The Apiru In Ancient Egyptian And Canaanite Literature

It is written:

Genesis 14:13-Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram.

One of the arguments that is often raised against Christians goes something like this:

“According to the Bible, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for over four hundred years. And then, they supposedly invaded the land of Canaan. Well, if this is all true, then why don’t the Egyptians and Canaanites talk about the Hebrews?!”

This is an excellent question, and one that is a very simple answer.

Why didn’t the Egyptians and Canaanites mention the Hebrews?

Very simply: THEY DID.

There is an interesting word, Apiru, which is found in Egyptian and Canaanite documents. Scholar Bill Cooper has written of this fact (and then mentions several passages from Canaanite sources which document the Hebrews invading the land of Canaan):

“The term Apiru, which appears throughout the archive, is merely the Akkadian cognate of the word Hebrew (Habiru), Akkadian being the diplomatic language in which most of the tablets are written. The critics know this very well, and those who deliberately disguise the meaning and hide it from the public-which many of them have done since the archive’s discovery in 1887-commit a very grave offence indeed. To counter this concerted misrepresentation, in the quotes below we have rendered the Akkadian word Apiru in all places into its proper meaning of Hebrew, or Hebrews. This will allow the reader to see the contents of the tablets in their correct historical context and perspective. The quotes below are not from one, but from many Canaanite kings, each of them complaining in turn that as the Hebrews come closer to them, so their danger increases. At the end of each quote, we give the tablet number and the line of text in which the quote appears. It is not a complete list of the occurrences, nor can we be at all sure that the tablets have been catalogued in their correct chronological order. In fact the order appears to have been inverted for some reason, a matter which we will discuss a little later. In the Appendices, we give the full text of some of the Amarna letters, so that the reader can better judge the context in which certain of the quotes below are given: “Now he is like the Hebrew, a runaway dog….” EA 67: 17. “The war of the Hebrew hosts against me is most severe….” EA 68: 18. “Through the Hebrews his auxiliary force is strong!…. Let him not gather together all the Hebrews….” EA 71: 21 & 29. “Kill your lord and join the Hebrews…. and all the lands will be joined to the Hebrews…. EA 73: 29 & 33. “They were won over following his message, and they are like Hebrews…. that the entire country be joined to the Hebrews.” EA 74: 29 & 36. “The war, however, of the Hebrews against me is severe…. The Hebrews killed Aduna, the king of Irqata, and so they go on taking territory to themselves.” EA 75: 10 & 27. “He has just gathered together all the Hebrews against Sigata and Ampi, and he himself has taken these two cities.” EA 76: 18. “ … speak to your lord so that he will send you at the head of the archers to drive off the Hebrews…” EA77: 24 & 29. “… all the Hebrews… have turned against me…. If there are no archers, then all lands will be joined to the Hebrews. Listen!” EA 79: 10 & 20. “He said to the men of Gubla, ‘Kill your lord, and be joined to the Hebrews like Ammiya.’” EA 81: 13. “All the Hebrews are on his side…. he is strong.” EA 82: 9. “The Hebrews have taken the entire country!” EA 83: 17. “… the Hebrews have gone to Yapah-Hadda in Beirut so an alliance might be formed…. the lands have been joined to the Hebrews…. lest he gather together all the Hebrews and they seize the city.” EA 85: 41, 73 & 78. “Let an elite force, together with chariots, advance with you, that I may drive the Hebrews from the gate.” EA 87: 21. “But if the king my lord does not give heed to the words of his servant… all the lands of the king as far as Egypt will be joined to the Hebrews.” EA 88: 34. “You yourself have been negligent of your cities, so that the Hebrew dog takes them.” EA 90: 25. “Why have you sat idly by and done nothing, so that the Hebrew dog takes your cities?