THE PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE HEBREW PEOPLES
Duration ca. 21 minutes
The Ancient Hebrews were of mixed physical types. They included dark types as well as fair ones and blonds and red heads. The Bible, Rabbinical sources, and archaeology confirm this.
THE PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY OF
THE HEBREW PEOPLES
by Yair Davidiy
Ancient Israelites were of mixed physical types that included blondes and red-heads alongside darker ones.
In the article below we examine archaeological and historical sources alongside Rabbinical texts and the findings of Physical Anthropology.
It is recommended that this article be read in conjunction with the article,
Pictures of Ancient Israelites
The Israelites of old were regarded by the Egyptians as people from the land of Amuru, meaning the land of the Amorites which the Israelites conquered. Another term applied to the general Syrian area was "Retenu". The name "Upper Retenu"1 corresponded to the geographical space encompassed by the Land of Israel, according to the Bible. People from the area known as "Amuru" or "Retenu" after ca.1400 BCE are presumably Israelites. They are depicted on Egyptian monuments as red, blonde, or black-haired with frequent blue eyes and red beards. Illustrations of individuals with this appearance are automatically assumed by Egyptologists to pertain to the Israelite or "Syrian" area. Another blonde blue-eyed people depicted on Egyptian monuments were the so-called "Libyans" and it has now been shown by Alessandra Nibbi (1989) that these were not dwellers of "Libya" but rather of the Nile Delta and of Hebrew origin.
On the Egyptian pictures skins of individuals from the Israelite or "Syrian" area are often light colored and pinkish3.
In addition darker individuals from these same areas are also depicted and sometimes they are the majority. The identification of the "Amuru" people depicted with Israelites may be confirmed from illustrations of an Egyptian monarch and his campaign against the Tribes of Israel: In about 924 BCE the king of Egypt, Shishak, invaded Judah and the (then) separate state of North Israel. Pictures of the campaign of Shishak reveal him receiving homage from the King of Judah and from the heads of cities and dignitaries in Judah and throughout northern ISRAEL. The personages depicted are of "Amuru" type and these pictures are sometimes even used as typifying the Egyptian depiction of "Amuru" characteristics. In the said context "Amuru" in effect often meant Israelite. It seems that the ancient Hebrews were a people of mixed kinds. This concept is apparently confirmed by Talmudic sources. One Midrash says that amongst the Tribes of Simeon and Levi very light-colored types (bohakanim) were common. On the other hand, a Talmudic Mishna (Negaim 2;1) says that Israelites (meaning in this case, the Jews of Judah) are mainly of an intermediate type coloring being neither black like a "Cushi" (Negro) nor light like a "Germani". "Germani" in Talmudic terminology (Aruch HaShalem) meant someone from the far north at that time or who looked like people from that area and the term could be applied to a very light colored person (Maimonides) like part of the people of Scandinavia. Joseph, the son of Israel, was described in a Midrash (Genesis Rabah 86;3), as looking like a GERMANI (i.e. like someone from the North, very white, fair, according to Maimonides) and in another passage (Talmud Sota 36) as having a face that was "pink like a rose". It follows that Joseph was considered as having been of Nordic appearance which was a known familial trait since Joseph is also said to have looked exactly like his father. [On the other hand it is implied that Joseph was exceptional in this regard]. Joseph (Ephraim and Menasseh) was the leading tribal group in the Northern Kingdom. The above sources indicate that the original twelve tribes of Israel were of mixed physical types and that in some tribes or geographical regions one kind was more dominant than others. It has also been stated that the Tribes tended to marry only within themselves and thus physical differences between different tribes were emphasized4. The claim may also be made that peoples of the same areas of otherwise entirely different physical characteristics often have the same coloring5. A mixed genetic stock of similar but different variations will produce over a long period more often the type that is most adaptable to the surrounding environment. This is not evolution. It is adaptation of an already existing physical entity (i.e. a group of people) to empirical circumstance in accordance with its already existing genetic potential.
