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Map of Jebus based on the Biblical account: visible is the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna), Kidron Valley, Ein Rogel, Araunah's threshing-floor and the Citadel of Zion. (Townsend MacCoun, 1899)

The Jebusites (/ˈɛbjəˌsts/; Hebrew: יְבוּסִי, lit.'Yəḇusi') were, according to the books of Joshua and Samuel from the Hebrew Bible, a Canaanite tribe that inhabited Jerusalem, called Jebus (Hebrew: יְבוּס, romanizedYəḇus, lit.'trampled place') before the conquest initiated by Joshua (Joshua 11:3, Joshua 12:10) and completed by King David (2 Samuel 5:6–10), although a majority of scholars agree that the Book of Joshua holds little historical value for early Israel and most likely reflects a much later period.[1] 1 Chronicles 11:4 states that Jerusalem was known as Jebus before this event. The identification of Jebus with Jerusalem is sometimes disputed by scholars.[2] According to some biblical chronologies, the city was conquered by King David in 1003 BCE.[3]

Identification of Jebus[edit]

The identification of Jebus with Jerusalem[4] has been disputed, principally by Niels Peter Lemche. Supporting his case, every non-biblical mention of Jerusalem found in the ancient Near East refers to the city as "Jerusalem". An example of these records are the Amarna letters, several of which were written by the chieftain of Jerusalem Abdi-Heba and call Jerusalem either Urusalim (URU ú-ru-sa-lim) or Urušalim (URU ú-ru-ša10-lim) (1330s BCE).[5] Also in the Amarna letters, it is called Beth-Shalem, the house of Shalem.[6]

The Sumero-Akkadian name for Jerusalem, uru-salim,[7] is variously etymologised to mean "foundation of [or: by] the god Shalim": from Hebrew/Semitic yry, "to found, to lay a cornerstone", and Shalim, the Canaanite god of the setting sun and the nether world, as well as of health and perfection.[8][9][10][11]

Lemche states:

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.[12]

Theophilus G. Pinches has noted a reference to "Yabusu", which he interpreted as an old form of Jebus, on a contract tablet that dates from 2200 BC.[13]

Ethnic origin[edit]

The Hebrew Bible contains the only surviving ancient text known to use the term Jebusite to describe the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem; according to the Generations of Noah (Genesis 10), the Jebusites are identified as Canaanites, listed in third place among the Canaanite groups between the biblical Hittites and the Amorites.

Before 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.[14] However, an increasingly popular view, first put forward by Edward Lipiński, professor of Oriental and Slavonic studies at KU Leuven, is that the Jebusites were most likely an Amorite tribe; Lipiński identified them with the group referred to as Yabusi'um in a cuneiform letter found in the archive of Mari, Syria.[15] Lipinski also suggested that more than one clan or tribe bore similar names, and thus that the Jebusites and Yabusi'um may have been separate people altogether.[16]

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 goddess named Ḫepat. This implies that the Jebusites were either Hurrians themselves, were heavily influenced by Hurrian culture, or were dominated by the maryannu (a warrior-class elite).[17] Moreover, the last Jebusite king, Araunah, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21:15, bore a name generally understood as based on the Hurrian honorific ewir.[18]

Richard Hess[19] (1997:34–6) shows four Hurrian names in the Bible's conquest narrative: Piram, king of Jarmuth and Hoham, king of Hebron (Joshua 10:3), and Sheshai and Talmai, sons of Anak (Joshua 15:14) with Hurrian-based names.

