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The Hebrews are known as Israelites or Jews. Ancestors of the Jewish people, the Hebrews have a history marked by migrations and monotheism.
Much information about the history of the Hebrews is based on the interpretation of Old Testament texts, the first part of the Bible. The Old Testament was written based on the oral tradition of the Hebrews. It includes, for example, the interpretation made by this people of the origin of the world and of many of the ethical and moral norms of their society. It should be noted, however, that these texts are full of symbols and their interpretation is quite difficult.
Traces of Hebrew society continue to be found. They help to shed new light on the history of the Hebrews.
According to tradition, Abraham, the founding patriarch of the Hebrew nation, received from God the mission of migrating to Canaan, the land of the Canaanites, later called Palestine, where the state of Israel is today.
After spending a period in the land of the Canaanites, the Hebrews went to Egypt, where they lived for 300 and 400 years, and eventually became slaves. Their story begins to gain prominence from the moment they decide to leave Egypt and, under the leadership of Moses, return to Canaan. In Jewish history this return is called the exodus and took place between 1300 and 1250 BC.
In AD 70, Palestine was a province of the Roman Empire; the many rebellions in the region led the imperial government to expel the Hebrews from Palestine. This event is called a diaspora. Until 1948, when the state of Israel was founded, the Jews lived without a homeland, today it is the Palestinians who have no homeland, as their lands were taken by the Israelis.
They practice agriculture, herding, crafts and commerce. Their social base is the work of slaves and servants. The tribes are absolutely directed by the heads of household (patriarchs), who accumulate the functions of priest, judge and military chief. With their unification, from 1010 BC, they elect judges to oversee the observance of worship and the law. Then they unite around the king. They produce a scattered but important literature, contained in part in the Bible and the Talmud.
Palestine was located in a narrow strip southwest of present-day Lebanon. The Jordan River divides the region into two parts: east to Transjordan; and to the west, the West Bank. This region is currently occupied by the state of Israel.
To this day the region is quite arid. The main river is the Jordan, and yet it was not enough for major irrigation works. Poorly fertile soil and a rather dry climate prevented the region from being rich. However, it was quite important, as it was a gateway and link between Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. And it was in this region that the Hebrew people settled, one of the many who wandered and settled in Palestine.
Hebrew social and political organization
After the death of Moses, the Hebrews came to Palestine and, under the leadership of Joshua, who crosses the Jordan River, fought with the Canaanites who then inhabited the Promised Land. Overcoming the Canaanites, the Israelites settle in Palestine. At this time, the Hebrew people were divided into 12 tribes ("the twelve sons of Israel"), who lived in clans composed of the patriarchs, their children, women, and non-free workers.
The power and prestige of these clans were personified by the patriarch, and the ties between these clans were very fragile. However, due to the struggles for the achievements of Canaan or Promised Land, the need arose for power and command to be in the hands of military leaders. These chiefs came to be known as Judges.
With the concentration of power in their hands, the judges sought to unite the twelve tribes, for it would enable the realization of the common object: the rule of Palestine. The chief leaders of this period were the judges: Samson, Otoniel, Gideon, and Samuel were all considered to be Jehovah's envoys to command the Hebrews.
The union of the twelve tribes was difficult to achieve and maintain, as the judges had temporary power and even with cultural unity, (language, customs, and especially religion), there was much political division between the tribes. Thus it was necessary to establish a political unity. This was achieved by centralizing power at the hands of a monarch, King, who would have been chosen by Jehovah to rule.