The suggestion that physical environment influences inherited appearance and that the Israelite Tribes were of differing types, should not surprise anybody -both ideas are indicated in the Bible and in Oral Tradition.
Regarding external influences, it is related in the Book of Genesis how Jacob was set to mind flocks of sheep and goats belonging to his father-in-law, Laban (Genesis 30; 31-43). The sheep were either all white or of mixed-coloring whereas the goats were all black or mixed-colored. Jacob was inspired to utilize external influences in order to activate inherent genetic potential and produce the type of coloring he desired as explained in the bible and elaborated by us in "The Tribes".
As for different types having been present in the ancestry of Israelite Tribes from the very beginning, Jacob (i.e. Israel) the Fore-Father was twin-brother to Esau who was "Admoni" (i.e. red-haired. "Admoni" is sometimes translated as "ruddy" but more correctly meaning "red-haired" or golden-haired) and hairy (Genesis 25; 25) whereas Jacob was smooth-skinned (Genesis 27;11). David, King of Israel, was also an "Admoni" (1-Samuel 16;22) meaning red or golden haired. Laban, the father-in-law of Jacob has a name meaning "Whitish" and which is cognate with the English word "blond."6 On the other hand the Shepherdess in the Song of Solomon (1;6) announces, "I am black but comely...". The Tribal Patriarchs all took women from different nations and in the course of time the separate genetic potentials combined with differing environments would have produced distinctly different types. The area of ancient Israelite settlement contained climates varying from the semi-tropical to the Alpine.
According to the Bible and later Jewish legends (as recorded in "Seder HaDorot", and "Sefer HaYashar") the tribal Heads married women from various nations7. Joseph married an Egyptian woman (Genesis 41;45)8. Machir, son of Menasseh had an Aramaean concubine (1-Chronicles 7; 14). Reuben married a Hivite. Levi and Asher married descendants of Eber. Judah had one Canaanite and one Semite wife. Zebulon married a Midianitess and Issachar a descendant of Sem. Benjamin married a daughter of Zimran, son of Abraham and Keturah. Dan took a daughter of Lot, nephew of Abraham. Naphtali took a daughter of Nahor, as did Gad, and so on. The Apocryphal Book of Jubilees (ca. 200 BCE?) also says that the Tribal Patriarchal heads married women from different nations and mentions Canaanite, Egyptian, Semitic, and Mesopotamian women. Whether all of the above traditions are correct or not, they do reflect the apparent reality of some mixing with other nations whilst retaining an Israelite Tribal identity that is Biblically and Historically acceptable. Intermarriage of the Tribes with different nations combined with other factors must have produced different types, and this with the later influence of varying physical environments is enough to explain the superficial differences amongst the descendants of different Israelite Tribes today.
The Israelites while in Egypt were identifiable as the Hycsos who are referred to as Shepherd Kings by Josephus.
The Hyksos in Egyptian Mythology were associated with the figure of Set or Seth9. The Egyptians considered the god Seth to be essentially a negative figure connected with the desert and with waste places. In Scripture SETH (Genesis 5;3) was born in the likeness of Adam the first man and from him was descended Noah and all of humanity. Even so, in Hebrew tradition SETH could be considered a specifically HEBREW ancestor due to the idea that the Hebrews were inheritors of a God-given birthright. The Hebrews saw themselves as obligated to remain as close as possible to the original master plan entailed in the creation of man. Therefore, they were the true inheritors of Adam the first man as transmitted to Seth whereas the rest of humanity due to idolatry had diverged from the primary path10.
The Egyptians equated Seth with the Phoenician Baal especially under the aspect of Baal Zephon11 who was called "TYPHON" by the Greeks12 and ultimately identified with the god Saturn.
