Observations on life; particularly spiritual

When did the Hebrews or Israelites become known as Jews?

Star of David 400pxAccording to the Bible, Abraham left polytheism to follow the God who made the universe. Abraham lived about 2,000 BC and he and his descendants were known as Hebrews (Gen. 14:13). In fact the Pentateuch was written by Moses in the Hebrew language. Isaac was Abraham’s son and Jacob his grandson. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 46:1). Since this time Israel’s descendants were known as the children of Israel or Israel or Israelites. Israel’s family moved to Egypt where his son Joseph was second in command to the Pharaoh. In Egypt the Israelites grew to 2 million people when they subsequently migrated to Canaan in the Middle East under the leadership of Moses and Joshua.

After the Israelites invaded Canaan, they were ruled by the kings Saul, David and Solomon. King David lived about 1,000 BC. After this, the kingdom was divided into two, with 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel and two in the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10). Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem the capital of Judah.

The Hebrew word “Yehudi” (“Jew” in English; Strongs #3064) is derived from the name Judah, who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Originally, the word referred to members of the tribe of Judah, but later it described anyone from the kingdom of Judah (2 Ki. 16:6; Est. 2:5).

In 722 BC, Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians and the Israelites were dispersed into surrounding nations (2 Ki. 17). As they assimilated and now have no national identity, they are known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”.

In 598 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah and in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed. Many of the Jews were taken to exile in Babylon. When the Persians conquered Babylon in 538 BC, the Persian King Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to their homelands and many returned to Judah. After the Babylonian exile, “Jew” replaced “Israelite” as the most widely-used term for these survivers. This was because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were descendants of the kingdom of Judah. Also, the Jewish religion was known as Judaism.

After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. Although the terms “Hebrew” and “Israelite” continued in use into the New Testament period (Rom. 9:4; 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5), by then the term “Jew” was more commonly used. At His death, the Romans referred to Jesus as the “king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).

In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries including Europe and North Africa. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Crusaders, the Mamluk Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. The Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Despite these difficulties, the Jews maintained their identity, even in foreign lands. The need to find a homeland for Jewish refugees led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

How amazing – the Jews survived 1,900 years of exile! No other people has ever gone into exile and survived this long and returned to re-establish a national homeland. And the Jews went into exile twice! They also survived the persecutions of the the Hamans and Hitlers of this world (Est. 3:1-15). Surely this is evidence of the Bible’s inspiration, and of the existence of the God who promised to preserve the Jews, return them to their homeland, and bring them to a time of great national blessing in the last days.

In common speech, the word “Jew” is now used to refer to all of the descendants of Abraham and those who adhere to Judaism.

Written January 2013

9 responses

  1. Many questions were answered ..thank you

    October 3, 2013 at 7:09 am

  2. Ruben

    Jebus was the name for Jerusalem so in reality the inhabitants were called Jebusites so they became to be known as Jews in the English derived

    August 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    • Thanks Ruben. Could you supply a reference for the claim that the word “Jew” was derived from the word “Jebusite” as I am unable to find one?
      Jebus was the name for Jerusalem at the time of Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Jud. 19:10-11; 1 Chron.11:4). It’s Canaanite inhabitants were called Jebusites (Strongs #2983). The Israelites were unable to defeat the Jebusites until the time of David (Josh. 15:63; Jud. 1:21). Once Jerusalem became an Israelite city, the surviving Jebusites were forced by Solomon to become slaves (1 Ki. 9:20-21).
      All the occurrences of the words “Jew” or “Jews” in the Old Testament of the NIV Bible seem to be associated with the word “Judah”, and not with the word “Jebusite”. In the Hebrew language they are associated with Strongs #3063 (or #3061, #3062, #3064, #3065, and #3066), and not with Strongs #2983.
      The first individual to be called a Jew (Yehudi) in the Scriptures was Mordecai (Est. 2:5). It seems more likely that he was named after his ancestors (the Judeans who lived in Judah before the exile), not the previous inhabitants of Jerusalem who became slaves.

