The Birth of the Israelite Nation Part II - Israelites, Hebrews, and the Huabiru

Fact Paper 39-II

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

The stela of Mesha, King of Moab, dated to the ninth century B.C.E., in which the king boasts of defeating the Israelites. The histor-icity of the biblical account in II Kings, ch. 3 is thus authenticated, albeit the stela and the Bible differ as to the outcome of the struggle. The stela of the Pharaoh Merenptah (See Fact Paper 39-I) likewise brags of having obliterated Israel. As the above stela attests, the Israelites were still around four centuries later!

The Biblical Israelites

Who were the Israelites? Who were the Hebrews?

There are no simple answers to these questions.

"Israelite" is assumed to refer to the children of Jacob and their descendants, inasmuch as God is biblically said to have notified Jacob: "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince has thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."

Nonetheless, the Bible continues to refer to Jacob by his original name even after his return from Aram-Naharaim with his wife and children. God reappears to repeat: "Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name." A peculiar dichotomy is then set up in which the children of Israel are sometimes clearly Jacob's descendants, but at other times two distinct groups. The house of Jacob and the children of Israel are thereafter referred to as parallel but separate entities linked by connectives such as "and," "also," and "neither":

[God instructs Moses]: "Thus shalt thou say to the House of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel." [Ex. 19:3]

"Surely there is no enchantment in Jacob, neither is there any divination in Israel; in due time it is said unto Jacob and unto Israel, what God had wrought." [Numbers 29:23]

"Hear this, O House of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel... Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel...[Isaiah 48:I, 12]

"For the Lord will have mercy upon Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the House of Jacob." [Isaiah 14:I]

The separation appears consistently again and again not only in Exodus, Numbers and Isaiah but likewise in other books of the Bible:

"Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel." [Psalms 78:21]

"For this is a statute for Israel; and a law of the God of Jacob." [Psalms 81:5]

"For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel." [Micah 1:5]

"But fear not, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel." [Jer. 46:27]

And so on...

It is only in the first book of Chronicles that Israel becomes regularly substituted for the name Jacob and the Israelites become a nation without an anomalous identity.

The Archaeological Israelites

Extra-biblical identification of a Canaanite people called Israel was found on a stela erected by the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah about 1207 BCE (See Fact Paper 39-I). It was considered the only physical evidence that such a people existed. New evidence, however, indicates that the biblical story reflects a tribal memory of a real events.

In the winter of 1976-77 Frank J. Yurko was in Luxor as a member of the University of Chicago's epigraphic survey. He paid particular attention to a set of elaborate battle scenes on a massive wall adjoining the great hypostyle hall of the Karnak temple. The cartouche and titles of Sety II (1199-1193 B.C.E.) appear on the surface as the author of the scenes, but it was clear that erasures and replacements had taken place.

Yurko, perched precariously atop a long ladder, subjected the cartouches to careful scrutiny with a mirror. Raking reflected light laterally cross the inscriptions made the reading of the underlying texts became possible. To Yurko's astonishment, he found that there was not one but two consecutive usurpations of the scenes. Underlying Sety's cartouche and titular texts was that of Amenmesse (1209-1199 B.C.E.), and underlying those was that of Merneptah. The scene was not of Sety's, but actually of Merneptah's military campaign!

Yurko's revelation was corroborated by the discovery of a stray block that had been previously removed from the wall. The block matched Yurko's decipherment of "the indisputably identified visages of Merneptah from his tomb in the Valley of Kings... this makes a great difference. It will, among other things, allow us to identify the oldest pictures of Israelites ever discovered, engraved more than 3,200 years ago, at the very dawn of their emergence as a people."1

The discovery had indeed many ramifications. The text and the layout of battle scenes verified the sequence of events outlined on the Merneptah stela:

...Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer.

Yanoum is made as that which does not exist;

Israel is laid waste, his seed is not...

Egyptian hieroglyphic determinatives are specific. In the Merneptah stela the hieroglyphics for Ashkelon, Gezer, and Ya'naom are formatted specificallyfor fortified towns, whereas the name "Israel" is written with a determinative reserved for a people.

A Canaanite artisan, chief of a 37 member caravan that descended the Nile to trade in Egypt, depicted in an Egyptian tomb c. 1892 B.C.E. Canaanites were always identified by Egyptian artists with distinctive "cloaks of many colors." The Canaanite is named Abushei, also the name of King David's chief general.