…. I have just heard that he has gathered together all the Hebrews to attack me!” EA 91: 5 & 24. “They would attack me and I would be unable to get out, and Gubla would be joined to the Hebrews. They have gone to Ibirta, and an agreement has been made with the Hebrews.” EA 104: 49-54. “If this year there are no archers, then all lands will be joined to the Hebrews. Behold, members of the [Hebrew] army have entered Akka….!” EA 111: 21. “I paid 13 shekels of silver and a pair of mantles as the hire of the Hebrews….” EA 112: 46. “… all my towns have been joined to the Hebrews….” EA 116: 38. “There is treachery against me…. all the lands will belong to the Hebrews…. What am I to do? May the king send a garrison and men from Meluhha to guard me. May the city not be joined to the Hebrews!” EA 117: 58 & 94. “Behold… the Hebrews will seize the city!” EA 118: 38. “… the sons of Abdi-Asirta have said to the Hebrews and the men who have joined them…” EA 121: 21. “Should Gubla be joined to the Hebrews….” EA 127: 22. “They have won the lands for the Hebrews….” EA 129: 94. “They are like dogs, and there is no one who wants to serve them. What am I, who live among the Hebrews, to do?” EA 130: 38. “Now Aziru has gathered all the Hebrews….” EA 132: 21. “All the cities that the king put in my charge have been joined to the Hebrews…. a man that will lead the archers of the king to call to account the cities that have been joined to the Hebrews, so you can restore them to my charge….” EA 144: 26 & 30. “The king of Hasura has abandoned his house and has aligned himself with the Hebrews…. He has taken over the land of the king for the Hebrews.” EA 148: 43 & 45. “He has made Amurru an enemy territory, and has turned over all the men in the cities of the king… to the Hebrews.” EA 179: 22. “… when the Hebrew forces waged war against the king…. The Hebrews captured Mahzibtu… then the Hebrews took refuge…. And the Hebrews captured Gilunu…. And the Hebrews captured Magdalu… plundered it, sent it up in flames…. And the Hebrews captured Ustu…. And then the Hebrews raided Hasi… we did battle with the Hebrews…. Then 40 Hebrews went to Amanhatpe… Amanhatpe is an Hebrew…. &c.” EA 185. “… allowed all of the cities of the king, my lord, to go over to the Hebrews in Tahsi and Upu…. I restored from the Hebrews…. I disbanded the Hebrews.” EA 189r 11, 17-18. “They gave his horses and his chariot to the Hebrews….” EA 197: 4. “Lost to the Hebrews from my control are all the cities of the king.” EA 207: 21. “… all the lands are lost to the Hebrews.” EA 215: 15. “And as the warring of the Hebrews in the land is severe…” EA 243: 20. “The two sons of Labayu have indeed given their money to the Hebrews…” EA 246r: 7. “I did not know that my son was consorting with the Hebrews.” EA 254: 34. “So may the king, my lord, save his land from the power of the Hebrews.” EA 271: 16. “… and the entire land of the king, my lord, has deserted to the Hebrews.” EA 272: 17. “… and gone is the land of the king, my lord, by desertion to the Hebrews…. know that the Hebrews wrote to Ayyaluna and to Sarha, and the two sons of Milkilu barely escaped being killed.” EA 273: 14 & 19. “May the king, my lord, save his land from the power of the Hebrews lest it be lost.” EA 274: 13. “… my lord, why do you love the Hebrews, but hate the [city] governors?…. That Hebrew has plundered all the lands of the king.” EA 286: 19 & 56. “… who have given the land of the king to the Hebrews.” EA 287: 31. “I am treated like an Hebrew…. but now the Hebrews have taken the very cities of the king…. ” EA 288: 38 & 41-47. “… when he was giving the land of Sakmu to the Hebrews?” EA 289: 24. “The land of the king deserted to the Hebrews…. the land of the king will desert to the Hebrews.” EA 290: 13 & 24. “… having become my enemy, entered Muhhazu and pledged himself to the Hebrews!” EA 298: 27. “Since the Hebrews are stronger than we…. may the king, my lord, get me away from the Hebrews, lest the Hebrews destroy us.” EA 299: 18, 24 & 26. “As the Hebrews are more powerful than we…” EA 305: 22. “… merchants from Egypt who were struck down in the attack of the Hebrews.” EA 313: 6. “Save me from the powerful enemies, from the hand of the Hebrews….!” EA 318: 11. … and so on. But there are added corroborations for the Book of Joshua amongst the Amarna Tablets, and one of them is the specific mention of “men of Judah”–ameluti Ia-u-du!–and “armed men [or warriors] of Judah”–ameluti sabe Ia-u-du. 2 The Canaanite spelling of Ia-u-du is identical to that of Assyrian inscriptions which later speak of Judah, and it is interesting to see the men of Judah and the many cities allotted to Judah set out so precisely in Joshua 15. The tribe of Judah formed a major component of Joshua’s people, and it is interesting to see the Canaanites unwittingly acknowledging that fact. It is also worth noting a complaint made by Abdi-heba, king of Jerusalem, that he is troubled by the men of “Laba,” or Levi in the Hebrew. 3” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the Book of Joshua, 246-330 (Kindle Edition))

