The Israelites (בני ישראל, Standard: Bnai Yisraʾel; Tiberian: Bnai Yiśrāʾēl; ISO 259-3: Bnai Yiśraʾel, translated as: "Children of Israel") were a Semitic Hebrew-speaking people of the Ancient Near East, who inhabited part of the Land of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods (15th to 6th centuries BCE), later evolving into Jews and Samaritans of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, inhabiting the territories of Judea and Galilee, and Samaria respectively, though a Jewish diaspora had already developed outside of Judea and Galilee. In Modern Hebrew usage, an Israelite is, broadly speaking, a lay member of the Jewish ethnoreligious community, as opposed to the priestly orders of Kohanim and Levites.
The word "Israelite" derives from the Biblical Hebrew word "Israel". Although most literary references to Israelites are located in the Hebrew Bible, there is also abundant non-biblical archaeological and historical evidence of ancient Israel and Judah. The ethnonym is attested as early as the 13th century BCE in an Egyptian inscription. The Hebrew Bible etymologizes the name as from yisra "to prevail over" or "to struggle/wrestle with", and el, "God, the divine". The eponymous biblical patriarch of the Israelites is Jacob, who wrestled with God who gave him a blessing and renamed him "Israel" because he had "striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:24-32) According to the Hebrew Bible, Israelites were the "chosen people" of God. The name Hebrews is sometimes used synonymously with "Israelites".
The biblical term "Israelites" (also the "Twelve Tribes" or "Children of Israel") means both the direct descendants of the patriarch Jacob (Israel) as well as the historical populations of the united Kingdom of Israel. For the post-exilic period, beginning in the 5th century BCE, the remnants of the Israelite tribes came to be referred to as Jews (tribes of Judah, Simeon and partially Benjamin and Levi), named for the kingdom of Judah. This change is explicit in the Book of Esther (4th century BCE). On the other hand, Samaritans (tribes of Menasseh, Ephraim and partially Benjamin and Levi) became named for Samaria. It replaced the title Children of Israel.
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Famous quotes containing the word israelites:
“The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.”
—Bible: Hebrew, Exodus 2:23.