The “Hebrews” in Ancient Egyptian Archeology”


In yesterday’s post we mentioned the story of Moses and the two Hebrews. The term ‘Hebrew’ is frequently repeated in the opening chapters of the Book of Exodus (“Hebrew midwives”, Hebrew women”, “Hebrew”, “Two Hebrews”, “Hebrews’ children” and so forth).

Interestingly, this term (“Hebrew”) also appears in the Book of Genesis, in the story of Joseph in prison in Egypt:

“For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews…” (Genesis 40:15)

and also was used when Potiphar’s wife was talking about Joseph:”… saying, “the Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us…” (Genesis 39:17)

It seems there are two patterns for the use of the term “Hebrews.”

1) It is used by both “Hebrews” (Israelites) and “non-Hebrews” which indicates that this term was the common term for Israelites (perhaps even the official one).

2) It is used mainly when it is connected to Egypt (*this term also appears in a few other contexts in the Hebrew Bible which are not always related to Egypt).

There are a couple of theories about the connection of this term to the ancient Egyptians. One interesting theory identifies the Semitic word “Hebrew” with the Egyptian word “Habiru” or “Apiru” – which was found in several archeological discoveries all across Egypt and describes an ancient nomadic people from the land of Canaan who built the city of Raamses as recorded in both “Papyrus Leiden I 348″(Ancient Egyptian source):

“…he ‘Apiru who drag stone for the great pylon of the [building?] ‘Rameses-II-Beloved-Of- Ruth.”

Also found in the Book of Exodus:

“They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” (Exodus 1:11)

*Not to be confused with “To the Hebrews” from the New Testament – different time and place.