Theology of Liberation in the Second Millennium BCE

The Hurrian Song of Liberation

Eva von Dassow

ISAW Visiting Research Scholar

Around 1400 BCE, Hittite scribes recorded a Hurrian epic poem entitled “Song of Liberation” in a bilingual Hurro-Hittite edition, in cuneiform script on clay tablets. Fragments of these tablets were discovered in 1983 CE in the excavations at Hattusha, capital city of Hatti. The poem tells a mytho-historical tale turning on the gods’ demand that the city of Ebla release the people of another city, Igingallish, whom they have subjected. The storm god promises prosperity and military success if the Eblaites release the people of Igingallish, and threatens to annihilate their city if they do not. But the senate of Ebla refuses to grant release, exercising their liberty as a body of free men to deny liberty to those who serve them. The city of Ebla was indeed destroyed around 1600 BCE, and this poem explains why. What was the condition of liberty to which the gods demanded that the subjected people be released, and why did this interest the scribes of Hatti two centuries later?

Eva von Dassow teaches the history and languages of the ancient Near East at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of State and Society in the Late Bronze Age: Alalaḫ under the Mittani Empire (2008), co-author of Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. III (2000), and editor of The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day (1994; 1998). Her current research focuses on citizenship, governance, and liberty in ancient Near Eastern polities. This work includes a study of the Hurro-Hittite bilingual edition of the "Song of Liberation"; other recent work investigates written records as artifacts of cultural practice, and the nature of writing as an interface between reader and reality. She is at present writing a book on freedom and governance in the ancient Near East.

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