Despite the determinatives in both the Karnak wall and the Merneptah stela, some scholars were not to be dissuaded from skepticism about the Israel reference. "The argument is good," admitted John A. Wilson, "but not conclusive because of the notorious carelessness of the Late-Egyptian scribes and several blunders of writing in this stela." Other scholars gave tentative agreement. Thus G. Ahlström and D. Edelman of Chicago University began by stating that "The use of a determinative for people instead of a land may be insignificant, resulting from the loose application of determinatives," but qualified their doubts by adding, "on the other hand it could be an accurate record of Israel's primary association with the hill country's population, which has been used here to represent its geographical sense as well, paralleling the term

The scenes of Merneptah's conquests, however, lend weight to a literal interpretation of the texts. The scenes illustrating the siege and conquest of the three cities, should be viewed as stages of the same campaign as is the "Israelite" scene, in which the Pharaoh's army is battling with the enemy in open hill country. Not only are the Israelites depicted as a well-organized force, they are shown deploying chariots sporting six-spoked wheels. At that time it was the most advanced form of the vehicle. The historicity of the Bible, which attributed such warrior chariots to the Canaanites, is thus underscored in this respect.

The Israelites of the battlefield are depicted on the Karnak wall in the same multicolored garments as are the Canaanites of the three embattled cities. The clothes are distinctive and are of the same type as those worn by the Asiatic merchants whose thirty-seven-person caravan decorates the tomb of the Egyptian baron Knumhotpe of the nineteenth century B.C.E., six hundred years earlier. They are likewise similar to cloaks worn by Israelites six hundred years later on a depiction by the Assyrian King Sennacherib of the scene of the capture of Lachish. A 1200 year span is thus suggested for Israelite existence. The Egyptian scene was the earliest known portrait of the Israelites until Yurko's discovery at Karnak. They are likewise perfect renditions of "coats of many colors" as described in the Bible!

Thus the Merneptah boast refers not to the defeat of four separate entities but to the conquest of three of the strongholds of the Israelites and of the defeat of their forces on the battlefield.

Elsewhere in the last of the Karnak scenes, separate from the battle scenes, a file of people known as the Shasu are shown being led away as prisoners. The Shasu were a pastoral people, shepherds who frequented the periphery of the Sinai desert. The Shasu do not appear in any of the battle scenes. They are shown wearing short kilts and turban-like headdresses. Their attire is radically different from that of the "Israelites."

The distinction between the nomadic Shasu and the urban Israelites in the Merneptah's 150-foot-long rendering of his military adventures puts another well-worn shibboleth to rest. The Israelites were by no means to be identified with the desert-dwellers of the times.

The biblical assignation of the name "Israel" to Jacob symbolizes the identification of Jacob and his host with certain Canaanite peoples. Thus "The House of Jacob," the emigrants to Egypt, are distinguished from Israelites who did not leave Canaan, and with whom Jacob's descendants integrated upon their return. Signifi-cantly, the biblical distinction is dropped after the nation of Israel is formed.

No more ands, neithers, and alsos!

After the twelve sons (and, may we add, the daughters) of the House of Jacob intermarry with other Israelites of Canaan, and the families fuse into one Israelite community, the Israelites are to be distinguished from the other peoples of Canaan by the religious precepts they assumed.

Such an Israelite community is documented on a stela by King Mesha, a ninth-century B.C.E ruler of Moab (see cover illustration). The Moabite king bragged that his forces defeated the Israelites and that the sacred vessels of Yahweh were removed from the Israelite sanctuary and installed in a temple for the worship of the Moabite god, Chemosh. The struggle between Jehoram, king of Israel and the Moabites under King Mesha, recorded in II Kings, chapter three, renders a different account of the struggle. In it Jehoram enlists the assistance of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and together they decisively put down the Moabite rebellion.

Whatever the truth might be as to which side was triumphant, it is clear that the biblical account is proven to have been based on fact, and that the existence of the Israelite communities of both Israel and Judah are confirmed on a stela carved in the ninth century B.C.E.

These circumstances lead to the next question: "How do "Hebrews" fit into both the biblical and the archaeological formulation of the Israelite nation?"

The Israelites and the Hebrews

The circumstances of the origin and the identity of the "Hebrews" are as enigmatic as those of the Israelites, both biblically and archaeologically. The Bible employs the label "Hebrew" in a way that raises baffling questions about the social status of the people referred to and leaves us in the dark as to just who they were. The two appellations, "Hebrew" and "Israelite," appear at times to be interchangeable, and yet a sharp distinction is drawn at other times between the two groups. The murky ethnogenesis of both groups is left unresolved by the contexts in which they occur.

Tenuous linguistic connections are proposed by some scholars. The Hebrews are said to have been the descendants of Eber (Gen. 10:21), an ancestor of Abraham, but then the Arabs must likewise be brought under the Hebrew umbrella, a fact that is patently excluded from biblical considerations. The appearance of similar names in texts from Ebla, Mari and various other ancient texts is alternately suggested to be an adumbration of (synonymous with) the appellation "Hebrew." All these proposals have no other claim to legitimacy than a similar pronunciation.

