(ha bi' ryoo) People mentioned in ancient texts written about 2000 to 1200 B.C. in Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt. The word apparently means “outcast” or “renegade.”
Identity of the Habiru Scholars have offered several theories attempting to identify these Habiru. Because the word sounds much like the name “Hebrew,” some scholars thought it referred to ethnic Israel. Since it appears in texts written earlier than Abraham lived and since the Habiru seemed numerous during the patriarchal period, it does not appear to designate ethnic Hebrews. Most scholars treat the term as the name of a social class: outcasts or renegades. In letters written from Palestine to Amarna in Egypt, they appear as rebels attacking cities belonging to the pharaohs of the fourteenth century, and in one text they are further identified as former slaves who had revolted.
Relation to Hebrews If the Habiru are rebels and not an ethnic group, are they nevertheless somehow related to the Hebrews? Some scholars have said yes, seeing the Habiru as nomads who might have included the patriarchs to Joshua, or as peasants who revolted. The Bible, however, depicts the patriarchs, not as nomads, but as pastoralists (shepherds who settled beside other shepherds and farmers). Neither was Joshua a nomad, nor do the books of Joshua and Judges depict a revolt by peasants. About the only possible relationship is that the Hebrews might have included some Habiru from Egypt or Canaan.