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

MarianneLuban at aol.com MarianneLuban at aol.com
Sat Jul 24 11:17:34 EDT 2004

The history of the word "apiru", insofar as I know, is thus:  Insofar as I 
know, it is first seen in Egyptian texts from the 13th Dynasty (ca. 1745 BCE) in 
the Brooklyn Papyrus.  There are mentioned the "Apiru Reshep", evidently a 
roster of slaves working on an Upper Egyptian estate, among their names being 
Menachem, Issachar, Asher and Shifra--names still used by Jews to this day.  
Their Egyptians names are also given.  Reshep is a Canaanite deity.  My guess is 
that this term "apiru/apru" is not really an Egyptian word but variants of it 
came into common usuage in Egyptian.  The problem is that the Old Kingdom is 
not my specialty and I don't often read OK texts, so I can't be positive the 
term "apr" does not occur in them.  Regardless, when it does, it always has to 
do with some sort of "work" or "craftsmanship"--even "crew", as in the case of 
sailors.  And yet, clearly, the "Apiru Reshep" means "the servants of 
Reshep"--just as subsequent foreign names seen in Egyptian texts are always "Apr + 
deity"--one 18th Dynasty example being "Apr-el", a northern vizier.  The term 
"apr" or "servant" is the same as the Semitic "abd"--just as the name "Abdul" 
seems to have the same meaning as "Apr-el"--servant of God.  In the Bible, we see 
the like name Obadiah--or simply Obed.  Further, it should be mentioned that 
the Egyptian /r/ seems to have been "tapped"--(as in British "veddy" for 
"very") when it did not fall away in pronunciation entirely (same as in British 
English).  The reason we know this is because in orthography or "group writing", 
/d/ is very occasionally substituted for Semitic "r", simply as a scribal 

So the question is--did the chicken come before the egg--or vice versa?  The 
next time we see the word "aprw" is in the 18th Dynasty, time of King 
Amenhotep II, his annals of war, Asiatic campaign.  The relevant text reads "List of 
the plunder which his majesty carried off: Princes of Retenu; 127; brothers of 
princes; 179; Apiru; 3,600; living Shasu; 15,200; Kharu; 36,300; living Neges; 
15,070; the adherents thereof; 30,652; total 89,600 men."  This was in Year 7 
of the king, who reigned for more than 20 years.  In the same annals was 
indicated a concern that some "apiru" might steal the horses of the Egyptians.  In 
a text from the 19th dynasty (and we see more mention of "apiru" from this 
era, too) there is a story called "The Taking of Joppa", which recounts the 
exploits of the famous general of Thutmose III (father of Amenhotep II), also 
called Thutmose.  In it an "apr" is mentioned, but the context is not so very 

There is no question in my mind at all that the "Apiru" are the Hebrews.  In 
linguistics, "h's" come and go.  They are put on where they do not belong and 
taken away where they do.  We say "Hebrew" but other people say "Ebreo".  In 
the Book of Exodus, it becomes apparent, on scrutiny, that the term "Hebrew" is 
always from an Egyptian point of view--as opposed to "Children of Israel".  
When the Hebrews speak to the Egyptians, they call themselves "Hebrews"--but 
otherwise not.  But even God says "Hebrews" when talking to Moses on at least 
one occasion.  

Of course, as has been mentioned, Apiru were mentioned in the Amarna letters, 
time of Akhenaten.  I think it scarcely matters whether any of this is pre or 
post any exodus.  For example, black slaves existed in America at the same 
time that black people lived in Africa, the place of their origin.  As I said, 
Egypt was a revolving door for Asiatics, coming and going, voluntarily or as 
spoils of war, leaving voluntarily or being expelled as the circumstances 
dictated.  And finally, in Ramesside times, we see Apiru mentioned as working again, 
dragging stones and going out to cut some in the Sinai desert--all this over 
a period of years.  Some Apiru evidently occupied great positions in pharaonic 
Egypt--and others did not.   Also, since many proto-Jews probably did not 
even have foreign names in Egypt--we cannot even know for sure who was who.  In 
America, we still have Jews named David--but plenty of others called Scott or 

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