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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Jebusites (/ˈɛbjəˌsts/; Hebrew: יְבוּסִי, Modern Yevusi, Tiberian Yəḇûsî ISO 259-3 Ybusi) were a Canaanite tribe who built and inhabited Jerusalem prior to its conquest by King David. The Books of Kings state that Jerusalem was known as Jebus prior to this event. According to some biblical chronologies, the city was conquered by King David in 1003 BCE,[1] or according to other sources 869 BCE.[2]

Identification of Jebus[edit]

The identification of Jebus with Jerusalem has been challenged. Niels Peter Lemche notes that every non-biblical mention of Jerusalem found in the ancient Near East refers to the city with the name Jerusalem, offering as an example the Amarna letters which are dated to the 14th century BCE and call Jerusalem Urasalimmu. He states that "There is no evidence of Jebus and the Jebusites outside of the Old Testament. Some scholars reckon Jebus to be a different place from Jerusalem; other scholars prefer to see the name of Jebus as a kind of pseudo-ethnic name without any historical background."[3]

Ethnic origin[edit]

The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) contains the only surviving ancient text known to use the term Jebusite to describe the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem; according to the Table of Nations at Genesis 10, the Jebusites are identified as a Canaanite tribe, which is listed in third place among the Canaanite groups, between the biblical Hittites and the Amorites. Prior to modern archaeological studies, most biblical scholars held the opinion that the Jebusites were identical to the Hittites, which continues to be the case, though less so.[4][5] However, an increasingly popular view, first put forward by Edward Lipinski, professor of Oriental and Slavonic studies at the Catholic University of Leuven, is that the Jebusites were most likely an Amorite tribe; Lipinski identified them with the group referred to as Yabusi'um in a cuneiform letter found in the archive of Mari, Syria.[6]

As Lipinski noted, however, it is entirely possible that more than one clan or tribe bore similar names, and thus that the Jebusites and Yabusi'um may have been separate people altogether.[6] In the Amarna letters, mention is made that the contemporaneous king of Jerusalem was named Abdi-Heba, which is a theophoric name invoking a Hurrian mother goddess named Hebat; unless a different ethnic group occupied Jerusalem in this period. This implies that the Jebusites were Hurrians themselves, were heavily influenced by Hurrian culture, or were dominated by a Hurrian maryannu class.

Jebusites named in the Bible[edit]


According to Genesis, the ruler of Jerusalem in the time of Abraham was Melchizedek (also Melchizedeq), and that as well as being a ruler, he was also a priest. Rashi points out that Melchizedeq was another name for Shem, son of Noah. Later, Joshua is described as defeating a Jebusite king named Adonizedek. The first parts of their names mean king and lord, respectively, but though the zedek part can be translated as righteous (making the names my king is righteous and my lord is righteous), most Biblical scholars believe that it is a reference to a deity named Zedek or Sydyk, who was the main deity worshipped by the Jebusites (making the names my king is Zedek and my lord is Zedek).[5] Scholars are uncertain, however, whether Melchizedek was himself intended in the Genesis account to be understood as a Jebusite, rather than a member of another group in charge of Jerusalem prior to the Jebusites - Jerusalem is referred to as Salem rather than Jebus in the passages of Genesis describing Melchizedek.[4]


Another Jebusite, Araunah (referred to as Ornan by the Books of Chronicles) is described by the Books of Samuel as having sold his threshing floor to King David, which David then constructed an altar on, the implication being that the altar became the core of the Temple of Solomon. Araunah means the lord in Hittite, and so most scholars, since they consider the Jebusites to have been Hittite, have argued that Araunah may have been another king of Jerusalem;[7] some scholars additionally believe that Adonijah is actually a disguised reference to Araunah, the ר (r) having been corrupted to ד (d).[8] The argument originated from Cheyne, who, prior to knowledge of the Hittite language, proposed the reverse. The narrative itself is considered by some scholars to be aetiological and of dubious historicity;[5] Melchizedek, as a priest as well as king, was likely to have been associated with a sanctuary, probably dedicated to Zedek, and scholars suspect that the Temple of Solomon was simply a natural evolution of this sanctuary.[5][7]

The Jebusite hypothesis[edit]

Some scholars have speculated that as Zadok (also Zadoq) does not appear in the text of Samuel until after the conquest of Jerusalem, he was actually a Jebusite priest co-opted into the Israelite state religion. Frank Moore Cross, professor at the Harvard Divinity School, refers to this theory as the "Jebusite Hypothesis," criticizes it extensively, but terms it the dominant view among contemporary scholars,[9] in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel.[10]

