Names of a People

Term

Origin and Meaning

Normal Use

Hebrew

The name of the language in which Bible and other works of Jewish literature were composed.
Appears in the Bible as a description of Abraham (Genesis 14:13).
Possible meanings:
  • Foreigner ("from the other side of the River")
  • Descendant of Eber (Genesis 10:21-25) a descendant of Noah and Shem, who was an ancestor of Abraham.

This term is usually used to designate the people from the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) until the conquest of the Promised Land.

Israel

The name given to Abraham's grandson Jacob, father of the twelve tribes, after struggle with supernatural being, in Genesis 32:29, "for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
The "Children of Israel," or: "Israelites," were his descendants.
During the era of the "Divided Monarchy," the northern kingdom was known as Israel, composed of ten tribes, as distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah.

This term is the one that has been used most often by the Jews to refer to themselves in their Hebrew texts.

Jews

(←Judeans)

After the fall of the Israelite kingdom, the ten northern tribes were lost. Only the Judeans survived their exile in Babylonia to continue their history and religion. Their country was known as the province of "Judea" under the Persian, Greek and Roman empires.

This term was used primarily by non-Jews to refer to the people from the era of the Babylonian exile and afterwards.

(Semites)

In the Bible, the Middle-Eastern peoples, including Jews, Arabs and others are traced to Noah's son Shem: Hence they are all "S(h)emites."
"Semitic" was also used to denote a language family to which Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and other Near Eastern languages belong.
The term "antisemitism" was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 as a more "polite" term for Jew-hatred.

The word "antisemitism" is the only context in which the term "Semite" refers to Jews.
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