In any event, the term "Hebrews," can readily be interpreted from both biblical and archaeological sources as a sociological rather than an ethnic or tribal denomination. The term first appears in Genesis in the sense of "migrants," then as "displaced slaves," and also as itinerant artisans who served a single deity who was with them wherever they went. This distinguished them from citizens of the city-states whose God or Gods were specifically attached to and protectors of a particular city-state. YHWH is alternatively referred to as the God of the Hebrews and as the God of the Israelites (Gen. 5:1,3).

The early reference to "Abram the Hebrew" (Gen. 14:13) relates to his migrant status, having left his father's house and his country. He was, after all, an Akkadian, and ethnically of Aramaic descent as was his father, brother, and cousins. Abraham went on to Canaan, but his family stayed behind in Aram-Naharaim, the country of their ancestor's origin, and one from which the future mothers of the Jews were later obtained. Thus we can interpret "Abram the Hebrew" as "Abram the wanderer."

God informs Abram that his "seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs" for a period of four hundred years and fixes the status as servants (i.e. "Hebrews") throughout this period (Gen. 15-13). The Hebrew label is again employed as a demeaning term, as, for example, in its use by the rejected wife of Potiphar when she strikes back at Joseph by complaining, "See, he hath brought in a Hebrew ("stranger, or alien,") unto us to mock us," and thereafter added servant to her condemnation by reporting to her husband "The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me."(Gen. 39: 14-17). Again, the Pharaoh relates that in his dream appeared "a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard." (Gen. 41:12)

Thus Joseph, servant, foreigner, and Hebrew are put into a single context. The fact that the "children of Israel" were the migrants ("Hebrews") dealt with in Genesis and Exodus seems well established. In Exodus, the Hebrews remain specifically an alien group serving in Egypt. The Lord tells Moses that he has come down to deliver the children of Israel "unto the place of the Canaanites and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites." (Ex. 3:8) The specific area assigned to the children of Israel (Jacob), however, is designated both as "the land of the Canaanites," and as "the land of the Hebrews!"

The Hebrews and the Huabiru

After the immigrant Israelites settle in Canaan, other Hebrews biblically appear!

The Hebrews who were with the Philistines are distinguished from the Israelites. It is recounted that when the Israelites Saul and Jonathan put up a resistance to the Philistines, the Hebrews who were with the Philistines left the Philistine camp to join the Israelites:

"The Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, those who had gone up with them from around the country, even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan." (I Sam. 14: 21)

Other Israelites hidden out on Mount Ephraim heard that the Philistines were being routed and came out of hiding. The Israelites and the Hebrews joined forces in the battle of Michmash..

The social attributes of the biblical "Hebrews," are intriguingly similar to those of the archaeological "Huabiru."3 They appear contemporaneously with the biblical Hebrews in texts from Amarna in Egypt and in Levantine texts as widely dispersed as Byblos and Nuzi. The Huabiru are referred to as bands of people who maintained allegiance to no state. They are depicted as fiercely anti-authoritarian. They were castigated by the rulers of the times as troublesome migrants who are fiercely independent and difficult to control.

The etymology of both appellations, " Huabiru," and "Hebrew," are alike. "Huabiru" derives from a root meaning "Dusty Ones," an apt description for the traders "trudging behind long lines of loaded donkeys."4 William Foxwell Albright states that this explains why Abraham represents himself as such a traveler: "I am (only) dirt and fine dust [i.e., a Hebrew or Huabiru)." (Gen. 8:27). Hugo Winckler long before had identified the Akkadian word apiru/epru (as Huabiru appears in the Amarna tablets) as the source of Efer, the Hebrew word for "dust" employed by Abraham.5

Most references to "Huabiru" are relegated to the period from the sixteenth to the eleventh centuries B.C.E., but they were a distinct element of the Mesopotamian population as far back as the Sumerian Third Ur Dynasty, c. 2150 B.C.E. Philologists equate the Sumerian word SA.GAZ with Huabiru based on the correspondence of the two words in subsequent Hittite treaties, Akkadian texts, Ugaritic literature, Amarna texts, and a wide range of other ancient texts.6

The "Huabiru"appear thereafter in Mesopotamian, Canaanite, and Egyptian texts, but only up to the period of the Judahite kings, at which time they disappear from all literature. This curious circumstance lends credence to the conjecture that the Hebrews were Huabiru who integrated into the new Israelite and Judaic communities.