Zev Farber believes that the Jebusites were unrecognized Israelites. According to Farber, it explains why the Judahites were confident in delivering the corpse of Adoni-Bezek, a foreign enemy king, to Jebus in Judges 1:7. A similar incident occurred in 1 Samuel 17:54, where David delivered Goliath's head to Jebus, which occurred before the city's conquest. In addition, the Jebusites were portrayed in a more positive light than the residents of Gibeah in the Levite's concubine narrative. Farber believes this was anti-Saul propaganda, with Gibeah being the city of Saul and Jebus being the city of David.[20]

Biblical narrative[edit]

The Hebrew Bible describes the Jebusites as dwelling in the mountains beside Jerusalem in Numbers 13:29 and Joshua 11:3. In the narration of the burning bush in Exodus 3:18, the "good and large land, flowing with milk and honey" that was promised to Moses as the future home of the oppressed Hebrews included the land of the Jebusites.[21] According to Joshua 10, Adonizedek led a confederation of Jebusites and the tribes from the neighbouring cities of Jarmuth, Lachish, Eglon and Hebron against Joshua but was soundly defeated and killed.

However, Joshua 15:63 states the Judahites 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.

According to the 2 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 withstand David's siege.[22] 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.[23] The account in 1 Chronicles 11:5 mentions the advantage of a speedy attack but does not mention use of the water shafts and according to many textual scholars[who?] 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;[24].

It is unknown what ultimately became of these Jebusites. According to the "Jebusite Hypothesis,"[25] 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 Elide faction of priests in the struggle for succession to David,[26] 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 First Book 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.[27]

A Jebusite is mentioned also in The Acts of Barnabus as accompanying his martyrdom. “And having bound him to take him away to the governor, and a pious Jebusite, a kinsman of Nero, having come to Cyprus, the Jews, learning this, took Barnabas by night, and bound him with a rope by the neck; and having dragged him to the hippodrome from the synagogue, and having gone out of the city, standing round him, they burned him with fire, so that even his bones became dust. And straightway that night, having taken his dust, they cast it into a cloth; and having secured it with lead, they intended to throw it into the sea. But I, finding an opportunity in the night, and being able along with Timon and Rhodon to carry it. we came to a certain place, and having found a cave, put it down there, where the nation of the Jebusites formerly dwelt. And having found a secret place in it, we put it away, with the documents which he had received from Matthew. And it was the fourth hour of the night of the second of the week.” [28]

Individuals named in the Bible[edit]


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;[29] some scholars additionally believe that Adonijah is actually a disguised reference to Araunah, the ר (r) having been corrupted to ד (d).[30][better source needed] 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.[22]

Elsewhere in the Bible,[31] 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.[32]

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.[14] These rabbinical sources also argued that as part of the price of Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah), 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;[14] 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.[14]

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.[14] 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.[14]

In reference to 2 Samuel 5:6, 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.[14]

Modern usage[edit]

The politicians Yasser Arafat[33] and Faisal Husseini,[34] among others, have claimed that Palestinian Arabs are descended from the Jebusites, in an attempt to argue that the Palestinians have a historic claim to Jerusalem that precedes the Jewish one.

