Many people was called by a name after their forefathers such as the descendants of Canaan were called the Canaanites, the descendants of Ishmael were called Ishmaelites, then we see the Moabites, the Ammonites (Gen. 19:37-38). Why was Abram called "the Hebrew" in his time (Gen. 14:13)?

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    Most cases of "Hebrew" applied to the patriarchs are coming from foreigners. That is, Abram did not call himself a Hebrew, but others did. I think there is a case when they themselves did, but even then, they were communicating with outsiders, not within the group. I'll try to collect references. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:47
  • Richard Elliot Friedman on Gn 14.13: This is an unusual use of the word "Hebrew." Elsewhere in biblical stories it is used to identify Israelites only when one is speaking among foreigners. It is not the standard term for the people, which is rather "Israelite" at first and "Jew" later. Perhaps it is used here because there are not yet any other Israelites around, and Abraham himself is the foreigner. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:56
  • Thanks Daniel. Yes, I agree with you that most of the cases it was the outsiders who called them Hebrews. When Joseph ate with his brothers, the Egyptians ate with him by themselves for it is an abomination for the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews (Gen. 43:32). Pharaoh also told the Hebrew midwives to kill the boys at birth, and later commanded all the sons born to the Hebrews shall be cast into the Nile (Exodus 1:15-22). I don't know why they were called the Hebrews. It's worth noticing that the term Israelites should not exist by the time of Abraham, for Jacob was not yet renamed to Israel.
    – Karis Le
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 18:13
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    Karis, there is a theory that "Hebrew" might be a "profession" more than ethnical description, not quite "mercenary", but "free for hire" or something similar: Habiru en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habiru Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 18:26
  • from a linguistic (rather than hermeneutic, hence not giving this as an answer), the most likely explanation is that Hebrew comes from the root עבר "to cross" and so his identification as a Hebrew refers to his origin across the river. As this passage takes place in Mesopotamia, the most likely river would be the Euphrates. Later uses likely refer to the Jordan instead. The link between Hebrew and Habiru is linguistically problematic
    – Tristan
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 10:37

3 Answers 3


Ivri עברי is a descendant [of] "Ever" עבר the Noachide. - Each עברי Ivri speaks the holy language of עֵבֶר Ever using knowledge from the עָבָר Past which maintains the monotheistic belief in one Elohim from נֹחַ Noach & שֵׁם Shem. | Avram is also described by his actions in [Genesis 12:6] when יּעבר Ya'Avor "[He] Crossed" out the polytheistic society of חָרָן Haran to consciously focus on only the true worship of יְהֹוָה YHVH The God of Noach, Shem & Ever.

See [Radak - Commentary on Genesis 14:13]

העברי a member of the tribe of Ever, he and all his descendants proudly regarded Ever as their ancestor. They were the only people who still spoke Hebrew, the original language of man. Subsequent descendants, other than the line which ran through Avraham and the Israelites, changed their language to Aramaic, and were called Aramim, i.e. members of the people of Aram, in recognition of their specific language. Even Lavan, a third or fourth generation descendant of Ever, was already known as לבן הארמי, Lavan who spoke Aramaic. The tribe called עברים was Yaakov and his offspring.


Abraham is a descendant of Eber (whence we get the term Hebrew) who was a descendant of Shem (whence we get the term Semite) (Genesis 10:21). "Hebrew" therefore simply means 'Eberite,' much in the same wat that "Canaanite" means 'of Canaan.' Given that Abraham is a descendant of Eber, and not the other way around, it's not surprising that people refer to him as an Eberite.


I'm surprised that the fact that Abram dwelt in Hebron is not mentioned in any of the answers. I'm far from a Bible scholar so please enlighten me if there's a reason that we can't assume that the word "Hebrew" comes from "Hebron"? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebron#:~:text=The%20name%20%22Hebron%22%20appears%20to,sense%20may%20have%20been%20alliance.

I see that we're supposed to "refrain from responding to others'answers", but, please feel free because I'm looking for a response.


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