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My Weekend in Hattusa

February 19, 2008

The Hittites and Their WorldI spent the better part of Sunday and Monday working through Billie Jean Collins’ The Hittites and Their World, (Archaeology and Biblical Studies 7; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007). The book is divided into five chapters covering the history of the field, political history of the Hittites, Hittite society, Hittite religion and finally Hittites in the Bible.

Collins’ book contains useful, up-to-dated bibliography (clear up to the end of 2006) and included recent digs such as Sarissa. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive bibliography, and one is forced to search back through the large (50-70 page) chapters for the first appearance of an article rather than finding at the back. This minor problem aside, the book is quite useful and very informative.

My purpose of spending a weekend reading on the Hittites was to answer some thorny issues in my dissertation related to political rituals in the Hittite empire. Not unexpectedly, these issues were answered more by footnotes and bibliography than the main chapter. However, while reading the chapter on religion I came across this little nugget related to the nature of Hittite religious texts:

These religious compositions are official in nature, not canonical or theological, and certainly were not written to aid in private devotion. Instead, the records were intended to aid the bureaucracy in the organization and maintenance of the religious regulations to guide the temple personnel in the performance of their duties, record of cultic administration, prescriptions for the proper performance of ceremonies, reports of diviners, religious compositions used in scribal education and so on. (p.157)

It occurred to me, while reading this, that this also describes the archives at Ugarit as well. The texts we have are neither canonical nor theological nor devotional in nature. Ugaritic religious texts serve as aids for the ritual bureaucracy in ways quite similar to their Hittite counterparts. While there are many scholars who would disagree with this summation, it is nice to be able to point to similarities in contemporary archives to bolster one’s claims.

(BTW: any readers wishing that this post was about an actual vacation at Hattusa are welcomed to help fund a trip 😉 )

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2008 9:04 pm

    Thanks for the review–I’ll need to read this volume. Figuring out the devotional/personal religious views of ANE peoples is a tough task indeed. I often wonder what the “average” person thought in contrast to these “official” documents that were in archival collections.

  2. jake permalink
    February 21, 2008 10:08 am

    “Thanks for the review–I’ll need to read this volume. Figuring out the devotional/personal religious views of ANE peoples is a tough task indeed.”

    There are less arduous roads. Hoffner has a nice chapter on the Royal Cult at Hatti in Text, Artifact, and Religion (SBL Press).

    “religious texts serve as aids for the ritual bureaucracy in ways”–“the Day of Atonement” text sounds pretty egalitarian. Plus there were several copies.

  3. jimgetz permalink*
    February 21, 2008 12:05 pm

    Since I deal with rituals, I really don’t care what the average folks were thinking. I’m really at the point where I don’t think that we can answer that question in the ANE.

  4. jake permalink
    February 21, 2008 6:49 pm

    You wouldn’t consider KTU 1.40 to be a ritual?

  5. jimgetz permalink*
    February 22, 2008 8:32 am

    Sure, CAT 1.40 is a ritual. However, I wouldn’t equate a religious ritual for national unity with what the “average” person might have thought.

    The same goes with the Bible. While I don’t buy vander Toorn’s argument completely, I have been persuaded by his discussion on how the Bible was written by scribes for scribes. The textual evidence only portrays what the average person thinks in polemical terms that probably grossly caricaturize them.

  6. February 22, 2008 11:44 am

    Thanks for the review. As I read your review I had the same thought concerning the material from Ugarit as you expressed at your last paragraph. You are also correct about KTU (CAT) 1.40. It is a ritual text.

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