[Both names have Hebrew origins, Typhon comes from the Hebrew "Tsafon" meaning hidden and "Saturn" comes from "sater" also meaning "hide" or "secret"]. The Israelites in later Greek and Roman mythological terms were also to be equated somehow with Saturn as were the Celts of Britain. The Egyptians called Seth the "Bull of Retenu"13 meaning the Bull of Canaan.. Seth was considered to be the only god of the Hyksos. According to Plutarch ("Isis and Osiris", ch.73) Seth was identical with Typhon and he says that the Egyptians "used to burn men alive calling them `Typhon's followers`". This equation was confirmed by Diodorus Siculus (1;88;5) who said that every year red bulls were sacrificed by the Egyptians, "Because it is thought that this was the colour of Typhon...Men, also, if they were of the same colour, as Typhon were sacrificed, they say, in ancient times".
According to Egyptian colored wall illustrations a proportion of the western Semites (including the HEBREWS) were blonde and red haired15. Hebrew slaves had been portrayed (on wall illustrations still extant today) working for their Egyptian taskmasters and some of those depicted are blonde16. Coloring varied from tribe to tribe and fair-hair may have been more pronounced later in the north of Israel than in the south. In order that no one should misunderstand this matter it is worthwhile clarifying it:
1. Red or Blonde- hairedness was considered characteristic of peoples from the Land of Israel, and Syria according to Egyptian illustrations.
2. Sometimes groups of assumedly Israelite (or "Palestinian-Syrian") individuals are shown as entirely blonde or redhaired with blue eyes and pale pink skins.
3. More often people are shown from the same areas with very dark (maybe oiled?) head hair and red or blonde beards and eyes being either brown or bluish.
4. Blonde or redhaired individuals are sometimes depicted in groups though frequently they are shown as mixed in with other much darker individuals with similar facial features to themselves.
5. Groups of darkish people from the geographical areas of Syria and Israel are also often depicted.
6. Mesopotamian, Syrian, and "Phoenician" coloured statuettes depict both dark individuals as well as those with blue eyes and red-blondish hair. Statuettes from Judah and northern "Israel" show individuals with both apparently "European" as well as "Semitic" type features.
7. It follows that there were both mixed dark "Mediterranean" and so called light "Nordic" types existent amongst the ancient Israelites and the peoples around them. The evidence supports the idea that maybe there existed a certain color differentiation from tribe to tribe or from one
general area to another.
8. Jewish Rabbinical sources also support the notion that some tribes contained more fair individuals than others.
9. The climate and physical environment have a definite effect on a person's (or an entire people's) physical appearance. So does heredity. How environmental and genetic factors inter-react with each other is unknown but it definitely does occur. We are not interested in racial ideas regarding the relative hypothetical merits (if any) of one group over another. To the extent that physical differences exist between peoples a knowledge of them can help in tracing their migratory paths and this is our primary interest here.
Science has confirmed the fact that racial color changes!
BAMAD (Brit-Am DNA and Anthropology Updates) no.45
#7.Racial Skin Color Can and Does Change:
Your Family May Once Have Been A Different Color
Your Family May Once Have Been A Different Color
Skin has changed color in human lineages much faster than scientists had previously supposed, even without intermarriage, Jablonski [i.e. Nina Jablonski, head of the Penn State Department of Anthropology] says. Recent developments in comparative genomics allow scientists to sample the DNA in modern humans. She says that for many families on the planet, if we look back only 100 or 200 generations (that's as few as 2,500 years), "almost all of us were in a different place and we had a different color."
"People living now in southern parts of India [and Sri Lanka] are extremely darkly pigmented," Jablonski says. But their great, great ancestors lived much farther north, and when they migrated south, their pigmentation redarkened.
"There has probably been a redarkening of several groups of humans."
The Northern Israelites from the Ten Tribes were exiled according to conventional dating in ca. 720 BCE.
That is more than 2700 years ago.
If the ancestors of the inhabitants of southern India and Ceylon were much lighter than they are now but became darker (with little intermarriage) due mainly to climatic influence so too could the Ancient Hebrews if they were then darker have become lighter over the same period of time and again due to climatic influence!
