Relations between god and man in the Hurro-Hittite Song of Release.

Author:Bachvarova, Mary R.


Only a dim outline of the plot of the Hurro-Hittite Song of Release can be gleaned from the fragments that remain. The proemium (KBo 32.11) does tell us it is about the destruction of Ebla. The gods Tessub, Allani, and Ishara are involved, and a human hero, Pizikarra of Nineveh, will carry it out. Why the North Syrian city must be destroyed, however, is unclear. KBo 32.15, 19, and 20 tell us it has to do with the Eblaites' refusal to release certain captives, the people of the town of Ikinkalis, but why should Tessub feel the need to take their side, and why are these people obligated to render service to the nobles of Ebla? The assembly scene preserved in KBo 32.15 provides a further problem, the description of Tessub's suffering. Up to now scholars have attempted to argue that the description is fictive or sarcastic, perhaps finding it difficult to imagine that the gods could be thought to suffer "like men." (1) Here I offer a unified solution to these problems in the light of parallels from other Hittite and Hurro-Hittite texts. These show that Tessub's suffering is caused by neglect of his cult, since the people of Ikinkalis, because they are being forced to work for the Eblaite nobles, cannot fulfil the ritual obligations owed to him and to the royal ancestor cult of Ebla; this is the reason for Tessub's punishment of Ebla.

The study I present here is only the first step towards understanding how the Song of Release achieved its final form at Hattusa. Until now, there has been little effort to compare the Song of Release to Hittite texts or even to other texts in the Hurro-Hittite SI[R.sub.3] genre, although Neu noted some similarities with the Annals of Hattusili I and an Old Hittite instruction text. For the most part, scholars have attempted to understand the text as a product of Old Babylonian North Syria, focusing on the time and place of the story the text tells. Eblaite texts have indeed elucidated key details of the text, and I myself will make use of archaeological evidence from Ebla to support the interpretation I present here. Yet, the Song of Release was found at Hattusa, and it was translated into Middle Hittite. We should entertain the possibility that between the time of its first composition, when the event it describes was still fresh in its original audience's memory, and the time it was finally translated and written down, the Song of Release was tailored to fit Hittite concerns and practices, like other members of the SI[R.sub.3] genre. (2) In the succession myth found in the Hurro-Hittite Song of Kumarbi, for example, successive kings of the gods, Alalu and Anu, were each deposed by his cupbearer ([section][section]2-4, KUB 33.20 i 8-29), a pattern that conformed to Hittite experience (cf. Telipinu Chronicle [section]6, KBo 3.1 i 31-34), instead of by his son as in the Akkadian Enuma Elish; and the Hurro-Hittite Gilgamesh was tailored to some degree to a Hittite milieu, focusing on places known to the Hittites (Tigay 1982: 111-18 with earlier refs.).

I begin with a brief survey of previous interpretations of KBo 32.15. I then present my own interpretation, focusing first on Hittite instruction texts which discuss the oppression of the poor by their betters, then on arkuwar prayers which discuss the mutual obligations of mankind and the gods. I then move on to Hittite edicts, laws, and treaties which provide the real-world context explaining how labor obligations imposed on men prevent them from serving the gods, and how Hittite royalty displayed their piety through decrees which freed people from such obligations in order to better serve the gods or the royal dead. Finally, I discuss a scene from the Hurro-Hittite Song of Hedammu to show that Tessub could in fact be reduced to the state of a poor beggar if humans did not serve him properly.


The text of KBo 32.15 first becomes intelligible in the middle of a speech describing the plight of Tessub, insisting that if he really were suffering, the speaker and his faction would certainly help him: "We will rescue him, Tessub, the oppressed one. (But,) who harms him, we will not make him a release." (3) (n=an=kan huisnumini [.sup.d.IM]-an [.sup.LU.s]issiyalan/dammishiskizzi=an kuis UL=ma=an/ iyaweni para [??]tar[??]numar, ii 18'-20', ed. Neu 1996a: 291, with n. 6 and 324, n. 39.) (4) The speaker, probably Meki's rival Zazalla, insultingly jeers at Meki and Purra, the chief of the captives:

n=asta tuk ANA [.sup.m.M]eki ZI-KA anda tuskizzi 1-SU=kan tuk ANA [.sup.m.M]eki ZI-KA anda UL duskizzi tan pedi=ma=kan ANA [.sup.m.P]urra appa pianti ZI-SU anda

    duski[z]zi ii 20'-25' (ed. Neu 1996a: 291-93) "For you, Meki, does your heart rejoice inside? (5) First of all, for you, Meki, your heart inside will not rejoice. Secondly for Purra, who is to be given back, his heart inside will rejoice." (6) Zazalla insists that the slaves are needed to do menial labor: "Why will we let them go? Who will give us food?... They are our cooks, and they wash for us." (apus arha kuit tarnu[??]meni[??] anzas=a adan[na]/ kuis piskizzi ... [.sup.LU.MES.M]UHALDIM-s=at=nas/ arraskanzi=ya=as!=nas, ii 26'-29', ed. Neu 1996a: 293.) The speaker demands that Meki send away his own wife and son if he wishes to release someone. Meki is reduced to tears and attempts to defend himself to Tessub, insisting:

