Your Father Was an Amorite

In Ezekiel 16:3, Ezekiel tells Jerusalem that her father was an Amorite and her mother was a Hittite. What does this mean? Abraham was not an Amorite, and Sarah was not a Hittite.

Different exegetes have tried to explain this verse. Some focus on the city of Jerusalem, which is, after all, mentioned in the chapter. My HarperCollins Study Bible and Jewish Study Bible both point out that Jerusalem was once a Canaanite city, so Jerusalem was the offspring of Canaanites. My problem with this approach is that it does not really account for other features of the chapter. Ezekiel 16 says that Jerusalem was rejected and forsaken before God decided to raise her as his own and make her beautiful. As far as I know, these things did not happen to the actual city of Jerusalem. When David took it over in 2 Samuel 5 and made it his own city, he did not find it rejected and forsaken. Jebusites liked it enough to live there. Ezekiel 16 probably uses the term “Jerusalem” to mean the entire kingdom of Judah (or the representative of Judah), the same way that prophets use the term “Samaria” for the northern kingdom (see vv 45-46).

Another explanation is that the Amorites and the Hittites preceded the Israelites in the land of Canaan, so they could be called the parents of the Israelites. Maybe, but, again, that does not fit into the theme of Ezekiel 16:1-14: that God found Israel in a pitiful state and chose to love her. The Israelites’ bad parents have something to do with that pitiful condition.

The same goes for another popular interpretation, which says that the Israelites were children of the Canaanites in the sense that they imitated Canaanite wickedness. I will call this the spiritual interpretation, since it says that the Israelites were the offspring of the Canaanites in a spiritual, religious, or moral sense. There is some merit to this interpretation, since vv 43-51 condemn Jerusalem’s wickedness while calling her the daughter of Canaanites and the sister of Sodom. At the same time, Israel’s bad parents cannot relate only to her wickedness in the sixth century B.C.E., when Ezekiel criticized her. In the story that Ezekiel 16 presents, God made Jerusalem beautiful and then she began to decline morally. But, in Ezekiel 16, she was not only the daughter of Canaanites after God made her beautiful. She was the daughter of an Amorite and a Hittite when God first found her in her pitiful condition.

At the moment, the best I can do is to combine the spiritual interpretation with what Ezekiel says about Israel’s sojourn in Egypt (prior to the Exodus). According to Ezekiel 20 and 23, Israel was an idolatrous whore even in the land of Egypt. Israel’s experience in Egypt resembles what Ezekiel says about Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16: In Egypt, Israel was mistreated, bruised, and despised, until God decided to deliver her and make her his own. When God found Israel in Egypt, Israel was also like an Amorite and a Hittite in terms of her immoral behavior. Still, God showed Israel grace.

Are there any other interpretations that you know?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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7 Responses to Your Father Was an Amorite

  1. Avner says:

    The folloing is what I wrote about Ezekiel statement: Your mother is a Hittite.

    Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite
    Avner Ramu

    1. Introduction: The biblical Hittites

    In the first covenant that the Lord made with Abraham, He promised:

    “To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim. The Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Gen 15:18-21).

    Lists mentioning some of these nations, as well as the Hivites, appear through the biblical text up to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that were written in the Persian period (Ez 9:1; Neh 9:8). Except for their name the Bible provides only scant information about these nations, if at all. However, this statement does not apply to the Hittites, and the Bible mentions them not only as a nation but also refers to several Hittite individuals.

    The Hittites are not mentioned in the “Histories” written by the 5th century BC Herodotus (a native of Halicarnassus in southwestern Anatolia), and not in the much earlier historical material about Asia Minor that was included in the Homeric narrative poems. Until the second half of the 19th century AD, the only record mentioning the Hitties was the Bible and most biblical scholars considered it as a name of one of the several mythic nations that appear in Gen 15:18-21. It was only after the archeological discoveries of the 2nd half of the 19th century in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia, and the deciphering of the Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions that the name of the land of Hatti, or Khetta, was found in the ancient records. In the last decade of the 19th century it was realized that these names are connected to the massive ancient ruins in central Anatolia. However, a comprehensive appreciation of the Hittites could not be attained before Theodore Makridi Bey and Hugo Winckler discovered the enormous royal Hittites’ archives in their capital Hattusha (near modern Bogazkoy, in north central Turkey) in 1906-1912. This trove of information came to light only after the decoding of the Hittites’ language by Bedrich Hrozny in 1917, who discovered that Hittite was an Indo-European language (1). Since then, successive discoveries expand the length and the breaths of our knowledge about this major ancient empire that rose in Anatolia at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, and disappeared at about 1180 BC.

    Now let us return to the biblical Hittites. Before his death Moses tells the Israelites that the Lord promised him that:

    “Every place that the sole of your foot will thread upon shall be yours. From the desert and the Lebanon; from the river the River Euphrates to the Last Sea shall be your territory” (Deu 11:24).

    This description of the Promised Land is quite different from the one pledged to Abraham, but conforms with the words of the Lord to Joshua:

    “Every place that the sole of your foot will thread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the desert and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea, where the sun sets down, shall be your territory” (Jos 1:3-4).

    While new geographic landmarks – the Lebanon and the Last (or Great) Sea appear in the Lord’s words to Moses and Joshua, the River of Egypt has been left out. Furthermore, of all the previously mentioned nations, only the Hittites remain.

