Hebrews

Hebrews

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Hebrews'
Start a new discussion about 'Hebrews'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Hebrews is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

. It is mostly taken as synonymous with Israelites, especially in the pre-monarchic
United Monarchy
According to Biblical tradition, the united Kingdom of Israel was a kingdom that existed in the Land of Israel, a period referred to by scholars as the United Monarchy. Biblical historians date the kingdom from c. 1020 BCE to c...

 period when they were still nomadic, but in some instances it may also be used in a wider sense, referring to the groups known to the Egyptians as Habiru
Habiru
Habiru or Apiru or ˁpr.w was the name given by various Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Mitanni, and Ugaritic sources to a group of people living as nomadic invaders in areas of the Fertile Crescent from Northeastern Mesopotamia and Iran to the borders of Egypt in Canaan...

 or Shasu
Shasu
Shasu is an Egyptian word for pastoral nomads who appeared in the Levant and Arabia from the fifteenth century BCE all the way to the Third Intermediate Period. The name evolved from a transliteration of the Egyptian word š3sw, meaning "those who move on foot", into the term for Bedouin-type...

 during the Egyptian Empire on the eve of the Bronze Age collapse
Bronze Age collapse
The Bronze Age collapse is a transition in southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age that some historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive...

.

By the Roman era
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, Greek Hebraios could refer to the Jews in general, but more specifically to the Jews living in Judea. In Early Christianity, the Greek term refers to Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians is a term which appears in historical texts contrasting Christians of Jewish origin with Gentile Christians, both in discussion of the New Testament church and the second and following centuries....

, as opposed to the gentile Christians (Acts 6:1).

Etymology


The origin of the term remains uncertain. The biblical word Ivri (Hebrew: עברי), meaning to traverse or pass over, is usually rendered as Hebrew in English, from the ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 Ἑβραῖος and Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 Hebraeus. In the plural it is Ivrim, or Ibrim.

In Shem, the elder brother of Japheth and first son to Noah is referred to as the father of the sons of Eber (עבר), which may have a similar meaning.

Some authors believe Hebrew/Ibri denotes the descendants of the biblical patriarch Eber
Eber
Eber is an ancestor of the Israelites, according to the "Table of Nations" in and . He was a great-grandson of Noah's son Shem and the father of Peleg born when Eber was 34 years old, and of Joktan. He was the son of Shelah a distant ancestor of Abraham...

 (Hebrew עבר), son of Shelah, a great grandson of Noah and an ancestor of Abraham, hence the occasional anglicization Eberites.

The term has not been found in biblical or extra-biblical sources for any tribe or nation other than Abraham and his descendants.

Habiru


Some argue that the name “Hebrew” is related to the name of the seminomadic Habiru
Habiru
Habiru or Apiru or ˁpr.w was the name given by various Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Mitanni, and Ugaritic sources to a group of people living as nomadic invaders in areas of the Fertile Crescent from Northeastern Mesopotamia and Iran to the borders of Egypt in Canaan...

 people, who are recorded in Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 inscriptions of the 13th and 12th centuries BCE as having settled in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. This is rebutted by others who propose that the Hebrews are mentioned in these Egyptian texts as Shasu
Shasu
Shasu is an Egyptian word for pastoral nomads who appeared in the Levant and Arabia from the fifteenth century BCE all the way to the Third Intermediate Period. The name evolved from a transliteration of the Egyptian word š3sw, meaning "those who move on foot", into the term for Bedouin-type...

.

Hebrew Bible


In the Bible there are numerous references to Hebrews, but the exact scope of the references is the subject of some debate. For example, Abram is referred to once as the Hebrew (i.e. Ivri). The term Hebrew occurs both as a name given to the Children of Israel by other peoples, and one used to refer to themselves.
For example, Joseph says he came from the "land of the Hebrews" in , but that may be using terminology which is familiar to an Egyptian. YHWH the God of Israel, also uses the description "God of the Hebrews" when instructing Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 on how to address Pharaoh in , but that may be a reference to the terminology of the Egyptians for the Israelites. The term is also used in first by the Egyptian Pharaoh addressing two Hebrews, and then by the Hebrews in reply; but in and the term is used in the same passages that refer to the Children of Israel. The term is also used in a general sense in , and to refer directly to the Children of Israel. Jonah
Jonah
Jonah is the name given in the Hebrew Bible to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, the eponymous central character in the Book of Jonah, famous for being swallowed by a fish or a whale, depending on translation...

 calls himself a Hebrew in .

