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According to the Bible , the Israelites are all members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and their descendants, the Jews and the Samaritans . In their entirety and the succession of generations, they form the people of Israel ( Hebrew יִשְׂרָאֵל Jisra'el ) in a " covenant " ( Hebrew בְּרִית Brīt , also Brith or Bərit ), a contract between the people and YHWH or in a covenant of God with the people of the twelve tribes.

Later in the Bible the term Israelites was only used for the inhabitants of the northern kingdom.

In the European Enlightenment and then in the 19th century under the French Emperor Napoleon I in the French official language, the expression "Israelites " was preferred to the expression "Jews", which was felt to be burdened by anti-Semitic hostility. In the 19th and 20th centuries the term became partly the official and self-designation for European Jews. This is how institution names like Israelitische Kultusgemeinde came about .

The Zionism rejected the term "Israelites". After 1945 he stayed in France.

Israelites according to the biblical story


In the Tanach the name first appears as God's honorary name for the ancestor of the Israelites, Jacob (Gen 32:29). It literally means "isra" servant and "él" God, meaning Jacob's name.

It contains the Semitic god Title El , the God of the Bible YHWH called that this people from all nations of the earth to his witnesses chosen have. This also applies to all descendants of the Israelites:

“ We have not been the same since the day the voice of God overwhelmed us on Sinai . [...] Something unprecedented has happened: God revealed His name to us and we are named after Him. 'All the peoples of the earth shall see that you bear the name of the Lord' (Deut 28:10). There are two Hebrew names for Jew; Jehudi, whose first three letters are the first three letters of the Unspeakable Name , and Israel, whose last syllable 'el' means 'God' in Hebrew ... "

In German translations of the Bible , the members of this people are called Israelites to this day , derived from the Greek suffix -it- , which has been added to the Hebrew popular name since the Septuagint ( hoi Israêlitai ).

The early members of this people are called " Hebrews " in the Bible with reference to their Hebrew language . Outside the Bible, the consonants of the word root hbr denoted in Semitic languages ​​of the 2nd millennium BC. BC not an ethnic, but a social group of landless and uprooted people, to which robbers, nomads, day laborers, forced laborers and mercenaries were counted.


According to Genesis , the Israelites descend from the twelve sons of Jacob , his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham . According to Exodus, they only became a people in slavery in Egypt . They got into this as a result of a famine that caused Jacob's sons and their families to buy grain supplies in Egypt. A later pharaoh, presumably Ramses II , then forced her there to do forced labor for his storage cities.

In response to their cries for help, YHWH chose and sent Moses to free them from slavery. He led 600,000 men and their wives and children to leave Egypt . These are henceforth called the Church of Israel. After passing through the desert they reached Mount Sinai , where YHWH revealed himself to Moses and gave him the Torah . Then he made a covenant with Moses and 70 leaders of the Israelites , with which he committed himself to fidelity for this people and to fidelity to them and their commandments and again promised them the gift of the land.

Moses and Joshua then lead the Israelites to Canaan . The Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges tell the course of the so-called conquest and subsequent assertion against external enemies of the Israelites in the pre-state period of the Twelve Tribal League.

In order to master the constant threat and to achieve stability in foreign policy, the Israelites would have demanded a king later than other peoples and would have chosen Saul as their first king. After King David succeeded him , he conquered Jerusalem and made it the cult center of his kingdom with the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant . His son Solomon then had the Jerusalem temple built.

Jewish Bible

The Jewish Bible (Tanach) describes the Jews as God's chosen people , who are defined by their relationship (“ covenant ”) with them and who differ from other peoples.

According to Jewish sources, Judaism is the only religion to report how the entire people of Israel witnessed God's revelation. The historical unique selling point of the mass revelation becomes clear in the blessing on the truth and on the redemption / liberation Emet we-Emuna ("Truth and Faith"):

“All of this is truth and ground of trust, and it is unshakable for us, that He, God, is our God and nothing but Him and we Israel are his people who made us free from the hand of kings, our King who redeems us from the Grasp all the power kicks (..) because he led his people Yisrael from their midst to eternal freedom (..) With infinite joy, Moshe and Yisrael's sons joined you to sing (..) Because God made Jacob free (.. ) Blessed are you, God, who redeemed Israel. "

New Testament

In the New Testament the expressions "Israel / Israelite / Israelites" appear 73 times and always refer to the Jewish people as a whole or individuals as members of it. In all places the people of God, chosen by God, are meant and addressed. All NT scriptures therefore expect, hope and plead for the ultimate salvation of all Israelites through God.

