Hurrians

The Hurrians were a non-Semitic, Indo-European people who originated in Caucasia, or beyond, northeast of Mesopotamia.

In the late third millennium b.c.e. they migrated from east of the Tigris River across northern Mesopotamia, eventually making their way to the Mediterranean coast in the late second millennium b.c.e. During the time of Naram-Sin, the Hurrians controlled minor states in the vicinity of Akkad.

Talpuš-atili of Nagar has the distinction of being the oldest known Hurrian ruler; he is attested on an Akkadian seal found at Tell Brak from the end of the third millennium b.c.e. Repeated campaigns were conducted against the Hurrians during the Ur III period, which brought large numbers of Hurrians to Sumer from lands north, northeast, and east of the Tigris.

The religion of the Hurrians centered on the worship of the storm god Teššub. His sister and/or consort was Šawuška, the goddess of love and war. She was worshipped under numerous guises, most famously as Ishtar of Nineveh.


Other gods of note were Kumarbi, the Hurrian grain god, and Hepat, a Syrian goddess who eventually replaced Šawuška as Teššub’s consort in western Hurrian traditions. Based on records from such sites as Mari, Ugarit, and Alalakh, the Hurrians are generally divided into two cultural and historical spheres.

The older eastern sphere formed the Hurrian heartland and stretched from the region of Lake Van and Lake Urmia in the north to Kirkuk in the south. A second western sphere emerged later in southeastern Anatolia and north Syria.

These two cultural spheres were briefly united under the control of the Mitanni kingdom in the mid-second millennium, with its capital located at Waššukani, which may be modern Tel Fakhariya.

The kingdom of Mittani reached it zenith under Sauštater, whose realm stretched from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean. Thus the Hurrian culture was a bridge of sorts between the cultures of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians and Babylonians, and those further west including Hatti and Aram.

The Hurrians finally filtered into Palestine by the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Na’aman argues that the Middle Bronze Age ended when northerners (the Hurrians) advanced southward through the Beqa and Jordan Valleys.

Conversely, Hess questions whether the northern cultural presence found in the Late Bronze Age can be used to explain the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Regardless, Hurrian influence in the southern Levant is based on the conflicts that Thutmose III had with the kingdom of Mittani.

The Hurrians are known in the Bible as the Horites (Gen 36:2–3); they may also be associated with the Hivites (Exod 23:23; Judges 3:3) and the Jebusites (Exod 23:23; Josh 15:63). While the theory of Hurrian origin for the Hyksos dynasty in Egypt (17th century b.c.e.) has been refuted, it is possible that Hyksos infiltration in Egypt was a result of Hurrian expansion in Palestine.