      September 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

      • William

        Begging your pardon… The first person referred to as a Jew in scripture was a woman in Genesis 26:34. Yes I realize I am being symantical, but technically the name Judith in Hebrew is Y’hudit “Jewess” … And yes of course there are some rather interesting commentaries about this. One day s that Esau was being rebellious and sarcastic. His family told him not to marry a Canaanite, but he did anyway, but he married one who’s name meant”Jewess”. …. I’ll leave you to ponder anything you may find interesting about this… Shalom

        August 15, 2015 at 8:05 am

      • Thanks for the comment William. Yes the name recorded by Moses for one of Esau’s Hittite wives in Genesis 26:34 is “Yehudith” (Strongs #3067, a feminine proper name). This is the only instance of this Hebrew word in Scripture. Apparently it originates from “Yehudi” (#3064, a masculine noun), which means a descendant of Judah (NAS Exhaustive Concordance). Presumably, the woman was the descendant of a man named Judah. But this would be a different person to the Judah who was Esau’s nephew. However, Brown-Driver-Higgs Hebrew Lexicon states that the “relation to foregoing names (is) obscure”.

        The name “Judith” is Semitic (derived from Shem), but the Hittite language wasn’t Semitic (being derived from Ham). Its usage in Genesis 26:34 could be because it was borrowed into the Hittite language or was her name when it was translated into Hebrew.

        I don’t think the term “Jewess” is appropriate in the context of Genesis 26 (about 2,000 BC) because the word “Yehudi” (which is usually translated “Jew”) is only used in Scripture from 2 Kings 16 (about 750 BC). So there is a gap of about 1,250 years in the usages of these two words (or a gap of about 700 years after the time of Moses, who wrote Genesis). Also, as “Jew” is only used in Scripture for descendants of the Judah who was Esau’s nephew, I don’t think it is appropriate to use the term “Jewess” for the descendant of another man named “Judah”.

        So as Judith was a Hittite and not a Hebrew and Hebrew’s weren’t known as Jew’s until many years later, it’s not appropriate to call her a Jewess. She wasn’t Jewish by race or by religion.

        August 16, 2015 at 3:05 am

  3. Seeking Truth

    It would be good if you read the curses that we find in Deut: 28 to identify who the Israelite’s are. There is only one group of people that these curses fit, only one heritage. If you look humbly with an open mind you will definitely question if this fits the people who call themselves Jews today.

    October 3, 2014 at 10:14 am

    • Thanks for the comment.
      In Deuteronomy God renews His covenant with Israel that was originally given at Mt Sinai. It is in the form of an ancient Suzerain-Vassal treaty.
      The punishments listed in Ch. 28 for disobedience include: depleted crops and herds, infertility, disease, drought, defeat in battle, mental illness, powerlessness, captivity in a foreign land, agricultural pests, poverty, slavery, cannibalism during a siege, disasters, dispersion to foreign nations, and fear of persecution. This warning was given to the Israelites as they were about to possess the land of Canaan.
      The Bible records the fulfillment of these punishments between the 6th to 8th century BC, including the fall of Samaria (722 BC), the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC), and the dispersion of the people of the kingdom of Israel and Judah into exile. Some exiles of the kingdom of Judah returned to Palestine, but they were dispersed again in AD70.
      Does anyone know where the descendants of these people are today? Can anyone trace their ancestory back to these times?

      October 6, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      • When the house of Judah was taken captive and were taken north to Babylon where the house of Israel was already located, After seventy years the time of punishment for the house of Judah the two houses took counsel among themselves and decided to go north through the mountains to Russia. Only 43 thousand of the house of Judah returned to build the new temple, The rest of the two family traveled north for a year and half and became the Caucasians because of the mountains, The travel west to the coast lines and the islands of the sea, The ruling family settled in Great Britain where the crowning stone had come by ship by way of the great sea in the hands of Jeremiah. All the kings of Israel have been crowned on that stone to this present day, Later one family of the house of Israel said this land is to small give us a place where we can grow and it became America,
        In Ireland the Galic language is Hebrew with Roman letters and Roman sounds but they retain the Hebrew syntax of language,
        The people of God are those that are hated by the rest of the world because of the name of God and his righteousness

        August 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

  4. Remember Abraham had seven sons and God only recognized the one of the wife Sarah, all others were rejected to wait the wrath of God, From Isaac we get the twelve tribes of Jacob whose name was changed to Israel, The twelve were divided into two houses. and none of these were Jews,
    In the New Testament the Jews were rejected as hypocrites because they claimed to be of the righteous seed of Abraham, and it was said that of these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham
    The Jews are descendants of Abraham and Hagar who were rejected because she was a Canaanite woman, The Jews are of Abraham but not of Isaac, They were rejected time after time because of their false claim to be the children of Abraham, The Jews did not receive the birthright promises through Isaac because Hagar was rejected, The Jews are known as gentile Jews because God said to Abraham I will make you the father of a throng of gentile (guim) which includes the gentile Jews who are hypocrites according to the Son of God in the New Testament,

    August 27, 2015 at 12:53 pm

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