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 Vol. 7, No. 7 

July 2005


~ Page 2 ~

The Missing Superpower

By Louis Rushmore

Image An ancient nation, a superpower, that though mentioned in the Bible was otherwise unknown was the Hittite Empire. Critics, therefore, indicted the Bible as historically inaccurate on this account--until through archaeology the Hittite Empire's capital city was unearthed in Turkey. The Hittites were contemporary with the Patriarchs.

In 1906 ...125 miles east of Ankara, Turkey... The massive site of more than four hundred acres (compare the eight and one-half acres of biblical Jericho) proved to be the capital of the Hittite Empire. ...a large Hittite royal archive of over ten thousand clay tablets in the citadel area. This archive included a treaty between the Hittites and Ramses II... (Free and Vos 108)

The Hittites are a striking example of a chapter in Old Testament history that was once dismissed as unreliable, or even mythological, but now must be accepted as trustworthy history thanks to 20th-century archaeological work. ... Who might be interested in the Hittites today? Anyone concerned about the credibility of Scripture. It is a moving experience for the Bible believer to wander through the ruins of Hattusas or view the Hittite art and clay tablets in the Ankara and Istanbul museums. Just a century ago, there were no Hittite ruins, no art and no written records, so the Bible accounts were brushed aside as myth. Not so today--thanks to these archaeological finds. (Humble, "Hittites" 36-38)

The Hittites were a European tribe that migrated south to Asia Minor and dominated native people there before extending its influence through the Fertile Crescent. A Hittite prayer mentions seeing the sun rise out of the sea and may indicate that the Hittites formerly lived in the vicinity of either the Black or Caspian seas (Ceram 92-93). The Hittite Empire employed the first known "constitutional monarchy" (128). Their king lists have been deciphered, and their language has been successfully translated, too. Hittite control of Asia Minor extended from 1800 B.C. to 1200 B.C. (213).

The Hittite migration represents the first conflict between 'East and West' in recorded history. The Hittite Empire grew to become one of just a few major powers in the Fertile Crescent, conquering Babylon, fighting Assyria and successfully warring with Egypt (3-5). Assyrian and Egyptian records note skirmishes with the Hittites over a period of 700 years (27).

In part, their military prowess was dependent upon their refinement of the battle chariot--the tank of that era. The Hittites used spoked wheels instead of solid wheels on their chariots, which improved maneuverability and speed. Whereas their opponents assigned two personnel per chariot--a driver and a warrior, the Hittites assigned an additional warrior--for one on each side of the driver (156-157).

The Hittite empire was centered in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). At its maximum, it extended from the Aegean coast of Anatolia [Asia Minor], east to the Euphrates River, southeastward into Syria as far as Damascus, and south along the eastern Mediterranean coast of the Levant. Hittite King Mursuli sacked Babylon around 1600 BC, but did not attempt to hold the region. (Shelly 82)

The first battle in history about which enough written details survive to reconstruct it was between the Hittites and Egypt at Kadesh in 1296 B.C. on the Orontes River. Pharaoh himself and the remnants of his army only survived that contest because the Hittites stopped to plunder the abandoned Egyptian camp and lacked sufficient resolve to pursue the fleeing Egyptians. The two nations settled for an impasse in what was supposed to be a war to decide control of the land between the Nile and Tigris rivers. Consequently, the first detailed peace treaty in history brought peace between these two ancient superpowers. This peace treaty survives in both Egyptian and Hittite languages and has been unearthed respectively in their two nations (167-194).

Rameses II and Hauttusilis made a treaty of non-aggression in 1284--the first known in history. Both Egyptian and Hittite copies of this treaty have been preserved; the border between the two powers is set to the south of Kadesh in middle Syria. (Lewis 92)

One copy of this treaty, in the Hittite language, is engraved in cuneiform script on tablets found near Hattusas; two other copies, in Egyptian hieroglyphics, are carved on walls in Thebes and Karnak. (Shanks, "Expedition" 76)

About a hundred years later, the Hittites themselves were annihilated by invaders, who instead of occupying the conquered cities, plundered and abandoned them. "At one blow the entire Hittite Empire was wiped out" (197-198). The swiftness and utter desolation of the Hittite Empire doubtless contributed immeasurably to its obscurity until unearthed recently.

Seldom has a world power collapsed more suddenly or completely. Having rivaled Egypt in the early thirteenth century for the control of western Asia, the Hittites were by the middle of that century having increasing difficulty in maintaining their position against coalitions of Aegean peoples in western Asia Minor. In spite of temporary successes, they were unable to stave off disaster. In the decades after ca. 1240 they were engulfed in a tide of race migration that tore their brittle structure from its moorings and washed it forever from the map of history. By the end of the century inscriptional witness fails, and it is evident that the Hittites have gone under. (Bright)

Usually a political and commercial economy maintains some residual presence even when overpowered (e.g., Greek), but the Hittite ruination was sufficiently comprehensive to erase their entire culture.

However, remnants of Hittites remained in various places. In the description of the land that the Israelites were to possess, God cited a people called the Hittites (Joshua 1:4). "The Hittite Empire dominated the heartland of Asia Minor from 1750 B.C. until about 1200 B.C. ...The Old Testament has about 40 references to the Hittites" (Humble and Fair 14).

Until early in the twentieth century, the Hittites were unknown and not considered historical. The Bible, accordingly, was faulted. Since the discovery of the Hittite capital city in mountainous Turkey, additional Hittite sites have been discovered. Once more, the Bible has been exonerated by archaeological discoveries. This can only heighten the faith of Bible believers!Image

Works Cited

Bright, John. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981.

Ceram, C.W. The Secret of the Hittites. New York: Alfred A. Knope, 1956.

Free, Joseph P. and Howard F. Vos. Archaeology and Bible History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Humble, Bill. "Hittites: Lost and Found." Gospel Advocate, Nashville. Sep. 1998: 36-38.

Humble, Bill and Ian Fair. The Seven Churches of Asia. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1995.

Lewis, Jack P. "Bible Archaeology and Geography." The World and Literature of the Old Testament. Joplin: College Press, 1979. 71-116.

Shanks, Hershel. "Expedition." Biblical Archaeology Review. Mar.-Apr. 1998: 76.

Shelly, Bruce and others. Age of Empires. Microsoft Corporation, 1997.

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