Hittite women! If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like those who live here, my life will not be worth living!'), and 36:1-3. Further crucial reference to the Hittites appears in the Book of Numbers 13:29.


There Moses is told by some men he had sent at the Lord's command to explore Hebron (and we are told in Numbers 13:22-3, that Hebron 'was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt' - which is a curious remark, implying a connection between Hebron and Egypt and also that there was something special at Hebron which could be described as 'built'), that at Hebron they had seen the Hittites.

We thus find clear evidence in books of the Bible for the Hittites residing in Palestine. And their settlements were specifically in the hills at Hebron.

Gurney says:

'Who, then, were these Hittites of the Palestine hills ? A very ingenious answer has been put foward by E. Forrer.'

The gist of this is that, considerably before 1335 B.C., some Hittites from the city of Kurustamma in the north-east of Anatolia had gone to Egypt, of which documentary evidence exists:

However surprising it may seem, the text here quoted states explicitly that during the reign of Suppiluliumas some men from this obscure northern city entered the 'land of Egypt', a term which would include all territory under Egyptian rule. The text leaves the circumstances under which this occurred obscure, but the reference to the Weather-god of Hatti as the instigator of the move is in favour of a deliberate act of state rather than a flight of fugitives from the Hittite conquest, as suggested by Forrer.


However that may be, we have here one certain instance of a group of Hittites (i.e., subjects of the King of Hatti) entering Egyptian territory, and the possibility of their having settled in the sparsely populated Palestinian hills is not to be ignored . . . (But) emigration of Anatolian Hittites to Palestine cannot have been a frequent occurrence. . . . (and) there is some hope that further excavation [of texts] among the archives of Boghazkoy will bring enlightenment.

It should be pointed out that the reign of Suppiluliumas during which the above emigration took place covered the years 1380-1346 B.C. It was to him that the widow of Tutankhamen, the Egyptian Queen Ankhesenamun, third daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, sent a plaintive letter asking for one of his sons to become her husband.


He sent a son, but the son was ambushed on the way to Egypt and killed, probably by Hor-em-heb, who seized the throne of Egypt and forced Ankhesenamun to marry him in order to legitimize his usurpation. This is a sad story but does not really concern us here. I mention it merely to bring to life the chronology of the emigration to Hebron, and also because it demonstrates the close links possible at that time between the Hittites and Egypt. Those who wish to read the letter in full and follow up this interesting tale of personal tragedy are referred to Ancient Mar Eastern Texts (ed. Pritchard, see Bibliography), pp. 319, 395.

However, the Hittite emigration in the reign of Suppiluliumas cannot have been the original Hittite settlement at Hebron. For if Abraham met Hittites when he arrived at Hebron, then there must have been Hittites there for several hundred years before the reign of Suppiluliumas which extended 1380-1346 B.C.


We learn from George Roux in his book Ancient Iraq, p. 242:

'Abraham and his family came from Ur in Sumer to Hebron in Canaan, probably about 1850 B.C., and there are good reasons for placing Joseph's migration to Egypt during the Hyksos period (1700-1580 B.C.).'

Despite the fact that there can be a case made for Abraham's Ur being a different Ur, the main point is the date, for Abraham went to Hebron and met Hittites already there five hundred years before the emigration which Gurney mentions. Roux repeats his dating, and gives references, on page 215 of his book.

It is likely that, half a millennium after Abraham, the Hittite emigration of which we have proof during the reign of Suppiluliumas went to Egyptian territory, and quite probably to Hebron, to reinforce the Hittite community which had already been there for many centuries, but which was facing hard times. One has only to read the Amarna Letters in translation in Ancient Near Eastern Texts - vivid, compulsive, desperate documents - to know the anarchy into which the region of Palestine was plunged during this period.


The prince of the Hebron region, Shuwardata, first fought the rapacious Apiru raiders who swarmed over the countryside and then joined them, rebelling against the Pharaoh before whom, in his correspondence, he had shortly before been 'bowing seven times and again seven times, both prone and supine'. But Egypt was weak, and Palestine degenerated into chaos. It is no wonder that during this period there was a Hittite migration to what was titular Egyptian territory. No Hittite settlement at Hebron could have felt itself entirely secure.


But what was the reason for the Hittite settlement at Hebron in the first place ?

In the light of our earlier elucidation of the geodetic oracle octaves, it seems clear that the presence of the Hittites at Hebron can be explained on religious grounds. For we know that Hebron was the 'base oracle' centre of the eastern geodetic oracle octave. The top centre of this same octave was Metsamor at Ararat, to the north and east of Hittite territory, and is probably the reason why the Hittites who migrated to 'Egyptian territory' during the reign of Suppiluliumas were from an obscure north-eastern city (because this was the closest Hittite region to Ararat).


The area of Ararat was later to become the kingdom of Urartu, and we know that this kingdom and the Hittites were not altogether strangers, for we learn from Gurney, pages 44-5:

'The North Syrian Hittite states . . . may have felt a certain racial or cultural affinity with Urartu Since we have documentary evidence that it was a divine command which made the Hittites of the fourteenth century B.C. go to what we assume was possibly Hebron, we can see that they were obeying an oracular injunction. This is natural if their activity was connected with the oracle centers. Indeed, they could not have gone without a divine command on such exclusively divine and non-imperial business. Gurney may be quite right in saying that the journey was a deliberate act and not a flight of fugitives. It was as deliberate as the 'doves who flew to Dodona'.

