Q&A: When did the term “Jews” come to refer to the Jewish people as opposed to “Israelites” or “Hebrews”?


Image source: myjewishlearning.com

Answer: probably with the fall of the (northern) kingdom of Israel and the scattering of its population by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, when Judea became the sole sovereign Israelite entity.

It certainly occurred following the reforms conducted under King Hezekiah (of Judea) who came to power shortly after that, welcomed the remaining northern Israelites into the kingdom, and ordered his officials to integrate their religious traditions into the Judean one, to forge the single Jewish tradition that became the basis of the Hebrew Bible some two hundred years later.

Were it not for Hezekiah’s initiative, Hebrew mythology and Jewish tradition would have been very different today: there would have been only one story of Creation; God would not be known as El or Elohim; Jacob would not have been counted among the nation’s forefathers; the whole story of Joseph and the ensuing story of the Exodus would likely have been omitted; as would all the stories and exploits of northern Israelite figures, from Jephthah and other northern Judges, to Saul and the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

Not for nothing is Hezekiah considered one of the greatest of the Israelite kings.

2 thoughts on “Q&A: When did the term “Jews” come to refer to the Jewish people as opposed to “Israelites” or “Hebrews”?

  1. Pingback: February 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival | Pursuing Veritas

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