[b-hebrew] 1446 BCE Exodus ? Apiru/Habiru = Hebrew ?

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Jul 24 08:23:36 EDT 2004

On 24/07/2004 10:34, Walter R. Mattfeld wrote:

>Jonathan D. Safren wrote :
>"I haven't been following this thread very closely, so I would like to ask
>the following points have been discussed or elucidated:
>1) Habiru would be 'ober in Hebrew because of the Canaanite shift, and not

This argument seems to presuppose that the word is proto-Semitic and so 
has been affected by early vowel shifts. It does not apply if the word 
is a relatively late borrowing from one language to another. Suppose, 
for example, that a west Semitic group called `abri become prominent 
sometime in the mid-second millennium. That name would have become `ibri 
in biblical Hebrew with the Tiberian pronunciation, because of a 
well-known shift of short a to i in an initial syllable (which occurred 
post-LXX cf. English Samson, derived from LXX, vs. Hebrew Shimshon. 
Well, LXX of course has EBRAIOS for `abri/`ibri). But if that new name 
were borrowed into Akkadian in the second millennium, how would it be 
written? Is the attested form Habiru out of the question?

>The question still remains, the Bible suggests that Shechem since 1406 BCE
>has been in Israelite hands under Joshua and his successors, the Judges. How
>does one "account" for the _disharmony_ of the political situation in the
>Tell el-Amarna letters concerning Shechem vis-a-vis the Bible ?  If Hebrews
>during the days of the Judges are in control of Shechem, ca. 1406-1050 BCE,
>who is Labayu, an _Egyptian-appointed mayor_ of Shechem, and accused
>'Apiru/Habiru, writing in Akkadian (Babylonian) cuneiform, betraying a
>"Canaanite dialect" and NOT a "Hebrew dialect" ? Again I ask, where are "the
>Hebrews" (Ibri) of Shechem under the Judges, ca. 1406-1050 BCE ?

The obvious implication, given your chronological presuppositions, is 
that Labayu was in fact an Israelite, appointed or confirmed by the 
Egyptians in an attempt to govern the Israelites who had captured this 
area. Labayu professed loyalty to the Egyptians. But his Canaanite 
enemies, loyal to Egypt since before the arrival of the Israelites, did 
not believe that these newcomers who had captured much of their land 
could also be loyal to Egypt, and accused them using the pejorative term 
Habiru/Hebrew which was understood to imply "rebel" - which is also used 
in the Bible largely by non-Israelites and in a not very positive sense.

The tradition of trying to discredit one's political enemies by applying 
perjorative terms to them, e.g. "terrorist" or "Zionist", is still well 
known in the region, and elsewhere.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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