Hurrians – Horites or Hivites, and their realtion to Israel

Horites or Horim were a people mentioned in the Torah (Genesis 14:6, 36:20, Deuteronomy 2:12) inhabiting areas around Mount Seir which was in Canaan (Gen. 36:2,5). Mt. Seir seems to have been named after one Seir, who the land of the Horites -“the land of Seir” was named after (Genesis 14:6). He was the anscestor of the Horite chiefs listed in Genesis 36:20f.

The Horites have been identified with references in Egyptian inscriptions to Khar (formerly translated as Harri), which concern a southern region of Canaan (see The International standard Bible encyclopedia, page 1421. James Orr, 1915.)

The first mention of the Horites in the Torah was when they were defeated by a coalition of Eastern kings led by the Kedorlaomer of Elam (a province in modern Iran). These kings had come through the Horite territory to subdue a rebellion by a coalition of other ‘kings’ of peoples whom they had ruled for twelve years, who were living near the Salt Sea (the Dead Sea) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:1-12).

Later, according to Genesis 36, the Horites co-existed and inter-married with the family of Esau, grandson of Abraham through Isaac (Genesis 25:21-25). They were eventually brought under the rule of the descendants of Esau, also then known as Edom.

(Se´ir) [From a root meaning “bristle up,” possibly referring to wooded hills; or, possibly meaning “Bristle up (Shudder) in Horror”]

The mountainous region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of ‛Aqaba. (Ge 36:8, 30; De 2:1, 8) In Abraham’s time Horites inhabited Seir. (Ge 14:6) Later, Abraham’s grandson Esau established interests in Seir, while his twin brother Jacob resided at Paddan-aram (Ge 32:3).

But it seems that Esau did not complete the move to Seir until sometime after Jacob returned to Canaan. (Ge 36:6-9) Finally Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, dispossessed the Horites (De 2:4, 5, 12; Jos 24:4), and the land came to be called Edom.

However, the older name Seir was also applied to the descendants of Esau and to the area where they lived. (Nu 24:18; compare 2Ki 14:7; 2Ch 25:11.) It appears that during the reign of King Hezekiah men of the tribe of Simeon went to Mount Seir, and after they annihilated the remnant of the Amalekites, Simeonites began residing there.

The Hebrew word for Horites corresponds to the extrabiblical Hurrians, a non-Semitic people who migrated into the Fertile Crescent about 2000 B.C. The Hurrians created the Mitannian Empire in Mesopotamia about 1500 B.C. and later became an important element in the Canaanite population of Palestine.

In locations where there is extrabiblical evidence for Hurrians, the Hebrew term Hivites appears (Genesis 34:2 ; Joshua 9:7 ; Joshua 11:3 ,Joshua 11:3,11:19 ) as a designation for certain elements of the Canaanite population.

The Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), however, substitutes Horites for Hivites in Genesis 34:2 and Joshua 9:7. Also, Zibeon, son of Seir the Horite (Genesis 36:20 ), is identified as a Hivite in Genesis 36:2 . For these reasons, many scholars equate both Horites and Hivites (the names are quite similar in Hebrew) with the extrabiblical Hurrians.

Nevertheless, the Hebrew text only mentions Horites in Mt. Seir where there is no record of Hurrians. Therefore, another suggestion holds that the biblical Horites were not Hurrians, but simply the original cave-dwelling (the Hebrew hor means “cave”) population of Edom (Mt. Seir). The Hivites, according to this theory, should be identified with the extrabiblical Hurrians.

The ancestry of Seir the Horite is not specified. Pre-Edomite Horite chiefs, descendants of Seir, are listed in Gen. 36:20-29 and 1 Chronicles 1:38-42. One of these chiefs, Zibeon, is also described as a Hivite, one group of descendants of Canaan, son of Ham, according to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 (esp. 10:17). Esau’s wife Oholibamah was his granddaughter (Oholibamah bat Anah bat Zibeon ben Seir)(Gen. 36:2,24,25).

Their three sons all became ‘chiefs,’ although unlike other sons of Esau, they are not called chiefs “in Edom.” (compare Gen. 36:16, 17 with 36:18). This may indicate a transition time in which only certain Horites areas were becoming known as Edom.

