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Wednesday, 30 September 2009
From Habiru to Hebrews: The Roots of the Jewish Tradition

by Robert Wolfe (October 2009)

I come from a secular Jewish background, the son of Jewish parents who belonged to the Communist Party during the 1930s. They left the Party in 1939, around the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and also left each other, getting divorced when I was about two years old. I was raised in the home of my mother in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan which at that time was about half Jewish. Most of my boyhood friends were Jewish, and so too were most of my mother’s friends, who tended to the same “progressive” point of view as she did. My father too remained a “progressive”, meaning someone who agreed wiith many of the positions of the Communist Party without necessarily belonging to it. So from an early age I received a heavy dose of Jewish secular culture along with a sense of identification with the progressive current in American life.  more>>>

Posted on 09/30/2009 5:36 PM by NER
30 May 2016
Send an emailr warren
It is well known to all historians that are true historians and not of a religious background, that the Hapiru/Apiru was the name given to the tribe of Hebrews that later followed their cousins the Hyksos into Egypt. This group worship[ed the Apis or Hapi calf/bull from the Western harpoon nome [Ramesses Nome] in the Delta.After the eruption of Santorine in 1450bce, the Hapiru followed the Hykswos into Canaan some 150 years after that group had been defeated. A later group of Hapiru departd Armarna at the beginning of the reign of Horemheb taking with them the beginnings of a ne3w Jewish religion. Both Christian and Jew try to show the Hapiru as being a different people and not coming out of Egypt at all, Why? Because the biblical accounts tell of the Hebrews leaving the land of Ramesses and so they figure the Pharoah Ramesses and not the Nome. This aside, The Pharoahs of thre 19th Dynsty were only two hundred years on from the exodus and therefore the writers may have written the Exodus story at a later date.

12 Oct 2015
Michael Spitz
Yes, very good article; but I have read Dever and Finkelstein and there is virtually no mention of the Habiru, and Israelite "conquest" has long been marginalized as a theory, though there has been some speculation that "David" was a marauder but this was put forth by a miner author.

4 Nov 2014
Binyamin Barca

Unlike outside, in Israel, biblical scholarship is a wide subject and one of the central learning subjects in universities in Israel.

There is a some-what of a consensus around biblical scholarship in Israel.

First, you must understand the sides of the biblical scholarship debate that exists in Israel: There are three main sides -
a. Minimalists (i.e. nothing in the bible is true or based on anything), which is not popular;
b. Literalists (i.e. everything in the bible is true and based on facts), which is not popular as well;
c. Biblical-Historical connection: which is the accepted view. Yet this view is separated into 2:
1. Prof. Israel Finkelstein, TAU - his view is the the stories of the Bible have a truth in them, but were manipulated by a YHWHist lobby, and the origin of the Hebrews is in Canaanite society
2. Prof. Israel Knohl, HUJI - his view is that the Hebrews emerge from three different populations: Hyksos, Mitanni refugees and Levite-Habiru slaves from Egypt.

As I said, there is a consensus about native-Canaanite origin of Hebrews, and the influence of Habiru. Prof. Yigal Bin-Nun, from the Sorbonne, has the Habiru theory as a central theme in his Hebrew ethnogenesis theory, which include Canaanite origin, similar to Prof. Finkelstein.

So, the Habiru theory is widely accepted as part of the Hebrew ethnogenesis theory - in Israel.

11 Aug 2014
Excellent work, thank you so much for your effort. Your article fits my own research like a glove, filling quite a few gaps I had all along. I'd very much like to know what are your thoughts on some other related subjects such as: The Hyksos being Canaanites, the Thera explosion in relation to the Egyptian plague accounts, or the Phoenician-Israelite connection (shared alphabet and all). Being myself a "leftist revolutionary", I rise a single objection when it comes to the last bit about modern-day Israel: Zionism is political doctrine that cannot be considered as the rightful heir of Judaism, even if this political doctrine is in fact developed or adopted by Jews. It is because Judaism and Zionism are different things that "leftists" (and everybody else) are rightfuly entitled to praise one and frown on the other separately. I, for one, see no parallel between the revolutionary conquest of the Habiru against their opressors and the forceful expansion of modern day Israel; but this paragraph is only my personal opinion.

31 Jul 2014
Linda Wein
Hello, Robert. I just read your essay, "From Habiru to Hebrews" and it was fascinating and compelling. I'm not a biblical scholar and I don't think I've approached reading your essay with any preconceived political or religious agenda. What I connect with the most is how real and human it would be for the Habiru to crave a more just society where they have a place and a future. Based on the strands of research you have put together I really feel their side of the story as escaped slaves, outcasts and mercenaries without any chance to live normal lives, raise families and live in security. I would feel the same way in a society where slavery is considered a moral institution. I would dream of a better world with self-determination as a basic human right. It's miraculous that leaders emerged from these marginalized peoples who were able to build a whole new society with values that persist to this day. Whether you believe the biblical stories as literal truth, mythology, propaganda or what have you, they appear to have revolutionized how the human race sees their relationship to God, society and the future. What an optimistic name for God-"I will be what I will be". Dreams for the future are expressed. This is not a God carved in stone, unfeeling, dictatorial, but a God interested in dialogue with his people and growing with them as times change. I'm sure my naive comments will bring on lots of snarky responses from more educated folks ready to pounce on me. Too bad.