[i]stamas=mu [.sup.d.I]M-as [.sup.URU.K]ummiyas LU[GA]L GAL ug=an p[esk]imi (7) parissan ammel=ma=a[n U]RU-as UL pai SA [.sup.m.P]azz[anik]arri=ma DUMU-SU [.sup.m.Z]azallas para tar[??]nu[??][mar] UL pai nu=za [.sup.m.M]ekis apel U[RU-LAM-]SU wasdulaz parkunut [.sup.URU.E]b[lan UR]U-an URU-ri ser wastu[l.sup.HI.A] pessiet iii 13-20 (ed. Neu 1996a: 297) "Listen to me Tessub, great king of Kummi. I will [gi]ve it, (i.e.,) parissan, but my city will not give it. (8) Nor will Zazalla, son of Pazz[anik]arri give release." Meki (tried to?) purify his ci[ty] from sin, the ci[ty of Eb]la. He (tried to?) waive the sins for the sake of his city. (9) Meki's purification ritual, meant to cleanse the sin of disobedience to the god, must have failed, because we know that Ebla does in fact earn the wrath of Tessub and is destroyed.

Beginning with Neu (1988a: 14; 1993: 331-33; 1996a: 9) and based on biblical parallels, scholars have argued that Meki attempts to issue a release of debt slaves. Periodic freeing of debt slaves and canceling of debts as part of a jubilee appears in Leviticus 25:10 (Neu 1988a: 14; 1988b: 332-33; Hoffner 1998b: 180-83), and this section of Leviticus does present us with a complex of ideas that also appear in the Song of Release. Furthermore, in Leviticus 24: 10ff. a story is told of a man punished by stoning for cursing someone, just as in the parable section of the Song of Release subordinates who dare to curse their superiors are punished for their presumption (KBo 32.12, 14). And in Leviticus 26 God utters a conditional cursing and blessing that is very similar to that of Tessub in the Song of Release (KBo 32.19). Cursing and rebellion of subordinates are the two themes that connect the parable section (KBo 32.12, 14) to the Ebla section (KBo 32.19, 20). (10) If these two themes can be connected to a single passage in the Bible, it is not completely unjustified to look for debt slavery in the Song of Release as a further parallel between the two texts. Furthermore, in Jeremiah 34, God punishes the people of Jerusalem with a military defeat for rescinding a manumission of slaves, providing a separate biblical parallel with the Ebla plot in the Song of Release (Neu 1996a: 480, n. 6; 1996b: 193).

In the Akkadian world, kings indeed could prevent the excessive oppression of the poor by periodically canceling debts and freeing slaves. These acts are commemorated in misarum edicts (Finkelstein 1961: 103-4; Kraus 1984; Greengus 1995: 471; Otto 1998b). Periodic remission of the debts of slaves also occurred at Mari (Avalos 1995: 626). Furthermore, there is evidence that Hurrians knew of this practice at Nuzi. (11) However, while debt slavery is not an entirely inappropriate theme for the story, there is little or no evidence in other Hittite texts for the custom of periodic freeing of debt slaves, although Anatolian kings in the Old Assyrian period did practice the custom of periodic remissions of debts (Balkan 1974: 32-37). While debt slavery does resonate with the themes of the Song of Release and themes in the rest of Hittite literature, inasmuch as it involves oppression and confinement of the poor and intervention of the king to free the poor (in Hittite texts, kings freeing their subjects from oppression is indeed a topos), as we will see, in the Hittite corpus when the oppression of subordinates is mentioned there is no explicit reference to debt slavety.

Otto (1998a: 293; 1998b: 149-50; 2001, esp. 527) has already debunked the commonly held theory that the song is about debt remission. As Otto points out, Neu (1996a: 399-400, 479, n. 4) does admit that Purra, chief among the captives from Ikinkalis, is characterized as a prisoner of war in the Hurrian version, (12) and this characterization is incompatible with his theory that Purra is a debt slave. (13)

Pecchioli Daddi (2001: 560), meanwhile, has shown that "[s]ongs of liberation ... belong also to the north-Anatolian cultural tradition and to the Hattic tradition in particular." She has analyzed a fragment of a Hittite ritual containing an antiphonal Hattic song (KBo 37.68) as evidence that the Hittites had adopted an indigenous Anatolian custom of solemnly proclaiming one's freedom from sahhan and luzzi obligations when disbursing a marriage portion, which carries these responsibilities. (14) In the text a chorus of LU.MES [.sup.GIS.T]UKUL-us ("workers") sings a song stating that they have given the inheritance/marriage portion and are therefore free from sahhan and luzzi. (15) Pecchioli Daddi (2001: 559-60) compares the festival fragment she...

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