Genesis 15:18-21 does not list the Hivites as being in the land that was promised to the descendants of Abraham. However, some 100 years later, Genesis 36:2 mentions that one of Esau's wives was "Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite" who is also described as "of the daughters of Canaan". The reference to "the daughters of Canaan" is considered to relate to their descent from the ancestor Canaan and to be a reference to a cultural distinctiveness or tribal affiliation, more than a reference to the geographical area of Canaan. By the time that Jacob returns with his family to Canaan, Genesis 34 describes Hivites as rulers of the region of Shechem.
From the Book of Joshua, we know that the Hivites were one of seven national groups living in the land of Canaan when the Israelites under Joshua commenced their conquest of the land. (Joshua 3:10) They are referred to as one of the seven nations to be removed from the land of Canaan - Hittites (Neo-Hittites), Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Exodus 34:11, 23:23, Deuteronomy 7:1-3) - and whose land had been promised to the Children of Israel. (Exodus 3:8) However, it appears that Hivites continued to be a separate cultural group within the land of Israel until at least the time of Solomon, and it is not clear if, when or how they ceased to be a separate group before the Israelite kingdoms came to an end. No name resembling Hivite has been found in Egyptian or Babylonian inscriptions.
According to the Table of Nations (Genesis 10), the Hivites are one of the descendants of Canaan, son of Ham. (Also 1 Chronicles 1:13-15) A possible origin of the name may come from the Hebrew word chava ( חוה ) which means tent dweller.
There appears to be a possible connection (or confusion) between the Hivites and the Horites. In Genesis 36:2 a Hivite named Zibeon is also described in Genesis 36:20-30 as a Horite. Others claim that this is as a result of a scribal error, as both Hivites (Hebrew: חוי ) and Horites (Hebrew: חרי) differ in spelling by one letter of roughly similar shape, or they could refer to two individuals. According to traditional Hebrew sources, the name "Hivites" is related to the Aramaic word "Khiv'va" (HVVA), meaning "snake" related to the word 'awwiah in Galilee meaning serpent, since they sniffed the ground like snakes looking for fertile land.
Scholars have sought to identify the biblical Hivites with
- (a) the Greek Achaeans known from Homer,
- (b) the Hurrians – one of the most important peoples in the ancient Near East – who are otherwise unmentioned in the Hebrew Bible, or
- (c) settlers, who went to Shechem and the other locations from Cilicia, a region in Asia Minor, which is called Kue in the Bible (1 Kings 10:28) and huwi in cuneiform sources.
The Hivites dwelt in the mountainous regions of Canaan stretching from Lebanon – specifically Lebo Hamath (Judges 3:3) - and Mt. Hermon (Joshua 11:3) in the north to the central Benjamin plateau in the Hill country just north of Jerusalem. Within this region we find specific enclaves of Hivites mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 34 describes Hivites ruling the region of Shechem. Further south there were the four Hivite towns – Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim (Joshua 9:17) – involved in the deception of Joshua. (Joshua 9:3-27)
Several key features can be inferred about the cultural distinctiveness of the Hivite peoples.
First, in Genesis 34:2 it is mentioned that Shechem the son of Hamor was a Hivite. In Genesis 34:14, we find that the Hivites did not practice male circumcision, one of the few peoples living in the land of Canaan that did not. Circumcision, as a practice was quite common among the peoples existing in the land of Canaan. Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and other various proto-Canaanite tribes practiced male circumcision along with the Hebrews. Other than Israel’s arch-nemesis – the Philistines – the Hivites appear to be an exception to the rule of circumcision which does lend them quite a distinction among the tribes of Canaan during this time period.
The Hivites continued to exist as a distinct people group at least until the time of David, when they were counted in a regional census taken at this time. (2 Samuel 24:1-7) During the reign of Solomon, they are described as part of the slave labor for his many building projects. (1 Kings 9:20-21, 2 Chronicles 8:7-8)
Deuteronomy 7:3 forbade Israelites from marrying Hivites, because they followed other gods; but it is not clear how strictly the prohibition was observed.
It appears that the Hivite cultural distinctiveness ceased before the Assyrian conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE, and the Babylonian conquest of the southern Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BCE, each with consequential population deportations.
- Barker, Burdick, Stek, Wessel, Youngblood (Eds.). (1995). The New International Version Study Bible. (10th Ann ed). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Bright, John. (2000). A History of Israel. (4th ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
- DeVaux, Roland. (1997). Ancient Israel. (John McHugh, Trans.) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Freedman, David Noel (Ed.). (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. (pp. 597) Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Wood, Millard, Packer, Wiseman, Marshall (Eds.). (1996). New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.) (pp. 477). Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.