Professor Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University Anthropology Department and Co-Director of the University of Haifa (Israel) asserts that a general consensus exists among historians and archeologists that modern Palestinians are "more closely related to the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and other countries" than to the Jebusites, and that they lack any significant connection to them.[35] The late Johns Hopkins University Professor William F. Albright questioned "the surprising tenacity" of "the myth of the unchanging East" and rejected any assertion of continuity between the "folk beliefs and practices of the modern peasants and nomads" and "pre-Arab times."[36]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Killebrew 2005, p. 152: "Almost without exception, scholars agree that the account in Joshua holds little historical value vis-à-vis early Israel and most likely reflects much later historical times.15"
  2. ^ Lemche 2010.
  3. ^ Gunn 2003, p. 262.
  4. ^ (Joshua 15:8 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, 18:28 Archived 2016-11-06 at the Wayback Machine; Judges 19:10 )
  5. ^ Urusalim e.g. in EA 289:014, Urušalim e.g. in EA 287:025. Transcription online at "The El Amarna Letters from Canaan". Retrieved 11 September 2010.; translation by Knudtzon 1915 (English in Percy Stuart Peache Handcock, Selections from the Tell El-Amarna letters (1920).
  6. ^ See, e.g., Holman Bible Dictionary, op. cit. supra.
  7. ^ See Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, p. 410 (1990). Hamilton also asserts that Sumerian uru is ye, meaning "city."
  8. ^ Meir Ben-Dov, Historical Atlas of Jerusalem, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002, p. 23.
  9. ^ Binz, Stephen J. (2005). Jerusalem, the Holy City. Connecticut, USA.: Twenty-Third Publications. p. 2. ISBN 9781585953653. Retrieved 17 December 2011. Jerusalem, the Holy City By Stephen J. Binz.
  10. ^ See the Anchor Bible Dictionary for an extensive discussion with citations. "SHALEM (DEITY) – the Anchor Bible Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2014-02-11.
  11. ^ See Holman Bible Dictionary, Archived 2014-02-23 at the Wayback Machine ; National Geographic, Archived 2014-02-21 at the Wayback Machine ("As for the meaning of the name, it can be assumed to be a compound of the West Semitic elements "yrw" and "s[h]lm," probably to be interpreted as "Foundation of (the god) Shalem." Shalem is known from an Ugaritic mythological text as the god of twilight.").
  12. ^ Lemche 2010, p. 161.
  13. ^ Pinches Archived 2015-11-19 at the Wayback Machine, Theophilus G., The Old Testament: In the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London: SPCK, 1908), p. 324.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Jebusites". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  15. ^ Lipinski 2004, p. 502.
  16. ^ Biblical Archaeology Review 32:02, March–April 2006, Who Were the Jebusites?. "The letter refers to an Amorite ethnic group known as the Yabusi'um. This, Lipinski says, implies the existence of a tribe or clan of Yabusi, or Jebusites. (The Semitic letter Y becomes a J in Germanic languages such as English.) However, the clan of Jebusites in the Mari letter may not be the same as the clan of Jebusites living in pre-Davidic Jerusalem. More than one clan or tribe could have had the same name, Lipinski cautions."
  17. ^ Košak, Silvin (2007). Tabularia Hethaeorum (in German). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 978-3-447-05530-7.
  18. ^ Jones, Gwilym Henry (1 January 1990). The Nathan Narratives. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-85075-225-7.
  19. ^ Richard S. Hess, "Getting Personal: What Names in the Bible Teach Us," Bible Review 13/6 (Dec 1997) 30, 34–36.
  20. ^ Farber, Zev (June 1, 2016). "The Israelite Conquest of Jerusalem in the Bible: When and Who?". Archived from the original on January 27, 2024.
  21. ^ Exodus 3:8
  22. ^ a b Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  23. ^ Reich & Shukron 1999.
  24. ^ 1 Kings 9:20–21
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ 1 Kings i. 7, 19, 25; ii. 22, 26.
  27. ^ 1 Chronicles 11:3–8
  28. ^ "The Acts of Barnabas". Retrieved 2023-09-17.
  29. ^ Rendsburg 2001.
  30. ^ 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" Archived 2015-01-06 at the Wayback Machine 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," Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine Fig. 10 Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine. At many periods the letters are virtually indistinguishable.
  31. ^ Genesis 14:18–19 and 14:22.
  32. ^ Julius Wellhausen first espoused the theory that Ēl ‘Elyōn was an ancient god of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem), who after David's annexation of Jerusalem circa 1000 was equated to Yahweh, and that the Zadokite priests of Jerusalem were or claimed to be descended from Melchizedek.
  33. ^ Stefan Lovgren, "Jerusalem Strife Echoes Ancient History" Archived 2008-09-15 at the Wayback Machine, National Geographic News, 29-10-2004
  34. ^ Jeffrey Goldberg, Israel's Y2K Problem Archived 2017-12-15 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times 03-10-1999
  35. ^ Eric H. Cline, Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Univ. of Mich. Press, 2004), pp. 33–35, ISBN 0-472-11313-5.
  36. ^ William F. Albright, History, Archeology, and Christian Humanism (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), pp. 157, 168.