Hittite Laws and Texts

The Hittite Laws are a composition of about two hundred laws inscribed on two clay tablets in cuneiform script in the Hittite language, which was used in Anatolia (Turkey) during the Hittite Kingdom (1650–1180 B.C.E.). This collection of laws partakes in the broader ancient Near Eastern legal tradition, and thus scholars of biblical law find them to be of keen interest. The first tablet is titled “If a Man” and the second tablet “If a Vine,” after the first words of each tablet. Dividing lines distinguish different topics, such as homicide, injuries, kidnapping, runaway slaves, marriage, land administration, animals’ injuries, theft, fire, prices and wages, and inappropriate sexual behavior. This Hittite collection reflects royal law, which was directly related to the legal responsibility of the governors who enacted it in the provinces, and also implements local traditional legal customs. All people ruled by the Hittite king were entitled to justice and could appeal to him personally if they suffered injustice.

Like other ancient Near Eastern law codes, this collection reflects the ethical norms, codes of conduct, and principles that governed the life of Hittite society. The laws offer no explanation for their composition, nor do they state their original context or source of authority. This stands in contrast to biblical laws, which claim a divine source, and the Laws of Hammurabi, which are presented before the sun god Shamash. Law 55 of the Hittite laws suggests that their authority is derived from a figure called the Father of His Majesty, meaning they were decreed by a Hittite king. Mainly based on its language, scholars connect the text to either Hattushili I or Telipinu. Hatushili I lived around 1650 B.C.E. and is regarded as the founder of the Hittite dynasty; if he was the Father of His Majesty, then the laws would have been written down by his successor, Murshili I. Telipinu, who reigned in the late 16th century B.C.E., is known to have carried out some legal reforms.

The laws in this Hittite collection are similar to various biblical laws concerning family law and sexual behavior. For example, law 197 reads: “If a man seizes a woman in the mountain(s), it is the man’s offense, and he shall be put to death, but if he seizes her in (her) house, it is the woman’s offense: the woman shall be put to death.” This is similar to Deut 22:22-27. These similarities do not suggest that the biblical authors knew the Hittite documents but instead reflect the shared legal traditions of the Levant.

Like biblical laws, the Hittite laws show evidence that they have a long history. They have been modified from Old Hittite to New Kingdom Hittite, and they have also undergone several revisions, such as monetary compensation replacing capital punishment in some cases; changes in prices and wages can also be detected. These modifications and the large number of duplicate copies of the tablets indicate that the laws were indeed in use throughout the five hundred years of the Hittite kingdom. This long history, with multiple revisions, suggests that the laws were used as a code over several hundred years; this may contrast with Mesopotamian legal collections, which largely functioned as symbols of a national ideal.


  • Ada Taggar-Cohen

    Professor, Doshisha University

    Ada Taggar-Cohen is a professor of Bible and ancient Near Eastern studies at the Faculty of Theology of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan. Her research focuses on Hittite priesthood and comparative studies of issues related to Hittite and ancient Israelite cultures. Her book Hittite Priesthood (Universitätsverlag Winter, 2006) is a comprehensive work on this topic.