Hittite Religious Belief

by Maria Kielmas

The Hittites were Indo-European speakers who established a kingdom in central Anatolia (part of modern Turkey) in the 18th century BC. At its height, the Hittite empire ruled over most of what is now Turkey, northern and central Iraq (Upper Mesopotamia of the time) and northern and southwestern Syria. The empire collapsed in the 12th century BC. Archaeologists call the Hittite kingdom the “kingdom of a thousand gods” because of its polytheism.

Polytheism

The Hittites had gods for mountains, forests and animals. Kings became gods on death, and foreign gods - especially Babylonian deities - were absorbed into their pantheon. By merging the gods of a subjugated people with their own, Hittite rulers were able to control those people. But as the Hittite legal code protected all religious rights, this incorporation of foreign deities presented an appearance of religious tolerance. No written doctrine of Hittite beliefs has been discovered although the late Hittite empire is mentioned in the Old Testament.

Sun God

The Sun God is the king of all the gods and is called the Supreme Lord Justice. He is the first god invoked in the Hittite version of the peace treaty between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II and Hittite King Hattusili III that was concluded about 1259 - 60 BC. This is the world's oldest surviving written peace treaty and was agreed 16 years after the Battle of Kadesh, a location near Homs in modern Syria. The Sun God controlled the heavens as well as matters on Earth. But he did not have the omnipresence of the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Storm God

The Storm God was the son of the Sky God Kumarbis, who was the father of all the gods. Called Teshub or Hatusa, the Storm God became the most exalted deity and supreme overlord of the earth and heavens, and in practice more powerful than the Sun God. He controlled the weather and fertility. Natural disasters such as droughts, storms and earthquakes were a demonstration of his anger. He lived in the mountains and travelled across them on a chariot pulled by bulls.

Female Deity

All male gods have a female counterpart. Arrina is the consort of the Storm God and the highest ranking female deity, but is also addressed as "Sun God My Lord.” Ishtar in the female form is the goddess of love and sexuality but in the male form, the god of war. She/he has the power to change men into women on the battlefield so that they cannot fight.

Prayers and Oracles

Half of Hittite prayers are addressed to the Sun God and sun deities. Prayers either defended the worshipper or supplicant against an accusation, or attempted to justify his actions. The gods communicated through omens such as astronomical configurations, bird flight patterns, or the trembling of slaughtered animals’ remains. People from the lower social orders who could not afford to slaughter an animal would drop some oil into water and interpret the patterns formed at the bottom of a vessel.

About the Author

Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.

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