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There is the possibility, however, that in OT times the names “Hebrews,” “Habiru,” “Khapiru,” “Apiru,” and “pr” were forms of the same word (equivalent to the Akkadian SA.GAZ), a designation without national significance. Rather, they indicated wandering peoples greatly restricted as regards financial means and without citizenship and social status. Ancient records show the “Habiru” to be scattered over western Asia for centuries until about 1100 b.c. Nomadic peoples, mostly Semitic—sometimes raiders, sometimes skilled artisans—they frequently offered themselves as mercenaries and slaves, with individuals occasionally rising to prominence. In Egypt, the Israelites were reduced to a lowly position and later moved about in the wilderness. Conceivably they could, therefore, have been known as “Hebrews.” It is noteworthy that, in taking oaths, the Habiru swore by “the gods of the Habiru,” whereas similar phraseology, “the God of the Hebrews,” is found in
NT “Hebrews” references contrast people (
Etymologically, it has been debated whether “Hebrew” is to be traced to Eber, the father of Peleg and Joktan (
Semitic language in the Canaanite branch and the language of the OT, except for short Aramaic portions chiefly in Daniel and Ezra. It is called “the language of Canaan” (Isa. 19:18) and “Jewish”/“Judean” (2 Kings 18:26, etc.). Canaanite glosses in the fourteenth-century b.c. Amarna letters as well as the Ugaritic texts from the same period have thrown light on the early history of the language adopted by the Israelites after the Exodus. In common with the other Semitic languages the majority of Hebrew roots are triconsonantal, with a certain amount of evidence to suggest the priority of a biconsonantal theme. The alphabet has twenty-two letters; in the absence of a written vowel-system, certain consonants were used to represent pure long vowels. The ancient Phoenician script was replaced by the Aramaic square script about 250-150 b.c. By this time Aramaic had become the vernacular language in Palestine. From about the fifth century a.d. the Massoretes set about providing the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible with a written vowel-system. Much of the early rabbinical literature (Mishnah, Midrash, etc.) is written in Hebrew, and the chain continues through the medieval era to Modern Hebrew, the language of the state of Israel.
W.J. Martin, “The Genius of the Language of the,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute, LXXIV (1942); W.L. Moran, “The in its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East (ed. G.E. Wright, 1961); D.W. Thomas, “The Textual Criticism of the Old Testament,” in The Old Testament and Modern Study (ed. H.H. Rowley) 1951, 1961.
HEBREW, HEBREWS (people)
Old Heb. belonged to the northern group of Sem. dialects together with Phoenician and Aramaic. Akkadian (i.e. Assyrian and Babylonian) in the E and Arabic in the S were related dialects. (See nodetitle.)
Hebrew was adopted by the Aram. speaking Israelites together with the indigenous culture after they settled in Pal. In the course of time, words from other languages were adopted, esp. from Aramaic, Akkadian, Arabic, Persian, and Greek. Hebrew differed from period to period. Biblical Heb. is to be distinguished from that of the Mishnah, and from modern Heb.
However, classical Heb. did remain in use in the synagogue liturgy, and three fragments of Eucharistic prayers found in Dura-Europus testify to the fact that even as late as the middle of the 3rd cent. Heb. Christians were still using classical Heb. in their worship (cf. JQR, Oct. , 99ff.).
Since the discovery of the Tell el Amarna tablets, an effort was made to identify the nationality of the Habiru. Possibly Habiru is not the name of a people. According to von Rad, it is an appellativum descriptive of a juridic-social position. The Akkad. occurrence seems to refer to mercenaries. On the basis of texts such as
It is difficult to decide which opinion is right, but there is much to be said for the view that regards עִבְרִי, H6303, as a topographical description—“those from across the Jordan.” The memory of Israel’s origin lingered long in Jewish tradition: “A wandering Aramean was my father” (
EBi, 1984ff.; KTW, III, 359; G. Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua (1929), 7ff.; P. K. Hitti, History of Syria (1951), 160f.; A. H. Van Zyl, The Moabites (1960), 188; D. Harden, The Phoenicians (1962), 116ff.