Finally, a piece I have been dying to write for a while. This is the draft of the first half of my essay ‘Hittites, Horses and Corpses’. Obviously, it deals with the Hittites. Section two deals with the Hebrew Bible.

In the Hittite laws we find the following:

¶ 187 If a man has sexual relations with a cow, it is an unpermitted sexual pairing; he will be put to death …

¶ 188 If a man has sexual relations with a sheep, it is an unpermitted sexual pairing; he will be put to death …

¶ 199 If anyone has sexual relations with a pig or a dog, he shall die … If an ox leaps on a man (in sexual excitement), the ox shall die; the man shall not die. They shall substitute one sheep for the man and put it to death. If a pig leaps on a man (in sexual excitement), it is not an offence.

¶ 190 If they [have sexual relations] with the dead – man, woman – it is not an offence

¶ 200 If a man has sexual relations with either a horse or a mule, it is not an offense

The obvious and initial point to make is that horses and mules, randy pigs and the dead are more liberated sexually among the Hittites. Those with prudish moral codes – invariably derived from religious presuppositions – will no doubt with to excoriate the Hittites as a depraved and deviant group, unlike the upright Israelites, who only ever inserted things in the correct orifices. The problem is that despite the reasonably voluminous literature on the Hittites since they rose from the dust and detritus of millennia to be recognised as yet another people and empire of the ancient Near East, it is well nigh impossible to find any treatment of these somewhat delicate topics, or body parts for that matter. So I need to forge on where no man has gone before, exploring first what was banned and what was permitted among the Hittites and then focusing on horses, mules and the dead in more prurient detail.

A few general details for the uninitiated concerning these laws: they date from the Old Hittite Period (c. 1650-1500 BCE) and were then copied through to the thirteenth century – in the imaginatively named Middle or New Hittite Period (c. 1500-1180). Some of the laws have undergone revision over time, but generally not in the case of sexual misdemeanours. Unlike some of the laws in the Hebrew Bible, there is no principle of lex talionis in these Hittite laws, nor do they claim to have a divine origin (rather astonishing given the way religion permeated nearly every aspect of Hittite life. In other respects these laws do have some similarities: scholars tend to argue that many of them are case laws and that they cannot be comprehensive (there are 200). Further, scholars remain nonplussed by the apparent lack of organisation among the laws, seeking to identify some pattern, while admitting that whatever pattern one might find, it is not perfect.[1] I leave those debates aside as so much avoidance of the far more enticing issue of sexual practices.

What were the unacceptable sexual practices relating to non-human animals among the Hittites? From the laws it is obvious that becoming intimate with one’s sheep, cow,[2] dog or pig was out of the question – although if the pig took the initiative since it found you were quite hot, then the law lets you off the hook. Indeed, the issue of the pig immediately raises what may appear to be a contradiction: one may not have ‘sexual relations’ (the Hittite literally has ‘sins’) with a pig, but then it is fine if the pig should mount you. Penetration is clearly in question: penetrating a pig (given that a ‘man’ is addressed) is unacceptable, but being penetrated by a pig causes less concern.[3] Unless of course the law actually means not so much porcophilia but ‘pig-sex’ as a generic term, that is, a sexual act that is considered outrageous or outside the norms of societal sexual behaviours such as water sports, defecation, bondage, group-sex and bestiality. But perhaps that is taking a little too much interpretive license.

The ox is a slightly more tricky issue, for even though it is an offence for an ox to mount a man, the man in question is not to be killed (unlike the deviant ox). Instead, a substitutionary lamb is led to the slaughter, to take the punishment for him. A pre-Christological motif perhaps? If so, Christology is an extraordinary universalisation from an a very unlikely particular: as a sheep is to an ox who mounts a man, so is Christ to a sinner. On a more general level, one gains the clear impression of a thoroughly agricultural society, in which there is an everyday possibility that an ox or a pig – two of the key animals domesticated in the ancient Near East by human beings – might take a fancy to you as you bend over to perform some menial chore on the land. It would be a waste of human beings to do away with them every time such a connection of the plumbing occurred. However, the laws are less keen on the image of a randy farmer going about penetrating at will any and all of his domesticated animals; except of course with horses, mules and the dead, but before I do examine those practices in some more detail, one last simple point: a law is based on its transgression. We never have a law prohibiting something if the prohibited act has not been performed (unless of course we wish to argue for the perverse point that the law does indeed imagine such possibilities and thereby create the possibility of their enactment in the first place). We can assume, then, that among the Hittites sex between human beings, cows, sheep, pigs and dogs did take place, so much so that one needed laws to indicate that these acts were taboo.

