Habiru: Reavers of the Fertile Crescent

‘Joshua at the Battle of Ai Attended by Death’
-John Trumbull

The Israelites are refered to in Scripture as Hebrews on occasion, but the founding Hebrew patriarch Eber predates Israel by many generations, and surely the broader Hebrews must have a history apart from that of Israel. Here we will explore that history and its relevance to Scriptural history.

Throughout the Fertile Crescent inscriptions of the 2nd millennium BC refer to a people known as Habiru or Hapiru. They are described throughout these inscriptions as nomads, pastoralists, mercenaries, brigands and travelling labourers and they seem to typically sit on the fringes of civilized society. There they either lived as reavers or offered their services as mercenaries and labourers to various peoples of the Fertile Crescent.

The earliest references to the Habiru are from Sumer and date from the Third Dynasty of Ur, around 2,000 BC. During this period there was a major expansion of Semitic speaking peoples, mainly Akkadians. Concurrent with this influx of Akkadians the term Habiru begins to appear in Sumerian documents.

The documents show that the Habiru were a new element in Sumerian society. Sumerian records show that the Habiru were active in service in the community, as were the Israelites in Egypt, and later in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.

Excavations at Kultepe and Alishar in Anatolia, uncovered several collections of letters and legal and economic texts from Assyrian trading outposts of the old Akkadian period. Among them was a letter from one Assyrian merchant to another requesting that he seek the release of Habiru men who were imprisoned at the palace of Shalahshuwe, an unidentified neighbour, probably to the North of Alishar. In this letter we find that the Habiru are located in central Anatolia and see the widespread dispersion of the Hebrews before Abraham’s time.

The Hebrews of Scripture were a far-reaching people known for their tendency to explore and travel. The Hebrew patriarch Jacob is called a “wandering Aramaean” (obed (Strong’s H6) Arammi (H761)) in Deuteronomy 26.5 in the Hebrew text.

In Genesis 14.13 in the Septuagint Abraham is called “Abraham the traveller” (perate, from Strong’s G4009). The King James reads “Abraham the Hebrew” as does Sir Lancelot Brenton’s Septuagint translation showing that both Sir Lancelot Brenton and the Septuagint translators understood Hebrew to mean traveller.

His sojourning through Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Canaan with his hundreds of warriors (most likely Hebrews. Genesis 14.14), large caravan, herds and flocks seems quite in line with the mode of living attributed to the Habiru of profane inscriptions.

The Habiru were pastoralists who travelled with their herds and this often contrasted them with their urban Mesopotamian, Hittite and Egyptian neighbours. When performing labour or mercenary services they often recieved their payments in livestock. Likewise the Hebrew patriarchs of Scripture were semi-nomadic pastoralists, a mode of living to which they would later return when they came to be known to history as the Saka.

The ethnonym Hebrew derives from Eber (H5676) which Strong’s Concordance defines as:

“against, beyond, by, from, over, passage, quarter, other,

From abar; properly, a region across; but used only adverbially (with or without a preposition) on the opposite side (especially of the Jordan; ususally meaning the east) — X against, beyond, by, X from, over, passage, quarter, (other, this) side, straight.”

Eber derives from abar (H5674) for which Strong’s provides the following definition:

“alienate, alter, at all, beyond, bring over, through, carry over, overcome on,

A primitive root; to cross over; used very widely of any transition (literal or figurative; transitive, intransitive, intensive, causative); specifically, to cover (in copulation) — alienate, alter, X at all, beyond, bring (over, through), carry over, (over-)come (on, over), conduct (over), convey over, current, deliver, do away, enter, escape, fail, gender, get over, (make) go (away, beyond, by, forth, his way, in, on, over, through)…”

Of course such a name would be very fitting for a people such as the Habiru who spread themselves so far and wide. The Akkadian word eberu means “to cross over”, “to go over to the other side” or “to go through” much like the Hebrew word abar.

http://www.assyrianlanguages.org/akkadian/dosearch.php?searchkey=ebēru+%281%29&language=rawakkadian

Considering that the Habiru were a predominantly Semitic speaking people, a Semitic root shared between these Hebrew and Akkadian words seems a very likely candidate for the origin of the word Habiru.

While it is beyond the scope of this presentation it can be established that the Scythians/Saka were an offshoot of the Habiru/Hebrews. On page 46 of his work Four Old Iranian Ethnic Names Oswald Szemerenye offers the definition of “wanderer” or “vagrant nomad” for Saka stemming from the root sak- meaning “go, roam”. Thus it seems most likely that Saka is an Iranic translation of the Hebrew name Ibriy (H5680) which bears the same meaning.

