Hittite paradox


It is well-known that Adam and Eve are guilty of wanting to "be like God" (Gn 3:5); they are victims of a deception orchestrated by the snake, whose promises turn out to be fallacious. Nonetheless, God himself seems to endorse its words when he addresses like this to his celestial court: "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil" (Gn 3:22). We know it was deception from Eve's words: "The serpent beguiled me and I ate." (3:13). As a matter of fact, God never said that such special knowledge was out of man's reach. He meant to beware against pursuing a goal that would have brought in death.

It is not so well known that the Hittites used the term "to become god" to indicate king's death (Houwink ten Cate 1987 [1]: 24; van den Hout 1994 [2]: (45-46); De Rose 2007 [3]: 14; Beckman 2013 [4]: 158). To say that the king was dead, they wrote DINGIRLIM-iš kiš- (Melchert 1991 [5]; Watkins 1995 [6]: 288 n. 18; Archi 2007 [7]: 169-195, 189; Rutheford 2008 [8]), which reads šiunis kiš- "become a god" (Watkins 2008 [9]: 8). In their cuneiform writing, the word "god" is rendered through the Sumerogram DINGIR, followed by the Akkadogram LIM. To understand the complicated and contradictory situation described in the most famous myth from the Bible, my proposal is to resort to what has been called the "Hittite paradox."

Hittite kings were considered gods only after their death, and this divinity in fieri seems the only way to reconcile what the serpent said to Eve with death threatened by God. "Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You shall by no means die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like 'Elohim [God or Divine beings], knowing good and evil.'" (Gn 3:4-5). This is what the snake told Eve and it contradicts the previous words of God: "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (2:17).

A contradiction that is further aggravated by a matter of fact: Adam and Eve are still alive after eating the deadly fruit and the only intimation of death consists in their being excluded from the benefits of the Tree of Life. They will not be able to reach it anymore, because God has set the cherubim to forbid the access to its fruits (3:24). The only way out of this "double bind" situation, where the snake contradicts God and later facts corroborate his words apparently falsifying God himself, seems to be the above mentioned "Hittite paradox". In other words, when the snake says: "you will be like 'Elohim", he means what would happen to a Hittite king after death. In a way he is telling only a part of the truth: Adam and Eve will become kings eating the forbidden fruit, but he does not tell them the rest of the story.

God is not going to allow them to reign forever. There must be a limit to human power and that is exactly what happens: "and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gn 3:22), the cherubim will keep the first couple off. Besides, human lifespan is restricted: "his days shall be a hundred and twenty years" (6:3), to validate my hypothesis, because this limit is fixed in the chapter devoted to the intermarriage between the sons of God and the daughters of men, which brought to life special creatures to identify as famous heroes of yore, in other words kings of ancient times.

Moreover, there is another aspect of the story that seems to support the Hittite milieu presupposed in the Fall myth. Were Adam and Eve Hittite, they would have been able to grasp what was in store for them, so we are bound to guess they were not. This supposition matches the theory I am trying to support in this hypertext, namely the identity between Lamech and Lukka, a people hostile to the Hittites, but certainly fascinated by the power of the enemy and the majesty of his kings.

At this point, a question should be addressed and provisionally answered supposing that Adam's adventure into the world of "neologisms" led to Anatolia, to Eve naming his firstborn kaina-, a Hittite word. How can this clear standpoint be reconciled with a less transparent identification of Lamech as Lukka? I have provided some elements to view the Cainites as nomads who moved to a territory centered on Nod=upati Nata, which may represent the solid ground to elaborate on these Lukka people occupying Tarḫuntašša, the later Lycaonia-Isauria. If really Cain's descent is to be viewed as a rough representation of a secession well documented in Hittite royal treaties (Bryce 2007 [10]), this might be a good starting point to explore further. At the moment, I will sum up some provisional conclusions about the Hittite background of the Fall in Genesis.

  1. GOD: The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is forbidden. Whoever eats it is bound to die.
  2. SERPENT: None is going to die after eating that fruit. On the contrary, he will open his eyes and become like god.
  3. GOD AFTER THE FALL: Those who ate have become like god (and are still alive, though).

"To become god" = "To die" according to the Hittite conception of royalty.

  1. GOD: The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is forbidden. Whoever eats it is bound to die. "Knowing good and evil" is an expression applied to King David, who is compared to an angel.

In other words: if you eat that fruit, you will become like a king (Cassuto 113).

Is GOD telling the truth? Whoever wants to become a king is bound to die? Even if human life was meant to last forever, a maximum lifespan is fixed to prevent kings from becoming untamed tyrants after the institution of kingship. There is a rationale in God's threat, and this rationale is fostered.

  1. If kingship is introduced, a limited lifespan is not a logical necessity. At the same time, according to the Hittite concept of kingship, a king must die to become a god. The serpent introduces an essential detail about it, namely "the opening of the eyes," apparently meant as a synonym of "knowledge of good and evil."
  2. This overextending knowledge may have a symbolical correspondence in the Hittite-Luwian hieroglyphic writing system where the logogram for "king" is an extension of the logogram for "eye" (Börker-Klähn 1987 [11]; Fauth 1996 [12]; Beckman 2013 [4]).
  3. I have already remarked in the entry "HADAN" that "seeing nakedness" may reflect an abuse of power that in symbolical terms is represented by the frequent association of two hieroglyphs: LITUUS and OCULUS, to mean that the king (LITUUS as a sign of the royal dignity) is endowed with the OCULUS (the synoptic view) typical of the sun in astral mythology and of eagles as animal representatives of majestic farsightedness.
  4. This interpretation would gather a precious hint from the text of Genesis, where guarding (Cassuto 122-123) is a duty inherited by Adam as a privileged human being, TAKEN by God to a particular place like the garden in Eden. There cherubim have the same divine duty as "sons of God," that is, as members of the heavenly court. The Fall would then amount to a kind of hybris that has a precise correspondent in the Hittite royal iconography: the king driving an eagle-formed chariot. This would anticipate the Biblical narrative of God riding cherubim as a chariot in the sky, the description of the king of Tyre compared to a cherub on the mountain of Eden, but also the core of the Classical myth of the Lycian hero par excellence, namely Bellerophon.

Originally Published: June 25, 2021

Last Update: July 14, 2021

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