Skip to main content

Hittite and Hurrian Religions

HITTITE AND HURRIAN RELIGIONS

Since the religion of the hittites had much in common with that of the Hurrians, those elements common to both religions will be treated here in connection with Hittite religion. The elements peculiar to Hurrian religion will then be treated separately.

Hittite Religion. The Hittite conception of divinity was deeply anthropomorphic (see anthropomorphism). Survivals of more primitive thought are apparent in the representation of the storm-god as a bull, in the worship of mountains, rivers, and springs, and in a few other features such as certain divine images not in human form, but these are exceptional. In general the gods are very much like men: sexually differentiated, forming families, requiring sustenance, swayed by passions, etc. They are thus consistently represented in literature and art.

Hittite Pantheon. The gods, however, were immortal. They had, too, a quality called para handandatar, which they occasionally "showed" to men in extraordinary events. This is a specifically and, for us, virtually undefinable conception of numinous power. One text translates it by Sumerian nig.si.sá, "equity," and however inadequate this equation unquestionably is, it is important as indicating the ethical nature of the numinous.

The gods themselves were legion. Not only were the same gods in numerous local cults recognized as distinct, but the gods of the different peoples of Anatolia and neighboring countries, preceding and during the time of the Hittites, were worshiped with little effort at syncretism. These gods were even addressed in their "native languages." There were Hattic gods whom the Hittites inherited from the Hatti, their predecessors in the land, Indo-European gods of the Hittites, Hurrian and Babylonian gods, and a primitive group called Asianic.

The most important, even in the classical period of the Hittites (c. 14001200 b.c.), were Hattic, who were worshiped either under their Hattic names or in Hittite translations of their names, e.g., the Hattic goddess of healing, Katahzipuris, who was called Kamrusipas in Hittite. Supreme was the sun-goddess of Arinna, a city not far from the capital Hattusa. She was "the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of heaven and earth queen of all the countries." Her Hattic name was Wurusemu, her Hittite name is unknown. Her husband, probably Hattic Taru, was the storm-god, worshiped as the god of rain and fertility, either under the image of a bull or as a human figure with the bull his pedestal (cf. Jupiter Dolichenus). The couple's sons, the storm-gods of Nerik and Zippalanda, had cult centers north of Hattusa like Arinna and were probably local forms of Taru. Another important Hattic god was Telepinus, a vegetation or agricultural deity. The sun-god Istanus, "the sun-god of heaven," also had his cult; in fact, in the lists of divine witnesses to treaties, the sun-god is the first to be mentioned. He is the god of justice, a conception possibly connoting Babylonian influence.

Hurrian Pantheon. The next most important group of gods is the Hurrian. In the eastern part of the Hittite kingdom, the Hurrian cults of the goddess Hebat and her consort Teshub flourished in many centers. Within the official

religion there was a tendency to identify Hebat with the sun-goddess of Arinna and Teshub with Taru. King Hattusili III honored as his special protectress Shaushka, the Hurrian Ishtar of Shamuha.

Hurrian gods were adopted into the Hittite pantheon; for example, Sheri and Hurri, perhaps "Day and Night," who were Teshub's two bulls, and the sacred mountains Namni and Hazzi, the latter being Mt. Casius in north Syria near the mouth of the Orontes. Shaushka with her maids, Ninatta and Kulitta, regularly appear among the divine witnesses of the treaties, and besides other gods, such as Shimegi, the sun-god, and Kushuh, the moongod, the Hurrians transmitted to the Hittites a number of Babylonian deities.

Relations of Gods and Men. The fundamental relationship of gods to men was that of masters to servants. It finds its clearest expression in the cult. Each day, like masters of a household, the gods must be washed, clothed, and given their food and drink. As the real rulers of the land they must also receive their tribute in the form of first fruits, unblemished animals, etc. This was done in a fixed cycle of religious feasts, which in general were seasonal. At the most important feasts the king himself officiated as chief priest. This was one of his most important duties, and annually he had to make a tour of the principal sanctuaries. To perform their religious duties kings are known to have interrupted even a military campaign.