    In the first biblical list of nations, khet – Hittite is described as the son of Canaan and the grandson of Ham (Gen 10:6-15; 1 Ch 1:13). Several chapters later, we read that after the death of his wife in Kiriath-arba, Abraham was determined to purchase a certain cave named Machpelah. This cave was in a parcel of land near Mamre that was owned by Ephron son of Tsohar (Zohar), a member of the local Hittite community. The transaction was finalized by delivering the weighed amount of four hundred shekels of silver, of the quality accepted by the merchants (Gen 23:2-19). In this narrative we read: “Kiriath (town of) – arba (four?), that is – Hebron,” and “Mamre, that is – Hebron.” Arbeitman suggested that the name Hebron (from the Hebrew root hbr – friend) is a translation of the Hittite words ar(a)pa (spelled in the Bible: arba) – friend, and of miymar (spelled in the Bible: mamre) – partner, respectively (2). It appears that that in the days of the Patriarchs (first half on the second millennium BC), Hebron could have been a Hittite town. However, as the archeological studies of present-day Hebron, indicate that it was first built in 1st century BC, the location of Hebron of the Hittites remains unknown.

    When the house of Joseph attacked the town of Beth-El, one of its residents showed them how to enter the town. Then the Josephites conquered the town and decimate its inhabitants, but they spared the life of that man and his family and let them go. “And the man went to the land of the Hittites, and built a town, and named it Luz; that is its name to this day” (Jud 1:26). The Bible tells us that for many generations Beth-El, as its Hebrew name implies, was a religious center. However, as its previous name was Luz (Gen 28:19; Jud 1:23) one might assume that the new Luz in the Hittites’ land also became a cult worship-gathering place. In the annals of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (859-824 BC) we find the name – Lusanda, a town in eastern Cilicia (classical Cilicia Campestris in southern central Anatolia) not far from the Amanus Mountains. The Hittite name of that religious center was Lawazntia and I suggest that this could be the biblical new Luz.

    The book of Judges contains another fairly similar narrative. The Danites who were not yet been allotted a territory among the Israelites, sent five valiant men to seek and investigate a new land. “And when they came to Laish, they observed the people who were there having security after the manners of the Sidonians, quite and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, yoresh etser (?), they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealing with Aram” (Jud 18:7). The Danites were determined to move to that “broad land,” but as in Laish the buildings contained “ephod, teraphim, pesel, u-masecha (idols)” (Jud 18:14), they decided to take with them “pesel, u-masecha” which were made of silver (Jud 17:1-4). These items were extorted from the house of Micah of Mount Ephraim, together with his young Levite, the priest who previously told the five scouts that the Lord would assure their success (Jud 18:5, 17-18)). We read that Laish was in the valley of “beth-Rehov”, and there Micah’s idols were served by Jonathan son of Gershom (a Levite’s name), where he and his sons became “priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day the land went into captivity” (Jud 18:30). It appears that similarly to Luz Laish became a priestly center somewhere north of the land of the Israelites. It is generally assumed that the Danites’ Laish is identical with Tell el-Qadi in northern present-day Israel. But beth-Rehov is described as a Syrian state (2 Sam 10:6), which is “near Lebo-hamath” (Num 13:21), and therefore its location must have been much further north to Tell el-Qadi. As the Danites’ idols were made of eleven hundred pieces of silver Laish might have been in Kizzuwatna, the ancient name of Cilicia. In this region of southern Anatolia there is a large and well-irrigated plain that sustains extensive agriculture. In addition, silver was discovered and mined in the neighboring Taurus Mountains (Bulgar Dagi). The abundance of silver there was so immense that as indicated by the Prophet Jeremiah (early 6th century BC), sheets of silver were exported from its town – Tarshish (in Hittite Tarsha, in Assyrian Tarzu, in Greek Tarsus, Jer 10:9). In fact, it is assumed that the name Kizzuwatna is the source of ksph, the Semitic word for silver. Furthermore, the Phoenician referred to the inhabitants of the town of Adana in Cilicia as the “Dannyn” – a name similar to the biblical Danites (3). Laish might have been the Hittite Lushna, a town that appears in a proclamation of the Hittite King Telipinu (c. 1480 BC), but its location is not yet known. Alternatively, the similarity in sound of Luz – Lawazantia – Lusanda (in Assyrian records) – Laish, suggest that this may have been the same place. The prominent goddess there was the Hurrian’s Sausga (Akkadian Ishtar), and her official cult animal was the lion. In addition to a town’s name, “laish” is also one of biblical Hebrew words for a lion (Is 30:6; Pro 30:30; Job 4:11). The lion associated with the goddess of Lawazantiya could have been transformed to the town’s name, the biblical Laish. Furthermore, some of the idols of the biblical Laish were “teraphim” (Jud 18:14), and as indicated by Hoffner, the source of this non-Semitic word is probably the Hittite “Tarpis” – a concept related to communication with good and evil spirits (4).

    In the Hebrew version of the book of Samuel we are told that in the days of King David, when Joab and his assistants were conducting a census of the Israelites they came to “erets tachtim chadshi and arrive at Dannah” (2 Sam 24:6). Although translated as ”they came to the land of Tahtimhodshi; and they came to Danjaan,” the meaning of this apparently corrupt verse could be that the census conductors had come to Dan (Adana?) in the land of the tachtim chadshi – Neo-Hittites. If this interpretation is correct it may suggest that already in the early 10th century BC some Israelites were residing in Cilicia.

