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Semitic-speaking Israelites, especially in the pre-monarchic period
Judaean prisoners being deported into exile to other parts of the Assyrian empire. Wall relief from the South-West Palace at Nineveh (modern-day Ninawa Governorate, Iraq), Mesopotamia. Neo-Assyrian period, 700-692 BCE. The British Museum, London.
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.
With the revival of the Hebrew language and the emergence of the Hebrew Yishuv, the term has been applied to the Jewish people of this re-emerging society in Israel or the Jewish people in general.
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 LatinHebraeus. The biblical word Ivri has the plural form Ivrim, or Ibrim.
The most generally accepted hypothesis today is that the text intends ivri as the adjective (Hebrew suffix -i) formed from ever () 'beyond, across' (avar () 'to cross, to traverse'), as a description of migrants 'from across the river' as the Bible describes the Hebrews. It is also supported by the 3rd century BCE Septuagint, which translates ivri to perates (?), a Greek word meaning 'one who came across, a migrant', from perao () 'to cross, to traverse', as well as some early traditional commentary.Gesenius considers it the only linguistically acceptable hypothesis. The description of peoples and nations from their location 'from across the river' (often the river Euphrates, sometimes the Jordan river) was common in this region of the ancient Near-East: it appears as eber nari in Akkadian and avar nahara in Aramaic (both corresponding to Hebrew ever nahar), the Aramaic expression's use being quoted verbatim in the Bible, for example in an Aramaic letter sent to the King of Persia in the Book of Ezra or in the Book of Nehemiah, sometimes rendered as Trans-Euphrates.
Genesis 10:21 refers to Shem, the elder brother of Ham and Japheth and thus the first-born son of Noah, as the father of the sons of Eber (), which may have a similar meaning.
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 later texts of the 3rd Intermediate Period of Egypt (11th century BCE) as Shasu of Yhw, while some scholars consider these two hypotheses compatible, ?abiru being a generic Akkadian form parallel to Hebrew ?ivri from the Akkadian equivalent of ?ever 'beyond, across' describing foreign peoples 'from across the river', where the letter ayin (?) in Hebrew corresponds to ? in Akkadian (as in Hebrew zeroa? corresponding to Akkadian zuru?).
In the Hebrew Bible, the term Hebrew is normally used by foreigners (namely, the Egyptians) when speaking about Israelites and sometimes used by Israelites when speaking of themselves to foreigners. In Genesis 11:16-26, Abram is described as a descendant of Eber, from which some writers claim the designation Hebrew is derived. In Genesis 14:13, Abraham is described as Avram Ha-Ivri ("Abram the Hebrew"), and which translates literally as "Abram the one who stands on the other side."
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."
Use as synonym for "Jews"
Moses (l) and Aaron (r) lead the Jews across the Red Sea while pursued by Pharaoh. Fresco from the Dura-Europos synagogue in Syria, 244-256 CE
In some modern languages, including Armenian, Greek, Italian, Romanian, and many Slavic languages, the name Hebrews (with linguistic variations) is the standard ethnonym for Jews; but in many other languages in which both terms exist, it is currently considered derogatory to call Jews "Hebrews".
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".
Richard Kugelman, "Hebrew, Israelite, Jew in the New Testament." In The Bridge: A Yearbook of Judaeo-Christian Studies, Vol. 1, edited by John M. Oesterreicher and Barry Ulanov, 204-224. New York: Pantheon Books, 1955.
^Douglas Knight, "Hebrews", The Oxford Companion to the Bible: "An ethnic term, it antedated the common sociopolitical names Israel or Judah in the monarchic period, as well as the more ethnoreligious appellative Jew in later times."
^Collapse of the Bronze Age, p. 266, quote: "Opinion has sharply swung away from the view that the Apiru were the earliest Israelites in part because Apiru was not an ethnic term nor were Apiru an ethnic group."