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One of the most exciting tasks Adam had to accomplish in the garden of Eden was naming animals and the narrative context explicitly gears toward a linguistic experiment, so that he is bound to take courage with both hands and go ahead by trials and errors (see Psamtik I for his linguistic experiment). Taken for granted that a tree is known by its fruits, the outcome of those designations is a failure and the first seal in a row of misnomers is what we read at the end of the second chapter: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24), It is puzzling why, after proclaiming the primacy of man, chiselled out of a paronomasia (ʾišša < ʾiš), the practical result should be a formula at odds with the traditional Jewish family (De Vaux 1964 [1]: 36), that is an uxorilocal marriage, which makes out of Adam an "antiyant-husband (whose matrimonial domicile is the wife’s parents’ home)" according to the Hittite customs (Hoffner 1997 [2]: 354). Far from being the "ideal" marriage for the patriarchs described in Genesis (Tosato 1990 [3]), it seems at home only in the depths of Anatolian tradition and this should make us aware of an audience that is already prejudice in the book itself, which blames "Hittite women" considered bad wives: "And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I loathe my life because of the Hittite women! If Jacob takes a wife from Hittite women like these, from the native girls, what good to me is life?’" (Gn 27:46). As already noted, the precise meaning of "Hittite" in Genesis is still under scrutiny, but the most probable solution leads to the Luwian Neo-Hittite states, close neighbors of Israel after the fall of the Hittite Empire. Certainly, the case of Adam and Eve had to be dealt with a tint of archeology, also for a competent scribe, maybe reviving a very ancient idiom, that was not completely lost. In fact, the Hittite language seems to disappear after the abandonment of Hattusa: "the disintegration of the Empire of Hattuša in the early twelfth century BC precipitated the decline of the Hittite written tradition" (Yakubovich 2020 [4]: 225), "It is likely that the knowledge of writing and reading Hittite was lost in the course of the systemic collapse that shook Anatolia and much of the rest of the Near East in the twelfth century BCE. It is also possible that the same period witnessed the completion of the language shift from Hittite to Luwian, although there is no way to exclude the hypothesis that isolated pockets of Hittite speakers lingered in obscurity in central Anatolia for several more centuries." (Yakubovich 2020 [4]: 225; van den Hout 2020 [5]: 376). We do not know if such speakers kept using their language and there is an ongoing discussion about its status near the collapse of the Hittite Empire: was it mainly the language of the ruling classes or just a chancellery language? (van den Hout 2006: 223ff.). It is sure that "in the post-Bronze Age era, Hittite cuneiform disappeared entirely" and "there is not the slightest trace of it in any of the Iron Age successor-kingdoms of the Hittites" (Bryce 2012 [6]: 16). Nonetheless, there is what I would call a "barebone" argument about the dependence of Genesis from real Hittite "memories" and it comes from the subtle irony about Adam’s mimicry of God’s creative acts in his linguistic experiments. In the Hittite language, but also in Luwian, the term for "hero" (*hastali-, Rieken 1999 [7]: 48) comes from "bone" and the first man is aware of what happened while Eve was "built" out of one of his ribs: "Then the man said, ‘This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’" (Gn 2:23). In other words, he calls her ʾišša, because he knows that from a hero’s rib should come out a heroine. The Hittite išḫa- means both "sir" and "lady" or "woman master" (EDHIL 239; Cotticelli-Kurras 2016 [8]: 84-87). Can it be assumed that the Hebrew name for "woman", ʾišša, alludes to the Hittite word, triggering a metamorphosis of the woman in virago, "the woman in arms"? The word, of Latin origin, is used in the Vulgate, the translation of the Bible into Latin by St. Jerome and means "woman endowed with strength and manly boldness" (Treccani). The father of the Church, wanting to reproduce the Jewish pun, accentuates the fighting spirit of the woman, even if he does not then derive all the consequences that can result from his translation. The church father could rely on a wide Classical tradition of manly woman, such as the Danaids (Moreau 1985 [9]), the women of Lemnos (Dumézil 1998 [10]; Dorati 2005 [11]; West 2017 [12]; Culasso Gastaldi 2010 [13]), the Amazons (Blok 1995 [14]). It is difficult to ignore that the scene of Eve’s "fabrication" may represent a glorification of the Hittite woman, because in that language *ḫaštali- is a noun adjective derived from ḫaštai- "bone" meaning "hero", "warrior". In Cuneiform Hittite it is rendered with the Sumeric logogram UR.SAG (Rieken 1999 [7]: 47-49; Zgoll 2008 [15]; Cotticelli-Kurras & Giusfredi 2017 [16]: 12), while in the Luwian language with the hieroglyph HEROS-li (Starke 1990: 120-124 [17]; Marazzi 1990: 103, 223-225 [18]). In Hittite writings the title is the king's own, but also of female and warrior deities such as Ishtar (Inanna) (Van Dijk 1969 [19]; Groddek 2016 [20]: 161 n. 149; Such-Gutiérrez 2005 [21]: 19), equivalent to the Hebrew gibbor, whose feminine gebirah, was used for queens in Israel (Ben Barak 1991 [22]). The task of naming animals is a test case for Adam, which becomes even more critical when he pushes to name his newborn companion, because at that point his wisdom fails, for he dared too much. He was meant to name animals, not humans! His woman is the refined creature of a God who has not yet delegated justice, let us say "the knowledge of good and evil". And that is exactly the whole point of the matter, because the appropriate and therefore "right" name for a new human being is properly divine. Adam's unpreparedness gradually comes to light and astoundingly also his dangerous Hittite "slip of tongue" maybe revealed by a "shibboleth", išḫa- instead of ʾišša? As a matter of fact, this ʾišša (woman) will become a true išḫa- (woman master) and on a pure linguistic basis, considered the Hittite assimilation sh > ss (Kimball 1999 [23]: 66) or the tendency of *-hs- to become -šš- (Lemos 2002 [24]), we might give a chance to this first couple of "would-be Hittites".

Originally Published: May 4, 2021

Last Updated: May 4, 2021


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