But so also did sex between human beings and horses, mules and the dead – and these were sanctioned! Why these and not others? Commentators are puzzled, since one would expect that the assumed codes of pollution applied here as they are supposed to have done with the sheep, pigs and cows. Yet, a tortured sentence by Collins points to at least two possible reasons: ‘The indemnification of the equids probably has less to do with a perverse fondness on the part of the Hittites for their horses than with the distinct status of the equids among the domesticates’ (Collins 2007: 121). Obviously not comfortable with the topic – her prose is usually lucid and engaging – Collins disavows one reason and postulates another. I would suggest both apply: Hittites, particularly the men in question, were perversely fond of their horses, just as they were perversely fond of their wives and the dead. Given that Hittite free men undertook campaigns when there were threats to the empire – that is, just about every year – and that they spent long periods of time away from home, the horse would have become like a wife on the road (as long as one avoided fellatio).

But Collins’s other reason is also important: the ‘equids’ (horses, mules, donkeys) did have a different status from the other domesticated animals. They had, to put it in terms I will explore more fully, a distinct role within the extended Hittite family. Not only were the Hittites among the first to make extensive use of the horse for burden and warfare, but the care for and training off a horse became a comprehensive, detailed and much-loved pastime – as the training manual for a chariot horse written by one Kikkuli from c. 1345 BCE shows all too well.[4] The massed and disciplined Hittite chariotry was widely feared, although perhaps for more reasons than are usually adumbrated – the Egyptians depicted this central feature of the Hittite military with great care, noting especially three men in the chariot, one a driver, one an archer and one to protect both of them (see Garstang 2009 [1910]: 344, 364). In short, not only did horses have an elevated status, especially for males who had the time and opportunity to devote themselves to a horse, but Hittite and horse became terms of automatic association (see 1 Kings 10:20 and 2 Chronicles 1:17).

If the horse was the beast of glory, the mount, companion and soul-mate of the charioteer on campaign, the mule or donkey was the beast of every-day labour. Plainer, smaller and less glamorous than its stately and graceful cousin, the mule was sturdier and more reliable, less given to fits of temper, jealousy and petulance and much more patient in the face of quotidian drudgery. A Hittite saying that should have been: a horse for the road and a mule and a wife at home, what more can a man want? To which we might add: what goes on tour stays on tour. Admittedly, there is the curious qualification in regard to the horse and mule: the man who happened insert his member into an equid must not approach the king or become priest (Hoffner 1997: 237). The suggestion that this was to avoid pollution of the king or priesthood seems rather lame to me; why say such an act was not an offence if it was polluting? Instead, since it was not an offence, the man need not approach the king for judgement, and since humping one’s horse was the sign of total commitment to a vocation, the seal if you will of one’s devotion, it would be unconscionable to have such a man give up his vocation in order to become a priest.

But what of our third group – the dead? Note the gender inclusiveness of this law: it matters not whether one takes a fancy to a male or female corpse.[5] It goes without saying that such practices applied to those buried rather than cremated (a common practice, at least for Hittite nobility). From what can be ascertained from the archaeological and written materials, Hittite funerary and especially mortuary practices were elaborate and detailed (see Collins 2007: 169-72, 192-5). The afterlife – for most it was located in the underworld – may have been a little dreary, with limited recognition of those close to one, but it was better than no afterlife at all. The exception was the king, for he really hoped to ascend to the realm of the gods. Clearly the dead lived on, so much so that it was not uncommon for one to be buried – should one require their services – with the occasional ox, pig, sheep, goat, dog or horse or mule (Collins 2007: 195). Contact with the dead was a crucial feature of Hittite life and that contact might well take the form of a last passionate bonk. If the border between life and dead was a fluid one, then one might from time to time pass some fluids across that border. The law is tantalisingly recalcitrant on precisely which dead might be blessed with such good graces, although I would suggest that what applied in life applied to the dead: no pigs, cows or dogs, but certainly one’s wife, horse or mule.

To conclude, within the sexual economy of the Hittite male, at least a Hittite male of reasonable means, his wife, horse, donkey and the dead were all within the range of acceptable sexual partners. Humping them was a sign of their higher status within the network of Hittite life; to be humped by the man of the house was thereby a sign of one’s elevated status. The wife and mule at home, the horse on campaign and the dead when one was thinking about one’s own mortality.

I have, however, slipped into a characteristic approach by biblical critics when dealing with laws – selecting a few that fit a category familiar to us and analysing them as though they were also part of a category coherent to the framers and users of those ancient laws. In my case, I have – thus far – isolated the laws concerning bestiality and necrophilia and treated them as distinct. Yet, when we consider these laws in their context, they are part of a larger collection concerning what one does with one’s genitals, or rather penis, since the laws assume a male as the natural subject: one must not have sex with one’s mother, daughter, son, with two sisters and their mother, a living brother’s wife, a wife’s daughter by another man, or a wife’s mother or sister (¶¶ 189, 191, 195). Even here we face a challenge, since the first three – mother, daughter, son – are what we would usually call incest, but not the remainder. Add to this the prohibition on sex with a cow, sheep, dog or pig (where one should happen to penetrate one of our porcine cousins rather than be penetrated by one) and we have a very different sexual economy. In other words, mother, cow, daughter, sheep, son, dog, two sisters, pig, a living brother’s wife and so on all belong to the same group: one (a man) should not penetrate them with his penis. If we wish to continue to use the term ‘incest’, we will need to stretch it considerably – not impossible with a good regimen of exercise and practice – to fit quite a number of unexpected items.

