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To my knowledge, the earliest of the three designations as used in the Bible was Hebrew, which was derived from the name of Eber (first mentioned in Genesis 10:21), who was a descendant of Noah's son Shem, and an ancestor of Abraham (Genesis 11:10-26). Genesis 14:13 specifically refers to Abraham (or Abram, as he was still known at the time) as "Abram the Hebrew". The Israelites were the descendants (through Abraham's son Isaac) of Abraham's grandson Jacob, who was given the name "Israel" (meaning "one who strives with God") by God (Genesis 35:10) as a result of the struggle described in Genesis 32:22-31 between Jacob and a being who was likely a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ. Thereafter, the tribes who descended from Jacob's twelve sons became collectively known as Israelites. The term "Jew" was derived from the name of one of Jacob's twelve sons (Judah), who became the founder of the ancestral line into which Jesus would eventually be born (Matthew 1:2-16; Luke 3:23-33). The first Biblical use of the word "Jews" to cumulatively refer not just to the descendants of Judah, or to an inhabitant of the southern kingdom of Judah (which consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), but to all to the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (as well as to those who converted to Judaism), occurs (in the King James Version) in Esther 2:5-6. (This was after the ten tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and had become the "lost" tribes of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-18).)
According to the Bible, Abraham left polytheism to follow the God who made the universe. Abraham lived about 2,000 BC and he and his descendants were known as Hebrews (Gen. 14:13). In fact the Pentateuch was written by Moses in the Hebrew language. Isaac was Abraham’s son and Jacob his grandson. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 46:1). Since this time Israel’s descendants were known as the children of Israel or Israel or Israelites. Israel’s family moved to Egypt where his son Joseph was second in command to the Pharaoh. In Egypt the Israelites grew to 2 million people when they subsequently migrated to Canaan in the Middle East under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. After the Israelites invaded Canaan, they were ruled by the kings Saul, David and Solomon. King David lived about 1,000 BC. After this, the kingdom was divided into two, with 10 tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel and two in the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10). Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem the capital of Judah. The Hebrew noun “Yehudi” (“Jew” in English; Strongs #3064) is derived from the name Judah, who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. “Yehudi” occurs 76 times in the following books of the Old Testament: – 11 times in Jeremiah (written about 600BC), where it describes Judeans, – Twice in 2 Kings (written about 550BC), where it describes Judeans who lived about 750BC and 590BC, – Once in Zechariah (written about 520BC), where it may describe both Judeans and Israelites, A related word “Yehudain” (Strongs #3062) only occurs in the books of Daniel and Ezra (written about 530BC and 440BC respectively). So the most robust answer to our question, “When did the Hebrews or Israelites become known as Jews?” is from about 600BC. Originally, the word referred to members of the tribe of Judah, but later it described anyone from the kingdom of Judah. This would include those from the northern kingdom of Israel who moved to Judah, including Mordecai’s ancestors. Also, as those who returned after the exile settled in Judea, they were called Jews regardless of their ancestoral tribe. In the New Testament, the words, “Hebrews”, “Israelltes”, and “Jews” are used interchangeably to describe the descendants of Jacob (Jn. 4:9; 2 Cor. 11:22). And this is the case today – the words “Hebrews”, “Israelltes”, and “Jews” are used as synonyms. In 722 BC, Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians and the Israelites were dispersed into surrounding nations (2 Ki. 17). As they assimilated and now have no national identity, they are known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”. However, they weren’t all lost because some remained in Israel and some moved to Judah (2 Chron. 15:9; 35:18). In 605 BC and 598 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah and in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed. Many of the Jews were taken to exile in Babylon. When the Persians conquered Babylon in 538 BC, the Persian King Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to their homelands and many returned to Judah. After the Babylonian exile, “Jew” replaced “Israelite” as the most widely-used term for these survivers. This was because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were descendants of the kingdom of Judah. Also, the Jewish religion was known as Judaism.After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. Although the terms “Hebrew” and “Israelite” continued in use into the New Testament period (Rom. 9:4; 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5), by then the term “Jew” was more commonly used. At His death, the Romans referred to Jesus as the “king of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37). Hebrew is the culture, Israelite is the race, and Jew is the religion. All Israelites were supposed to be Jews, but that is not the case today as we have gentiles, Grecs and Romans converted to Jewish culture.. Baruch Haba’b Atta Adonai El Elohim Shaddai Melek.
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