Hebrews (Hebrew? or , Tiberian ?I?rîm, ?I?riyyîm; Modern Hebrew ?Ivrim, ?Ivriyyim; ISO 259-3 ?ibrim, ?ibriyim) is a term appearing 34 times within 32 verses of the Hebrew Bible. While the term was not an ethnonym, it is mostly taken as synonymous with the Semitic-speaking Israelites, especially in the pre-monarchic period when they were still nomadic. However, in some instances it may also be used in a wider sense, referring to the Phoenicians, or to other ancient groups, such as the group known as Shasu of Yhw on the eve of the Bronze Age collapse.
By the time of the Roman Empire, Greek Hebraios could refer to the Jews in general, as Strong's Hebrew Dictionary puts it "any of the Jewish Nation" and at other times more specifically to the Jews living in Judea. In Early Christianity, the Greek term ? refers to Jewish Christians as opposed to the gentile Christians and Judaizers (Acts 6:1 among others). ? is the province where the Temple was located.
In Armenian, Italian, Modern Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, Romanian, and a few other modern languages, there is a pejorative connotation associated with the word corresponding to the word Jew; because of that, in each of these languages, the primary word used is that which corresponds to "Hebrew". The translation of "Hebrew" is used also in the Kurdish language and was once used also in French.
The definitive origin of the term "Hebrew" remains uncertain. The Biblical term Ivri (?; Hebrew pronunciation: [?iv'ri]), meaning "to traverse" or "to pass over", is usually rendered as Hebrew in English, from the ancient Greek ? and the Latin Hebraeus. The Biblical word Ivri has the plural form Ivrim, or Ibrim.
Some authors[which?] argue that Ibri denotes the descendants of the biblical patriarch Eber (Hebrew ), son of Shelah, a great-grandson of Noah and an ancestor of Abraham, hence the occasional anglicization Eberites.
Since the 19th-century CE discovery of the second-millennium BCE inscriptions mentioning the Habiru, many theories have linked these to the Hebrews. Some scholars argue that the name "Hebrew" is related to the name of those seminomadic Habiru people recorded in Egyptian inscriptions of the 13th and 12th centuries BCE as having settled in Egypt. Other scholars rebut this, proposing that the Hebrews are mentioned in older texts of the 3rd Intermediate Period of Egypt (15th century BCE) as Shasu of Yhw.
In the Hebrew Bible, the term "Hebrew" is normally used by Israelites when speaking of themselves to foreigners, or is used by foreigners when speaking about Israelites. In fact, the Torah in parashat Lekh Lekha ("go!" or "leave!", literally "go for you") calls Abraham Avram Ha-Ivri ("Abram the Hebrew"), which translates literally as "Abram the one who stands on the other side."[Gen. 14:13]
Israelites are defined as the descendants of Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Eber, an ancestor of Jacob (seven generations removed), is a distant ancestor of many people, including the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Midianites and Qahtanites.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia the terms "Hebrews" and "Israelites" usually describe the same people, stating that they were called Hebrews before the conquest of the Land of Canaan and Israelites afterwards. Professor Nadav Na'aman and others say that the use of the word "Hebrew" to refer to Israelites is rare and when used it is used "to Israelites in exceptional and precarious situations, such as migrants or slaves."
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).
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".
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The word "Hebrew", in its secular sense, has also been used as ethnic self-descriptors by converts from Judaism to other religions. Hebrew Catholics, a community of converts from Judaism to Catholic Christianity, were so named by Elias Friedman, a Carmelite Catholic priest who founded the Association of Hebrew Catholics. Similarly, "Hebrew Christians" (better known as Jewish Christians) identify with their Hebrew ethnicity while often embracing adaptations of Protestantism or any other form of Christianity. "Hebrew Christians" are also known as "Messianic Jews", or "Completed Jews".
Early in its presence in the United States, Reform Judaism attempted to distance itself from terms such as "Jew" or "Jewish." The organization of reform congregations in the United States was known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations prior to 2003 when it was renamed the "Union for Reform Judaism."
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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 ?, whose alphabet is ultimately a loan from "Assyrian lettering" (Ktav Ashuri), the "square-script", by Ezra the Scribe following the Babylonian Exile.
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.
Media related to Hebrews at Wikimedia Commons
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