The chiefs who descended from Esau are listed in Gen 36:40-43. Two of these chiefs would appear to have been female – Timna and Oholibamah. At some time, certain of these leaders rose to the level of ‘kings’ over the other chiefs, and the Horite land became known as Edom rather than the land of Seir. One example of these kings is Jobab, son of Zerah, a son of Esau and his wife Basemath, who was Ishamel’s daughter <Genesis 36:35>.

Another is a ‘Temanite’, Husham <Genesis 36:34>, a descendant of Esau’s son, Teman <Gen. 36:10,11>. None of these kings sons became kings after their fathers died. Apparently, there was no familial royal line whereby sons of these post-Horite kings succeeded to the throne, but rather, some other system was in place by which kings were either chosen or won the right to rule. <Genesis 36:31-29>

By the time governance of these peoples had been consolidated under kings instead of chiefs, Horites are no longer mentioned as such. The land of Seir the Horite had become known as Edom.

Edom, or Idumea, was a Semitic inhabited historical region of the Southern Levant located south of Judea and the Dead Sea. It is mentioned in biblical records as a 1st millennium BC Iron Age kingdom of Edom, and in classical antiquity the cognate name Idumea was used to refer to a smaller area in the same region.

The name Edom means “red” in Hebrew, and was given to Esau, the eldest son of the Hebrew patriarch Isaac, once he ate the “red pottage”, which the Bible used in irony at the fact he was born “red all over”. The Torah, Tanakh and New Testament thus describe the Edomites as descendants of Esau.

The Edomites may have been connected with the Shasu and Shutu, nomadic raiders mentioned in Egyptian sources. Indeed, a letter from an Egyptian scribe at a border fortress in the Wadi Tumilat during the reign of Merneptah reports movement of nomadic “shasu-tribes of Edom” to watering holes in Egyptian territory.

The earliest Iron Age settlements—possibly copper mining camps—date to the 9th century BC. Settlement intensified by the late 8th century BC and the main sites so far excavated have been dated between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.

The last unambiguous reference to Edom is an Assyrian inscription of 667 BC; it has thus been unclear when, how and why Edom ceased to exist as a state, although many scholars point to scriptural references in the Bible, specifically the historical Book of Obadiah, to explain this fact.

Edom is mentioned in Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions in the form “Udumi” or “Udumu”; three of its kings are known from the same source: Ḳaus-malaka at the time of Tiglath-pileser III (c. 745 BC), Malik-rammu at the time of Sennacherib (c. 705 BC), and Ḳaus-gabri at the time of Esarhaddon (c. 680 BC). According to the Egyptian inscriptions, the “Aduma” at times extended their possessions to the borders of Egypt.

After the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians, Edomites settled in the region of Hebron. They prospered in this new country, called by the Greeks and Romans “Idumaea” or “Idumea”, for more than four centuries.

Strabo, writing around the time of Christ, held that the Idumaeans, whom he identified as of Nabataean origin, constituted the majority of the population of Western Judea, where they commingled with the Judaeans and adopted their customs.

The Edomites’ original country, according to the Tanakh, stretched from the Sinai peninsula as far as Kadesh Barnea. Southward it reached as far as Eilat, which was the seaport of Edom. On the north of Edom was the territory of Moab. The boundary between Moab and Edom was the Wadi Zered. The ancient capital of Edom was Bozrah.

According to Genesis, Esau’s descendants settled in this land after displacing the Horites. It was also called the land of Seir; Mount Seir appears to have been strongly identified with them and may have been a cultic site. In the time of Amaziah (838 BC), Selah (Petra) was its principal stronghold, Eilat and Ezion-geber its seaports.

Mount Seir, a mountainous region occupied by the Edomites, extending along the eastern side of the Arabah from the south-eastern extremity of the Dead Sea to near the Akabah, or the eastern branch of the Red Sea. It was originally occupied by the Horites (Genesis 14:6), who were afterwards driven out by the Edomites (Gen. 32:3; 33:14, 16). It was allotted to the descendants of Esau (Deuteronomy 2:4, 22; Joshua 24:4; 2 Chronicles 20:10; Isaiah 21:11; Ezekiel. 25:8).