The cult took place in temples, although open-air sanctuaries also existed. To judge from the temples at Hattusa, the cella containing the cult-statue was so located that it was accessible only to the priests and usually was invisible to the general body of worshipers. However, there were processions of statues, and in the entertainment of the gods, for example, the mock battle performed before the war-god Yarris, the statues must often have been visible to general view. The cult was not without its risks. The participants and all else had to be pure (see pure and impure). Therefore, before the cult began, rites of purification were necessary, but neglect was possible, and the god could be offended with dire results for the guilty.

The Hittite conception of sin and divine punishment is well illustrated by the plague prayers of King Mursili II. The plague, which had raged for 20 years, is first explained as due to failure to make regular offerings to the Euphrates River. This was concluded from the fact that consultation of an ancient tablet revealed that earlier kings had made these offerings, but they were discontinued in the time of Mursili's father, during which period the plague began. This Mursili promises to correct; to do so, he is on his way now to the Euphrates. Beyond this, another tablet was discovered which showed that Mursili's father had violated the oath of a treaty. Although he gained a military victory in doing so, he brought back prisoners with the plague. To remedy the evil, Mursili confesses:

The father's sin falls upon the son. So, my father's sin has fallen upon me. Now, I have confessed before the Hattian storm-god, my lord, and before the gods, my lords (admitting): "It is true, we have done it." This is what I have to remindthee: The bird takes refuge in its nest, and the nest saves its life. Again: if anything becomes too much for a servant, he appeals to his lord. His lord hears him and takes pity on him. Whatever had become too much for him, he sets right for him. Again: if the servant has incurred guilt, but confesses his guilt to his lord, his lord may do with him what he pleases. But, because he [the servant] has confessed his guilt to his lord, his lord's soul is pacified, and his lord will not punish his servant. I have now confessed my father's sin.

This beautiful prayer shows the basic concepts, the tensions, and the occasional heights of Hittite religion.

A less attractive, but very characteristic, element in this religion was its alliance with magic. Black magic was absolutely forbidden and punishable by death. Where genuine sin was involved, reliance on magic was never complete; prayer, too, was needed, and the mercy of the gods was implored. Magic was seen as distinct from religion and, at least on the official level, not considered its surrogate. Magic removed impurity, which could be contracted from sexual intercourse, from contact with impure objects like corpses, from curses effected by black magic, etc. It cured impotence, drove ghosts out of houses, and gave specific form and power to a curse. In general it was governed, like all magic, by analogy. Thus, in the soldier's oath, salt was placed in his hands, and he heard the fate of the disloyal: "Just as salt has no seed, even so let that man's name, seed, house, cattle, and sheep perish"; and to this he said "Amen." Uncleanness is compared to darkness, and so the ailing, "impure" person is made to don black clothes only to be stripped of them.

Guidance might come from extraordinary divine intervention through a dream or a prophet. Usually, however, it was sought by divination: extispicy, augury, and a third means, which was probably some use of lots. The first was borrowed from the Babylonians; the techniques were elaborate, the tradition behind them long and complex. By a series of omens with their "favorable" or

"unfavorable" responses, the precise information sought could finally be acquired.

Myths. In the purulliyas festival, probably the New Year festival, which honored the storm-god, the Illuyankas myth was recited. Illuyankas, a dragon, and the storm-god meet one day and engage in combat. The dragon wins. Inaras, a Hattic goddess, helps the storm-god take his vengeance. First she gives her love to a mortal who in return promises his assistance. Then she entices Illuyankas to a feast and gets him drunk. Her lover binds the drunken dragon, then the storm-god easily disposes of him. In another and more recent version, Illuyankas first deprives the storm-god of his heart and eyes. The storm-god marries a mortal by whom he has a son; the son then marries the daughter of Illuyankas. At his father's advice he requests the return of the heart and eyes. This granted, the reinvigorated storm-god sets out for battle against Illuyankas. His son, now part of the dragon's household, sides with his father-in-law, and at his request is killed together with the dragon by his father.