22 May 2014
Send an emailmike

goyim are not able to understand the truth

they are a mistake

10 Oct 2012
Send an emailJohn Miller

Mr Wolfe, I appreciated your article and found it very informative. I've read much about this topic and have done a fair amount of my own research on the topic. One must always be careful when he sets out to investigate a topic with a preconcieved notion in mind. Evidence is always as such that it lends us the leeway to paint our portraits in any light we choose. This is most often, and perhaps most easily accomplished by the omission of some fact or another that tends to shine the light in a way that is unbecoming to the portrait we wish to present. In your essay the fact that is overlooked is certainly not without its own controversies. However, this fact, even with those controversies unsettled, certainly bends the light in a rather uncomplimentary fashion to the portrait you choose to present. This fact that I wish to bring to your attention is the Hyksos. For those of us that simply choose to ignore the biblical apologists, and get on with solving historical puzzles in the old fashioned scientific manner, have long since moved on from the mythological tale of Exodus, Moses, and Jewish slaves. Josephus tells us who these Hyksos were, as does Manethos. It's a shame, though completely understandable, that you left such an amazing relative piece of history out of your essay. However, certainly your retrospective conclusion would have suffered some scissor marks had you included the conflicting truth of these Shepherd Kings. Face it, without the Exodus myth the Habiru simply cannot evolve into the poor, perpetually persecuted, pious, and God fearing men that, above all else, strove to serve the one true God. Nevermind that they stole this God (Amen), along with everything else they could, from the Egyptians. From Habiru to Habiru: Some Things Will Never Change. John

2 Sep 2011
Send an emailNathan Prophet

 I lived through the same days that you did. I remember when you and your fellow students took over the Courant Institute. Those were heady days of social protest and challenge to authority. Where is it now? 

Thanks for a thoroughly research, comprehensive article on Jewish origins. I have always thought that most of the early history of the Israelites in Egypt, the Exodus and conquest of Canaan was either in error, distorted, enhanced, or just mythologized. 

I've explored around Israel in the Negev mostly.  It is a most fascinating place. 

Nathan Prophet

15 Jul 2011
Send an emailHermann Helmholtz

In Arabic, the closest one gets to old Hebrew, the word 'Hebrew' is derived from 'crossing.' It is derived from the stem stem: "'Abara." Many historians tend to consider the name indicative of their migration of bands, for some reason, across the Euphrates. These bands cannot be sizeable. If they were, they would need to settle, and good pasture and hunting grounds exist already in Mesopotamia proper, or at worse, on the banks of the Euphrates. 

This favor considering them runaway slaves.

'Apiru,' however, cannot be a generic term. The use of the term existed even on Egyptian stele in reference to bands of raiders who crossed Sinai and were caught and punished. 

They are not to be confused with the Egyptian slaves who frequently escaped from Egypt through the Sinai, and one band, following exposure to the Edomain YHWH, carried it over to Palestine, and the rest is history, according to other historians. 


28 Dec 2010

Robert Wolf is just another reason why Jews cannot be trusted to write the truth about anything. He takes Biblical studies, archeological studies, historical studies and wads them all up into a propaganda screed for the State of Israel. His monogram is full of wrong conclusions based on his Marxist and Israeli prejudices.

28 Jul 2010
Send an emailAriel Barrera-Haddad

Mr. Wolfe doesn't accept that never has existed a people called as Hebrew, that word has origin in the semitic Abiru, in arabic is used yet ?????, it means passersby, is not an specific people is only a social condition, hebrew people was a greek invention, because they trastocate the word abiru to ebraios and it was to trasctocted to english hebrew to spanish hebreo to italian ebraico. greeks considered to everybody from middle east as hebrew, and the jewish religion had origin in judah of canaan, jewish was people from judah and they spoke canaanite and were aramaized by arameans during 6 century before jesus. the jewish which went to palestine they are not descendant from these jewish. the azkenazis from khazaros from the caucasus, the sephardies descend from berebers from northern africa which were involved in the arabian troops to the iberian conquest. 

20 Jul 2010
irving d. cohen

Bob, thank you so much for the article; it IS long, but worthwhile.

I was as interested in your background as I was in the article. I lived through the period of your personal history  that you described, when, as a student at CCNY I fitst became aware of  so-called "progressive" thinking.

I have always admired your opinions and had the idea that you are a scholar; thank you for proving me right.

I will need a shortened form of this arfticle to share with friends.


Irv Cohen