For the century after the discovery of the name Huabiru in the Amarna tablets many scholars equated the vexatious outcasts with the Hebrews, whereas others insisted that such was not the case. The resemblance of the pronunciation of Huabiru and cibrim, as Hebrew is pronounced in that language, the similarity of social status, the geographical proximity of the two peoples, and the chronological parallels were dismissed as mere coincidences.

It was pointed out that Huabiru existed where there were no cibrim. The matter is easily resolved if we assume that the equation is both true and untrue. That is, whereas the wandering Hebrews of the early period can be considered Huabiru, not all wanderers of the time became the Hebrews of the Bible. Both terms, the "Hebrews" of the Bible and the "Huabiru"in archaeological contexts were sociological rather than tribal designations. The fact that both terms refer to displaced persons in general, and not to any ethnic group explains why Huabiru are referred to in archaeological texts with the same sociological parameters as those with which Hebrews are alluded to in the Bible.

The common etymology of the two appellations, Huabiru and cibrim, the similar sociological status, and the common activities of the two groups suggest congruence. Both the Huabiru and the Hebrews were typically referred to as an underclass, sometimes as enslaved or exploited workers, and at other times as insurgents who band together. The Huabiru were often depicted as outcasts who live by brigandry, but also lent themselves as artisans or mercenary soldiers to various regimes while zealously maintaining their identity and a measure of autonomy. As soldiers they were invariably treated as foreigners who became military adjuncts to a particular army.

Although consistently depicted as a stateless people, the Huabiru were never regarded as nomads. Just as the Israelites were pictured as distinct in dress from the nomadic Shasu in the Merneptah Karnak wall scene, so were the Huabiru set apart from nomads in another text from the time of Amenophis II (1436-1413 B.C.E.), in which the Huabiru (Egyptian: ' are distinguished from the Shasu, as well as from the Hurrians and another Amoritic group, the Nuhuasse.7

Texts recovered from Alalakh, an archaeological site near the crown of the Fertile Crescent, likewise make it abundantly clear that the Huabiru were an urban and heterogeneous group of divers linguistic origins.

The term, Huabiru, meaning "migrant" is markedly differentiated from p-t.eru, meaning "deserter," a distinction made clear in various documents from Mari, in central Mesopotamia. In one such document, the subject, an elite soldier who was accused of defection from another city-state, defended himself by stating that he was no deserter but had migrated (verb: Huba'ru) four years prior to his registration. Another Mari document cites the case of a Babylonian overseer who was accepted into the Mari army together with his entire band. The overseer's answer to the demand by the Babylonian for his extradition was that he was an independent migrant (Huabiru,) and not subject to extradition.

The Huabiru, were similarly differentiated from runaway slaves or indentured workers, for whom the term munnabtu applied. Whereas army deserters and runaway slaves were regularly prosecuted and extradited (all city-states having a common interest in discouraging defections), The Huabiru, were always regarded as an independent people who enjoyed the prerogative of moving about with relative freedom unless they were under contract. They exercised this prerogative in their own interest, not in that of their employers. They were, therefore, regarded as necessary nuisances. The fact that they continued to exist and function despite having no state behind them or organized means of defending themselves prompts the question: "What factor accounts for their remarkable resilience?"

The Huabiru as Indispensable Artisans

In the Near East of the second millennium B.C.E., most workers and farmers ("plowmen") were palace depen-dents whose socio-economic status depended on the skills they possessed. Scribes, physicians, diviners and artisans with specialized skills were scarce, and were even able to bargain collectively for favorable conditions of employ-ment. Typical of this quasi-guild type organizational relationship with the upper classes of Mesopotamia were agreements drawn up in the city of Eanna between the carpenters, metal engravers, goldsmiths, jewelers, and "all of the craftsmen" with their employers. The artisans agreed to perform their specialized duties and their employers specified their obligations toward the artisans.8 Texts of Ebla, Mari, Amarna, and Ugarit all make clear that the craftsmen enjoyed a middle-class status in the social hierarchy. The king or ruler is at the apex of the social pyramid, underneath whom are the

noblemen who "wield considerable power even over against the crown; then there are the landowners, merchants and craftsmen organized into 'guilds,' manual workers and unskilled laborers, and finally the slaves."9

Certain specialized craftsmen were so rare that they were subject to exchange between the city-states, or to being lent out by a king of the central city to the petty kings of provincial villages under his hegemony. "The skilled workers who were sent from one court to another were viewed as prestige goods, and their transfers are inserted into the dynamics and formal apparatus of the practice of gift-exchange."10 One official requested that a mason and a physician be quickly dispatched' another official needed a scribe to conduct a census and to measure fields; still another official pleaded for an irrigation expert knowledgeable in sluices and dams; 226 "pluckers" (harvesters?) are requested in still another letter, to be accompanied by masons and chariot-builders; chariot-makers are included in an order for chariots, and so on.

