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HE Hebrews are a branch of the great Semitic 'race to which the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phænicians, Arabs and early Canaanites also
belonged. The Babylonian branch was older in national life and more highly developed in certain aspects of civilization and culture than the Hebrew -which undoubtedly absorbed much of the Babylonian cultural development. The spiritual literature of the Hebrews later, however, reached the highest point in prophetic vision; their religious conceptions of life mounted to sublime height in poetic expression, and their wisdom literature carried a moral force that has never been surpassed by any other people in the world.
The usual explanation of the meaning of the word “Hebrew" is taken from the noun “ebher,” meaning the "farther bank” of a river, and that, in Hebrew tradition, referred to the people from the other side of the Euphrates or the Jordan.
Professor Barton has this to say about the formation of the Hebrew nation:
“The traditions indicate that the Hebrew nation is composed of four groups of tribes, which are said to be descended from four mothers. Of these groups the most important are the Leah tribes and the Rachel tribes. Leah means 'wild cow' and Rachel, 'ewe. Opinions differ as to whether these were totems or economic symbols or both. The Rachel
tribes may have been sheep-raisers and the Leah tribes cattle-raisers. There is considerable evidence, both archæological and biblical, to show that the Leah tribes entered Palestine and secured a footing there about 1375-1350 B.C., and that the Rachel tribes did not enter the country until 1200 B.C. or later. The evidence indicates that the Leah tribes entered the land from the south, the Rachel tribes from the east. The probability is that the Rachel tribes only were in Egypt, that it was they who were led out by Moses, and that it was with them that the covenant was made at the burning mountain called Horeb.”
Moses, the great leader and law-giver, was undoubtedly the welder of these clans into a united movement. This was brought about by the worship of one God. This one God was called “Yahweh," and the spiritual principles on which it was based furnished the foundations for Hebrew law and religion. Among many other ancient peoples, small groups had arrived at the noble religion founded upon the one God impulse; but the Hebrews were the first people whose complete impulses were founded upon the ideas attained by the worship of one God. On this point Ernest Renan says: “What Greece was to be as regards intellectual culture, and Rome as regards politics, these nomad Semites were as regards religion.” The Hebrews after forming the bases for a national life were first under the leadership of newly arisen heroes; their popular leaders are called in the Bible "Judges.” Gideon, Samuel, Samson and Jephthah were the foremost of these leaders and their names are handed down in grateful remembrance. The age of the "Judges" ended about 1050 B.C.