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A Hurrian Cadre in King David’s Court

The Hurrians were ubiquitous throughout the ancient Near East. As a people, they were more widely spread than any other group before the Arameans. They flourished from the middle of the third millennium till the end of the second. They were probably the main population component of the Kura-Araxes culture which spread from Eastern Anatolia during the Late Uruk period (ca. 3000 BC) into the more civilized areas of the Fertile Crescent (Giorgi I Kavtaradze, “The Chronology of the Caucasus during the Early Metal Age: Observations from Central Trans-Caucasus,” A View from the Highlands: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Charles Burney, ed. Antonio Sagona [Peeters, 2004] 551). They were certainly the core population group of the Mitanni Kingdom of northern Mesopotamia. Hurrian texts have been found at Boghazköy (ancient Hattusas, center of the Hittite empire), Ugarit, Nuzi, Mari, and Tell el-Amarna in Egypt.

The Hurrians greatly influenced the Hittites “in regard to writing, literature, law, religion, and art; small wonder that the Hittite vocabulary teems with Hurrian loan words” (E. A. Speiser, “Hurrians,” IDB 2:665). Some have even postulated that the biblical “Hittites” might be better understood as ethnic Hurrians.

Hurrians in the Bible

Hurrians settled as far south as central Palestine, so it is no surprise that they would be encountered in the Old Testament. Hurrian names have been discovered at Jerusalem, Taanach, possibly Shechem, and elsewhere. Although the main biblical term for this people was “Horites” (cf. Gen 36:20), Speiser suggests this term was eventually replaced by other designations such as “Hivites” (Gen 10:17) and “Jebusites” (Gen 10:16). Perhaps this was in part to avoid confusion with the people of the same name who lived in Seir (Speiser, 665).

The court of King David seems to have a rather strong connection to the Hurrians who lived in Canaan around the turn of the first millennium.

The Hurrians of Gath

Akish. When David fled from King Saul, he ended up in the employ of King Achish (or Akish) of Gath (1 Sam 21). Although a Philistine, Akish seems to have a Hurrian name. Richard S. Hess has suggested that Akish is perhaps a short form of a name based on the Hurrian element aki, roughly translated “gift” (Amarna Personal Names [Eisenbrauns, 1993] 152). This sort of abbreviation, called a hypocoristicon by people who love giving things long, unpronounceable names, is common even today. For example, we think nothing of a William who goes by Bill or an Elizabeth who prefers to be called Betty. In the case of Akish, the long form may possibly be Aki-Shimige, “Gift of [the god] Shimige” or perhaps “Shimige has given.” Another possibility might be that Akish had a mixed Hurrian-Canaanite name such as Aki-Shamash, replacing the name of the Hurrian sun-god with that of the Canaanites.

Yet a third possibility is that Akish is a hypcoristicon for Akksharur, “the king gives” (Hanna E. Kassis, “Gath and the Structure of the ‘Philistine’ Society,” JBL 84/3 (1965) 268 n. 54).

The Hurrians of Hebron

David’s first capital was established at Hebron, where he ruled for seven and a half years (2 Sam 2:11). Hebron had long been an important Hurrian center in Canaan. At the time of Israel’s wilderness generation, the Bible indicates that Hebron was ruled by three “sons of Anak”: Sheshai, Talmai, and Ahiman (Num 13:22). Sheshai is a Hurrian name attested at Nuzi and, most likely, on scarabs from Egypt and Canaan from the Hyksos era. Talmai is also “typically Hurrian, with deity’s name omitted” (Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament [Eerdmans, 2003] 177).

In the time of Joshua, the king of Hebron was Hoham, which is also best considered a Hurrian-based name with the elements huhha and (a)m (Kitchen 177). Hebron seems, therefore, to be a longstanding Hurrian dynastic center. When David established it as his first capital, it would have made sense for him to recruit capable Hurrians to serve at his court. In fact, the Bible names several of them.

Seraiah. David’s chief scribe or secretary is named Seraiah in 2 Samuel 8:17. This is a perfectly fine Hebrew name meaning “Yah[weh] is ruler.” Elsewhere, however, this man’s name is given as Sheva (2 Sam 20:25) or Shavsha (1 Ch 18:16). According to Benjamin Mazar, these forms are probably derived from Hurrian Shawu[shka]-Sha[rru], “Shawushka is king” (The Early Biblical Period: Historical Studies [Israel Exploration Society, 1986] 134ff.)

Seraiah/Sheva’s son, a scribe during the reign of Solomon, had a name that can be understood as a mixture of Hurrian and Hebrew: Elihoreph (1 Kgs 4:3), perhaps originally Eli-Harpa, “my god is Harpa” (cf. Elijah, “my God is Yah[weh]) (Mazar, 133-35).

Ittai. Later in his career, David had a man named Ittai of Gath as his “captain” (2 Sam 15:22). This is likely derived from the Hurrian name Eteia, attested in numerous Nuzi texts. In fact, the LXX gives the name in the form Ethei.

Maacah. In Hebron, David took Maacah “daughter of King Talmai of Geshur” as a wife (2 Sam 3:3). I have already noted that Talmai is a “typically Hurrian” name, so Maacah was likely either Hurrian or at least had some claim to Hurrian heritage on her father’s side.

