Hittites And Hethites: A Proposed Solution To An Etymological Conundrum -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:2 (Jun 2011)
Article: Hittites And Hethites: A Proposed Solution To An Etymological Conundrum
Author: Bryant G. Wood

Hittites And Hethites: A Proposed Solution To An Etymological Conundrum

Bryant G. Wood*

* Bryant Wood resides at 4328 Crestview Road, Harrisburg, PA 17112.

The name “Hittite(s)” appears forty-eight times in contemporary English Bibles,1 stemming from the Reformation Geneva Bible published in 1560. All English translations prior to the Geneva Bible had “Hethite(s)” rather than “Hittite(s),” based on the Latin Vulgate. The Roman Catholic Douay English translation of the OT is the only modern English version to retain “Hethite(s)” from the Vulgate.2 Should it be “Hethite(s),” “Hittite(s),” or a combination of the two? Both names are Anglicized transliterations of the gentilic terms הִתִּי (m. sg.), חִתִּים (f. sg.), חִתִּים (m. pl.), and חתִּיֹּת (f. pl.) in the Hebrew Bible, which we shall examine in detail in this article.3

There was a time when historians scoffed at the name “Hittite(s)” in the OT since it was not known outside the Bible.4 Archaeological discoveries in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Turkey, and Syria from the early nineteenth century on, however, have revealed an Indo-European group scholars have dubbed “Hittites” (as opposed to “Hethites”), who established an empire in Anatolia that became a major power in the ancient Near East. But a serious problem remains. The biblical references to Hittites living in Canaan appear to be unhistorical since there is no evidence—linguistic, historical, or archaeological—for a Hittite presence in Canaan. Kempinsky attempted to establish an early twelfth-century migration of Hittites to Canaan, requiring Abraham to be placed in the thirteenth-twelfth century BC,5 but this scenario finds little support in the archaeological record. Singer recently reviewed the finds and concluded:

the archaeological evidence seems hardly sufficient to prove a presence of northern Hittites in Palestine. After a century of intensive excavations, all that has surfaced is a handful of Hittite seals and about a dozen pottery vessels that exhibit some northern artistic influences. The seals may have belonged to Hittite citizens who passed through Canaan, and the vessels may have filtered gradually into Palestine through various Syrian intermediaries. The paucity of tangible evidence becomes even more conspicuous i...

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