In the mid-second-century millennium a period of turbulence resulted from intense inter-dynastic rivalries between the Mesopotamian city-states. The devastation of a city-state resulted in either the capture or enslavement of its skilled personnel by the prevailing force, or to their transformation into refugees. In the first case the artisan or soldier would be likely to seek escape. In both cases he would be seeking to obtain employment elsewhere. "One of the tangible results of the conflicts between the city-states was the emergence of various kinds of refugees."11

Certain artisans possessed specialized skills that afforded them independence and an ability to seek their fortune as itinerant contractors. Defections of specialists in search of new opportunities were frequent. To solidify their security, skilled artisans, musicians, and merchants organized themselves into cohesive bands during disordered times. This was particularly evident during the eighteenth century B.C.E. in Mesopotamia (the time assigned to the migration of the biblical family of Terach). Further disruptions of Mesopotamian society followed with the expulsion of the Canaanite rulers of Egypt during the sixteenth century B.C.E. The fabric of Mesopotamian society was further aggravated by subsequent incursions of the Egyptian "Warrior Pharaohs."

The mobility of artisans was characterized by J. M. Sasson as a "distributive" pattern of the times.12 The movement of skilled workmen was particularly prevalent in the ensuing Late Bronze Age, the period in which the Exodus was said to have taken place. Many palace-controlled corporate societies collapsed during this pivotal time, and shifts into new territorial and tribal "forms of aggregation" took place throughout the Levant.13

Radical social changes are reflected in the Mari tablets, which are replete with documentation of desperate searches in pursuit of runaway artisans, as well as scribes physicians, musicians, barbers, cooks, and others. "We are told of how [after capture] they were bound, chained, and carefully watched during their journey back to the place from which they had fled."14

The Huabiru were itinerant merchants as well as artisans. They traded their own produce directly to the consumer, or they sojourned along their itineraries to produce wares for or render esoteric services to consumers. Their allegiance to enterprise prevailed over their fealty to a particular polity.

Some Huabiru roamed as small bands, while others formed settled aggregations. Among the latter was an independent tribe called Banu Yamin, or "Sons of the South." The similarity to "Benjamin" is evident. Another Huabiru group identified themselves as Banu Sim'al or "Sons of the North."15 These tribes served the overlords of the city-state of Mari, but rebelled against attempts to incorporate them into the state itself.

The common interests of these essentially stateless communities did not stem from a common ethnicity. A large proportion of Huabiru names was northwest Semitic (as was "Abraham"), but others were Babylonian, Hittite, Hurrian, and Elamite.

The biblical Hebrews fit the Huabiru mold to perfection. They were not farmers in Egypt but alien artisans. Documents that vividly describe the equivalent of a general strike by the workforce of Rameses III in protest against miserable and untenable conditions likewise fit the Hebrew/Huabiru scenario.16 It can be assumed that some artisans defected from their Egyptian masters and formed groups that wandered to where they would serve no king or master as his property.

The Bible makes manifest that God was cogni-zant of the technological skills of his "chosen people." After providing a constitutional framework with which a humanitarian society can be constructed, after creating an agronomic base upon which a sedentary society could flourish, He sets up an array of technological tasks for master artisans to perform. The 613 laws following the fundamental ten commandments create a legal structure for social justice within a kingless society.

The first statutes significantly address limita-tions on slavery, the institution from which the Hebrews were divorcing themselves. The parameters for employ-ment, and a six year limit for servitude, reflect those of the Huabiru, who would contract themselves to serve only for a limited time. The Hebrew servant is not to be regarded as property of the master, but as an employee under contract for predetermined limits, after which he is free to go unless he freely opted otherwise. The conditions of employment are to be equivalent to those enjoyed by a family member, and protections against abuse are prescribed. "If a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, and causeth it to perish; he shall let him go free for the eye's sake."

An Astarte glass pendant, 16th c. B.C.E. or later. The goddess was revered by the Semites. Abraham's father, Terach, is presumed to have possessed such amulets. Corning Museum of Glass

The stateless status of a migrant worker is recalled in the proscription against the treatment of such people without compassion: "Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, seeing you were among the strangers (Huabiru or Hebrews?) in the land of Egypt." The admonition is repeated several times in more comprehensive terms: "Thou shalt not vex a stranger, not oppress him, for ye were strangers in the Land of Egypt." Sympathy and support for servants escaping onerous servitude is prescribed: "Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which has escaped from his master unto thee; He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in any one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him." (Deut. 23: 16-17).