    Among King David’s men we find “Ahimelech the Hittite” who might have been a priest, and the soldier “Uriah the Hittite” (1 Sam 26:6; 2 Sam 11:3-12:10; 23:39). One of David’s many affairs was his effort to purchase the threshing floor belonging to a certain Araunah, who is described as a Jebusite. The details of this event are rather similar to those of the narrative about Abraham’s purchasing the cave of Machpelah from the Hittite Ephron. When King David expresses his desire to purchase the threshing floor for building an altar, Araunah, like Ephron, offers to give it as a free gift. Furthermore, Araunah also offers free wood and oxen for the burnt offering. Although glossed in the translation as: “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king” (2 Sam 24:23), the exact translation of this Hebrew verse is: “All [this] was given by the King Araunah to the king,” which suggests the possibility that Araunah was in fact a king of some nation. Elat suggested that the name Araunah was related to a Hittite word (borrowed from Hurrian) for a lord or king – ewar (5). Like Abraham before him, King David declines the offered gift and insists on purchasing the threshing floor and the oxen for their full price of “fifty shekels of silver” (2 Sam 24:24). The Chronicler retells this account, but now even the wording is similar to that of the narrative about the cave of Machpelah. While Abraham tells the Hittites: “give me a burying place,” “for the full price let him give it to me” (Gen 23:4, 9), David tells Araunah: “give me the site of the threshing floor,” “for the full price give it to me” (1 Ch 21:22). The similarities in manners and language suggest that Ephron and Araunah shared the same cultural background, and we may wonder whether Araunah was a Jebusite or rather was he a Hittite man.

    One generation later, we are told that Solomon, son of King David, had transgressed the specific instruction forbidding the Israelites to intermarry with any of seven nations (Deu 7:1-3; 1 Ki 11:2). Among the many foreign wives of Solomon son of King David, several were Hittites (1 Ki 11:1, but we should note that among his thousand wives and concubines none was a member of the other forbidden nations of this list). The book of Kings also indicates that Solomon was involved in the international trade of horses “and the horses that Solomon had, came from Egypt and Que; the king’s traders obtained them from Que at a price” (1 Ki 10:28). The Hebrew language of the next verse is not clear and probably mistranslated, but originally it could have meant that that the kings of the Hittites and Syria were exporting their horses through the services of Solomon’s traders. In many Assyrian documents eastern Cilicia is referred to as “Que,” at that time one of the Neo-Hittite states. As it is well established that the ancient Anatolians excelled in horse husbandry we have no reason to suspect the accuracy of this biblical information.

    Some time after Jehoram son of Ahab became the king of the northern kingdom of Israel (c. 851 BC), the relations with the Aramaeans deteriorated and Ben-Haddad the king of the Aramaeans marched his army and laid a siege on the capital Samaria (2 Ki 6:24). The siege lasted long enough to starve the town’s people to such a degree that the price of barely edible food went through the roof and even cannibalism was practiced (2 Ki 6:25-29). At a certain point four lepers became so desperate that they took their chance and crossed the line toward the Aramaean camp. To their astonishment they found the camp without a single sole. Apparently the Aramaeans decided that they had enough and marched back to their country, as did later the Assyrians who called off their siege on Jerusalem in 713 BC. The only explanation that the writer of this narrative could come up with, was that the Aramaeans got worried that the king of Israel had persuaded the Hittites’ kings and the kings of Egypt to help Samaria, and therefore left in a hurry (2 Ki 7:3-16). Although this event was considered miraculous, it is also unexplainable how the Hittites completely disappeared from the common human memory for the next twenty-three or more centuries.

    As was indicated by Kempinski several artifacts excavated in Hazor, Aphek, Khirbet Raddana, and Kfar Yehoshua, are Hittite or indicate on a strong Hittite influence (6). Two Hittite silver rings were found in the 1930s at Tell el-Farah by Petrie and Macdonald, and a bronze one in 1994 at Tel-Nami by Singer. A 13th century BC Hittite ivory plaque and a stamp seal were excavated in Megiddo. The Hittite cuneiform inscription on the seal contains the word: Auriga meaning: charioteer (7). These findings indicate on significant interactions between the Hittites and the land of the Israelites.

    It is not clear whether the biblical Hittites are the people of the Hittite Empire, or are the surviving Hittite elements in several city-states of northern Syria, who’s last remnants vanished in 701 BC. But it is quite intriguing to find that several Hittite kings were named Arnuwanda, and the commanders of their frontier’s garrisons were referred to as Awariya. It is almost improbable that the similarities in sound of these names to those of the biblical “King Araunah,” and to David’s warrior “Uriah,” respectively, are no more than just coincidence. Five Hittite kings were named Tudhaliya and as was indicated by Bruce, this name might have been echoed in the Bible as one of the four kings that captured Lot the son of Abraham’s brother – “Tidal king of Goiim” (Gen 14:1), (8). According to the list of nations in the book of Genesis: “The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The descendants of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphat and Togarma. The descendants of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim. From these rose the islands of Goiim” (Gen 10:2-5). Several ancient extra-biblical sources indicate that nations with such names were occupying certain areas in or near Anatolia (9), and therefore the association between the Hittite king Tudhaliya and the biblical Tidal king of Goiim is not implausible.

    In addition to “teraphim” Rabin found five other words in the Hebrew Bible that certainly originated from the Indo-European Hittite language, and another ten to twenty that are probably from that source (10). Although making only 0.25% of the biblical Hebrew vocabulary, these words point to a certain degree of knowledge, if not contact, with the Hittite people. Harry Hoffner, one of the directors of the Chicago’s Hittite Dictionary project, wrote: “Study of Hittite texts yields benefits for the study of Hebrew law, cultic procedures, covenant terminology, historiography, and wisdom literature” (11). One of history’s ironies is the fact that at the time of rediscovering the Hittites, the majority of the “People of the Book” were speaking Yiddish, mostly a 13th century AD south German dialect, more akin to the Hittite language than to the Hebrew of the Bible.

