The Hebrews - Habiru - Hapiru -SA.GAZ - ‘prw

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THE PENTATEUCH

GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- PSALMS 1-36--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 --- MICAH ---

NAHUM--- HABAKKUK---ZEPHANIAH --- HAGGAI ---ZECHARIAH --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-16 --- 2 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-13 -- -GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS 1-6 --- 7-10 --- 11-13 --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION

--- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

The Name ‘Hebrew’ in Archaeology and in Scripture

In the ancient Biblical world of the Ancient Near East there are constant references in texts to persons known as SA.GAZ (in cuneiform), as Hapiru/Habiru in Mesopotamia and as ‘prw in Egypt ( the ‘ is a hard H and the w is a plural ending). While the SA.GAZ are not necessarily specifically Hapiru/Habiru (for they are never to our knowledge treated as equivalent in the lists of ancient lexicographers) they are often identified with them. Thus the terms are not synonymous but the SA.GAZ can be Hapiru in certain circumstances.

The ‘prw are identified with the Hapiru in the Amarna letters from the king of Jerusalem and with the SA.GAZ by other correspondents. We are not, however, to think of these Hapiru/Habiru/‘prw as a specific race or nation, but rather it appears to be a name for stateless peoples as they come into contact with the major civilisations, and can mean different things in different contexts as it is a useful way of describing people with no other identity. They are witnessed to from the third millennium BC down to the tenth century BC.

The SA.GAZ indicates two cuneiform signs giving no recognised meaning. The term is found in Sumerian literature but has no meaning in Sumerian. It is equated in literature with the Akkadian habbatu which means a ‘brigand’ or ‘highway robber’, but is probably derived from the Akkadian word saggasu which means ‘aggressor’. The SA.GAZ are therefore seen as fierce and ‘lawless’ people, i.e. not obeying the laws of others.

In the third dynasty of Ur they are described as ‘these unclothed people, who travel in dead silence, who destroy everything, whose menfolk go where they will, --- they establish their tents and their camps --- they spend their time in the countryside without observing the decrees of my king Shulgi’. They are therefore people who live on the edge of society and are a law to themselves.

The word also appears in the nineteenth century BC in administrative texts in Southern Mesopotamia where one text calls them the Hapiri. Here they are soldiers with a chief, and receive supplies of food. In a similar text in Susa in Elam they are recorded as having sheep supplied to them as well as to other groups, they and the others being identified as ‘soldiers of the West’. They would appear therefore in these cases to be mercenaries.

In the sixteenth/fifteenth century BC they are again equated with the Hapiru, but this time more fully, and here they are soldiers, or even quarrymen, under the orders of SA.GAZ leaders. One SA.GAZ from Tapduwa has 15 soldiers under him, a SA.GAZ chief from Sarkuhe has 29, and another has 1,436. They can form separate groupings by themselves. By now therefore the term SA.GAZ equates to Hapiru.

Later they are clearly equated with the Hapiru in the Amarna letters where some call them the SA.GAZ while the king of Jerusalem calls them the Hapiru. SA.GAZ is seen as a somewhat pejorative term. They are seen as operative not only in Syria, but also in Phoenicia, near Sumur, Batrun and Byblos, in Upe near Damascus, and further South as far as Jerusalem.

Around the fifteenth century BC six hundred SA.GAZ are elsewhere ‘given’ to the ‘god of the temple’ just as Rameses III will later give the ‘prw to the Egyptian temples of the Delta.

A century or so later Mursilis II (c.1334-1306 BC), in an arbitration treaty between Duppi-Teshub of Amurru amd Tudhaliya of Carchemish, recalls that the town of Jaruwatta in the land of Barga had been captured by the king of the Hurrian country and had been given to ‘the grandfather of Tette, the SA.GAZ’. Mursilus returns the town to Abiradda whom the SA.GAZ had dispossessed.

So they have now become among other things mercenary soldiers or marauding bands of soldiers, and can enjoy a partially settled existence.

While in post Old Testament times ‘the Hebrew language’ means the language of the Jews, and everyone thus relates the term ‘Hebrews’ to the Jews, this is a late identification. In the Old Testament Israelites were Israelites, not Hebrews, except, rarely, when viewed in relation to external peoples. The one possible exception to this is the ‘Hebrew servant’, of which more later (Exodus 21.2; Deuteronomy 15.12 compare Jeremiah 34.9, 14).

Apart from this latter use, and a single use related to Abram, the term is limited to three sections, two relating to servitude in Egypt and one relating to dealings with the Philistines who were non-Semites. There is one further exception to this and that is the use by Jonah to describe himself to foreign sailors.

The description Abram ‘the Hebrew’ - in Genesis 14.13 - is contained in a covenant narrative confirming the covenant between Abram and Melchizedek. Abram is called ‘Abram the Hebrew’ as a (potential) leader of a military force who is part of a confederation. As Abram was stateless (contrast ‘Amre’ who is called ‘the Amorite’) this method of identifying him may be seen as of some significance, as it ties in with the use of the terms ‘apiru and habiru elsewhere of stateless military leaders. In adminstrative texts in Southern Mesopotamia the SA.GAZ or ‘Hapiri’ are independent soldiers under a chief who receive supplies of food, as Abram does in Genesis 14, as are the ‘Hapiru’ from texts from Mari (to the West of Babylonia). Melchizedech may well therefore have seen him as an Hapiru.

Joseph the Hebrew The next use of the term is in Genesis 39.14, 17; 41.12 where Joseph is called ‘an Hebrew’ or a ‘Hebrew servant’ by Egyptians. And Joseph himself uses the term when identifying himself to Egyptians when he says ‘I was stolen from the land of the Hebrews’ (Genesis 40.15). The ‘land of the Hebrews’ is ‘the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites’ (Exodus 3.8), a land without political unity.

