From Academic Kids

Hebrews were people who lived in the Levant (the area now forms the geographical region of Palestine, Sinai, and the costal portions of Syria), which was politically Canaan when they first arrived in the area. The Hebrews lived within this region in the 2nd millennium BCE and spoke a Canaanite dialect (see Hebrew languages), although their culture was distinct from the local canaanite culture. The extent of the distinction between the culture of the canaanites and the hebrews is a matter of great debate, touching as it does on strong religious sensibilities.



When the Tell el-Amarna archives were initially translated, some scholars eagerly equated the Habiru, described within the text, with the Hebrews, in particular because they were said to be nomads, raiders, and outlaws, fitting well with the biblical description of the Hebrews under Joshua conquering canaan. Such religiously motivated conclusions proved to be hasty, and later study, taking into account linguistic research, and other ancient mention of the Habiru, it is now considered that the term Habiru described a group of stateless foreigners who had banded together, and formed a counter culture rather than an invading force. Indeed, should the Habiru be proven to be the same as the Hebrews, biblical events preceeding biblical conquest of Canaan by Joshua are probably not true, since the majority of the Habiru were Hurrian, and thus not having flew from Egypt.

Other controversial theories hold that the Hebrews were the mysterious Hyksos, a semitic people, who gradually took migrated into Egypt, eventually taking power from the extremely weak pharoah by force, and subsequently being expelled after many years, matching up well with the biblical description of the Hebrews in Egypt. Indeed, it was Ahmose (in Hebrew A-moses), who was from Thebes, down the river from the seat of power – Memphis, who caused the Hyksos to leave, although in contrast to the bible, Ahmose was the enemy of the Hyksos and expelled them by force. A curious feature of the hyksos rulers over Egypt is that the third ruler (of six) is named Yaqob-her which is cognate with Jacob, the name of the biblical forefather of this period, although the name may just be a common one, and this would still be contrary to the bible, as it would denote Jacob as a ruler of Egypt as well as over the Hebrews.

There are many Canaanite and Mesopotamian (via Amorite mythology) themes preserved in Hebrew culture, like the specific biblical version of the story of Noah which is similar to 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). Also, textual sources appear to indicate that 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. Consequently many have drawn the conclusion that the Hebrews were merely Canaanites who lived in the more difficult mountanous areas of Canaan, over time becoming separated from other Canaanites, and thus taking separate paths, including favouring El over Hadad.

It is possible for all three of these potentials to be partially true – had a group of Canaanites separated and tried to live in the hills, which were mainly to the eastern side of Canaan, they could have absorbed other migrating groups, such as the Habiru, gaining a differing identity in consequence of the merging of cultures. Subsequently, the combined group, now distinct the Canaanites who remained, could have migrated to Egypt, becoming the Hyksos, and upon their return no longer viewing the Canaanites as related, as they no longer resembled themselves. Thus although each theory has its supporters and detractors, the groups are by no means mutually exclusive.


The term refers to all the descendants that the bible alleges were had by a Patriarch Jacob (later renamed Israel, although the documentary hypothesis states that this renaming is an attempt by a redactor). Hebrews are also referred to as the Children of Israel for this reason. According to the bible, Jacob had 11 sons, and partitioned the land between them, except for Joseph, for whom the land was partitioned between his two sons, and thus, biblically, the Hebrews constitute Twelve Tribes.

Today, modern-day Jews are descended from only a few of these Tribes. The Tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and parts of Levi (the priestly tribe – who in the period of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had no land, unlike the other 11 tribes) are seen by Jewish people, and many Christians, as the ancestors of modern-day Jewish people. Some would say the Tribe of Simeon is included in this list, due to the view held by some that the Tribe of Simeon was absorbed into the Tribe of Judah. The remainder of the Twelve Tribes are said to have been exiled by the Assyrian Empire, and have become known as the Lost Tribes of Israel.

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. This distincion is part of the Christian doctrine that the favor bestowed upon the ancient Jews, as God's chosen people, was removed upon their rejection of Jesus as the messiah, and transferred to Christians. The distinction is not recognized by the Jews.

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