The Hurrians of Jerusalem

Jerusalem was apparently a Hurrian-controlled city before it was captured by David. During the Amarna period, the king of Jerusalem was named Abdi-Heba (or Abdi-Hepa), another mixed Hurrian-Semitic name meaning “servant of [the goddess] Heba.” (Actually, the first element is represented by a logogram; its actual form is uncertain and thus the name might have been purely Hurrian.) The Bible calls these original inhabitants of Jerusalem “Jebusites,” but it is not entirely clear whether the entire population was Hurrian or simply ruled by a Hurrian aristocracy. At any rate, during the time of the Conquest, the king of Jerusalem was Adonizedek (Josh 10:3), a thoroughly Semitic name.

Araunah. Araunah (or Aravnah/Arawnah), from whom David bought a threshing floor and turned it into an altar (2 Sam 24:16, 24), can be explained as a form of Ewri, Hurrian for “lord” (Speiser, 665).

Naharai. When David transferred his capital to Jerusalem, he seems to have continued to find capable Hurrians to serve him. Naharai of Beeroth (2 Sam 23:37) was one of David’s “mighty men,” a hand-picked elite within David’s army that perhaps served as a council of war. (These may well have been among those warriors who had followed David since the time when he was fleeing King Saul.) Naharai was the armor-bearer of David’s general, Joab. He also possessed a Hurrian name, which might have originally been a hypocoristicon for Nihria[-Teshub] (Mazar, 137-38).

Uriah. Might Uriah “the Hittite” (2 Samuel 11:3) have been a Hurrian? Urhiya is “a pure Hurrian name” (Kitchen 176) meaning “[deity X] is true.” There was a general by this name, a Hurrian or Canaanite by descent, in the service of Ramesses II. David’s Uriah was also a member of his “mighty men” (2 Sam 23:39)

“David”: A Hurrian Throne Name?

As we have seen, David served as vassal under a Hurrian “Philistine” king from Gath, had Hurrians among his “mighty men,” and employed a Hurrian as his chief secretary. Throughout his reign, he seems to have been surrounded by a small but strategically placed cadre of Hurrians. Is it possible that David himself took a Hurrian throne name?

It could be argued, for example, that the name David itself might be understood as a Hurrian name (i.e., Tadua) composed of tad, “to love,” plus the formative element wa. Its meaning, “beloved [of deity X],” would thus be identical to that of David understood as a Hebrew name‚ which may have been pronounced Dud or Dawd in this early period. A similar name may be seen in its longer form in the Amarna correspondence: Tadu-Heba. In at least some dialects, the cuneiform symbol used to signify “ta” must have been very close to “da.” In Hatti, the name Tadu-Heba is sometimes written as Dadu-Heba or Dudu-Heba (Hess, 153).

It is worth noting that some have interpreted 2 Samuel 21:19 to say that David also went by the name Elhanan, which was perhaps the name given to him at birth. A. M. Honeyman explains how this line of reasoning goes:

I Sam 17 tells how David slew the Philistine Goliath. But among the miscellaneous notices of encounters with the Philistines there is one which ascribes the slaughter of Goliath to “Elhanan the son of Ya’are-Oregim of Bethlehem.” The Chronicler senses a difficulty and “improves” the text by making “Elhanan the son of Ya’ir” slay “Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” The right resolution of the textual tangle is on quite other lines. The word ‘oregim has been introduced by dittography from the end of II Sam 21:19. The reading ya’iri is a corruption, of which there is an acknowledgment in the smaller lettering of the resh in many MSS. The ‘ayin resh of ya’iri results from a mis-reading of shin. The original reading was yishai; the slayer of Goliath was Elhanan the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. Elhanan can be none other than he who reigned as David…. (“The Evidence for Regnal Names among the Hebrews,” JBL 67/1 [1948] 23-24)

If that is the case, and given his many ties to Hurrians throughout his early career, might David have assumed a Hurrian name at his coronation? Or, might he have chosen a Hebrew throne name that would be phonetically similar to the same name translated into Hurrian?

Even if this last point is dismissed (and it is certainly speculative), the evidence is quite solid that David elevated numerous Hurrians to high position in his court. His court must have looked remarkably like the demographic makeup of his kingdom; it was certainly not limited exclusively to native-born Israelites. Whether and to what extent we might discern other Hurrian influences throughout the united monarchy period is a subject worthy of additional study.

technorati tags: david, gath, hebron, hurrians, jerusalem



  1. Karole Stout says:

    I am trying to find out at what age Hurrian girls were ready for marriage or given in marriage. Could someone give me some info? thanks..Karole


  2. Anakarsis says:

    Hurrians left behind a good number of marriage contracts, none of them say a word of marriage age, but it is shown there that most marriage were preceded by the adoption of the future husband into the family of the girl; a formal process to ensure that the guy could inherit the lands from the father of the girl as one of his sons (as Hurrian law prevented any non-family member to be inherited land). So we have a society were the property belongs to male alone (patriarchy) but were the husband always go to live in the household of his wife, and not vice-versa (matrilocality), and were marriage is what gives a guy rights to the land. In these circumstances, i suspect that they get married young, but not too young, as the husband were seen as an adopted brother (then has to have probably at least CLOSE age) while he has to be already economically active, as marriage was a mean to access to land, so im inclined for a young normal age of marriage for girls of between 15 and 20 yo, perhaps 16 to 20


  3. […] Darrell’s article is very informative. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Hurrians are encouraged to visit Darrell’s blog and read his post. The post is found here. […]


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