    These introductory notes indicate that the biblical information about the Hittites merits much greater respect than that it received so far. Furthermore, they indicate that the proposition that the similarity between the name of the historical Hittites and that of the biblical name khitim – Hittites is only a coincidence is extremely unlikely. However, as we will see in the next chapter, the remarks made by the Prophet Ezekiel about the connections between the Israelites and the Hittites, seem to be extraordinary, but could they be correct?

    1. G. M. Beckman. The Hittite language and its decipherment. Bull Canad Soc Mesopotamian Studies 31:23-30, 1996.
    2. Y.L. Arbeitman. The Hittite is thy mother: An Anatolian approach to Genesis 23 (Ex Indo-Europa Lux). In: Y.L. Arbeitman (ed.) Bono homini donum: Essays in historical linguistics, in memory of J. Alexander Kerns. John Benjamins B.V. Amsterdam. 1981. pp 889-1026.
    3. E. Lipinski. Itineraria Phoenicia. Uitgeverij Peters. Leuven. 2004. p 136.
    4. H.A. Hoffner Jr. Hittite Tarpis and Hebrew Teraphim. J Near Eastern Studies 27:61-68, 1968.
    5. M. Elat. The iron Export from Uzal. Vetus Testamentum 33:323-330, 1983.
    6. A. Kempinski. Hittites in the Bible: What does Archaeology say? Biblical Archaeological Review. 5:20-45, 1979.
    7. I. Singer. A Hittite seal from Megiddo. The Biblical Archaeologist 58:91-93, 1995.
    8. F.F. Bruce. The Hittites and the Old Testament. The Tyndale Press, London.1947.
    9. Y. B. Tsirkin. Japhet’s progeny and the Phoenicians. In: Ed. E. Lipinski. Phoenicia and the Bible. Leuven. 1991. pp 117-134.
    10. C. Rabin. A short history of the Hebrew language. Orot Publication. Jerusalem. 1973.
    11. H. A. Hoffner Jr. Hittite. In: J. Kaltner and S. L. Mckenzie. Beyond Babel: a handbook for biblical Hebrew and related languages. Brill. Leiden. 2002 pp 183-206.

    2. The origin of the Israelites

    “Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.” This unprecedented allusion to the origin of Jerusalem appears in the book of Ezekiel, in fact, twice (16:3, 45). Furthermore, according to this book the same parents bore also Jerusalem’s older sister- Samaria, and her younger one – Sodom (16:46). The Prophet then tells us again that Oholah – Samaria, and Oholibah – Jerusalem, were the daughters of one mother, apparently the same Hittite woman that Ezekiel mentioned previously (23:2-4). Although the content of chapter 23 of the book of Ezekiel clearly indicates that the prophet is referring to Samaria and Judea, the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, respectively, his reference to the starting point of the children of Israel is matchless and appears contradictory to what the Bible has told us so far.

    At the beginning of an essay about the House of Jacob – Israel, the Prophet Isaiah says: “Look to the rock of which you were hewn off, and the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you, for he was the one whom I called, and I blessed him and made him many” (Is 51:1-2). The book of Genesis informs us that indeed the children of Israel are the progeny of Abraham and Sarah his wife, but the Pentateuch does not reveal their previous nationalities.

    According to the Hebrew version of the Bible they came from “Ur Kasdim,” translated as “Ur of the Chaldeans,” and traditionally it is assumed to be in southeastern Iraq (Gen 11:31). Gordon suggested that the fact that the Bible indicates that Abraham came from Ur of kasdim was to distinguish it from Ur of the Sumerians (1). Gordon noted that several Ugaritic texts mention “Ura of the merchants.” It was indicated by Astour that Ura in western Cilicia (Classical Cilicia Aspera) was the major Hittite’s harbor for importation of grain (2). More recently, Beal suggested that the location of the Cilician Ura is the port of Gilindere (Classical Celendaris), near modern Aydincik (Lat. 36.1650; Long. 33.3519) (3). A place named Kashdama, in an unknown location, appears in several Hittite’s texts, but as the Hittites never reached southeastern Iraq, Kashdama (biblical Kasdim?) is more likely to be near their land in eastern central Anatolia.

    In Genesis chapter 14 we read: “Then the one who escaped came to avram h-ivri (Abraham the Hebrew)” (Gen 14:13). Although a connection between “ivri” and the Egyptian term: Hapiru/Habiru was suggested long ago, it should be noted that the Hittite Law refers to “Hippara/Hapires which appears as a separate social and perhaps ethnic Anatolian group, living in it own settlements and worshiping its own deity (4). Prior to the first covenant that the Lord made with Abraham, Abraham mentioned to God that he was still childless and that “the son of meshek bayti is Eliezer of Damascus” (Gen 15:2). As this is the only time that the Hebrew word meshek appears in the Bible, it is not clear on what basis these Hebrew words were translated as “steward of my house” or “heir of my house.” The meaning of the Hittite word “mashek” is lord or governor (e.g. “mashkim uru” – governor of the city), and it is possible that Abraham was referring to a custom of that period which implied that if a man died childless, his household became the property of his highest official or of the son of that official. Furthermore, we are told that this eldest warden of Abraham was: “h-moshel (in charge) of all that he (Abraham) had” (Gen 24:2), but the Hebrew word moshel also means governor (e.g. Gen 45:8). If this new interpretation is correct then it could be viewed as another indication that Abraham was acquainted with the Hittite culture.

