HEBREW (Hebr. "'Ibri"; Aramaic, "'Ibrai," whence the Greek Ἑβραῖος; Latin, "Hebræus"; Norman, "Hebreu"; Eng. "Hebrew").
The expression "Hebrews" is used as a name for Israelites in contrast with Egyptians, or by Egyptians for Israelites, in both the early narratives of the Pentateuch (J and E), but only in the story of Joseph and in that of Moses (Gen. xxxix.-xliii.; Ex. iii,-x.). It is alsoused in contrast with "Philistines," or by Philistines in speaking of Israelites, in I Samuel, both in the story of Saul and in that of Samuel (Smith, in "International Commentary," s.v. "Saul" and "Samuel"). It is further used once in the early legislative document commonly known as "The Book of the Covenant," to differentiate a Hebrew slave from one of any other nationality (Ex. xxi. 2). In Deut. xv. 12, based upon the preceding, it is used both in the masculine and in the feminine. This latter passage is twice quoted by Jeremiah (xxxiv. 9, 14). In Gen. xiv. 13 occurs the expression "Abram the Hebrew," rendered in the Greek περάτης=περάτης("Abram, the man of the region beyond"). It is difficult to determine whether the use of the term "Hebrew" here is due to the contrast of Abram, as typifying a nation, with the foreigners about him, with whom the chapter deals, or whether it is in this case a usage which may be compared with that of the preposition "'eber" in the Book of Nehemiah, where the author, writing from the standpoint of the Far East, and following Babylonian and Persian usage, designates Palestine as "the province beyond" the Euphrates.The Term Used by Foreigners.
It would appear from the passages cited that the Israelites were known to other peoples by the name "Hebrews," and that in the earlier period of their history this name was used by them in contrasting themselves with other nations. This was not their customary or preferred designation of themselves. In the period of prophetic activity preceding the Exile, and in the prophetic, legal, and poetical literatures of the exilic and post-exilic periods, the word does not appear, with the doubtful exception of the passage in Gen. xiv. In the Greek period the ancient use was revived; and Jonah speaks to foreigners of himself as a Hebrew (i. 9). Similarly, in Judith and II Maccabees the word "Hebrew" is used where foreigners are addressed or where foreigners speak of Israelites.
In the prologue to Ecclesiasticus the word is used to designate the Hebrew language in contrast with the Greek. There is a similar use in the New Testament (John v. 2; xix. 13, 17; xx. 16; Acts xxi. 40, xxii. 2, xxvi. 14; Rev. ix. 11, xvi. 16) and in Josephus ("Ant." ii. 1, § 1; iii. 10, § 6); but here it may mean either the old Hebrew or the later Aramaic idiom of Palestine. The word is also used at this period to designate those who conformed to the ancient practises in contrast with the Hellenists, who observed Greek customs (Acts vi. 1; II Cor. xi, 22; Phil. iii. 5).Derivation and Meaning:
"'Ibri" is a gentilic noun, formed by adding the suffix "i" to the word "'eber." The latter is a common preposition in Hebrew, meaning "beyond" or "across." Other derivatives from the same root mean "ford," "pass," and the like. This preposition, alone or in combination with other prepositions, is used to designate the region across or beyond the sea or a river, but especially the region beyond the Jordan—commonly east-ward of the Jordan, from the standpoint of a writer in Palestine proper; less often westward of the Jordan, from the standpoint of the trans-Jordanic territory. Frequently, also, it designates the region beyond the Euphrates—commonly eastward, spoken from the standpoint of Palestine, but also westward, from the standpoint of Babylon and Persia.
The word appears, further, as a proper name—that of an ancestor of the Hebrews (see Eber)—in the early Judean document (J), in the later Priestly Code (P), and in the Chronicles. Once the name "Eber" is used as a collective noun, to designate a people or country, in connection with Asshur (Num. xxiv. 24). An early Israelite tradition (Josh. xxiv. 2) interpreted the word "Hebrew" as meaning the people whose ancestors had dwelt in the land beyond the River Euphrates (A. V. "on the other side of the flood").
Similar to this use of "'eber ha-nahar" for "the region beyond the river," is the Assyrian "'ebir nari" and the Minæan "'Ibr-naharan." The former of these designates roughly the later Persian province 'Abar-Nahra, the country between the Euphrates and Gaza. What region is designated by the latter is not clear. This interpretation lies also behind the treatment of the eponymous Eber in the Priestly Code (Gen. xi.), and was adopted by later Jewish tradition (Gen. R., and Rashi, ad loc.).Views of Late Writers.
Some late writers interpret the word as meaning "the people from beyond Jordan" (so Wellhausen and Stade). If this latter view be correct, the name "Hebrew" may be supposed to have been originally a general term (comp. Gen. x. 21, 24, where Shem is called the "father of all the children of Eber," and Eber is the father of Peleg and Joktan) to designate the peoples beyond the Jordan. In that case the Habiri or 'Abiri of the El-Amarna tablets, who were overrunning Judea and threatening Jerusalem about 1400