Hittite instructions for border outposts (Nehemiah 4)

Bilderesultat for watchtower in Judah

Illustration: Reconstruction of a watchtower at Yad HaShmona

Nehemiah 3-4 describes Nehemiah’s attempt to rebuild Jerusalem in the face of violent opposition. Nehemiah had to inspire the people under his command to rebuild the walls and towers of the city, while simultaneously maintaining discipline for the Jewish militia defending it. This was not unusual; throughout the ancient Near East kings established military procedures for the commandres who manned their watchtowers and outposts.

A group of Hittite administrative texts describes the guidelines a “lord of a watchtower” (a garrison commander) was to follow. These included fixed procedures for the changing of the guard, for opening the gates of a city, for patrolling acess routes and for maintaining a roster of troops. The Hittites also had specific procedures for the building and fortification of walls, to ensure that they would be resistant to burning and tunneling by sappers (men whose speciality it was to tunnel under a city wall). Interestingly, Hittite regulations also required that commanders oversee the maintenance of the priesthood, temples and rituals for the Hittite storm god )cf. Nehemiah 7, 10). They also had to ensure that deportees could recover from their destitute situation (cf. Nehemiah 5). Chronologically, these Hittite texts are distant from the time of Nehemiah, but they do attest to the duties any governor of an ancient garrison city would presumably have been expected to fulfil.


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