    When this eldest warden of Abraham’s household went to fetch Rebekah as a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac, we are told that he went to Nahor’s town in ”Aram-Naharim,” which traditionally is assumed to be Mesopotamia – the Greek name for the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers in present day Iraq (Gen 24:10). The Hebrew term: Aram-Naharim means: “the Aramaeans of the two rivers,” but the names of the rivers is not mentioned, and we do not know whether indeed they are the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. Several lands have two major rivers and even the Bible mentions Abana (or Amana) and Pharpar, the two rivers of Damascus, which was a major Aramaean city-state (2 Ki 5:12). However, it is generally assumed that if Abraham was an historical figure, he had lived in the first part of the second millennium BC, while the Aramaean people appear in northern Syria only in the 11th century BC. Therefore, the assumption that Abraham came from Mesopotamia appears to have no substantiation.

    We also read: “And Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramaean of Paddan-Aram, sister of Laban the Aramaean” (Gen 25:20). Later Isaac tells his son Jacob “Get up and go to Paddan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father; and take as a wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother,” “Thus Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Paddan-Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramaean, brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau,” “And Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother, and went to Paddan-Aram” (Gen 28:2, 5, 7). When Jacob escaped from “Laban the Aramaean,” he took with him all the property and all his livestock “that he acquired in Paddan-Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan” (Gen 31:18, 20, 24. see also 35:9, 26). Therefore, it appears that the Bible tells us repeatedly that Bethuel’s household was Aramaean, and that they dwelled in Paddan-Aram. Although the words of Prophet Hosea suggest that Paddan-Aram is the “field of Aram” (Hos 12:13), the Aramaic word padana actually means a plow. On the other hand, the Hittite word pedan (the Greek Pedon) is a place or a field, and we have to consider the possibility that Laban lived in a Hittite local. Although, as indicated above, “Laban the Aramaean” must have lived centuries prior to the appearance of the historical Aramaean, we are told that he called “The heap of witness” (in Hebrew: galeed) – “jegar-sahadutha” (Gen 31:31:44-47). However, as was pointed out by Rabin these words appear in the Aramaic language of 1000 BC and not earlier, and therefore should be considered as an insertion by a late scribe (5).

    The first known Hittite king is Labarna (1680-1650 BC), whose grandfather was Pithana, and it is not unlikely that Laban’s name might have been derived from Labarna and Bethu-el from Pithana (exchange between B and P is common. e.g. the Hebrew equivalent for the Hittite word for virginity – pittalwan, is betulin). If this assumption is correct, then Bethuel’s household might have been Hittite and not Aramaean. This hypothesis is further supported by the tale about the teraphim (idols) that Rachel stole from her father Laban (Gen 31:19, 34, 35). As indicated by the Prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah, the teraphim were employed in the practice of divination (Eze 21:26; Zec 10:2; see also 2 Ki 23:24), and it was already pointed out that the word Teraphim probably had been derived from the Hittite’s Tarpis.

    While Abraham was in Haran, The Lord told him: “Go from your country, and birthplace, and your father’s house” (Gen 11:31; 12:1), suggesting that Abraham’s birthplace might have been in Haran rather than in Ur of kasdim. When Rebekah was suspecting that her elder son Esau was contemplating to kill his younger brother, she told Jacob “flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran” (Gen 27:43). We should notice that Rebekah did not say that Laban was in “Ur-Kasdim,” or in “Paddan-Aram,” but was in “Haran.” We read that Jacob followed his mother’s instructions “And Jacob left Beer-Sheba and went toward Haran” (Gen 28:10). The Hebrew version of the Bible tells us that Jacob went to the land of “Benei-Kedem” (Gen 29:1), where near a well he met some Shepherds from Haran, who acknowledged that they knew Laban the son of Nahor, and his daughter Rachel (Gen 29:4-5).

    Some scholars suggested that the biblical Haran might have been the ancient town of Harran (Roman Carrhe) on the Balikh, a tributary of the Euphrates River, in southeastern Turkey. Harran set on the road from Nineveh to Carchemish, and another road lead from Harran in a south-southwestern direction to Damascus. This strategic crossroads, named by the Assyrians as Harranu, appears in the victory inscription of King Tigelath-Pileser I (1114-1076 BC). This information is corroborated by the Bible that tells us that the Assyrian King Sennacherib (705-681 BC) had boasted about the conquest of Haran by his forefathers (2 Ki 19:12; Is 37:12). The annals of Shalmaneser III (859-824 BC) mention “Til sha-Turahi,” a town in an area south of Harran. This information probably is reflected in the Bible as: “and Terah (Abraham’s father) died in Haran” (Gen 11:32). After the Shupiluliuma (of Hatti) – Shattiwaza (of Mitanni) treaty, the Hittites burned down Harran. However, it must have been rebuilt as the Prophet Ezekiel (6th century BC) counts Haran among the trading partners of Tyre (Eze 27:23).

    It therefore, appears that in the book of Genesis: “Ur Kasdim,” ”Aram-Naharim,” “Paddan-Aram,” and “Haran,” are assumed to be in the same expanse.

    In the book of Joshua we read: “Long ago in ever h-nahar, your ancestors – Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor resided,” “And I took your father Abraham from ever h-nahar and led him through all the land of Canaan” (24:2-3). The second “ever h-nahar” was literally and correctly translated as “beyond the river,” but the first “ever h-nahar” of these verses was translated as “Euphrates,” implying that the ancestors of the Israelites came from an area east of the Euphrates river (Mesopotamia). However, “ebir nari” which appears in several Babylonian records (e.g. Third year of Neriglissar Chronicle) clearly refers to a region west of the upper Euphrates River in northwestern Syria/southern Anatolia. It is therefore suggested that the writer of the book of Joshua also held the opinion that this region and not Mesopotamia was the original cradle of the Israelites.