Elsewhere in the Bible,[11] the Jebusites are described in a manner that suggests that they worshipped the same God (El Elyon—Ēl ‘Elyōn) as the Israelites (see, e.g., Melchizedek). Further support for this theory comes from the fact that other Jebusites resident in pre-Israelite Jerusalem bore names invoking the principle or god Zedek (Tzedek) (see, e.g., Melchizedek and Adonizedek). Under this theory the Aaronic lineage ascribed to Zadok is a later, anachronistic interpolation.[12]

Jebusite activities in the Bible[edit]

The Hebrew Bible describes the Jebusites as dwelling in the mountains, besides Jerusalem.[13] In Exodus, the 'good and large land, flowing with milk and honey' which was promised to Moses as the future home of the oppressed Hebrew people included the land of the Jebusites.[14] According to the Book of Joshua, Adonizedek led a confederation of Jebusites, and the tribes from the neighbouring cities of Jarmut, Lachish, Eglon and Hebron against Joshua,[15] but was soundly defeated, and killed. However, Joshua 15:63 states that Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem ("to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah").

Judges 1:21 portrays the Jebusites as continuing to dwell at Jerusalem, within the territory otherwise occupied by the Tribe of Benjamin.

Certain modern archaeologists now believe that the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua simply didn't happen, and that the Israelites actually originated as a subculture in Canaanite society;[16] some biblical scholars believe that the accounts in the Book of Joshua are cobbled together from folk memory of disconnected battles, with numerous different aggressors, which occurred over a time period of over 200 years.[16][4][17]

According to the Books of Samuel, the Jebusites still had control of Jerusalem at the time of King David, but David wished to take control of the city; understandably the Jebusites contested his attempt to do this, and since Jebus was the strongest fortress in Canaan they gloated that even the blind and lame could defeat David's army; an alternative, equally valid, translation of the Jebusite's statement is that they said David would have to defeat the blind and lame before anyone else.[5] According to the version of the story in the Masoretic Text, David managed to conquer the city by a surprise attack, led by Joab, through the water supply tunnels (Jerusalem has no natural water supply except for the Gihon Spring). Ever since its discovery in the 19th century, Warren's Shaft, part of a system which connects the spring to the city, has been cited as evidence for the plausibility of such a line of attack; however, the discovery, at the turn of the 21st century, of a set of heavy fortifications, including towers, around the base of the Warren's Shaft system and the spring, has made archaeologists now regard this line of attack as implausible, as it would be an attack against one of the most heavily fortified parts, and hardly a surprise.[18] According to many textual scholars the claim in the masoretic text could simply be a scribal error; the Septuagint version of the passage states that the Israelites had to attack the Jebusites with their dagger[s] rather than through the water shaft.

The Books of Kings state that once Jerusalem had become an Israelite city, the surviving Jebusites were forced by Solomon to become serfs;[19] though since some archaeologists believe that the Israelites were simply an emergent subculture in Canaanite society, it is possible that this is an aetiological explanation for serfs rather than a historically accurate one.[16] It is unknown what ultimately became of these Jebusites, but it seems logical that they were assimilated by the Israelites. According to the "Jebusite Hypothesis,"[20] however, the Jebusites persisted as inhabitants of Jerusalem and comprised an important faction in the Kingdom of Judah, including such notables as Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Bathsheba, the queen and mother of the next monarch, Solomon. According to this hypothesis, after the disgrace of a rival faction in the struggle for succession to David,[21] the family of Zadok became the sole authorized Jerusalem clergy, so that a Jebusite family monopolized the Jerusalem clergy for many centuries before becoming sufficiently attenuated to be indistinguishable from other Judeans or Judahites.

The Books of Chronicles states that the inhabitants of Jebus forbade King David from coming to Jerusalem shortly after he was made king. Joab went up first and took the city and became chief and captain of David's armed forces.[22]

Classical rabbinical perspectives[edit]

According to classical rabbinical literature, the Jebusites derived their name from the city of Jebus, the ancient Jerusalem, which they inhabited.[4] These rabbinical sources also argued that as part of the price of Abraham's purchase of the Cave of Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs), which lay in the territory of the Jebusites, the Jebusites made Abraham grant them a covenant that his descendants would not take control of Jebus against the will of the Jebusites, and then the Jebusites engraved the covenant into bronze;[4] the sources state that the presence of the bronze statues are why the Israelites were not able to conquer the city during Joshua's campaign.[4]