The status of a servant's wife and children are all dealt with within the terms of employment. A woman servant enjoys special protection under Mosaic law in that if the master is not pleased with her he is prohibited from selling her to "a strange nation" and must let her be redeemed. If she becomes betrothed to the master's son she is no longer to be considered a servant but to be given the same status as a daughter.

Charity was incorporated into every aspect of the social structure, setting an ethical standard with which the moral fabric of a civilized society was woven. The migrant, no less than the unfortunate, is deemed deserving of assistance and consideration. "Thou shalt not reap the corners of thy field... neither shalt thou gather the single grapes of thy vineyard... thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger."(Lev. 19:9-10)

Smelting and Vitrification: The Ultimate Arts

The most independent of all Mesopotamian Bronze-Age artisans were the metal-workers. Arms produced by the metal-workers were essential to the maintenance of rule, and the tools metal-workers produced were essential to the economy of the fiefs over which the overlords ruled. The metal-workers had long been able to secure favorable treatment and conditions for themselves as independent contractors.

Metal-working was the forte of Hurrian and Amorite smiths. They descended from the Ararat mountains crowning northern Mesopotamia down along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to hire themselves out to the Kings and chieftains of the alluvial river region. Albeit the Iron Age was still several centuries away, some iron artifacts were recovered from Mesopotamian archaeological sites, demonstrating that the Ararat mountains smiths had already developed a pyro-technology capable of smelting iron from its ore.

The appearance of such technology is further attested by the appearance of glassmaking, for which the reverberatory furnaces developed by the smiths were essential. To maintain their independence, the techniques of metal-crafts, and particularly the secrets of the technology of glassmaking, were confined to close-knit family groups.

Vitrification, the process by which siliceous stone is transformed into glass, was invented but once in all of human history. It remained a jealously guarded secret of privileged groups throughout the ages into modern times. The custodians of the process employed in vitrification were generally family groups that passed their secrets from one generation to another, a pattern that endured for more than 4000 years. The first written evidence we have of the knowledge of the art is inscribed in a cuneiform tablet of the seventeenth century B.C..E. It registers the Akkadian name for glass, zaku, a name that survives in Hebrew as zakhukhit.18 In Job 28:17, wisdom is said to be more valuable than the most costly materials, such as gold or "zakhukhit."

It is significant that the writing on the Akkadian tablet was deliberately cryptic. Clearly, the intention of its redactors was to conceal the recorded knowledge from all but the initiated. The translator, R.C. Thompson, had also to decipher the code in which it had been written! Thompson did not find this literary camouflage unusual. He noted that "It has always been the outrageous custom of certain learned circles to conceal their knowledge from the lay public in a fog of jargon, a pomposity of mannerism, due, it is hoped, less to personal vanity than to professional protection." Thompson then quotes a Kassite tablet of the mid-second millennium B.C.E.: "Let him that knoweth show him that knoweth [but] he that knoweth not, let him not see."18

The Kassite admonishment against teaching a trade to the uninitiated was anticipated by the Code of Hammurabi, the laws established by the Semitic Babylonian King who ruled from 1728-1686 B. C. E. The maintenance of trade secrets was enforced even against the closest family ties:

Statute 188: If a member of the artisan class took a son as a foster child and has taught him his handicraft, he may never be reclaimed

Statute 189: If he has not taught him his handicraft, that foster child may return to his father's house.19

Sir Leonard Woolley, dean of archaeologists, was equally beguiled by the fact that the Akkadian writer of the recipe for vitrification "purposely disguised his meaning by artifices of writing which amount to a form of cryptography intelligible only to members of his guild, who were doubtless privy to his peculiar cryptograms."20

Half of a drawing of a group of 37 Semitic itinerant artisans at a customs post set up by Knumhotpe, a ruler on the Middle Nile, c. 1892 B.C.E. as depicted in his tomb. The Bronze Age metal-working skills of the Semites are evident from the bellows and anvil on the backs of the donkeys. The Biblical Hebrews were such independent craftsmen, as were the archaeological Habiru.

Family groups of Mesopotamian metal-workers marketed their skill far and wide over centuries, not only in Mesopotamia but also down the Nile into Upper Egypt. The tomb of the Egyptian Baron Knumhotpe depicts such a family group of 37 members in full scale upon the wall of his tomb. Prominent in the rendering are donkeys carrying a bellows and an anvil. There were also musicians in the group. The weapons and clothes they wore, faithfully recorded by the Egyptian artists, were far more advanced technologically than were those of the Egyptian hosts.

During turbulent times, metal-workers were joined by displaced artisans, soldiers, and merchants. Associating themselves with the metal-workers gave them enhanced bargaining ability.