‘Scythian Origins: the Lost Tribes in Iran, the Steppe and Europe’
https://acompanyofnations.wordpress.com/2019/02/13/scythian-origins-the-lost-tribes-in-iran-the-steppe-and-europe-2/

Abdi-Heba, Egypt’s apointed ruler of Jerusalem in the Amarna period, wrote a series of letters to the Pharaoh in which he complained about the incursions of the Habiru. He was concerned that the Habiru were plundering the lands of the Pharaoh.

“Why do you not hear my call for help? All the governors are lost; the king, my lord, does not have a single governor remaining! Let the king send troops and archers, or the king will have no lands left. … All the lands of the king are being plundered by the Habiru. If archers are here by the end of the year, then the lands of my lord, the king, will be saved, but if the archers are not sent, then the lands of the king, my lord, will be lost.”
-El-Amarna Letter 286

Compare the information in this letter with the following passage found in Joshua 10.1-5. 

“1 Now it came to pass, when Adonizedec king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;

2 That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.

3 Wherefore Adonizedec king of Jerusalem, sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying,

4 Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.

5 Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.”
-Joshua 10

The Bible states in Joshua 10.26 that Joshua defeated, captured and killed these kings, including the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-Zedek. It is very likely that Abdi-Heba and Adoni-Zedek are one in the same man. The reason being is that Adoni-Zedek is actually a title rather than a proper name. Adoni-Zedek means the “Lord of Zedek”, which is similar to the name Melchi-Zedek meaning “Prince of Zedek”.

Melchi-Zedek was the ruler of Salem according to Genesis 14.18 and so the Hebrews would have associated this title with the prince of Salem, Salem being an early name for the city of Jerusalem. Thus the letters written by Abdi-Heba, concerning the encroachment of the Hebrews, were most likely written by Adoni-Zedek, mentioned in Joshua 10.1, or alternately by Adoni-Bezek, another king mentioned in Judges 1.7 who was defeated by Joshua and buried in Jerusalem.

This next letter is from Shuwardata, governor of Gath, who makes a mention of the chief of the Hebrews, possibly a reference to Joshua himself.

“May the king, my lord, know that the chief of the Habiru has invaded the lands which your god has given me; but I have attacked him. Also let the king, my lord, know that none of my allies have come to my aid, it is only I and Abdi-Heba who fight against the Habiru chief. Zurata, the prince of Accho, and Indaruta, prince of Achshaph, were bribed with fifty chariots by the Habiru so that they would not come to my help; now they are against me. I plead with the king my lord, if you agree, send Yanhamu, and let us quickly go to war, so that the lands of the king, my lord, might be restored to their original boundaries!”
-Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 487

Shuwardata of Gath is also mentioned in the following letter from Milkilu, a prince of Gezer and ally of Shuwardata.

“Let it be known to the king that there is great hostility against me and against Shuwardata. I ask the king, my lord, protect his land from the approaching Habiru.”
-El-Amarna Letter 271

These two men later seem to have offered allegiance to Joshua in the wake of his conquest as evidenced by a second letter from Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem.   

“See the deed which Milkilu and Shuwardata have done to the land of the king, my lord! They have the troops of Gezer, troops of Gath, and troops of Qeila. They have seized the land of Rubute. The land of the king has fallen away to the Habiri. And now, even a city of the Jerusalem district, Bit-Lahmi [Bethlehem] by name, a city of the king, has fallen away to the side of the people of Qeila. Let the king listen to Er-Heba, your servant, and send an army of archers that they might restore the land of the king to the king. For if there is no army of archers the land of the king will fall away to the Habiri.”
-El-Amarna Letter 290

Many scholars assert that Southern Canaan was not Israelite territory until much later, but as we have seen in the previous letter, the Habiru were active in the region at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. Chapters 10 to 12 in Joshua record their conquest, with the very names listed in the Amarna letters, including Lachish, Gezer and Gath.

The El-Amarna letter 290 is particularly interesting because though Joshua destroyed  most of  the inhabitants of the cities he subdued, the city of Gath was spared. Joshua 11.22  states: “There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.”. Another letter indicates that the prince of Gezer and the prince of Shechem both surrendered to Joshua during the conquest of Canaan:

 “See the actions taken by Milkilu [prince of Gezer], and the sons of Lab’ayu [princes of Shechem], who have handed over the land to the Habiru.”
-El-Amarna Letter 287

This letter also confirms the Scriptures as these two cities were also spared in Joshua’s conquest, and they are mentioned together in Joshua 21.21. These and many other Amarna letters, from this same time frame, mention cities that had either been conquered by, or were fighting against the enroaching Hebrews. These cities match exactly with the cities Israel had captured as listed in the Book of Joshua and in Judges chapter one. The cities and lands include Lachish, Gezer, Ashkelon, Hazor, Gath, Keilah, Acco, Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Achshaph, Carmel, Beth-Shean, Megiddo, Shechem, Makkedah, Ajalon and Zorah.