    The Bible never refers to Abraham or his forefathers as Aramaeans. However, we read that his brother Nahor had a son – Bethuel, and a grandson – Laban, which are described as Aramaeans. In addition, another grandson of his was named Aram (Gen 22:21; 25:20). Therefore, these verses suggest that Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah were the offspring of an Aramaean household. However, one has to wonder why Abraham, who did not want his son Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman, or Rebekah who thought that her life would be unbearable if her son Jacob should take a Hittite spouse (Gen 24:3, 37; 28:46), found the women of Bethuel’s Aramaean household acceptable. Furthermore, the Bible does not indicate that these women, after their marriage, ever altered the religious beliefs of their youth.

    It appears that the writer of the Book of Genesis was not sure about the exact origin of the Aramaeans, or whether there were several nations bearing this name. While in Genesis 22:21 we read “Uz his first born, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram,” in Genesis 10:22-23 Aram appears as the son of Shem and the father of Uz, Khl (misspelled Halah?), Gether (misspelled Gemer?), and Mash (or Meshech as it appears in 1Ch 1:17). We already indicated that the Hebrew Patriarchs lived many centuries prior to the historic Aramaeans, and we may assume that the Aramaeans of the book of Genesis were distinctly different from those that appeared in northern Syria in the 11th century BC. It is also possible that the religious practices of the Aramaeans of Genesis were more akin to the Abrahamic religion.

    We are told that the name of Nahor’s (Abraham’s brother) wife is Milcah (Gen 11:29; 22:20). This name sounds similar to the Hurrian name – Malnikal, who was one of the Hittite queens. If Milcah, Bethuel, and Laban are indeed Hittite names, then the book of Genesis may be viewed as supporting Ezekiel’s claim: “your mother is a Hittite.”

    Twenty four miles north-northwest to Harran we find the ancient town of Sanliurpha (Orrha in Greek, Urha in Armenian, Ar-Ruha in Arabic). According to Josephus Flavius and Maimonides, as well as to the Islamic tradition, here stood the Biblical Ur Kasdim – the birthplace of Abraham. Tablets found in Ugarit, Nuzi and Ebla mention Ura or Urau as a town located in an area that is today part of southeastern Turkey. The Bible tells us that one of Abraham’s forefathers is Arpachshad son of Shem (Gen 10:22; 11:10; 1 Ch 1:17). However, Arpachshad is not a Semitic name, and it could represent a variant of “Urpha (Ur) – Kesed (Kasdim).” A similar idea appeared already in the book of Jubilee (Leptogenesis; 1st century BC)). If indeed the forefathers of the children of Israel came from this region of southeast Anatolia that was dominated in turn by the Hurians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Syrians and others, it is a small wonder that the editors of the Bible did not spell out the nationality. As Ezekiel asserts that the children of Israel are the progeny of a Hittite woman, it appears that he also thought that Abraham birthplace was in, or near, this region.

    The grouping of the two nations mentioned in Ezekiel’s statement: “Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite,” appears also in extra-biblical records. In the 14th century BC, the international correspondence of the Egyptian kings Amenophis III and IV (The Amarna Tablets), contain several letters that came from the land of Hatti and from the Land of Amurru. Mineralogical and chemical analyses of the clay tablets sent from the King of Amurru – Abdi-Ashirta and his son Aziru to their Egyptian overlords, indicate that they came from the town of Ardata (east of Tripoli in Lebanon), ancient Irqata, and Tell Asharneh on the Orontes River (6). After the conclusion of the peace treaty between Ramses II of Egypt and Hattusilis III of Hatti (1280 BC), the Phoenician towns along the Syrian coast up to Sumur (Tell Kazel) remained under Egyptian control. The area north to this point, including the town of Kadesh and the kingdom of Amurru, was now the dominion of the Hittites. It appears that the two nations mentioned by Ezekiel in a single proclamation, were also geographical neighbors.

    We already have noticed that Abraham did not want his son Isaac to wed a Canaanite woman. Later, we also hear that Isaac commanded his son Jacob not to take a Canaanite bride (Gen 28:1). In addition, we read: “When Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac, Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and sister of Nebioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had” (Gen 28:8-9). As we never heard that Ishmael son of Abraham had sacked the Abrahamic religion of his youth, this act of Esau must have pleased his father. In fact, we may wonder why Abraham and Isaac did not take wives for their sons from Ishmael’s household, and preferred the women from Bethuel’s Aramaean family. Prior to Esau third marriage, we hear Rebekah saying: “I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women” (Gen 27:46), clearly referring to: “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made the life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen 26:34-35). Ten chapters latter, the Bible gives rather different information about Esau’s wives. Judith the Hittite is not mentioned, and Basemath is now described, not as the daughter of Elon the Hittite, but as the daughter of Ishmael (while previously his daughter’s name was Mahalath, and in Gen 25:13 and 1 Ch 1:29, and among Esau’s sons we find Mibsam which sounds similar to Basemath). The name of the Hittite Elon’s daughter is now Adah, and a new woman appears: “Oholibamah daughter of Anah son of Zibeon the Hivite,” (Gen 36:2-3). As the Scripture gives very scant detail about the Hivite people, one has to wonder whether the Hivite of this dubious verse (Gen 36:2) is not in fact, a Hittite. A similar conclusion was reached by the early Greek translators of Joshua 11:3 where they translated the Hebrew Hivite to: τους χετταιους. The only biblical name that is similar to Oholibamah is Ezekiel’s Oholibah, who is described as the daughter of a Hittite woman. The biblical reference to Esau’s wife “Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite” is of particular interest. The Neo-Hittite town of Samal (Turkish Zinjirli) in the Anti-Taurus Mountains of south-central Anatolia was the major city of the ancient land of Yaudi (850 BC). In the Hebrew version of the Bible Judith name appears as Yehudith, suggesting that she might indeed had been a Hittite (or a Neo-Hittite) from Yaudi.