Artisans of the Exodus

The Bible reflects the Huabiru tradition. The Hebrew slaves in Egypt were, after all, the very craftsmen who erected the tombs, temples, and palaces of Egypt, and who outfitted them with exquisite furnishings. The Israelites of the Exodus had among them artisans capable of the creation of a tabernacle and an arc worthy of accommodating the essence of God, as well as of accessories that required the talents of master craftsmen of every sort.

The project was placed under a master smith of the tribe of Judah, Bezaleel, who was "filled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship." He was charged with devising cunning works of gold, silver, and brass, in the cutting and setting of stone and in the carving of timber. (Num. 2: 32-33) Oholiab, of the tribe of Dan, was appointed to serve under Bezaleel. He was no less talented, a "cunning workman and an embroiderer in blue, and scarlet, and fine linen." Oholiab was also competent in engraving as well as in all aspect of textile production, weaving, dyeing and embroidery. (Ex. 35: 30-35)

"Thereupon," the text continues, "wrought Bezaleel and Oholiab, and every wise man in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work." Under Bezaleel's stewardship much was made of gold: candlesticks and lamps, snuffers and snuff dishes, dishes and spoons, shovels and basins, flesh hooks and firepans and bowls. A great laver of brass was made, as were mirrors of brass to satisfy human vanity.

Under Oholiab's direction, curtains were woven of "fine twined linen in blue, purple, and scarlet," decorated with "cherubim of cunning work" and adorned with decorations composed of a variety of precious stones. The ten curtains enclosing the tabernacle were a generous twenty-eight cubits long and eight cubits wide. The lapidaries and the leather-workers, sculptors and engravers, carpenters and smiths, weavers and embroid-erers were so productive that Moses was obliged to call a halt to the artifactual cascade. "[Moses] proclaimed throughout the camp, saying: Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering... for the stuff they had was too much." (Ex. 36:1-7)

Moses' brother Aaron was among the skilled metal-workers and engravers. He used his talents to create a golden calf, much to the discomfiture of his brother and the displeasure of God!

Brass was introduced into Egypt during the two hundred year Canaanite rule of Egypt of the Second Intermediate Period. Iron and glass production, however, stopped short at the Sinai. The smelting and working of iron remained absent from Egypt for the next twelve centuries. In the Sinai God promises the Israelites not only a land in which their crops and flocks would flourish, but ample metallurgic resources for a flourishing tool and weapons industry, "a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills thou may dig brass."

The background was set, therefore, for the advent of the Iron Age with the settlement of the Israelites on the hilltops of Canaan, as was described in Fact Paper 39-I!

The familiarity of the Hebrews/Huabiru with iron, and the Israelite possession of iron weapons again comes to the fore after the battle with the Midianites, when the purification of all persons, objects, and weapons are called for, even "the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and lead." (Num. 31:22-33)

The Bible has scores of ferric references. Such familiarity with iron has been dubbed an anachronistic literary reversal, while another biblical reference is subjected to a widely quoted misinterpretation that fostered the idea that iron-making was unknown to the

Israelites but practiced by the Philistines. Properly read, however, the reverse proves to be the case.

In I Samuel 13:19 it is written that "there was no smith found throughout the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, 'lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears." Read properly, it is clear that the Hebrews, not the Philistines, are arms-makers, that they had furnished the Israelites with weapons and would have continued to do so had the Philistines not intervened. It is likewise clear from what follows that the Philistines confiscated the weapons of the Israelites under their control while they gathered up the itinerant Hebrew smiths from around the region into their camp. The Philistine's intention is next laid out. They sought to force the Israelites (referred to separately from the Hebrews) to sharpen tools at facilities put under Philistine control, thereby preventing the Israelites from making or sharpening weapons. The Israelites are said to possess an array of metal agricultural and industrial equipment: shares (plows), coulters, mattocks, forks and axes. They are attested to be metallurgically proficient, for they surreptitiously retained their own files despite the Philistine's attempt to confiscate sharpening tools. They continued to sharpen weapons despite the prohibition.

The prohibition against possessing metal weapons applied to all Israelites under Philistine control. But, lo and behold! Saul and his son Jonathan, out of Philistine control, possessed such weapons! Saul assembled six hundred armed men. Jonathan then succeeded in demolishing a garrison of twenty Philistines by a ruse in which he and his armor-bearer exposed themselves to the garrison who, believing that the Israelites had no weapons, assumed they were Hebrews [!] who had eluded indenture: "Behold," they are said to have exclaimed, "the Hebrews come forth from their holes!"

The annihilation of the garrison caused a great stir among the Philistines, and Saul and his troops "came to the battle," whereupon we are significantly informed that "the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, which went up with them into the camp from the country about, even they turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan."