One of the Amarna letters indicates to us that the Habiru were slaves of the Egyptians as described in Scripture. Here Abdi-Heba uses Habiru in the sense of a social distinction rather than an ethnographic one as the Israelites themselves used the term. Nonetheless he testifies to the fact that the Habiru conquerors of Lachish were indeed former slaves.

““The arm of the mighty king conquers the land of Naharaim and the land of Cush, but now the Habiru have captured the cities of the king … Behold Zimreda, the townsmen of Lachish have smitten him, slaves who had become Habiru.”  
-El-Amarna Letter 288

A scene depicted in the tomb of Puyemre in Thebes dating to approximately 1475 BC during the reign of Thutmose III depicts a labourer straining wine. The accompanying inscription reads “straining out wine by the Habiru”. This shows that there were indeed Habiru in Egypt used for menial labour.

The prevailing narrative expressed by the Jewish archaeological authorities before the eyes of the secular world is one that attempts to distort the truth. They would have us believe that the Israelites were but an outgrowth of the indigenous Canaanite populace. Thus they evade further uncomfortable inquiry into their own spurious origins and the fate of ancient Israel.

‘The Satanic Origins of the Edomite Jews’ https://acompanyofnations.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/the-satanic-origins-of-the-edomite-jews/

The Jewish archaeological and linguistic authorities have greatly obfuscated the linguistic history of Canaan. However when one looks earnestly at the linguistic history of the Sinai Peninsula and Canaan it is evident that it affirms the testimony of Scripture and the Amarna letters. What is commonly called “proto-Canaanite” is actually the language of the Israelites of the Exodus which I would call Terahitic after the forebear of Abraham and Haran the father of Lot. Its writing system is “proto-Sinaitic” whose parent system is Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Descendants include “Biblical Hebrew”, “Edomite”, “Ammonite” and “Moabite”. This raises an interesting question? Why is it named “Canaanite” when none of these tribes are direct Canaanite descendants, but rather descend (paternally at least) from Shemites descended from Terah?

From “proto-Canaanite” comes “Canaanite” and there are two further developments from “Canaanite” identifiable with the Israelites: “Phoenician” and “Biblical Hebrew”. The languages of the Canaanites of Scripture (not as misidentified by Jewish archaeologists) are “Amorite” (perhaps properly proto-Canaanite) and its child “Ugaritic” (perhaps Canaanite).

Little is claimed by experts about “Amorite” beyond defining it as ancestral to “Ugaritic”. Neither language uses any of the “North-West Semitic” alphabets like “proto-Sinaitic”, “Canaanite”, “Phoenician” and “paleo-Hebrew” etc. Rather “Ugaritic” has its own cuneiform derived script.

The linguistic and alphabetical lineage from “proto-Canaanite” to “Canaanite” to “Phoenician” and “Biblical Hebrew” is properly the Israelite linguistic development. Of course if scholars understood this it would prompt a line of questioning which would ultimately discredit Jewry and Zionism.

The Phoenicians of Phoenicia’s maritime golden age were one and the same people as ancient Israel, and they were surely not kin of modern day Jews. Rather they established many important European tribes including Milesians, Carthaginians, Thebians and others.

‘The Israelite Origins of Europa: the Phoenicians in the West’
https://acompanyofnations.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/the-israelite-origins-of-europa-the-phoenicians-in-the-west/

The movement of Sinaitic speech and script out of Egypt and the Sinai peninsula into Canaan at the time of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan perfectly matches the biblical narrative as well as the account of the conquest of Canaan in the Amarna letters.

The Exodus of Moses was surely a very real historic event as all ancient writers agreed. The Greeks renowned Moses likening him to famous Aryan leaders and law-givers like Zalmoxis, Midas, Lycurgis and Zoroaster. They would never have held Moses in any esteem if they thought his most famous deeds to be mere fables. The Egyptians themselves had no apparent doubt of the Exodus either, only disputing minor details. Surely these events are historical and the bare evidence proves this though the Jews would prefer if we did not fully explore the matter.

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