We have distinct evidence that Hebron really did have an oracle centre, apart from its being on the same latitude as Behdet. To investigate this, we turn to The White Goddess by Robert Graves, where in Chapter IX he discusses Hebron a great deal.

But Caleb . . . conveyed the Holy Spirit to Hebron when, in the time of Joshua, he ousted the Anakim from the shrine of Machpelah. Machpelah, an oracular cave cut from the rock, was the sepulchre of Abraham, and Caleb went there to consult his shade ... it is likely that neither Isaac nor Jacob nor their 'wives' were at first associated with the cave. The story of its purchase from Ephron . . . and the . . . Hittites, is told in Genesis 23.

Though late and much edited, this chapter seems to record a friendly arrangement between the devotees of the goddess Sarah, the Goddess of the tribe of Isaac, and their allies the devotees of the Goddess Heth (Hathor? Tethys?) who owned the shrine:

Sarah was forced out of Be'er-Lahai-Roi by another tribe and came to seek an asylum at nearby Hebron (p. 162).

Graves states (p. 164) that 'Abraham' was in fact a tribe, and that this tribe also came down from Armenia (vicinity of Ararat). He says:' "Abraham" being in this sense the far-travelled tribe that came down into Palestine from Armenia at the close of the third millennium B.C.' In fact, we must give some thought to 'the chosen people' - later known as Hebrews - being 'chosen' in the sense that they were particularly connected with tending an oracle centre or centres. Did Abraham go to Hebron for the same reasons that the Hittites did?

Graves says (p. 164):

J. N. Schofield in his Historical Background to the Bible notes that to this day the people of Hebron have not forgiven David for moving his capital to Jerusalem ('Holy Salem') which they refer to as 'The New Jerusalem' as though Hebron were the authentic one. There is a record in the Talmud of a heretical sect of Jews, called Melchizedekians, who frequented Hebron to worship the body (consult the spirit?) of Adam which was buried in the cave of Machpelah.

In fact, these Melchizedekians, though considered heretics, may have been adherents of a purer undistorted form of worship. And it may be that David was the great perverter of Judaism by moving Holy Salem away from Hebron.


Graves continues:

For Adam, 'the red man', seems to have been the original oracular hero of Machpelah; it is likely that Caleb consulted his shade not Abraham's, unless Adam and Abraham are titles of the same hero. Elias Levita, the fifteenth-century Hebrew commentator, records the tradition that the teraphim which Rachel stole from her father Laban were mummified oracular heads and that the head of Adam was among them. If he was right, the Genesis narrative refers to a seizure of the oracular shrine of Hebron by Saul's Benjaminites from the Calebites.

Caleb was an Edomite clan; which suggests the identification of Edom with Adam: they are the same word, meaning 'red'. But if Adam was really Edom, one would expect to find a tradition that the head of Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites, was also buried at Hebron; and this is, in fact, supplied by the Talmud . . . that Esau's body was carried off for burial on Mount Seir by his sons; and that his head was buried at Hebron by Joseph.

Elsewhere (page 167) Graves says:

It is possible that though the Calebites interpreted 'Adam' as the Semitic word Edom ('red') the original hero at Hebron was the Danaan Adamos or Adamastos, 'the Unconquerable', or 'the Inexorable', a Homeric epithet of Hades, borrowed from the Death Goddess his mother.

Graves says that according to the tradition (p. 161): 'Hebron may be called the centre of the earth, from its position near the junction of two seas and the three ancient continents.' How similar this 'centre of the earth' epithet is to Delphi's, as 'the navel of the world'. All the main oracle centres were navel or omphalos centres of the earth.


Hebron's description as such is what one would have predicted. The traditions of the creation of Adam at Hebron and of its being the site of the Garden of Eden, as Graves tells us in this chapter, make sense also when it is realized that Hebron was the base of the entire eastern geodetic octave of oracle centres. It was the eastern counterpart of Behdet itself.

Graves tells us at the beginning of Chapter Four of the later history of Hebron:

A confederacy of mercantile tribes, called in Egypt, 'the People of the Sea' . . . invaded Syria and Canaan, among them the Philistines, who captured the shrine of Hebron in southern Judea from the Edomite clan of Caleb; but the Calebites ('Dog-men'), allies of the Israelite tribe of Judah, recovered it about the same time. These borrowings were later harmonized in the Pentateuch with a body of Semitic, Indo-European and Asianic myth which composed the religious traditions of the mixed Israelite confederacy.

In closing, we should note with a minimum of surprise, that the guardian tribe of the shrine of Hebron, the Calebites, were 'Dog-men'. Dogs are guardians, and preserve the secrets of the Dog Star Sirius, particularly as expressed in the ancient geodetic oracle octaves.

As for the Hittites, they were at Hebron - and only at that specific place in Palestine - because of its oracle centre.


That is why they were 'sent by divine command', centuries later, presumably to reinforce that very place against the dangers of a turbulent time when Egyptian control under Akhenaten had collapsed.


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