The interpretation of this hieros logos of the purulliyas festival is obscure, but its similarity to the myth of Typhon in Greek sources should be noted. In a fight the monster Typhon overcomes Zeus, whose strength, however, is restored with the help of Typhon's daughter. Zeus then kills the monster. Zeus lives on Mt. Casius, Typhon on the Cilician coast. The myth, therefore, was originally at home in the neighborhood of the Hittites.

Myths, besides being used in the cult, were also employed in magical rituals (see myth and mythology). One such was the myth of Telepinus, the disappearing god. Because he disappears, he has been compared with tammuz, Adonis, and other "dying gods." However, Telepinus does not die; he hides. The myth was not recited seasonally in the cult, but in a magical rite to appease an angered god. According to the myth, Telepinus disappears in a fit of anger with the result that vegetation withers (Telepinus is the vegetation god), men and animals become sterile, etc. In this calamity all search proves futile until the goddess Hannahanna sends a bee, which finds Telepinus, but only makes matters worse by stinging the god and angering him the more. Magic is required; it is successfully applied by Kamrusipas (in another version by a man). Telepinus returns, and nature is restored.

Hurrian Religion. Although our knowledge of Hurrian religion is still imperfect, owing partly to the unsolved difficulties of the Hurrian language, the broad outlines are clear. To the principal gods of the Hurrian pantheon, which have already been mentioned, might be added the gods of war, Ashtabi and Nubadig, the latter appearing as Lubadagash in the third millennium.

Distinctive of the Hurrian pantheon is the presence of many Sumero-Akkadian gods (see mesopotamia, ancient, 3.): Aya, the wife of Shimegi; Nikkal, Sumerian Ningal and wife of the moon-god; Shala, in Akkadian sources the wife of the storm-god Adad, but in Hurrian religion the wife of Kumarbi, "father of the gods." In fact, as an organized pantheon, that of the Hurrians is Sumero-Akkadian, but adapted to the supremacy of the storm-god Teshub and his consort Hebat. Similar borrowings and adaptations are evident in the cult practices.

The myths of Kumarbi also illustrate the Sumero-Akkadian influence, and, more interestingly, they show Hurrian influence on Greek myths. In one myth the Hurrian god Kumarbi is preceded as king of heaven by Alalu and Anu, each having reigned for nine years. Anu is the Sumero-Akkadian god of heaven, and Alalu in the godlists is one of his ancestors. Kumarbi is equated with Enlil; thus, in the myth, Kumarbi betakes himself to Nippur, Enlil's city; outside the myth there are also many indications of this equation. According to the myth, Kumarbi gains the kingship by biting off Anu's membrum. Whether he thereby impregnates himself or, by spitting it out, impregnates the earth is not clear, but eventually three gods are born, one of whom is Teshub who deposes Kumarbi.

In another myth, which presupposes that Teshub is ruling, Kumarbi sleeps with a huge rock, which gives birth to the diorite monster Ullikummi. Placed in the sea, it grows and grows until it threatens all the gods of heaven; only the intervention of Ea, the Babylonian god of wisdom and magic, saves Teshub his kingship. In Hesiod's Theogony Uranos, "Heaven," is emasculated and deposed by Kronos, who in turn is overcome by Zeus; the similarity with Kumarbi's victory over Anu, "Heaven," is obvious. In the Ullikummi myth, in which the conflict of Ullikummi and Teshub takes place by Mt. Casius, one is again struck by a certain similarity to the Zeus-Typhon myth. Probably it was the Phoenicians who transmitted these Hurrian myths to the Greek mythographers.

Bibliography: l. delporte, Dictionnaire de la Bible suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 4:6078. a. goetze, j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton 1955); Kleinasien 2 Kulturgeschichte des alten Orients 3.1 (Handbuch der Altertumwissenschaft; Munich 1957) 130171. h. g. gueterbock, "Hittite Religion," Forgotten Religions, ed. v. ferm (New York 1950) 83107. o. r. gurney, The Hittites (Baltimore 1952).

[w. l. moran]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hittite and Hurrian Religions." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hittite and Hurrian Religions." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hittite-and-hurrian-religions

"Hittite and Hurrian Religions." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 25, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hittite-and-hurrian-religions

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.