Recently, another scholar of the Egyptian and Hebrew languages demonstrated the connections between the Apiru and the Hebrews:

“(2) The initial reed leaf in the caption of Sinai 115 is consonantal, and thus probably a glottal stop, rather than i. This option accepts as valid that the original spoken-Hebrew word for “Hebrew,” whatever its initial consonant must have been, is synonymous with Akkadian ḫa-bi-ru and Egyptian apir( u), which used to be the time-honored view in scholarship. James Hoch (1994: 63), whose treatment of WS foreign words in Egyptian was referred to by Redford (1997a: 59) as the most thorough study on the topic, stated that Egyptian ᶜapiru and Akkadian ḫa-bi-ru is “very likely related to the Biblical term/ name עִבְרִי ‘Hebrew’,” while Waterhouse (2001: 31) affirmed that “it is now agreed upon that indeed there is a valid etymological relationship between the term ‘Habiru’ and the biblical name ‘Hebrew’ (ᶜiḇrî).” The potential validity of this view simply cannot be swept under a rug, even though the full range of meaning for Habiru/ Apiru is a matter that cannot be taken up here. With this second option of a glottal stop, Ḫebeded would have departed from rendering into ME writing the same sound as the initial ḫ consonant of the Akkadian noun ḫa-bi-ru. However, neither was the Akkadian consonant rendered into ME with phonetic precision. Seemingly, no scholar disputes that apir( u) “Apiru” and ḫa-bi-ru “Habiru” are synonymous, that the term and the people originally came from Mesopotamia, or that their appearance in Egypt and Egyptian writings was a later phenomenon. If this is true, the Akkadian form is the earlier one. According to Huehnergard (2011: 2), Caplice (2002), and Marcus (1978: 1), Akkadian ḫ is pronounced ch, as in the Scottish word loch. Yet Hoch (1997: 8) noted that in ME the unvoiced velar x (Aa1, unclassified sign [a circle with horizontal lines interspersed within]) is the consonant pronounced as ch in Scottish loch, not the a (D36, the forearm glyph) of apir( u). Akkadian ḫ is unvoiced, whereas ME a is “produced with a restriction in the pharynx and with voicing” (Hoch 1997: 8). Even in proto-Northwest Semitic, the consonant ḫ is listed as an unvoiced velar fricative, whereas ᶜayin traditionally is considered a voiced pharyngeal fricative. Plus, proto-Northwest-Semitic ḫ merges into ḥ in Hebrew (preserved in Ugaritic and Arabic), and ME ḥ (V28, wick thread or twisted flax: a pharyngeal aspirate) is the unvoiced counterpart of ᶜayin (Hoch 1997: 8). The point is that during the NK, ME’s choice of a (ᶜayin) to represent Akkadian ḫ is anything but a phonetic match, yet the connection between the Habiru and the Apiru has gone unchallenged, despite the linguistic incongruity. Evidently, the congruity between the third consonant of each word + the second consonant of each word, if the need for a b → p shift can be overcome (Petrovich 2016b: 73–74), has been enough to prevent scholars from contending that the association of the Habiru with the Apiru is invalid or flawed. In like manner, the present writer merely is appealing for the same allowance in this case, namely that the congruity in the final two consonants (i.e., the br of iBr/ jBr in Sinai 115 and the br in ḫa-bi-ru) is enough to establish the validity of the connection. The phonetic incongruity in the first consonant of iBr/ jBr with the ḫ of ḫa-bi-ru is no more objectionable than ME’s rendering of the Akkadian unvoiced velar with the voiced pharyngeal. It also must not be forgotten that Sinai 115 dates to 1842 bc, whereas the consistent use of a in apir( u) dates to no earlier than the fifteenth century bc. What was standard and expected in the rendering of foreign words at one time in history cannot be expected to have been exactly the same 400 years earlier. Perhaps the use of ᶜayin in ME and later Hebrew arose (i.e., between 1842 and 1500 bc) for some unknown but intricately-connected reason. This principle, and valid possibility, takes all of the sting out of Schneider’s criticism. Kogan (2001: 291) even stated that ḫāpiru is obviously a non-Akkadian term, while CAD (1956: 84) calls it a “foreign (prob. WSem.) word.” When discussing the lack of consistent correspondence between Akkadian ḫ and WS consonants, Huehnergard (2003: 112) added that “[ w] hen confronted with such a situation, where two co-equal branches of a language family exhibit a large set of cognates in which one of the consonants differs consistently in the two branches, and yet no conditioning factors can be found to account for the difference, the historical linguist is justified in suggesting that the cognates reflect mergers in the two branches of an earlier, now lost, third consonant.” Therefore, it seems that a number of consonants can actualize in Akkadian as ḫ, and that the reed leaf on Sinai 115 may preserve some hint of that third, now lost, consonant. Why should one consider as valid that the original spoken-Hebrew word for “Hebrew” is synonymous with Akkadian ḫa-bi-ru and Egyptian apir( u)? Among the texts from southern Mesopotamia of about 1850 bc is one that departs from the typical use of the Sumerian logogram SA.GAZ by supplying the Akkadian cuneiform ḫapiri. According to biblical history/ chronology, Abram ventured from southern Mesopotamia in ca. 2091 bc. Therefore, if Abram was a historical figure, he undoubtedly would have spoken Akkadian as a resident of southern Mesopotamia, in addition to his own native Semitic tongue. If this was the case, why should one expect an initial voiced pharyngeal on the Semitic (Hebrew?) term that he used of his own ancestry (Eberite/ Heberite → Hebrews, Habiru, Hapiru, Hapiri, Apiru, etc.), and before his offspring had been in Egypt for any considerable length of time? This matter is discussed more elsewhere (Petrovich 2016b: 24), but the point to emphasize here is that the second and third Hebrew consonants on Sinai 115’ s caption match perfectly with the br of ḫa-bi-ru/ ḫa-pi-ru, which should be viewed as no less tolerable than the accepted but linguistically imperfect match between Habiru/ Hapiru and Apiru.” (Douglas Petrovich, Origins of the Hebrews: New Evidence of Israelites in Egypt from Joseph to the Exodus, 186-190 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: New Creation)

Despite the unreasonable ravings of the skeptics, the evidence for the authenticity and historicity of the Bible continues to mount.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