In 1906, near the bend of the Halys River located near the modern Turkish village of Boğazkale, a German professor and Assyriologist named Hugo Winckler started full scale excavations of an unknown and lost empire. Winckler decided to excavate the site because of earlier surveys by two Frenchmen: Charles Texier and Ernest Chantre in 1834.

Hugo Winckler – German archaeologist & Assyriologist who discovered the Hittites (1863-1913)

After several years of digging, Winckler eventually unearthed an entire library containing 10,000 clay tablets. According to Hans Gustav Güterbock: “The first 10,000 clay tablets and fragments were found in 1906, 1907, 1911, and 1912 in excavations conducted in the name of the Istanbul Museum by its Second Director Theodore Makridi Bey and the Berlin Assyriologist Hugo Winkler” [1].

Fragment of the Song of Silver (Hittite Clay tablet) Oriental Institute Museum (OIM A12232).

The tablets were written in Hittite, Akkadian and Sumerian hieroglyphics. Akkadian was a language familiar to scholars of that time. Other tablets discovered, however, were written in a language unknown to Winckler. We now know that the unknown language inscribed on the tablets Winckler excavated was ancient Hittite. According to Mark Wilson, “Decipherment of the Hittite script took decades of work by linguists, and today, many tablets remain untranslated” [2] In fact, there is an ongoing project at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to create and compile a complete Hittite Dictionary [3].

Title Page of the Hittite Dictionary (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Throughout the late-nineteenth century many other artifacts with the same unknown language (i.e. Hittite), were discovered throughout Asia Minor, Northern Syria and Turkey. As more artifacts came to light from Hattusa, a scholar named A.H. Sayce, and a missionary working in Damascus named William Wright,  suggested that the inscriptions were from the ancient Hittite Civilization mentioned in the Bible. 

The Hittites are mentioned over 60 times in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel 11 states that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah was a Hittite. Additional references to the Hittites include, Genesis 26:34, Joshua 1:4, 1 Kings 10:29 and 1 Kings 11:1 as well as many others. The common Hebrew word to denote the Hittites hittî is based on the name Heth (Gen. 10:15; 1 Chon. 1:13). Abraham encountered the Hittites at Hebron (Gen. 23:3-20); Esau married three Hittite women (Gen. 26:34; 36:2-5). The Hittites are also included in the standard list of seven people groups in Palestine (Deut. 7:1) and subsequently also one of the groups Israel fails to drive out of the land when they entered it (Judges 3:5). 

Up until the early 20th century the only known historical reference to a civilization called the Hittites was in the Bible (in the Old Testament). Archaeology was only a burgeoning science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and much was still unknown about the archaeological remains of the material culture of the ancient world. 

The suggestion by Sayce and Wright that artifacts & language found at Hattusha, possibly belonged to the Hittites mentioned in the Bible, certainly didn’t sit well with other academics. Many scholars in Europe had a low view of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy. In 1859 Charles Darwin’sOn the Origin of Species” was published, and during the mid to late-nineteenth century, a number of skeptical theories of the Bible were beginning to emerge in scholarly circles [4].

Although Winckler didn’t set out to try to prove the Bible, his discovery certainly gave strong pause to those who believed that the Bible was scientifically and historically suspect. Not only did he discover archaeological evidence that the Hittite Civilization existed — he discovered the entire royal Hittite capital including the their nearly complete royal library! 

Reconstruction of the walls of Hattusa (the Hittite Capital) in Turkey (Wikipedia Commons)

The archaeological site of Hattusha is one of the largest in Turkey today covering 445 acres (180 hectares). The site consists of the Main Citadel, the Great Temple, the King’s Gate, Lion’s Gate, Sphinx Gate, an Upper City and a Lower City. 

The famous “Lion’s Gate” at Hattusa – capitol of the Hittite Empire (Wikipedia)

Scholars widely recognize now that the site Winckler excavated is the Hittite capital of Hattusha, the exact same Hittites mentioned in the Bible [5].

The fascinating story of the discovery of the Hittites in the history of archaeology, illustrates once again how archaeology affirms that the Bible is historically accurate!

Even though the Bible was thought of as, primarily a religious text (which it is), it is also historically accurate about the things written in it. If the Old Testament was right about the Hittites, then what else is it right about? If we can trust it with “earthly things” then we can also trust it with “heavenly things” (John 3:12).

The remarkable discovery of the Hittite civilization in the early twentieth century was only the beginning of a long list of remarkable discoveries that changed how we view the Bible. 

Stay tuned! There is still much more to awaiting to be discovered! 


[1] Hans G. Güterbock and Frances Güterbock, “Hans Ehelolf and the Bogazkoy Archive in Berlin,” in Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., Editor, Perspectives on Hittite Civilization: Selected Writings of Hans Gustav Güterbock (The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Assyriological Studies, No. 26: Chicago, IL), 1 [emphasis mine] 

[2] Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor (Istabbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2014), 164.

[3] The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CHD) is a comprehensive, bilingual Hittite-English dictionary. The CHD is not just a list of words and their meanings, but rather a dictionary that reflects and illustrates the ideas and material world of Hittite society through its lexicon. Published letter by letter, the CHD is a long-term project and the result of a painstaking process of cultural, historical, and lexical investigation for all those interested in Hittite culture and history. The CHD is the only such project in the English speaking world See also The Chicago Hittite Dictionary Project 

[4] One of the most famous of these theories was the “The Documentary Hypothesis,” proposed by  German scholar, Julius Welhausen. In his book Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), Welhausen proposed that the Pentateuch was likely cobbled together over time from various sources by four independent writers (J.E.D.P., respectively). As a consequence, much of the OT (especially the Pentateuch) was likely not grounded in actual historical events. 

[5] See, “Bogazkoy” [Hattusha], Hans G. Guterbock, in Eric Meyers, Editor in Chief, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East , Vol. 1 (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 333-5.; & “Hittite History” by Philo H.J. Houwink Ten Cate in David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3 (New York, London: Doubleday), 219-25.