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Difference Between Israelites and Hebrews

Quite often, people mistake the terms Israelites and Hebrews. As such, they end up interchanging them and using one in place of the other, and to talk about the groups of people referred to by the terms. However, there are varied aspects that distinguish the two and should help to draw the variances.

Generally speaking, the terms Israelites and Hebrews refer to the same people. These are the people who sprang from Abraham through his son Isaac, then through Isaac’s son Jacob. It was a nation that God had promised and chosen, as it is written in the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis 12:1-3. Each of the two terms expounds on some aspects of these people’s origin or their background.


Who are Hebrews?

Hebrews is used for the first time in the scriptures referring to Abraham. It is also used to talk about Joseph, and then the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and through Jacob. The term is not an ethnonym, but it is mostly used as a synonym of the Semitic-speaking Israelites. This was so especially in the pre-monarchic period when they were nomadic. Also, in Early Christianity, the term is used to refer to the Jewish Christians instead of the Gentile Christians and Judaizers.

The Hebrew Bible uses the term Hebrew to refer to Israelites when they are introducing themselves to foreigners.


Who are Israelites?

The term Israelites refers to the 12 Tribes of Israel. From the Bible, Jacob became the blessed son of Isaac instead of his elder brother, Esau since the latter angered God. Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of pottage, making God angry and was denied the blessings that only him, as the first one to leave the womb, would have taken. Instead, Jacob got the blessing, and since the inheritance then belonged to him, and he later started doing good, God blessed and changed his name to Israel. When he became of age, he bore 12 sons who later became the fathers of the 12 Tribes of Israel. The tribes expanded and became the Nation of Israel and them, the designated Israelites.


Possible Correlation Israelites and Hebrews

The Jewish Encyclopedia states that the terms Israelites and Hebrews refer to the same people. It further states that they were referred to as Hebrews before the conquest of Canaan and Israelite lands. However, some scholars also say that the term is rarely used to refer to Israelites and might be used in exceptional and precarious situations, like when referring to them as migrants or slaves.


Difference Between Israelites and Hebrews

  1. Meaning of Israelites and Hebrews

The term Israelites has been used to refer to “wrestle with God” as Jacob has been quoted to have done so with a righteous man of God while the term Hebrew means a type of people who were wanderers.

  1. Origin

The Hebrews migrated and settled in the Palestinian hinterland. The Israelites on the other hand migrated and settled to the North and retained the name Israelites.

  1. Characteristics

The Israelites, after the great division, became the largest and most prosperous while the Hebrews remained as the smaller and less wealthy group.

  1. Composition

The Israelites are in this age associated with Jews, Christians of various kinds, and Muslims, Baha’i, and people of other faiths, all living in the modern-day Israel nation. The Hebrews are members of a tribal group that shares a historical past, family doctrines, and religious faiths. They did not drop their cultures though after the great division.

Israelites vs. Hebrews: Comparison Table


Summary of Israelites Vs. Hebrews

The two terms have been continually used to describe the fleshly descendants of Abraham, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob. This is continually seen in the New Testament. Even though the terms are confusing in the nature of the different aspects that draw their boundaries, a deep study of the New Testament passage context will help one discern the variances. It is only in some few instances that a special meaning has been given to the words in the New Testament which calls for a careful study of the scriptures.

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  1. There are so many errors and partial accuracies in this article that I cannot even start to correct them all.

    Let’s start with the idea that people living in the current State of Israel are called Israelites. No. They are called Israelis. Yes, this term refers to all citizens of the State, but sometimes the modifier of Arab Israeli is used to differentiate. That said, an Arab Israeli could be Muslim or Christian or another religion. All Arabs are not Muslim and all Muslims are not Arab.

    The term Israelite/Israelites is the term used for the tribes of Jews who exited Egypt, wandered in the desert, then conquered the land of Canaan. Once established in the land, there were two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judea and the Kingdom of Israel. The tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) were lost to history. The tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea are the generally accepted forerunner of Jews today. (Jew thought by many to come from Judean.)

    Hebrews is a difficult term to apply since it has many more connotations in different traditions.

  2. I have started reading the book “Hebrews 2 Negroes”. Reading this article gives credence to the book. I understand more why we, as a people, have experienced such cruel treatment and rejection in the United States and, seemingly, in many other countries.

  3. Thank you

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References :

[0]"Is There A Difference Between Hebrews, Jews, And Israelites? | Timberland Church Of Christ". Timberland Church Of Christ, 2018, https://www.timberlandchurch.org/articles/is-there-a-difference-between-hebrews-jews-and-israelites/. Accessed 2 Oct 2018.

[1]"In The Bible, What Is The Difference Between A Hebrew, An Israelite, And A Jew?". Catholic365, 2018, http://www.catholic365.com/article/3399/in-the-bible-what-is-the-difference-between-a-hebrew-an-israelite-and-a-jew.html. Accessed 2 Oct 2018. 

[2]Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/Ercole_de%27_Roberti_-_The_Israelites_gathering_Manna_%28National_Gallery%2C_London%29.jpg/640px-Ercole_de%27_Roberti_-_The_Israelites_gathering_Manna_%28National_Gallery%2C_London%29.jpg

[3]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/136041510@N05/24354408382

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