The Hittite temple for the Goddess of the Night (Exodus 34)

FULL TITLE: THE HITTITE RITUAL OF ESTABLISHING A NEW TEMPLE FOR THE GODDESS OF THE NIGHT

Ancient cuneiform texts attest to Hittites worshiping hundreds – and possibly thousands! – of deities. One of these texts, a four-columned tablet discovered in southeastern Anatolia and dated to the Late Bronze Age, contains instructions for the Hittite ritual of establishing a new temple for a goddess of the night.

Interestingly, sapects of this ritual are similar to those God established concerning the tabernacle’s construction (Exodus 25-40). For example:

  • Both procedures involve adorning the place of worship with precious metals and gems.
  • Both specify the use of bronze utensils, altars and washing basins.
  • Both stipulate finely woven curtains to serve as doorway screens.
  • Both assigned priests special clothing and required that they engage in ceremonial washing rituals.
  • Both had corresponding characteristics related to sacrificial rites.

Despite these parallels, a number of differences illustrate unique aspects of Israelite  religious practises. The Hittite text commanded workers to fashion a statue of their goddess. The priests were instructed to lure the goddess into the temple with food and gifts, and efforts were undertaken to make the idol holy. In contrast, Yahweh:

  • Forbade the Israelites from fashioning images (Exodus 20:4, 34:17).
  • Did not need to be sanctified by human ritual; He consecrated His own tabernacle, as well as His priests (Exodus 29:43-44, 40:9-15).
  • Did not need to be provided with food or clothing; rather, He cared fis His people’s needs (Deuteronomy 29:5).
  • Chose to dwell among His people (Exodus 29:45-46). He did not ask or need to be enticed . He both pronounced His own coming and made His presence known in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:8, 40:34-38).

Even so, it is important to recognize that the Israelites followed customs common in their day. This helps us to keep the Bible in perspective as an ancient book written within – and expressing reality as it was lived within – a historical context. It also assures us that the priestly rules in the Old Testament are truly ancient (second millennium B.C.), as opposed to relatively late (fourth century B.C., as some scholars argue).

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