Hebrews Explained

Hebrews (Hebrew: עברים or עבריים, Tiberian Hebrew: ʿIḇrîm, Hebrew: ʿIḇriyyîm; Modern Hebrew Hebrew: ʿIvrim, Hebrew: ʿIvriyyim; ISO 259-3 Hebrew: ʕibrim, Hebrew: ʕibriyim) is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible. It is mostly taken as synonymous with the Israelites, especially in the pre-monarchic period when they were still nomadic, but in some instances it may also be used in a wider sense, referring to the groups known as Habiru or Shasu on the eve of the Bronze Age collapse.[1] .

By the Roman era, 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, as opposed to the gentile Christians (Acts 6:1).[2]

Etymology

The origin of the term remains uncertain.[3] The biblical word Ivri (Hebrew: עברי), meaning to traverse or pass over, is usually rendered as Hebrew in English, from the ancient Greek

Ἑβραῖος and Latin Hebraeus. In the plural it is Ivrim, or Ibrim.

In Genesis 10:21 Shem, the elder brother of Ham and Japheth, first born son of 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 (Hebrew עבר), son of Shelah, a great grandson of Noah and an ancestor of Abraham,[4] 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.[5]

Habiru

Some argue that the name “Hebrew” is related to the name of the seminomadic Habiru people, who are recorded in Egyptian inscriptions of the 13th and 12th centuries BCE as having settled in Egypt.[3] [5] This is rebutted by others who propose that the Hebrews are mentioned in these Egyptian texts as Shasu.[6]

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). (Genesis 14:13) 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 Genesis 40:15, 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 on how to address Pharaoh in Exodus 3:18, but that may be a reference to the terminology of the Egyptians for the Israelites. The term is also used in Exodus 1:16-19 first by the Egyptian Pharaoh addressing two Hebrews, and then by the Hebrews in reply; but in 2:11 and 2:13 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 Exodus 21:2, Deuteronomy 15:12 and Jeremiah 34:9 to refer directly to the Children of Israel. Jonah calls himself a Hebrew in Jonah 1:9.

Use as synonym for "Israelites"

See also: Israelites, Who is a Jew? and History of ancient Israel and Judah.

Israelites are defined as the descendants of Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Eber, an ancestor of Jacob (six generations removed), is a distant ancestor of many people, including the Israelites, Ishmaelites, 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 and Israelites afterwards.[5] [7]

Use as synonym for "Jews"

By the Roman period, "Hebrews" could be used to designate the Jews, who use the Hebrew language.[8] The Epistle to the Hebrews was probably written for Jewish Christians.[9]

In some modern languages, including Armenian, Greek, Italian, Romanian, and many Slavic languages, the name Hebrews survives as the standard ethnonym 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'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".[10] At the fringes of Zionist thought, the Canaanites, who were radically opposed to Judaism, drew a sharp distinction between "Jews" and "Hebrew".

Name of the Hebrew language

The Hebrew language is a member of the larger group of Canaanite languages within Northwest Semitic.The language has been known as "Hebrew" in English since the 11th century, from Old French 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.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.

See also

References

Bibliography

Notes

Notes and References

  1. The Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/) s.v. SA-GAZ. The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago volume H (1956) p. 13 & p. 84; volume Š/1 (1989) p. 70.
  2. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1445&t=NKJV Thayer's Lexicon
  3. Encyclopedia: Hebrew. Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite.. Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago. 2009.
  4. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?letter=E&artid=17 Jewish Encyclopedia article on Eber
  5. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/259033/Hebrew entry in britannica.com
  6. Rainey. Anson. Shasu or Habiru. Who Were the Early Israelites?. Biblical Archeology Review. 34. 06 (Nov/Dec). Biblical Archaeology Society. 2008-11.
  7. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7445-hebrew Hebrews entry in Jewish Encyclopedia
  8. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Hebrews entry in thefreedictionary.com
  9. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/HAN_HEG/HEBREWS_EPISTLE_TO_THE.html Encyclopædia Britannica: Hebrews, Epistle to the
  10. Book: Shavit, Yaacov. The New Hebrew Nation. Routledge. 1987. xiv. 071463302X.