Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.
Who Were the Hittites?
For most people, their familiarity with the Hittites comes from biblical references in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. They appear in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Ezekiel. However, when comparing historical records, biblical records, and archaeological evidence, scholars agree that the Hittites from the Bible are more aptly called the Neo-Hittites who remained in the region during the decline of their kingdom.
The original Hittites ruled a large empire they called Hatti, from around the 18th century BCE, in what is now part of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Speaking an Indo-European language called Nesite, the Neo-Hittites kept the culture going in the areas near Syria when the Hatti kingdom collapsed in the 12th century BCE. This lesson, however, is about their religion. So let's find out why archaeologists call Hatti the ''kingdom of a thousand gods.''
Most of what we know about the Hittites comes from their own writing, uncovered from archaeological digs. These texts provide us with a look into governmental records, history, and religious beliefs. We also gain evidence of their religion from unearthing temples and shrines. This is how the kingdom got its nickname from archaeologists.
The archaeologists miscounted a bit, however. The Hittites did not have 1,000 gods; they had many thousands of gods and adopted new ones from each culture they met. Their pantheon also had a succession of rulers as the gods seemed to overthrow each other quite frequently until Tarhun took the throne.
The following is a list of the main deities that appeared most often in Hittite mythology.
- Istanu: He was the god who ruled the sun when it was in the sky. Istanu was also the god of judges.
- Lelwani: Also a goddess of death, Lelwani ruled the sun in the earth. Basically, that meant ruling the sun when it set as well as any fires within the earth like magma.
- A'as: This god seemed to be the Hittite version of Ea, an Akkadian deity, and Enki, a Sumerian god. The domain of A'as was wisdom. Myths about him show other gods consulting him, especially on matters of taking the throne of heaven from other gods.
- Hanwasuit: She was the goddess of thrones, empowering the mortal kings of the Hittites with the divine power to rule.
- Hannahannah: Sharing the domain of wisdom with A'as, Hannahannah was a mother goddess known to comfort and guide the other Hittite gods. While A'as appeared in myths about overthrowing rulers, Hannahannah appeared in myths involving gods going missing.
- Tarhun: He was the god of storms and the king of all the Hittite gods. According to mythology, Tarhun gathered his siblings to overthrow Kumarbi, the king of the heavens before Tarhun. A large portion of recovered mythology told stories of Kumarbi, his children, and their demonic servants of the underworld repeatedly battling Tarhun to try to regain the throne.
- Kumarbi: King of the gods before Tarhun, Kumarbi ruled the Netherworld and the dark creatures inhabiting it.
- Shaushka: She was the goddess of beauty and fertility but also of jealousy and rage. Saushka was one of Tarhun's wives.
- Ullikummi: The son of Kumarbi, he was the evil god dethroned by Tarhun. Ullikummi's mother was an attractive rock Kumarbi decided to seduce. Yes, you read that right — a rock. Ullikummi grew to be a giant made of basalt, a type of stone. He appeared in many of the myths involving his father's attempts to take back the throne of the gods.
Succession of God Kings
The stories in Hittite mythology told of four gods who sat on the throne of heaven. The first was Alalu, father of the later king Kumarbi. He was only able to rule for nine years until Anu, the sky god, overthrew him. Alalu fled to the underworld at that time.
Anu's reign was just as short as Alalu's, lasting only nine years before Kumarbi overthrew Anu and took back his father's throne. Kumarbi knew that if Anu had a child, he or she could one day overthrow him in the same way he just took the throne. To solve this problem, he bit off and swallowed Anu's testicles.
Unbeknownst to Kumarbi, however, the seed of Anu's testicles sprouted in Kumarbi's stomach, and Anu's children began to grow. Kumarbi fell ill with intense stomach pains after nine years on the throne. He summoned A'as, the god of wisdom, to beg him to identify his sickness and find a cure. A'as quickly identified that Kumarbi was full of Anu's children and should spit them out immediately.
Tarhun, the storm god and one of Anu's children, led his siblings to overthrow Kumarbi as soon as they were free from his stomach. Kumarbi, like his father, fled to the underworld but chose to rule the dark lands rather than simply occupy them. From this domain, he plotted to have a son who could one day overthrow Tarhun and continue the cycle.
Unfortunately, it would take an entire volume of books to cover the thousands of Hittite gods and the myths surrounding them written in the limited number of texts recovered and translated by archaeologists. However, scholars aptly named the Hittite kingdom of Hatti the ''kingdom of a thousand gods'' even if that number is a low estimate. Among their gods, four ruled the heavenly throne. The first three were Alalu, Anu, and Kumarbi, who each ruled for nine years before being dethroned by their successors. Tarhun, the son of Anu and the god of storms, broke the cycle to rule indefinitely, while Kumarbi tried to regain the throne he and his father, Alalu, held. Until successful, Kumarbi rules the underworld.
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