    The above review of the biblical information about the origin of the Israelites indicates that the remarks made by the Prophet Ezekiel about the connections between the Israelites and the Hittites, although seem to be extraordinary, are not unreasonable.

    1. C. H. Gordon. Abraham and the merchants of Ura. J Near Eastern Studies 17:28-31, 1958.
    2. M. C. Astour. New evidence on the last days of Ugarit. Am J Archaeol 69:253-258, 1965.
    3. R. H. Beal. The location of Cilician Ura. Anatolian Stud 42:65-73, 1992.
    4. J. Yakar. Ethnoarchaeology of Anatolia: Rural socio-economy in the Bronze and Iron ages. Emery and Claire Yass Publications. Tel Aviv. 2000. pp 39-40.
    5. C. Rabin. A short history of the Hebrew language. Orot Publication. Jerusalem. 1973.
    6. Y. Goren, I. Finkelstein, and N. Na’aman. Mineralogical and Chemical Study of the Amarna Tablets: Provenance study of the Amarna Tablets. Near Eastern Archaeology 6500 (2002): 196-205.


  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your response, Avner. That is definitely a different way to look at the issue.

    My problem is that kasdim is used for the Babylonians throughout the Bible. I’ll write some references if you want. So, if that is the case, why wouldn’t that also be true of Ur of the Chaldeans?


  3. Avner says:

    As you will see in the following write-up, although traditionally kasdim (Chaldean) are seen as identical with Babylon, it is not certain that that is what the Bible says.

    Is the biblical Land of Kasdim (Chaldea) synonymous to Babylon?

    According to the Hebrew version of the Bible Abraham and Sarah came from “Ur Kasdim,” translated as “Ur of the Chaldees,” (Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7; Neh 9:7). Traditionally it is assumed to be in southeastern Iraq but Gordon suggested that the fact that the Bible indicates that Abraham came from Ur of kasdim was to distinguish it from Ur of the Sumerians (1). Gordon noted that several Ugaritic texts mention “Ura of the merchants.” It was indicated by Astour that Ura in western Cilicia (Classical Cilicia Aspera) was the major Hittite’s harbor for importation of grain (2). More recently, Beal suggested that the location of the Cilician Ura is the port of Gilindere (Classical Celendaris), near modern Aydincik (Lat. 36.1650; Long. 33.3519) (3).

    A place named Kashdama, in an unknown location, appears in several Hittite’s texts, but as the Hittites never reached southeastern Iraq, Kashdama (biblical Kasdim?) is more likely to be near their land in eastern Anatolia. Most of the land of eastern Anatolia was occupied in the period between the 13th to the 6th century BC, by people who were named by the Assyrians Uruartri (meaning in Assyrian: people of the high mountains, and in the Bible we find Ararat, which is a variant of the Assyrian name). It is not clear how these people referred to themselves, but it is known that the name of their supreme god was Khaldi, and it appears possible that the followers of this god were referred to as the Chaldees. It is also possible that in the Urartian language there was a phoneme (LS?) that sounded to some people as a sibilant while others heard it as the sound of the letter “L.” Therefore, while the Assyrians, Babylonians and the Greeks pronounced it as Khaldi, the Hittites and the Hebrew pronounced it as Khas(h)di. As the Urartian state expanded in the 8th century BC, it included Cilicia and a large area east to Cilicia all the way to the Tigris River. Reflecting this geopolitical description, Ur Kasdim could have been in Cilicia or in present day Urpha. In his book: Anabasis the Greek traveler/writer Xenophone (431-355 BC) describes the Chaldeans as one of the mountain tribes of Urartu/Armenia. The Christian people of northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, today as in the past, refer to themselves as: Kaldaya or Keldani. These arguments suggest that the location of the biblical Ur Kasdim was in northwestern (rather than in southwestern) Mesopotamia.

    Twenty four miles north-northwest to Harran we find the ancient town of Sanliurpha (Orrha in Greek, Urha in Armenian, Ar-Ruha in Arabic). According to Josephus Flavius and Maimonides, as well as to the Islamic tradition, here stood the Biblical Ur Kasdim – the birthplace of Abraham. Tablets found in Ugarit, Nuzi and Ebla mention Ura or Urau as a town located in an area that is today part of southeastern Turkey. The Bible tells us that one of Abraham’s forefathers is Arpachshad son of Shem (Gen 10:22; 11:10; 1 Ch 1:17). However, Arpachshad is not a Semitic name, and it could represent a variant of “Urpha (Ur) – Kesed (Kasdim).” A similar idea appeared already in the book of Jubilee (Leptogenesis; 1st century BC)).

    Based on statements such as “sons of Babylon, Kasdim (Chaldea), the land of their nativity” (Eze 23:15), it is traditionally assumed that Kasdim (Chaldea) is synonymous to Babylon. However, in their extensive records, the Babylonians never referred to themselves as Chaldeans. In the first biblical episode mentioning “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (2 Ki 24:1), it is stated that Kasdim (Chaldeans) were among the troops that he sent against the rebellious Judean king Jehoiakim (2 Ki 24:2). As all other troops in this list were non-Babylonian (e.g. Arameans), it appears that this was an army made of foreign mercenaries. While the bulk of the Babylonian army was tuned for chariot warfare, it appears that for fighting in hilly areas such as around Jerusalem, the Babylonians had to rely on hired foot soldiers from mountainous tribes. I already referred to the Chaldean tribes of Urartu/Armenia mentioned by Xenophone. Xenophone described them as: “free and brave set of people. They were armed with long wicker shields and lances,” not unlike what one could envision of the Chaldean mercenaries of King Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, from the 13th century BC, until their demise, the Assyrians perceived their northern neighbors – Urartu as a hostile state and made efforts to block their expansion into northern Syria. Obviously, the Assyrian mortal rival – Babylon, formed alliances with the Urartians/Chaldeans and was able to hire mercenaries from among them.

