The influence of the Hebrew people is strikingly evident in today’s societies and the ideologies prevalent in Western culture. Their faith is spread throughout the world, and their historical legacies occupy roles within the minds of Jew, Christian, Muslim, and atheist alike. What were the roots of this ancient group? How did the journey that they had undergone during their first three thousand years shape their beliefs and structure? These are all questions deserving of a thorough exploration.
From the sacred writings of the Hebrews, the Torah, one is able to obtain valuable information about their early pre-Exodus history for which there had been few other written records. The story of this people initiates in Mesopotamia, in the city of Ur, where a group known to the more settled classes as “habiru“, or semi-nomads who dwelled mostly on the outskirts of the Sumerian region, became increasingly alarmed at the instability that had begun to permeate the Mesopotamian region.
This was a time of the decline of Sumer and the gradual overrunning of the region by Aramaic tribes related to the habiru, but hostile to the interests of the latter. The Hebrews (their name originating from the term, habiru) were moderately affluent pastoralists to whom a massive conflict would only bring material devastation.
According to the Book of Genesis, one of the most prosperous Hebrews, named Terah, resolved to act upon his displeasure with the situation by departing from the region in search of greater stability. Writes Dr. Anthony Silvestri, “Terah and his extended family left Ur in Mesopotamia and traveled to Haran in Syria. While in Haran, one of Terah’s sons, Abraham, was told by his god to leave Syria for another place which will be given to him and his descendants forever. Abraham and his wife Sarah responded and left for Canaan, in Judea.”
While Terah still adhered to the old polytheistic faith, Abraham became the innovator of a religion that would shape the world. Abraham himself possessed the resources to support the small group of followers and relatives that had gathered at his side, being, according to Helen Chapin Metz, “a wealthy semi-nomad who possessed large flocks of sheep, goats, and had enough retainers to mount small military expeditions.” From these humble beginnings, the Jewish people and culture emerged. A tribe of nomadic pastoralists would grow to become a powerful nation and a major cultural influence in Western civilization.
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Arkenberg, J.S., ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Kurash (Cyrus) the Great: The Decree of Return for the Jews, 539 BCE.” The Great, Cyrus. The Kurash Prism. Available: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/539cyrus1.html. February 6, 2002.
CenturyOne. “THE GIFTS OF THE JEWS: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History Series Volume 2).” (A book review of Thomas Cahill’s work.) Available: http://www.centuryone.com/8249-3.html. February 6, 2002.
Helen Chapin Metz, ed. “EARLY ISRAEL.[Excerpted from Israel: A Country Study.Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1988].” Available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/iltoc.html. February 6, 2002.
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Lipman, David E. “Gates to Jewish Heritage. Bar Kochba: The Bar Kochba Revolt.”Available: http://www.jewishgates.org/personalities/bar.stm. February 6, 2002.
Silvestri, Anthony. “Dr. Silvestri’s WWW Ancient World History Resource. III. The Hebrews.” Available: http://www.drhistory.org/main.html. January 27, 2001.
Speake, Graham, ed. The Cultural Atlas of the World: The Bible.Alexandria, Va., Stonehenge Press, 1992.
West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.” Available: http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm. February 6, 2002.