The Hebrews in Egypt

Again in Exodus 1.15, 16, 19; 2.6, 7, 11, 13; the term ‘Hebrew’ is used in a context of those who are slaves to the Egyptians in relation to the Egyptians. In Exodus 3.18; 5.3; 7.16; 9.1, 13; 10.3 God is called ‘the Lord God (once ‘God’ only) of the Hebrews’ having dealings with Pharaoh in view. Pharaoh would be thinking of the slaves as Hapiru.

Thus the term is constantly used as a way of describing foreign slaves to Egyptians, especially slaves from what was known Biblically as ‘the land of Canaan’ which was known by the Egyptians to be filled with disparate peoples including the ‘prw, mentioned in the Amarna letters as Hapiru.

Like Abram these people were basically stateless for they were not identified with any city state, but, as far as outside peoples were concerned, were part of those peoples who had no specific identification. In other words the children of Israel saw themselves as ‘Israel’, but outsiders saw them as ‘prw or Hapiru.

The ‘prw are mentioned in a number of Egyptian texts and range from fighting men in Canaan to captives employed as servants to strain wine, to prisoners given to the temples, to workers in the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat. (The ‘prw are identified with the SA.GAZ in Ras Shamra texts, a term often used of the Hapiru). Above all they are foreigners. It is therefore increasingly certain that the Israelites in Egypt would be seen as ‘prw.

In Genesis 43.32 we learn that the Egyptians ate separately from the sons of Jacob because ‘Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians’. In Genesis 46.34 the same is said of ‘shepherds’ as stateless, un-Egyptian people. As Wiseman says in Peoples of Old Testament Times (p.xviii), ‘the Egyptians thought of themselves as ‘men’ and others as inferior ‘humans’ who could be accepted on learning the Egyptian language’.

So the stateless children of Israel, having no connection with recognised cities or tribes, could well be thought of and described by the Egyptians as Habiru/Hapiru/‘prw.

The Philistines and the Hebrews.

The Philistines constantly spoke of the Israelites as ‘the Hebrews’ (1 Samuel 4.6, 9; 13.19; 14.11) and also spoke of David’s mercenary soldiers as ‘Hebrews’ (1 Samuel 29.3). Until the time of Saul, Israel had been a group of clans loosely connected through the covenant and would therefore appear to outsiders as a number of independent groupings with no specific identity or connection with larger groupings. Thus it is probable that the Philistines, who had subjugated at various times different sections of what we know of as ‘the Israelites’ saw them as a motley collection of separate tribal groupings linked together under the term ‘the Hebrews’, which was to them a derisory term describing independent, stateless peoples often gathered together in a confederacy but not with a total identity, similar to the Hapiru.

In 1 Samuel 14.21 we read of ‘the Hebrews who were with the Philistines’ in contrast to ‘all the men of Israel’ (v.22). Compare also how ‘some of the Hebrews’ went over the Jordan for safety in contrast with ‘the men of Israel’ who hid themselves in caves and thickets, etc. but would not leave their land. There would in these cases appear to be a distinction made by the writer between ‘the men of Israel’ and ‘the Hebrews’, these latter having looser connections with, and a less permanent relationship with, the tribes, as with David’s army in 1 Samuel 29.3.

The use of the term by Saul (1 Samuel 13.3) may be seen as ironic. He was fully aware of the derogatory way in which the Philistines spoke of his people and uses their term as he gathers his men to fight. He will soon show them what the despised ‘Hebrews’ are really made of.

So we note that apart from Saul’s statement the use of the term Hebrew is never specifically applied to all the people, but is either on the lips of the Philistines or describing rootless sections of Israelites. ‘The Hebrews’ is not a term that Israel happily uses of itself, and it is never used again after the time of Saul with the exceptions below.

All this does not mean that Israel were Habiru/Hapiru in a technical sense, only that they were seen in this way by nations with an ancient pedigree.

The Hebrew Servant.

It is significant that at Nuzi Hapiru entered into limited servitude limited to seven years, after which their obligation ended. In Exodus 21.2 we read similarly, ‘if you buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve, and in the seventh year he shall go out free for nothing’. He then has the choice of permanent servitude if he so wishes because of his love for his master.

It must be questionable whether an Israelite would wish for this as in the year of Jubilee his land would be returned to him. Thus this Hebrew servant would appear to be a landless person, which fits in with what we have seen above. Such a person may well have desired a good and safe position of servant in a good household. It also explains the rather harsh conditions about the wife and children when provided by the master (21.4). Release of these to become Habiru was not to be contemplated. It would take them outside the covenant of Yahweh. It might have been a different picture if they were to leave to be still Israelites.

However in Deuteronomy 15.12 the description is ‘your brother, an Hebrew man or an Hebrew woman’. But this may simply refer to the brotherhood of fellow-sufferers for the passage later points to the fact that the Israelites too had been slaves in Egypt, (and were indeed in the eyes of the Egyptians ‘Hebrew slaves’). Indeed when such a man is freed after a six year period he is to be sent out well provided for because they remember how they were sent out of Egypt.

Thus, in view of the fact that the term Hebrew is never elsewhere used by Israelites of Israelites except rarely when foreigners are in mind, it would seem very likely that these servants are not strictly Israelites but have been bought from outside. This is why special regulations are made to protect their position. They do not therefore represent evidence that Israelites were genuinely Hebrews.

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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus.

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

THE PENTATEUCH

GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- PSALMS 1-36--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 --- MICAH ---

NAHUM--- HABAKKUK---ZEPHANIAH --- HAGGAI ---ZECHARIAH --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-16 --- 2 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-13 -- -GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS 1-6 --- 7-10 --- 11-13 --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION

--- THE GOSPELS & ACTS


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