The Hebrew People of Palestine
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The Hebrew People

Any member of an ancient northern Semitic people that were the ancestors of the Jews. Historians use the term Hebrews to designate the descendants of the patriarchs of the Old Testament (Abraham and Isaac and so on) from that period until their conquest of Canaan (Palestine) in the late 2nd millennium BC. Thenceforth these people are referred to as Israelites until their return from the Babylonian Exile in the late 6th century BC from which time on they became known as Jews .....

Editor's Choice Synopsis

The Hebrews were the ancient Semetic people whom Moses led from Egypt during the Exodus (circa 1250 BC). They subsequently drove out several pagan societies and dominated the land of Canaan. Unfortunately little archeological fact collaborates the Biblical account. Therefore the true origin of the Hebrews has been a subject of considerable dispute since the mid 1800's.

Historic Egyptian documents do not reference Moses nor are there any indications that an Exodus ever took place. Since the event describes the departure of a work force of thousands and details the devastation in Egypt by a series of plagues such an omission is extraordinary if such an event actually occurred.

The tales of the Hebrews were expounded upon by Philo of Alexandria and Josephus but their works were mere elaborations of the biblical accounts. Moreover the biblical story is a composite of sources, the earliest of which postdates Moses by more than 200 years and allows ample time for legendary accretions. For example the story of the baby Moses in the reed basket on the Nile is a typical legend about a famous man's childhood. The same basic story is also told about Sargon, King of Akkad (circa 2350 BC).

According to the biblical account Moses grew up at the pharaoh's court but was forced to flee to Midian after killing an Egyptian whom he had seen strike an Israelite. Moses' presence at the pharaoh's court may be explained by the Egyptian practice of taking hostages from their Semitic vassals, giving them Egyptian training and sending them back to lead their people with an ingrained Egyptian point of view. Such a background might also explain the story of Moses' adoption by the pharaoh's daughter.

In exile Moses married the daughter of the high priest of Midian. While he was keeping his father-in-law's flock God spoke to him at a burning bush and commissioned him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. After the Exodus Moses met again with his father-in-law who performed sacrifices and advised him regarding an improved judicial system. These traditions suggest that certain aspects of Moses' religious and legislative reforms, perhaps even God's new name Yahweh, were derived from beliefs of the Midianites.

Moses returned to Egypt to confront the pharaoh with Yahweh's demand. After a long struggle involving ten plagues and culminating in the slaying of the firstborn of the Egyptians the pharaoh permitted the Hebrews to leave. He then changed his mind but God drowned the pursuing Egyptians in the Red Sea. The ancient poem in Exodus 15 celebrates this victory but the actual event cannot be reconstructed from this poetic account.

After the Israelites experienced Yahweh's deliverance in the Exodus Moses led them to the sacred mountain -- named Sinai in one source, Horeb in another. There God appeared to them in a frightening display of thunder and lightning. Moses went up into the mountain and returned with God's instructions including the Ten Commandments. Thus Moses mediated the Covenant God made with the people of Israel. As covenant mediator Moses was a lawgiver and his status became such that all of Israel's laws were attributed to him, even those contained in the Torah that originated centuries after Moses' death.

Once the Hebrews settled in the promised land they lost most of their heritage and integrated with the pagan societies of the Promised Land. By the time of King Solomon (circa 1000 BC) any true Hebrew heritage was lost to the splinter cultures that inhabited Israel and Judah .....

Hebrew Language

Semitic language used in Israel principally by Jews. Hebrew is categorized as a part of the Canaanite group of the Semitic languages, to which also the ancient languages Phoenician and Moabite belonged.

The Hebrew of today is a spoken language that is based upon the written Hebrew from old Hebrew texts, and is the only colloquial speech in the world based on a written language .....

Other Online Links

Old Testament Life and Literature (1968) [Gerald Larue]

The Hebrews between Assyria and Egypt (Frank E. Smitha)

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