The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the Hebrew people. For the book of the Bible, see Epistle to the Hebrews.

Hebrews (syns. Heberites, Eberites, Hebreians, descendants of biblical Patriarch Eber; עברים, Standard Hebrew ʿIvrim, Tiberian Hebrew ʿIḇrm; also עבריים Standard Hebrew ʿIvriyyim, Tiberian Hebrew ʿIḇriyym) were who lived in Syria, Palestine, and Canaan and as far as present day Egypt and Kuwait in the 2nd millennium BCE. In the Levant, Hebrews spoke a Canaanite dialect (see Hebrew languages). Interestingly some Habiru names listed on the Tikunani Prism are Hurrian, while other names associated with the Habiru have Hittite or Amorite onomastics.

From textual evidence largely from the Amarna letters and the Mari documents, academic scholars now believe the term we know as Hebrew originally meant a stateless individual or tribe, which didn't pay taxes or tribute to a ruler as such. Many Hebrews were originally Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Hurrians and Luwians who gradually distinguished themselves based upon a religious difference, most notably the worship of the Canaanite god El rather than Hadad (or Adad) who was then favored in the Canaanite pantheon. Hadad was known as "Baal", which meant "The Lord", and was a title used by many Near Eastern civilizations to refer to a primary god.

The Canaanite invasion of Egypt resulted in a temporary conquest of Lower Egypt, ending the Egyptian Middle Kingdom Age, but Upper Egypt's eventual re-conquest of Lower Egypt forced many of the invaders (known to the Egyptians as the Hyksos) into slavery, and the Hebrews among them further distinguished themselves by uniting under Moses to escape (see below). The Hebrews preserved many Canaanite and Mesopotamian themes through Amorite mythology like the specific biblical version of the story of Noah, derived originally from the Sumerian story of Ziusudra/Utnapishtim, the ark, and the deluge unleashed by the angry, jealous god Enlil (Babylonian Ellil, Canaanite El), who was thwarted by the wise god Enki (Babylonian Ea).

Hebrews lived in villages and raised livestock, seasonally grazing them in drier areas which didn't farm well, a form of subsistence known as transhumance. Principally goats, sheep and cattle. Their main beasts of burden were oxen, donkeys and around the time of the Iron-Bronze age transition, camels were introduced from central Asia.

The most influential group of Hebrews to emerge from the 12th century BCE Hebrew migrations were from a group which had long settled in Egypt and were known as Israel. Besides the Jews, other Hebrew peoples include the Edomites, Midianites, Arameans, the Israelites, and Joktanites.

Certain Christian groups sometimes use the term Hebrews to distinguish the Jews in ancient times that lived before the birth of Jesus from Jews that lived afterward. Though important in some Christian theologies, the distinction is not recognized by the Jews.

See also


  • Salvini, (Mirjo) 1996. The Habiru prism of King Tunip-Teup of Tikunani. Rome ISBN 8881470934

External links


Last updated: 08-30-2005 09:29:55