The Hittite sun goddess Arinniti was later assimilated with Hebat. A prayer of Queen Puduhepa makes this explicit: “To the Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of Heaven and Earth. Sun-goddess of Arinna, thou art Queen of all countries! In the Hatti country thou bearest the name of the Sun-goddess of Arinna; but in the land which thou madest the cedar land thou bearest the name Hebat.”
Hebat, also transcribed, Kheba or Khepat, was the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living” and ”the queen of the deities”. In the Hurrian language Hepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. In modern literature the sound /h/ in cuneiform sometimes is transliterated as kh. The mother goddess is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele.
The name may be transliterated in different versions – Khebat with the feminine ending -t is primarily the Syrian and Ugaritic version. During Aramaean times Hebat also appears to have become identified with the goddess Hawwah, or Eve.
Cedrus libani is a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region. There are two distinct types that are considered to be different subspecies or varieties: Lebanon cedar or cedar of Lebanon (C. libani subsp. libani or var. libani) – grows in Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, northwest Jordan, western Syria, and south central Turkey. Turkish cedar or Taurus cedar (C. libani subsp. stenocoma or var. stenocoma) – grows in southwest Turkey.
The Cedar Forest is the glorious realm of the gods of Mesopotamian mythology. It is guarded by the demigod Humbaba and was once entered by the hero Gilgamesh who dared cut down trees from its virgin stands during his quest for fame. The Cedar Forest is described in Tablets 4-6 of the great Epic of Gilgamesh.
Early translators of the Epic assumed that the “Cedar Forest” refers to the Lebanon Cedars. Recent research has suggested Cedars grew along the Arabian littoral before the 5.9 kiloyear event and expansion of the Persian Gulf. They may also have grown along the Western foothills of the Zagros Mountains, which would be more appropriate for this tale.
The Cedars of God (Arz ar-Rabb “Cedars of the Lord”) is one of the last vestiges of the extensive forests of the Lebanon Cedar, Cedrus libani that once thrived across Mount Lebanon in ancient times. Their timber was exploited by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Israelites and Turks. The wood was prized by Egyptians for shipbuilding; the Ottoman Empire used the cedars in railway construction. In 1998, the Cedars of God were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The Lebanon cedar is the national emblem of Lebanon, and is displayed on the flag of Lebanon and coat of arms of Lebanon, which is sometimes metonymically referred to as the Land of the Cedars. Hebrew priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon cedar in the treatment of leprosy. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world.
Historically, there were various attempts at conserving the Lebanon cedars. The first was made by the Roman emperor Hadrian, “when the great cedar forests of Lebanon were already much diminished in area.” Hadrian created an imperial forest and ordered it marked by inscribed boundary stones, two of which are in the museum of the American University of Beirut.