The rabbis of the classical era go on to state that King David was prevented from entering the city of Jebus for the same reason, and so he promised the reward of captaincy to anyone who destroyed the bronzes – Joab performing the task and so gaining the prize.[4] The covenant is dismissed by the rabbis as having been invalidated due to the war the Jebusites fought against Joshua, but nevertheless David (according to the rabbis) paid the Jebusites the full value of the city, collecting the money from among all the Israelite tribes, so that the city became their common property.[4]

In reference to a passage[23] in the Books of Samuel which refers to a saying about the blind and the lame, Rashi quotes a midrash which argues that the Jebusites had two statues in their city, with their mouths containing the words of the covenant between Abraham and the Jebusites; one figure, depicting a blind person, represented Isaac, and the other, depicting a lame person, representing Jacob.[4]

Modern usage[edit]

The politicians Yasser Arafat[24] and Faisal Husseini[25] have claimed that the Palestinian Arabs may be descended from the Jebusites, in contrast to the more common Palestinian Arab claim that they are descended from the Canaanites.

See also[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ Thompson 2003, p. 62.
  2. ^ Kantor 1992, p. 47.
  3. ^ Lemche 2010, p. 161.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. ^ a b c d e Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  6. ^ a b Lipinski 2004, p. 502.
  7. ^ a b Rendsburg 2001.
  8. ^ The preceding Hebrew letters are written in Aramaic square script, which came into widespread use at and after the time of the Exile. The earlier Paleo-Hebrew letters for "d" and "r" are readily and often confused. The "d" is similar to Greek delta, with the right side of the triangle often extended somewhat below the base. The "r" is similar to Greek delta with the right side of the triangle considerably extended below the base. Compare the two in the tabulation presented in the "Letters" section of the article Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. The versions presented in "Hebrew for Christians" are even more confusingly similar. See also the table of more than ten successive versions of script beginning from circa 1000 B.C.E. to the second century B.C.E. in the Jewish Virtual Library article "Hebrew: History of the Aleph-Bet," Fig. 10. At many periods the letters are virtually indistinguishable.
  9. ^ Scholars supporting the Jebusite Hypothesis include;
    • Zadok and Nehushtan Rowley 1939, pp. 113–41
    • Melchizedek and Zadok Rowley 1950, pp. 461–72
    • A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period Albertz 1994
    • The Nathan Narratives Jones 2009, pp. 20–25, 40–42, 131–35
  10. ^ Cross 1997.
  11. ^ Genesis 14:18–19 and 14:22.
  12. ^ Julius Wellhausen first espoused the theory that Ēl ‘Elyōn was an ancient god of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem), who after David's conquest circa 1000 was equated to Yahweh, and that the Zadokite priests of Jerusalem were or claimed to be descended from Melchizedek.
  13. ^ Numbers 13:29, Joshua 11:3
  14. ^ Exodus 3:8
  15. ^ Joshua 10:1-3
  16. ^ a b c Finkelstein & Silberman 2002.
  17. ^ Book of Joshua
  18. ^ Reich & Shukron 1999.
  19. ^ 1 Kings 9:20-21. This is inconsistent with other Biblical passages, however, that suggest that a Jebusite faction at King David's court (possibly including Bathsheba, Nathan, and Zadok) helped highjack the monarchic succession from David's older son, Adonijah, to the younger Solomon.
  20. ^ See:
    • Zadok and Nehushtan Rowley 1939, pp. 113–41
    • Melchizedek and Zadok Rowley 1950, pp. 461–72
    • Rowley 1939, pp. 113–41
    • Melchizedek and Zadok Rowley 1950, pp. 461–72 *A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period Albertz 1994
    • The Nathan Narratives Jones 2009, pp. 20–25, 40–42, 131–35
    • See also Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel Cross 1997
  21. ^ 1 Kings i. 7, 19, 25; ii. 22, 26.
  22. ^ 1 Chronicles 11:3-8
  23. ^ 2 Samuel 5:6
  24. ^ Stefan Lovgren, Jerusalem Strife Echoes Ancient History, National Geographic News 29-10-2004
  25. ^ Jeffrey Goldberg, Israel's Y2K Problem, The New York Times 03-10-1999


  • Jones, Gwilym H. (2009). The Nathan Narratives. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies (Book 80). Bloomsbury T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0567108708. 
  • Albertz, Rainer (1994). A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0664227197. 
  • Rowley, H. H. (1950). "Melchizedek and Zadok". Festschrift Alfred Bertholet zum 80. Geburtstag : gewidmet von Kollegen und Freunden / hrsg. durch Walter Baumgartner, Otto Eissfeldt, Karl Elliger, Leonhard Rost. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. 

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