Paul of Tarsus in particular makes this salvation in his letter to the Romans (Rom 9-11) an authoritative topic for all Christians. His early epistle to the Galatians includes the “Israel of God” in the intercession of Christians (Gal 6:16). His later letter to the Ephesians reaffirms the Israelite hope of the pilgrimage of nations to Zion , which Christ's atoning death on the cross would have made possible and which the early Christians would have begun. This prerequisite also applies in the Gospel of John (John 1, 31.47.49; 3.10), which otherwise depicts the Jews as representatives of the "Old Aeon" ended by Jesus Christ , and in the Revelation of John (2.14; 7.4; 21 , 12).

History of the Israelites from a historical-critical point of view


Only a few extra-biblical sources give evidence of the origin of the Israelites. The earliest evidence of an "Israel" ethnic group is from 1208 BC. Merenptah stele dated BC , on which the pharaoh Merenptah mentions a tribe or people in Canaan called Ysrjr :

M17 M17 O34
M17 G1 D21
Z1 T14
A1 B1

Division of empire

Solomon's empire split up in the next generation because of an uprising of the northern tribes into the states of Judah with Jerusalem and northern Israel with Shechem as capital ( 1 Kings 12.20  EU ). The northern empire ended in 722 BC. With the conquest by the Assyrians and the deportation of the upper class there ( 2 Kings 17.6  EU ). The ten tribes of the northern empire are also known as the " Lost Tribes of Israel ".

The remaining tribes of Judah , Benjamin and parts of Levi have been called Jehudi since the division of the empire . This gave rise to the term Jews for the Roman province of Judea , which today extends to all descendants of the earlier Israelites and all members of Judaism, including in the Jewish diaspora .

State of Israel

The State of Israel , founded in 1948, gave itself this name as a deliberate reference to the biblical name. Today's Jews continue to call themselves Israelites and the people of Israel . The Samaritans as a mixed population of immigrants ( 2 Kings 17.24  EU ) and remnants of the population of the former northern Reich of Israel who remained in the country or who have returned are also entitled to this name.


  • Gösta W. Ahlström: Who were the Israelites? Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake IN 1986, ISBN 0-931464-24-2 .
  • William G. Dever: Israelites. In: Kathryn A. Bard (Ed.): Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-18589-0 , pp. 382-84.
  • Markus Witte, Johannes F. Diehl (ed.): Israelites and Phoenicians. Their relationships in the mirror of the archeology and literature of the Old Testament and its environment (= Orbis biblicus et orientalis. Volume 235). Academic Press u. a., Friborg u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-7278-1621-5 .

Web links

Commons : Israelites  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Israelit  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Simone Senk (Red.): Student dudes religion and ethics. The technical lexicon from AZ. 2nd Edition. Dudenverlag: Mannheim u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-411-72092-7 : Israeliten
  2. ^ Simone Senk (Red.): Student dudes religion and ethics. The technical lexicon from AZ. 2nd Edition. Dudenverlag: Mannheim u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-411-72092-7 : Israeliten
  3. Michael Brenner: Israeli and Israelites. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . August 20, 2014, accessed April 25, 2016 . ; Simone Senk (Red.): Student boys religion and ethics. The technical lexicon from AZ. 2nd Edition. Dudenverlag: Mannheim u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-411-72092-7 : Israeliten
  4. Abraham Joshua Heschel : God seeks man. A philosophy of Judaism (= Information Judaism. Volume 2). 3. Edition. Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1992, ISBN 3-7887-0607-4 , p. 129.
  5. ^ Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries By Steven Bayme, p. 363.
  6. “If you ask: What was it like when the people stood at Sinai and heard the voice of God? - then the answer must be: Like no other event in human history. There are countless legends , myths , reports - but nowhere else is there any news that an entire people witnessed an event like that of Sinai. ”From: Abraham Joshua Heschel : God seeks man. A philosophy of Judaism. In: Zehuda Aschkenasy, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, Heinz Kremers (eds.): Information Judentum. Volume 2, Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1992, p. 146.
  7. Siddûr tefillôt Yiśrāʾēl / trans. u. ext. by Samson Raphael Hirsch . 3. Edition. Kauffmann, Frankfurt am Main 1921, pp. 263-265.
  8. Heinz Kremers : The Jewish people in the New Testament and today. In: Heinz Kremers: Mission to the Jews today? From mission to the Jews to fraternal solidarity and ecumenical dialogue. Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1979, ISBN 3-7887-0599-X , p. 37 ff.
  9. Extract from Egypt's archives