AMHAAREZ ‘AM HA’ AREZ äm’ hä är’ ĕts' (עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ; LXX ὁ λαὸς τη̂ς γη̂ς); people of the land.''
Status of the people.
Some go so far as to make the ’Am ha’arez of Israel the governing body or parliament (e.g., Mayer Sulzberger). Others, under the influence of the later opprobrium attached to the term, consider them poor and ignorant commoners. Neither extreme is clear from the Scriptures. Only once does the OT refer to poverty among them. The context is generally one of influence and power, though not necessarily of high government office. It may be simply the power inherent in responsible citizenship. They who own land have a vital concern in the government. Hebrew law was zealous to protect ownership and inheritance of land, with all the prerogatives, from generation to generation. Von Rad (Studies in Deuteronomy, pp. 63-66) calls the ’Am ha’arez peasant proprietors and credits them with the achievement of partial reform under Joash (
Various inferences seem to indicate the power and prestige of the ’Am ha’arez throughout most of the Biblical times. According to S. Daiches (“The Meaning of עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ in the OT,” JTS, vol. 30, pp. 245-248), the best text of
A term of reproach.
After the Exile, the term retained its connotation of responsible citizenry, but the land had fallen to people of mixed origins. They were no longer the conservative custodians of national tradition. Animosities grew between returnees and settlers.
Pharisees and rabbis elaborated laws and insisted on their universal application. They heaped opprobrium on the careless. The hostility was mutual. ’Am ha’arez became a term of contempt for common people who did not specialize in the law (
C. Montefiore, The Religion of the Ancient Hebrews (Hibbert Lectures, 1892), 490-502; A. Büchler, Der galiläische ’Am ha-Ares des zweiten Jahrhunderts (1906); M. Sulzberger, Am Ha-aretz, the Ancient Hebrew Parliament (1909); “The Polity of the Ancient Hebrews,” JQR 3 (1912-13), 1-81; N. Sloush, “Representative Government Among the Hebrews and Phoenicians,” JQR 4 (1913), 302; A. Silver, “The Am Ha Arez in Sopheric and Tannaitic Times,” Hebrew Union College Monthly, Dec. 1914, 9-14; S. Daiches, “The Meaning of עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ in the OT,” JTS, vol. 30 (1928-29), 245-249; S. Zeitlin “The Am Haarez,” JQR, vol. 23, No. 1 (1932), 45-61; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees, (1938) 25-42; M. Weber, Ancient Judaism (1952); S. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1952) vol. 1, 278-280; G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy (1953), 63-66; Theology, vol. 2 (1962), 75.