Mount Seir (Hebrew: Har Se’ir) formed the south-east border of Edom and Judah, it may also echo the older historical border of Egypt and Canaan.

Mount Seir is specifically noted as the place that Esau made his home (Genesis 36:8; Joshua 24:4). It was named for Seir, the Horite, whose sons inhabited the land (Genesis 36:20). The children of Esau battled against the Horites and destroyed them (Deuteronomy 2:12). Mount Seir is also given as the location where the remnants “of the Amalekites that had escaped” were annihilated by five hundred Simeonites (I Chronicles 4:42-43). Mount Seir is also referenced in Ezekiel 35:10 (“A Prophecy Against Edom”)

There is also another Seir mountain near Hebron which was alotted to Judah in Joshua  15:10, where the city Sa’ir in the West Bank.

Amalek is a figure in the Hebrew Bible. According to the Book of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the grandson the Biblical figure Esau/Edom the twin brother of the same parents of Jacob/Israel in the Bible, and of the concubine Timna. Timna was a Horite and sister of Lotan. Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36) who was the chief of an Edomite tribe (Gen. 36:16).

At Genesis 36:16, Amalek is described as the “chief of Amalek”, and thus his name can be construed to refer to a clan or a territory over which he ruled. Josephus calls him a ‘bastard’, though in a derogative sense.

A late extra-Biblical tradition, recorded by Nachmanides, maintains that the Amalekites were not descended from the grandson of Esau but from a man named Amalek, from whom the grandson took his name. An eponymous ancestor of the Amalekites is also mentioned in Old Arabian poetry.

According to the Table of Nations (Genesis 10), the Hivites are one of the descendants of Canaan, son of Ham. (Also 1 Chronicles 1:13-15) A possible origin of the name may come from the Hebrew word chava which means tent dweller.

There appears to be a possible connection (or confusion) between the Hivites and the Horites. In Genesis 36:2 a Hivite named Zibeon is also described in Genesis 36:20-30 as a Horite. Others claim that this is as a result of a scribal error, as both Hivites and Horites differ in spelling by one letter of roughly similar shape, or they could refer to two individuals.

According to traditional Hebrew sources, the name “Hivites” is related to the Aramaic word “Khiv’va” (HVVA), meaning “snake” related to the word ‘awwiah in Galilee meaning serpent, since they sniffed the ground like snakes looking for fertile land.

The Hivites dwelt in the mountainous regions of Canaan stretching from Lebanon – specifically Lebo Hamath (Judges 3:3) – and Mt. Hermon (Joshua 11:3) in the north to the central Benjamin plateau in the Hill country just north of Jerusalem.

Within this region we find specific enclaves of Hivites mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 34 describes Hivites ruling the region of Shechem, a Canaanite city mentioned in the Amarna letters, and in the Hebrew Bible mentioned as an Israelite city of the tribe of Manasseh and the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel. Traditionally associated with Nablus, it is now identified with the site of Tell Balatah in Balata al-Balad in the West Bank.

Tell Balata is the site of the remains of an ancient city located in the Palestinian West Bank. The built-up area of Balata, a Palestinian village and suburb of Nablus, covers about one-third of the tell, and overlooks a vast plain to the east. The Palestinian village of Salim (biblical Salem) is located 4.5 kilometers (2.8 mi) to the west.

The site is listed by UNESCO as part of the Inventory of Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites of Potential Outstanding Universal Value in the Palestinian Territories. Experts estimate that the towers and buildings at the site date back 5,000 years to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages.

One theory holds that balata is a derivation of the Aramaic word Balut, meaning acorn; another theory holds that it is a derivation of the Byzantine-Roman era, from the Greek word platanos, meaning terebinth, a type of tree that grew around the spring of Balata. The local Samaritan community traditionally called the site ‘The Holy Oak’ or ‘The Tree of Grace’.

Traditionally, the site has been associated with biblical Samaritan city of Shechem said by Josephus to have been destroyed by John Hyrcanus I, based on circumstantial evidence such as its location and preliminary evidence of habitation during the late Bronze and early Iron Ages.

