Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Hebrews

Map of Israel before it was divided

Who are Hebrews?


Hebrews were ancestors of Samaritans and Jews. They claim to be the descendants of the biblical Patriarch Abraham. They are known for their input into world culture, because their beliefs have influenced three major religions of the world. They are also known for their cultural and spiritual laws, rules, and morals. The Hebrews have influenced society today to a high degree.

What country did they live in?


Hebrews were nomadic people. They lived in the ancient Middle East. Around 1400 BC they settled in Canaan, the country on the eastern coast of Mediterranean sea, the territory of modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Later this country was known as the kingdom of Israel and, after the death of King Solomon, was divided into Israel and Judea.

What did their buildings look like?


In the warm climate of the Middle East, the house was not so important. Most of the life of the Hebrew family happened in the open air. Women did the cooking in the yard; stores were just open counters looking into the street. Stone was used for building houses. There were no large forests in the land of Canaan, so wood was extremely expensive.

When Hebrews were nomadic people, they lived in tents. But even when they settled, tents were very popular. Tents are often mentioned in the Torah, and even at the time of David and Solomon, living in a tent was common, especially for poor people.

Another option was living in a cave. The natural cave was enlarged and a wall was built in front, converting the cave into a sheltered home.

Wealthier people lived in the houses built of sun-dried mud bricks. The roofs of the houses were flat so that people could stay outside in the cool evenings and sleep in summer. Domestic animals were kept on the first floor, together with people. There were no chimneys; smoke from cooking or heating fires escaped through the windows. The furniture was very simple. It included a few mats, spread upon the floor at night for sleeping, and rolled up during the day, or a kind of divan set against the wall; there were a table and chairs; a large jug for grain stood in the corner, and others for water, wine, oil, etc.; a niche in the wall held the lamp.

But what made Hebrews really proud was the Jerusalem Temple. There were two temples built: the First Temple was built by King Solomon. Cedarwood for the construction was brought from Lebanon, and the walls and floor of the temple were covered with gold. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies, a room at the end of the temple. The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BC when the Jews were exiled into the Babylonian Captivity.

After Jews returned from Captivity in 536 BC, they started building the Second Temple. This temple stood till AD 70 when it was destroyed by the Romans. Another Temple was built and also destroyed. The only part that was left is from Herod's Temple and is the Outer Western Wall, a sacred site for Jewish people. The Western Temple Mount wall is sometimes called the Wailing Wall and was believed to be from the second Temple and is often prayed near to, by the Jews today. This is also a "Talmudic" tradition

What did they eat?

Second century Hebrew manuscript of Ten Commandments

Hebrew food was similar to the food of other Mediterranean people: they ate homemade bread that the lady of the house would bake in the big clay ovens in the yard, lentils, goat cheese, olives, and fresh fruits. Meat and fish were available. The most popular drink was wine.

But there was one difference about the food Hebrews ate: it had to be Kosher. Kosher applied to all different types of food. It applied to meat which had to come from correctly slaughtered animals. These animals had to have split hooves and had to chew their cud. The fish they ate had to have fins and scales. The wine had to be made and supervised by a Hebrew at all times because other cultures would put blood in it to help it ferment and eating or drinking blood is not Kosher. Some of the stricter Hebrews thought that meat should not be mixed with dairy, and that a person had to wait a few hours between having meat and dairy. This is a "Talmudic" tradition.

What did they wear?

Jewish noblemen in ancient Judah

Both men and women wore a tunic with a girdle, a robe on top of it, and a mantle (a sleeveless over garment) and a headdress. Men's and women's clothes were different in style and pattern. Women’s garments were longer, with long sleeves.

Hebrew laws also had instructions about their clothing. They were supposed to wear tassels on the corners of their clothing, a commandment from the Bible. Their clothes were never a mix of wool and flax except for the high priest who was permitted to wear such a mixture. The priests also had special instructions about the clothing that they wore while they worked.

What did their writing look like?

Torah Scroll

From very ancient times, the Hebrews began to write down their history, laws, and beliefs. The first five books or the Torah. The "Torah" was written in Hebrew. The books were written on large pieces of parchment and rolled into scrolls. These books were Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Hebrew was and is written right-to-left, with consonants and vowel points. The Hebrew script evolved over the course of their history so ancient Hebrew writing does not look the same as it does today. Here is an example of what ancient Hebrew writing looked like:


What did they believe?


Hebrews were among the first people in the world whose religion was monotheistic. Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. All of their neighbors were polytheistic: they believed in many gods and goddesses that looked and behaved like humans. The idea that there is a single God who cannot be seen and is present everywhere and knows everybody’s thoughts was very unusual at that time. YHWH, יהוה or Yahweh, pronounced Yah-way and translates to "I Am", is the original Hebrew name of the Heavenly Father and the Jews believe saying his name is a forbidden. They use Adoni, pronounced Add-doe-nigh instead. He is also called El or Elohim in the Hebrew bible.

According to the Torah, the first person to start spreading the concept of one God was the patriarch Abraham. Monotheistic beliefs are currently found in many religions all over the world.

The Hebrews believed that they were God's chosen people and that the Torah contained God's laws which must be followed.

Are some of them famous even today?

Michelangelo Buonarrotti. Moses

Many biblical heroes are known today. The Bible became the most published book in the world, and, since so much of it was written about Hebrews, many Hebrew historical figures became famous. Many books, paintings and even movies are dedicated to them.

  • Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the three patriarchs.
  • Joseph - Jacob's second youngest son born to him in his old age. According to the Torah he was sold into slavery and ended up in Egypt, where he worked for Pharaoh. His most famous job was interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, which led to him saving Egypt having a famine while the rest of the world was having one.
  • Moses - Considered by many people to be one of the greatest leaders of Jewish people, and according to the Torah he is called the most humble man that ever lived. The most notable according to the Torah he took the Hebrews out of slavery from Egypt, God through him brought 10 plagues to Egypt, split the Red Sea, received the Torah along with the Ten Commandments and the oral Jewish law, set up the Jewish courts, took them to the land of Canaan - the land God promised to them through Abraham.
  • King David - One of three kings of ancient Israel and ruler of the largest territorial extent of ancient Israel. He was a significant military leader and lead the ancient Israelite armies in many successful battles. He wrote most of the songs in the Book of Psalms.
  • King Solomon - During his reign the kingdom of Israel reached its greatest prosperity, being one of the biggest powers in trade. He was known for his wisdom and justice. He also wrote songs in the Book of Psalms.
  • Queen Esther -Or Hadassah, queen of Persia, according to the Esther she saved Jewish people from evil plans of Minister Haman to kill all Jews throughout the Persian Empire. This event is celebrated during the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Jesus speaking with Jewish teachers at age 12
  • Jesus of Nazareth - Jesus is one of the most famous Hebrew of all. He was born in Bethlehem to Hebrew parents. He grew up in Nazareth, which is a part of Israel. He also became spiritual leader and many of his early followers were also Hebrew and are still famous today, such as the apostles Paul, Peter and John. Jesus of Nazareth is commonly known as Jesus Christ which is the name his followers chose after his death. Christos in Ancient Greek means anointed one.

What is left of them today?


Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyrians in 722 BC. Judea lost its independence to Rome in the first century AD. Jews had to leave their country. For two thousand years they lived all over the world, preserving their religion, language and traditions. They survived through centuries of discrimination and prejudice and through the extermination of one third of the Jewish population of the world in the Second World War. In 1948 the state of Israel was established again.