    In the book of Daniel we read: “Then spoke the Chaldeans to the king (Nebuchadnezzar) in Aramaic” (Dan 2:4). However, if the Chaldeans were, as traditionally believed, Babylonians, we would expect them to speak to their king in Babylonian. While Babylon is an ancient nation that for many centuries was a fierce adversary of Assyria, we are told by the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the land of the Chaldeans, this is the people that was not, when Asshur (Assyria) founded it” (Is 23:13). These biblical remarks suggest that Kasdim (Chaldea) was a land distinct from that of Babylon.

    According to the books of Kings and Jeremiah, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar apparently remained in Riblah in the land of Hamath (in northern Syria), and was not personally in charge of the siege of Jerusalem (2 Ki 25:6; Jeremiah 39:5; 52:26-27). The final conquest of Judea and the destruction of Jerusalem are attributed by the Bible to the Chaldeans (2 Ki 25:4, 5, 10, 13, 24, 25, 26; Jer 39:5, 8, 40:7, 10, 41:3, 18; 43:3; 52:7, 8, 14, 17). The only reference to Kasdim in the book of Chronicles is also the only one in the whole Bible that refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “the king of the Chaldeans” (2 Ch 36:17). However, as the Prophet Jeremiah indicates: “behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and I will send unto Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations” (Jer 25:9), it appears that Jeremiah is referring to the fact, known from the Babylonian records, that in addition to Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar’s dominion included also several northern states. Jermiah’s testimony is supported by Ezekiel: “Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, king of kings” (Eze 26:7), and Daniel: “’Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth” (Dan 3:31), it appears that that the Chronicler is not equating Kasdim with Babylon but rather blames the Babylonian king for the destruction of Jerusalem carried out (according to the books of Kings and Jeremiah) by his Chaldean mercenaries as in:

    And he “slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man or hoary-headed; He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia” (2 Ch 36:17-20).

    I suggest that because the Chaldean mercenaries, in the service of the Babylonian king, played a key role in the final conquest of Judea and the destruction of Jerusalem, they are often mentioned in the Bible together with the Babylonians, in particular in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, as in: “I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans” (Jer 25:12), thus forming the erroneous impression that the name kasdim is synonymous with Babylon.

    1. C. H. Gordon. Abraham and the merchants of Ura. J Near Eastern Studies 17:28-31, 1958.
    2. M. C. Astour. New evidence on the last days of Ugarit. Am J Archaeol 69:253-258, 1965.
    3. R. H. Beal. The location of Cilician Ura. Anatolian Stud 42:65-73, 1992.


  4. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the information, Avner. I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on Chaldea. It listed biblical passages in which Chaldea and Babylon were in parallelism, but I can see you saying that it is referring to two distinct places. The article also was scratching its head on why Babylon is called Chaldea in the Bible, since there is no definitive link between the word “Chaldea” and words that Babylon used for itself.

    Personally, I’d want to see what history says about the Hittite empire at that time. Was it under Persia? After all, the Bible says that Persia will conquer Chaldea.


  5. Avner says:

    you wrote “the Bible says that Persia will conquer Chaldea.” I am not aware of this saying. Cout you please indicate where it appears.


  6. James Pate says:

    Hi Avner. Daniel 5:30-31 says Darius the Mede conquered the Chaldean king. I think Jeremiah 51also discusses it.

    But these mention the Medes. Personally, I’ll have to do more reading to know the difference between the Medes and the Persians.


  7. Virginia says:

    The “Hebrews” were many different people. There are two most likely sources for the term. In the earliest Sumerian sources concerning the Amorites, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites (“the Mar.tu land”) is associated not with Mesopotamia but with the lands to the west of the Euphrates, including Canaan and what was to become Syria by the 3rd century BC, then known as The land of the Amurru, and later as Aram and Eber-Nari. These appear to be the same class of people also termed SA.GAZ.

    It is fairly certain that Abraham came from Upper Mesopotamia in the original legends, if you examine the evidence. The homeland for Laban is Aram, for instance.

    There were also many references in archaeological records to habiru, hapiru, or apiru — unsettled mercenaries, rogues, brigands, runaway slaves, etc. The mass of evidence certainly supports the view that ultimately Habiru and Hebrew originally designated the same social class. Otherwise, there are zero references to a “Hebrew” people outside the bible.

    Besides the reference in the bible to Amorite and Hittite origins, the bible also states that a source of the people in Israel were the people of Aram — from “a wandering Aramaean”.

    So there were at least three major populations who became associate in Canaan after the Late Bronze Age Collapse, other than the Philistines. Archaeology suggests that there was little conflict with the Philistines. Instead, there was mostly friendly relations.

    YHWH actually came from Edom and did not “find” anyone in Egypt. They weren’t even Israelites.

    Every place name mentioned is Edomite, and Jethro was a Kenite. One mistake is to locate the first encounter with the “burning bush” in Midian.

    The prophets mentioned above wrote well after the events described, but with some errors. For instance, mixing up “Nebuchadnezzar with Nabonidus — the last king of Babylon, whose fall to Cyrus became a legendary story in Ezekiel misinterpreted into a “Lucifer”.

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