History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Who were the historical ancestors of the Israelites? Do they have no ancestors?

Please, try to avoid Biblical references to Genesis if there are there any scientific/archeological/historical references.

share|improve this question
I think you're misreading wikipedia. Could you quote where wikipedia says Israelites have no ancestors? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 20 '14 at 13:31
What precisely do you mean by the phrase ancestors? You appear to be using the term in a non-standard way, which may be the source of confusion with Wikipedia. – Pieter Geerkens Apr 20 '14 at 13:44
Israel is a nation, not a people. The nation of Israel contained many different peoples. Are you asking who the ancestors of the Hebrews were? – Tyler Durden Apr 23 '14 at 15:25

It is of course impossible for the Israelites to have no ancestors. It is also impossible to know their ancestors with absolute certainty. I give you here several quotations from "A History of the Jewish People", chapter 3 "The Dawn of Israel" by Abraham Malamat, edited by H.H. Ben-Sasson, from Harvard University Press to provide a modern historical answer.

"The genesis of every nation and tongue is enshrouded in obscurity, and generally there survive only a few vague recollections of limited historical value. Israel alone among the nations of the ancient Near East has preserved any organic, ramified tradition - as exemplified by the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua - recounting its origins and vicissitudes prior to its crystallization as a true historical entity."

"A cardinal question immediately poses itself and is the basis for any proper assessment of the historical beginnings of Israel: how is the biblical tradition (or, more precisely, the biblical traditions) to be evaluated from the standpoint of historical authenticity? The problem applies to the historical sketch in its broad outline as it emerges from the biblical account: the origin of the patriarchal family in Mesopotamia and its migration to Canaan; the social and religious modes of life followed by Abraham, Issac, and Jacob; the bondage in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus; the desert wanderings and the ultimate conquest of the Promised Land. Can this entire account or even a portion of it be viewed as faithfully mirroring historical reality?"

The book then goes into contrasts of various schools of thought from the radical denial of the biblical tradition to a blind respect for it, concluding with "In the subsequent sections, we shall employ a dialectal approach to the biblical material - in contrast to the one-sided radical methods noted above."

After discussing the difficulty of dating the Exodus we read: "Attempts to determine a comparatively accurate date for the Patriarchs are themselves doomed to failure, for in fact it is difficult to speak of the so-called 'patriarchal period' as a well-defined chronological entity, even where one accepts the biblical tradition as such. It would seem, rather, that imbedded in this narrative cycle are reminiscences of centuries-long historical processes that may hark back to the West Semitic migrations within the Fertile Crescent that made their way ever westwards and reached their apex during the first quarter of the second millennium [BCE]. These extended time spans were telescoped in the biblical narrative into a mere trigenerational scheme - Abraham, Issac, and Jacob."

Later we can find: "The Aramean element in the patriarchal stories is seemingly a later anachronism. There is thus no basis for the current scholarly contention that the Israelites were of Aramean or 'proto-Aramean' extraction. The Hebrews are, rather, to be linked with an earlier West Semitic stratum known in scholarly terminology as the Amorites (derived from the Akkadian designation 'Amurru', to be distinguished from the biblical usage of the Amorites), who first appeared in the Fertile Crescent towards the end of the third millennium [BCE]."

There is much more, bringing in extra-biblical material such as place names and archaeological finds, but the above is the crux of your answer. For more details, I recommend you get this or a similar historical work from the library.

share|improve this answer

The patriarchs of Israel are none other than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The term Israelite is named after Jacob, as Jacob is better known by his name "Israel." Israel had twelve sons, including personalities such as Joseph, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Nephtali, Ephraim, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, and Reuben. These twelve personalities are the direct ancestors of each of the twelve tribes the Israelites consisted of.

share|improve this answer
Do you have any references? Particularly since OP asked for non-Biblical references. Is there any non-Biblical evidence for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? – Mark C. Wallace Nov 7 '14 at 12:39
What evidence do you have that these people actually existed? – Semaphore Nov 7 '14 at 12:48
indeed, unless you bring up religious manuscripts as primary sources of historical data, I've never seen any indication for any of these people actually existing, let alone being leaders of tribes. – jwenting Nov 7 '14 at 14:20

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.