Tell Balata lies in a mountain pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, a location that fits well with the geographical description provided for Shechem in the Bible. No inscriptional evidence to support this conclusion has been found in situ, and other sites have also been identified as the possible site of biblical Shechem; for example, Y. Magen places locates that city nearby, on Mount Gerizim at a site covering an area of 30 hectares.

Mount Gerizim is one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of the West Bank city of Nablus (biblical Shechem), and forms the southern side of the valley in which Nablus is situated, the northern side being formed by Mount Ebal.

A Samaritan village (Kiryat Luza) and an Israeli settlement (Har Bracha) are situated on the mountain ridge. The mountain is sacred to the Samaritans who regard it, rather than Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, as having been the location chosen by Yahweh for a holy temple. The mountain continues to be the centre of Samaritan religion to this day, and over 90% of the worldwide population of Samaritans live in very close proximity to Gerizim, mostly in Kiryat Luza, the main village.

The passover is celebrated by the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, and it is additionally considered by them as the location of the near-sacrifice of Isaac (the masoretic, Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scroll versions of Genesis state that this happened on Mount Moriah which Jews traditionally identify as the Temple Mount). According to classical rabbinical sources, in order to convert to Judaism, a Samaritan must first and foremost renounce any belief in the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.

Further south there were the four Hivite towns – Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim (Joshua 9:17) – involved in the deception of Joshua. (Joshua 9:3-27)

Joshua 11:3 described the Hivites as being “under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh” and in 2 Samuel 24:7 they are mentioned immediately after “the stronghold of Tyre.”

Several key features can be inferred about the cultural distinctiveness of the Hivite peoples.

First, in Genesis 34:2 it is mentioned that Shechem the son of Hamor was a Hivite.

In Genesis 34:14, we find that the Hivites did not practice male circumcision, one of the few peoples living in the land of Canaan that did not. Other than Israel’s arch-nemesis – the Philistines – the Hivites appear to be an exception to the rule of circumcision which does lend them quite a distinction among the tribes of Canaan during this time period.

Circumcision, as a practice was quite common among the peoples existing in the land of Canaan. Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and other various proto-Canaanite tribes practiced male circumcision along with the Hebrews.

The Hivites continued to exist as a distinct people group at least until the time of David, when they were counted in a regional census taken at this time. (2 Samuel 24:1-7) During the reign of Solomon, they are described as part of the slave labor for his many building projects. (1 Kings 9:20-21, 2 Chronicles 8:7-8)

In Joshua 9, Joshua had ordered the Hivites of Gibeon to be wood gatherers and water carriers for the Temple of YHWH (see Nethinim).

Deuteronomy 7:3 forbade Israelites from marrying Hivites, because they followed other gods; but it is not clear how strictly the prohibition was observed.

It appears that the Hivite cultural distinctiveness ceased before the Assyrian conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE, and the Babylonian conquest of the southern Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BCE, each with consequential population deportations.

Genesis 15:18-21 does not list the Hivites as being in the land that was promised to the descendants of Abraham. However, some 100 years later, Genesis 36:2 mentions that one of Esau’s wives was “Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite” who is also described as “of the daughters of Canaan”.

The reference to “the daughters of Canaan” is considered to relate to their descent from the ancestor Canaan and to be a reference to a cultural distinctiveness or tribal affiliation, more than a reference to the geographical area of Canaan. By the time that Jacob returns with his family to Canaan, Genesis 34 describes Hivites as rulers of the region of Shechem.

From the Book of Joshua, we know that the Hivites were one of seven national groups living in the land of Canaan when the Israelites under Joshua commenced their conquest of the land. (Joshua 3:10) They are referred to as one of the seven nations to be removed from the land of Canaan – Hittites (Neo-Hittites), Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Exodus 34:11, 23:23, Deuteronomy 7:1-3) – and whose land had been promised to the Children of Israel (Exodus 3:8).

However, it appears that Hivites continued to be a separate cultural group within the land of Israel until at least the time of Solomon, and it is not clear if, when or how they ceased to be a separate group before the Israelite kingdoms came to an end. No name resembling Hivite has been found in Egyptian or Babylonian inscriptions.

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