All Eyes on Israel
Chapter 2 - Is Modern Israel the Israel of Promise?
Page 3 - The Origin of the Jews
(Go Back to Page 2 -
Was Abraham a Jew?)
The origin of the Jews was well after the time of Abraham. When and how did the Jews become Jews? Jews did not exist until many years after Abraham. Abraham's two sons, Ishmael and Isaac were not Jewish since neither Abraham nor their mothers were "Jewish." Esau became the father of the Edomites, a group distinct from the Jews and he had the same father - Isaac - that Jacob did.
Isaac's son Jacob is the one to whom the term Israel was first used, and he got this designation by a mere change of name, not by racial descent. It wasn't long before the term was applied to Jacob's children and then to all of his descendents.
Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, one of whom was named Judah. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the territory was divided among the twelve tribes. The tribe of Judah, being the largest, received the largest portion of land. It was also the tribe from whom the Messiah would later come.
The word "Judean" (later shortened to "Jew) refers to those who lived in this area. The term "Jew" is from the Greek word "ioudaios" (Strong's no. 2453). It is actually short for the word Judean or, more accurately, Ioudas, pronounced ee-oo-dah-yos. A person is termed Jewish:
- if they belong to the Jewish nation
- with respect to their birth, origin or religion
So the word "Jew" is short for the word "Judean," meaning a resident of Judea, the area also now called Palestine. The word "Jew" did not mean an ethnic background.
The On-line Bible says: "There are three names used in the New Testament to designate this people:
- Jews, as regards their nationality, to distinguish them from Gentiles.
- Hebrews, with regard to their language and education, to distinguish them from Hellenists, i.e., Jews who spoke the Greek language.
- Israelites, as respects their sacred privileges as the chosen people of God. ..."
Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt, then their descendents came out in the Exodus to wander in the wilderness and finally settle in Canaan 40 years later. But there was no genetic change from their Chaldean ancestry to a Jewish race along the way. Also, there was a mixed multitude who were not descendents of Jacob that came out with them.
"And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle." (Exo 12:38)
Later, the Israelites intermarried with pagans of various nationalities. It is evident that "Jewishness" is not a matter of genetics. There actually is no distinct Jewish race; rather, there is a Jewish culture. The origin of the Jews / Israelites is not a matter of race.