It should be obvious whither my argument is headed (that family, gens or clan in the Hittite world extended well beyond its human limitations), but what of the other group? One may have sex with a horse, a donkey, or the dead. But you may also hump your stepmother if your father is dead, two sisters who do not live in the same country, the sister of your deceased wife, sisters or mother or daughter who are slaves, or father and son may have sex with the same slave or prostitute, or indeed two brothers with a free woman (¶¶ 191, 192, 193, 194). Once again, an extraordinary list in which difference outplays identity in relation to laws familiar to Western traditions.

Various reasons have been proposed for this sexual economy, such as concern over pollution (Collins 2007: 121; Cohen 2002: 93-4), as well as the obvious masculine focus of the laws. But I am interested in another issue entirely, namely, the tendency for these laws to deal with what can only be called group sex. In the number of condoned sexual acts, note how many concern sexual multiples – threesomes, foursomes and on and on. So we find what are known in the business as FFM (two sisters are fine, as long as one travels from country to country to do so), FMM (father and son with slave or prostitute; two brothers with a free woman), and FFFFM sex (mother, daughter and sisters who are slaves). And if we go back and consider the prohibited acts, then here too we find a concern with group sex: two sisters, a living brother’s wife and a wife’s mother or sister – threesomes and even a possible foursome. To be sure, there is a concern with one-on-one sex, but it is by no means fore-grounded. As for the animals in this wide family, here too multiples appear: both horse and mule offer their services in the same law, as do dog and pig in another, and then ox and pig in subsequent elaboration of the same law. Now, it may not be the case that one should be so fortunate as to be penetrated by an ox and pig in the same session, or indeed to have a the pleasure of both a horse and a mule at one time, but the literary pairing is the crucial issue here.

The Hittite sexual laws bring us to three conclusions: first, the laws give wide scope to sex as a collective act, or to group sex (to put it in common parlance), so much so that they seem to operate with collective social assumptions; second, the notion of what constitutes a family or clan or gens is far wider than human beings, for it includes domesticated animals as well; third, within this sexual economy the line of what may at a stretch be called the incest taboo runs according to a very different logic. The Hittite male had a range of penetratable options – done with affection of course – such as the dead, horses (and their cousins), one’s wife, but also stepmothers and sisters of wives as long as one’s father or wife was dead and then slaves, prostitutes and free women (even sisters if they live different countries). But one must have standards, so the incest taboo swings into action with mothers, cows, daughters, sheep, sons, dogs, two sisters, pigs, living brothers’ wives and so on.

[1] In her introduction to the translation of the laws, Martha Roth (Roth 1997: 215) opines that someone has tried to give the laws some organisation, implying of course that the dolts in question did not do such a good job. She suggests that they fall into the categories of homicide (1-6, 42-44), assault (7-18), stolen and runaway slaves (19-24), marriage (26-36), land tenure (39-41, 46-56), lost property (45), theft of or injury to animals (57-92), unlawful entry (93-97), arson (98-100), theft of or damage to plants (101-120), theft of or damage to implements (121-144), wages, hire and fees (150-161), prices (176-186) and – of greatest interest to us – sexual offences (187-200) (see also Collins 2007: 118). I am not sure that this helps matters at all. Apart from the haphazard nature of these categories, we also find odd individual laws appearing in between the ones listed above. For some strange reason, Roth bypasses the organising category of the Hittite scribes: the first hundred were known as ‘If a man’ and the second hundred as ‘If a vine’ – simply because these are the first words of each section. Any serious consideration of the economic nature of Hittite society would pay much closer attention to such terms, since they indicate the primary role of agriculture in that socio-economic system.

[2] Unless one is the Sun-God, since then sex with a cow leads to the production of a human being (see Collins 2007: 149).

[3] The terminology is actually quite vague, so it does leave open the possibility for smooching, fellatio, cunnilingus and so on.

[4] A method that has been revived and fruitfully deployed by a former colleague of mine, the hippophiliac and passionate Anne Nyland. See and the translation of this early work of equine passion (Kikkuli 2009 [c. 1345 BCE]).

[5] Unless the text refers to either a man or a woman having sex with a corpse. In that case, given the physical arrangements of body parts on male and female mammals, one can only assume that a woman might avail herself of that brief period of rigor mortis, unless of course we imagine the very real possibilities of penetrative necrophilia by women as well.