Use as synonym for "Israelites"


Israelites are defined as the descendants of Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

, son of Isaac
Isaac
Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible, was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah, and was the father of Jacob and Esau. Isaac was one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites...

, grandson of Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

. Eber
Eber
Eber is an ancestor of the Israelites, according to the "Table of Nations" in and . He was a great-grandson of Noah's son Shem and the father of Peleg born when Eber was 34 years old, and of Joktan. He was the son of Shelah a distant ancestor of Abraham...

, an ancestor of Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

 (six generations removed), is a distant ancestor of many people, including the Israelites, Ishmaelites
Ishmaelites
According to the Book of Genesis, Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham.-Traditional Origins:According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham's first wife was named Sarah and his second wife Hagar. However Sarah was old and barren, and could not conceive...

, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Midianites and perhaps even Amalekites. Among historical scholars, there is some disagreement about the relationship between the Hebrews and Israelites.

The terms "Hebrews" and "Israelites" usually describe the same people, called Hebrews before the conquest of the Land of Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

 and Israelites afterwards.

Use as synonym for "Jews"


By the Roman period, "Hebrews" could be used to designate the Jews, who use the Hebrew language. The Epistle to the Hebrews
Epistle to the Hebrews
The Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the books in the New Testament. Its author is not known.The primary purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews is to exhort Christians to persevere in the face of persecution. The central thought of the entire Epistle is the doctrine of the Person of Christ and his...

 was probably written for Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians
Jewish Christians is a term which appears in historical texts contrasting Christians of Jewish origin with Gentile Christians, both in discussion of the New Testament church and the second and following centuries....

.

In some modern languages, including Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, Romanian
Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

, and many Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

, the name Hebrews survives as the standard ethnonym
Ethnonym
An ethnonym is the name applied to a given ethnic group. Ethnonyms can be divided into two categories: exonyms and autonyms or endonyms .As an example, the ethnonym for...

 for Jews, but in many other languages in which there exist both terms, it is considered derogatory to call modern Jews "Hebrews." Among certain left-wing or liberal circles of Judaic cultural lineage, the word "Hebrew" is used as an alternatively secular description of the Jewish people (e.g., Bernard Avishai
Bernard Avishai
Bernard Avishai, Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review, splits his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, New Hampshire. He has taught at Duke, MIT, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel. From 1998 to 2001 he was International...

's The Hebrew Republic or left-wing wishes for a "Hebrew-Arab" joint cultural republican state).

Use in Zionism


Beginning in the late 19th century, the term "Hebrew" became popular among secular Zionists; in this context the word alluded to the transformation of the Jews into a strong, independent, self-confident secular national group ("the New Jew") sought by classical Zionism. This use died out after the establishment of the state of Israel, when "Hebrew" was replaced with "Jew" or "Israeli." At the fringes of Zionist thought, the Canaanites
Canaanism
Canaanism was a cultural and ideological movement founded in 1939 that reached its peak in the 1940s among the Jews of Palestine. It has significantly impacted the course of Israeli art, literature, and spiritual and political thought. Its adherents were called Canaanites...

, who were radically opposed to Judaism, drew a sharp distinction between "Jews" and "Hebrew".

Name of the Hebrew language


The Hebrew language
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 is a member of the larger group of Canaanite languages
Canaanite languages
The Canaanite languages are a subfamily of the Semitic languages, which were spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region, including Canaanites, Israelites and Phoenicians...

 within Northwest Semitic.
The language has been known as "Hebrew" in English since the 11th century, from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 Ebreu, in turn from Latin Hebraeus and Greek Hebraios, ultimately a loan from late Old Aramaic ʿEbhrai, the native term in Roman Judea for the Jews.

Since the Hebrew Bible makes a point of marking the Canaanites as peoples set apart from the Israelites, the extent of the distinction between the culture of the Canaanites and the Israelites is a matter of debate touching on modern religious sensibilities.
It has been argued that the Israelites were themselves Canaanites, and that "historical Israel", as distinct from "literary" or "Biblical Israel" was a subset of Canaanite culture. It is also known that Israelites and later the subdivision of Israelites known as the Judeans spoke Hebrew as their main language and it is still used in Jewish holy scriptures, study, speech and prayer.