Ambitious princes among the Hittites (2 Samuel 19)

Bilderesultat for hittites people

Illustration: Ancient Hittites

Expunging (annihilating) the bloodline of one’s opponent was common practice in ancient monarchies. The decree of the Hittite king Telipinu describes the political upheaval that often ensued as a throne changed hands. This document provides a historical account of the succession of the Hittite kings from the seventeenth – fourteenth centuries B.C. At the outset succession was orderly, and the land prospered. Soon, however, the princes’ servants (often family members), in lust for power, began to conspire against their lords. A series of palace intrigues ensued, during which a relative of the king would rise up, kill his master and assume control. He would exterminate all of the former king’s descendants so that no threat to his rule remained. Eventually one of his family members, sometimes his own son, would rebel against him, and a new cycle of regicide would begin.

Telipinu was the first Hittite king to attempt to end such bloodshed. Having exiled the monarch who had tried to eliminate him, Telipinu himself became king, but he treated the family of his predecessor kindly. He then established rules of succession and proclaimed that future kings were to unite the royal family rather than to splinter it by murderous intent. Finally, he decreed that anyone conspiring to kill members of the royal family would be executed, even if that individual were a prince himself.

The problem of palace intrigues and dynastic succession had its parallels in Israelite society. Like Telipinu, the Biblical David dmonstrated that he would not condone the murder of his rival’s family. When a young man claimed to have slain king Saul (2 Samuel 1:1-15) and two others reported that they had killed Saul’s son (4:1-12), David had them executed for their purported treacherous deeds. He went on to seek out Saul’s living relatives for the purpose of showing them kindness, to the extent of providing care and protection to Saul’s lame grandson Mephibosheth (9:1-13). David’s own family, however, was not immune from the pattern of the surrounding cultures. His son Absalom attempted to usurp the throne and to kill his father in battle. When Absalom himself was killed, David grieved so profoundly that the victory celebration was overshadowed by his mourning.


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