And this is without taking into consideration the fact that many of the Israelites were evidently blond and red haired and of fair complexion to start with!
10. Our ideas concerning race are often based on misconceptions. The population of Britain, for instance, is considered to be 50% of Mediterranean type and less than 50% Nordic. The Nordic type itself in some ways is closer to the Mediterranean and Negroid than it is to the Central European. Claims based on Studies in racial sciences including even the most recent findings remain less than absolutely certain. Despite this reservation many of these studies are of potential importance. The ancient Hebrews appear to have been of the same types as those predominant amongst the present-day Jews and amongst European peoples. This does not mean that everybody belonging to any particular type must (on those grounds alone) have any connection to Israel nor does it preclude descendants of the ancient Hebrews in some areas having changed their physical format (due to environment or intermarriage) while still remaining of the seed of Israel according to Biblical Prophecy. The Bible in several places also gives non-Israelites the option of becoming full-fledged citizens and being treated equally. Once accepted the stranger leaves his past behind. Nowhere does it say that membership is limited to people of any particular appearance. Those people whose chances of belonging are circumvented and limited for hereditary reasons according to Scripture are the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7;3), Egyptians (Deuteronomy 23;7-8), and the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23;7-8), Ammonites, and Moabites (Deuteronomy 23;3), and these last three were of the Israelites own family and genetically possibly identical!. Esau the forefather of Edom was the twin-brother of Israel (Genesis 25;24). He was born red and hairy (Genesis 25;25). He became the arch-enemy of Israel and from him descend a portion of the Germans18. JOSEPH too was described as looking like a Germani. Joseph has the quality of being able to defeat Esau19. There are parallels between Esau and Joseph20 and in a way the two are mirror images of each other.
See also Additions below:
(1) Reply to Challenge Concerning Israelites and Red Hair
David the King of Israel and forefather of the future Messiah was also described as "Admoni" which is exactly the same term, meaning "reddish" as that applied to Esau. "Admoni" can mean blonde or someone with red hair and freckled skin.
Actually Yair, this does not refer to fair skin or hair in any way, we are talking about Israelites, a Semitic and Mediteranean people, who would have been swarthy. Fair skin is an adaptation to a colder northern climate. This "Admoni" actually refers to a dark reddish brown, not fair skin.
These were Semitic people Yair. This word is related to Adam, and remember that Adam in the OT was created from the dust of the ground, and so this refers to the color of dirt, like I mentioned above a dark reddish brown.
Shalom, You are saying that on linguistic and racial grounds I must be mistaken? Well, stranger things have happened. I should confess in advance, that you have touched a personal spot here. I have blondish hair that is inclined to red and so this question naturally always interested me. Since King David (who was described as "admoni") is a hero of mine I was naturally always in favor of any explanation that said he may have had a similar hair coloring to my own. [This is perhaps some consolation for not being similar to King David in more important ways!].
First of all linguistically:
[Genesis 2:7] AND THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN [ha-ADaM] OF THE DUST OF THE GROUND [ha-ADaMaH], AND BREATHED INTO HIS NOSTRILS THE BREATH OF LIFE; AND MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL.
The Hebrew word for man [Adam: Aleph-daleth- mem] is linked to the word for ground [Adamah: Aleph-daleth- mem-heh]. The Hebrew word for red is edom [Aleph-daleth-vav-mem] and it may be connected to the same root as the words for man and for ground or earth. On the other hand, Iben Shushan in his Hebrew Concordance of the Bible ("Concordantzia leTanach") says that the word "edom" meaning red derives from the same root as "dam" meaning blood, i.e. red like blood. At all events edom does not mean brown. In Hebrew the word for brown is "choom" from which we have the name "Ham" (Cham) son of Noah.
"Admoni" according to the Concordance of Iben Shushan means inclined to red.