"So Saul took over the kingdom over Israel." (I Samuel 14:47) The amalgamation of disparate bands of Hebrews and Israelites resolved into a new entity. New challenges with various enemies ensued, and they were routed. The host that Saul gathered together was well equipped for the purpose, as was the army of "two hundred thousand footmen and ten thousand men of Judah" that Saul assembled and employed to place the land of Israel under control. It might be peripherally added that after the Hebrews were integrated into the new nation, another conflict took place with the Philistines. They are no longer said to have weapons of iron but only of brass! (II Sam. 21:15,16)

The term "Huabiru" disappears at this time from all literature. Nadav Na'aman notes: "When the phenomenon of the Huabiru/Hebrews disappeared from daily reality, the term "Hebrew was restricted, in the colloquial language, to individual Israelites who were either migrants or slaves."21

Thus the prophet Jonah, in answer to the query of a sailor, "And of what people art thou?" declares, "I am a Hebrew" in his flight to a foreign country, emphasizing his stateless condition. Na'aman concludes that "this later stage opened that way for the post-Old-Testament use of the ethnicon 'Hebrew,' in which all traces of the original meaning of the appellation disappeared, and the name simply became another name for the Israelites.22

The God of itinerant artisans was of necessity universal, for He was not attached to a particular city or region as were other gods. The amalgamation of the migrant Hebrews with those of the stateless Israelites and the resolution of the disparate groups into a viable nation brought about His installation in Jerusalem. The implantation in the city, however, did not engender the same divine rights on kings as were conferred by pagans and later by Christians on the rulers of other states. Israelite kings never got to enjoy the unequivocal patronage of God nor of the Israelites/Hebrews. Neither did any other king in whose realm the Israelite/Hebrews resided receive from them more than pragmatic fealty. The descendants of the Israelites/Hebrews remained obdurate antiestablishmentarians throughout their history in the tradition of the Huabiru. Their God and their iconoclasm went with them wherever they were to be found in the wide Diaspora.

Thus the present Jews of the Diaspora are all Hebrews. Only those who have made Aliyah (ascended) to Israel can truly be considered Israelites.



  1. Frank J Yurko, "3,200 Year Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt," Biblical Archaeological Review, 16:5 (Sept. -Oct. 1990), 27.
  2. G. Ahlström and D. Edelman, "Merneptah's Israel," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 44:1, (Jan.-1985), 60-61.
  3. Also written as 'Aupiru
  4. William Foxwell Albright, Archaeology, Historical Analogy, and Early Biblical Tradition, Louisiana State Un. Press, 1966, 40, citing studies by E. Dhorme and R. Borger.
  5. Albright, Idem.
  6. Moshe Greenberg, "The Hap\biru," in "Ancient Times-Patriarchs and Judges," in The World History of the Jewish People, vol. 2, 1955, rep., New Haven American Oriental Society, 1970, 189.
  7. Siegfried Herrmann, A History of Israel in Old Testament Times, 2nd ed. Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1970, 189.
  8. Carlo Zaccagnini, "Patterns of Mobility Among Ancient Near Eastern Craftsmen," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 42:4 (oct. 1983), 261.
  9. J. Alberto Soggin, A History of Ancient Israel; From the Beginnings to the Bar Khochba Revolt A.D. 135., trans. John Bowden, Westminster Press, 1984, 14.
  10. Zaccagnini, Ibid, 250.
  11. Soggin, Ibid.,15.
  12. J. M. Sasson, "Instances of Mobility among Mari Artisans," Bulletin of the American Schools for Oriental Research 190, 1968, 46-54.
  13. Zaccagnini, Ibid., 258.
  14. Zaccagnini, Ibid., 247.
  15. Albright, Ibid., 42.
  16. Sir Alan Gardner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, rep. Oxford Un. Press, 1979, 228-9.
  17. Samuel Kurinsky, The Glassmakers; An Odyssey of the Jews, Hippocrene Books, N.Y., 1991, PP. 32-52.
  18. R. Campbell Thompson, A Dictionary of Assyrian Chemistry and Geology, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1936, xii.
  19. James A. Pritchard, ed. The Ancient Near East, Vol. I, 1958, rep. Princeton Un. Press, 1973, 160.
  20. Sir Leonard Woolley, Alalakh; An Account of the Excavations at Tel-Atchana in the Hataq 1937-1949, Oxford Un. Press., 1955, 297-302.
  21. Nadav Na'aman, "Huabiru and Hebrews; The Transfer of a Social Term to the Literary Sphere," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 45:4 (Oct. 1986), 288.
  22. Na'aman, Idem.