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Cuneiform SA.KAS and KU6.KAŠ.RU
Cuneiform of Sumerian SA.GAZ and corresponding West Semitic ha-bi-ru

Habiru (𒄩𒁉𒊒 Ḫabiru, meaning "dusty, dirty"), sometimes written as Hapiru, is a term used in second-millennium BCE texts throughout the Fertile Crescent for people variously described as rebels, outlaws, raiders, mercenaries, bowmen, servants, slaves, and laborers. They are commonly identified with the Apiru (ʿApīru)[1][2][3][4][5]

Hapiru, Habiru and Apiru[edit]

Idrimi of Alalakh, "King of the Habiru"

The word Habiru occurs in hundreds of second-millennium BCE documents covering a 600-year period from the 18th to the 12th centuries BCE and found at sites ranging from Egypt, Canaan and Syria, to Nuzi (near Kirkuk in northern Iraq) and Anatolia (Turkey), frequently used interchangeably with the Sumerian 𒊓𒄤 (SA.GAZ), a phonetic equivalent to the Akkadian (Mesopotamian) word saggasu ("murderer, destroyer").[6][7]

Not all Habiru were murderers and robbers:[8] one Habiru, Idrimi of Alalakh, was the son of a deposed king, and formed a band of Habiru to make himself king of Alalakh.[9] What Idrimi shared with the other Hapiru was membership of an inferior social class of outlaws, mercenaries, and slaves leading a marginal and sometimes lawless existence on the fringes of settled society.[10]

apiru had no common ethnic affiliations and no common language, their personal names being most frequently West Semitic, but many East Semitic, Hurrian or Indo-European.[10][11]

In the 18th century a north Syrian king named Irkabtum (c. 1740 BC) "made peace with [the warlord] Shemuba and his Habiru."[12]

Areas of reported Habiru activity during the Late Bronze IIA period (based on the Amarna letters corpus)

In the Amarna tablets from 14th century BCE, the petty kings of Canaan describe them sometimes as outlaws, sometimes as mercenaries, sometimes as day-labourers and servants.[3] Usually they are socially marginal, but Rib-Hadda of Byblos calls Abdi-Ashirta of Amurru (modern Lebanon) and his son Habiru, with the implication that they have rebelled against their common overlord, the Pharaoh.[3] In "The Conquest of Joppa" (modern Jaffa), an Egyptian work of historical fiction from around 1440 BCE, they appear as brigands, and General Djehuty asks at one point that his horses be taken inside the city lest they be stolen by a passing 'Apir.[13]

Habiru and the biblical Hebrews[edit]

The biblical word "Hebrew", like Habiru, may denote a social category rather than an ethnic group.[14] Since the discovery of the second-millennium BCE inscriptions mentioning the Habiru, there have been many theories linking these to the Hebrews of the Bible, but such theories have long been disputed.[15] Most modern scholars see the Habiru/Apiru as potentially one element in an early Israel composed of many different peoples, including nomadic Shasu, the biblical Midianites, Kenites and Amalekites, runaway slaves from Egypt, and displaced peasants and pastoralists.[16]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ Rainey 2008, p. 51.
  2. ^ Coote 2000, p. 549.
  3. ^ a b c McLaughlin 2012, p. 36.
  4. ^ Finkelstein & Silberman 2007, p. 44.
  5. ^ Noll 2001, p. 124.
  6. ^ Rainey 2008, p. 52.
  7. ^ Rainey 2005, p. 134-135.
  8. ^ Youngblood 2005, p. 134-135.
  9. ^ Naʼaman 2005, p. 112.
  10. ^ a b Redmount 2001, p. 98.
  11. ^ Coote 2000, p. 549-550.
  12. ^ Hamblin 2006, p. unpaginated.
  13. ^ Mannassa 2013, p. 5,75,107.
  14. ^ Blenkinsopp 2009, p. 19.
  15. ^ Rainey 1995, p. 483.
  16. ^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 125.