Both Esau and David were described as "admoni".
Concerning the birth of Esau (who was later renamed Edom) it says:
[Genesis 25:25] AND THE FIRST CAME OUT RED [admoni], ALL OVER LIKE AN HAIRY GARMENT; AND THEY CALLED HIS NAME ESAU.
[1-Samuel 16:12] AND HE SENT, AND BROUGHT HIM IN. NOW HE WAS RUDDY [admoni], AND WITHAL OF A BEAUTIFUL COUNTENANCE, AND GOODLY TO LOOK TO. AND THE LORD SAID, ARISE, ANOINT HIM: FOR THIS IS HE.
And again concerning David:
[1-Samuel 17:42] AND WHEN THE PHILISTINE [Goliath] LOOKED ABOUT, AND SAW DAVID, HE DISDAINED HIM: FOR HE WAS BUT A YOUTH, AND RUDDY [admoni], AND OF A FAIR COUNTENANCE.
We see that in one case (Gen.25:25) the King James Version translates the Hebrew "admoni" as red and in another two cases (1-Samuel 16:12, 17:42) it renders it as "ruddy" i.e. reddish. In Hebrew Literature you can find the word "admoni" used in all kinds of contexts but in the earliest examples it seems to mean someone who is red-haired. In Jewish popular tradition of both Ashkenazim and Sephardim it is generally accepted that David had red-hair. The word "admoni" usually means someone with red hair but in some cases it can also mean someone who is blond or blond inclined to red. It is often taken as synonymous with the Modern Hebrew slang word "gingi" (from ginger) meaning blond or red haired.
At all events concerning Esau and David even though one could perhaps conceivably interpret "admoni" to mean ruddy in complexion, red-haired would be the more likely explanation and moist consistent with the literal intent of Scripture.
This brings us to your point regarding racial characteristics. You said that Esau and David would have belonged to the Mediterranean race and therefore must have been darkish in appearance. Blond and red-heads also occur amongst Mediterranean peoples.
Some people find this whole subject superfluous and distasteful but it is a necessary one. It is a matter that a lot of people have questions about even if they do not always express them.
You mentioned the climatic factor.
In Northern areas of Europe most peoples even though not related to each other are of fair complexion. Even the animals (foxes, hairs, bears, etc) in those areas are often "albinoid" and a fair complexion is physically a lack of pigmentation rather than a genetic coloring.
In ancient times time the climate in many areas was colder and wetter over much of the Middle East. Under the old system (emphasizing external appearance) of racial physical classification it was supposed that the Mediterranean type though usually darkish could produce about 15% of blond types. We find natural blondes amongst Australian aborigines, New Guinea pygmies, and in parts of the East. A fair or blond appearance CAN BE a racial marker but it is not always so. It is not an exclusive characteristic of northern peoples even though it is most common amongst them.
(2) Red Hair in General
<<Early tradition spoke of the Lost Ten Tribes being in the Scythian area. This has been discussed by Andrew Colin Gow ("The Red Jews. Anti-Semitism in an Apocalyptic Age 1200-1600" NY 1995). The Lost Ten Tribes were called "Red Jews" and were described as all having Red Hair. Red Hair in the Middle Ages especially in Germany was considered a negative characteristic and associated with the Jews and with Judas. The Anti-Christ and Judas were depicted as both having red hair and as both coming from the Tribe of Dan. In Germany the Jews were believed to be in league with the devil and to be plotting with the "Red Jews" meaning the Ten Tribes to overthrow Christendom. >> "The Red Jews"
<<T. E. Reed (1952) declares simply that "The frequency of red hair in Britain is only about 4%."&
<< Reaching even farther back, Michelson (1934) found 435 out of 2,397 male subjects "showed a red component in their hair." That's 18%.
<<Subsequent research by others verifies that the proportion of people with any red hair - e.g., ruddy whiskers - hovers between 18% and 20%.
<< However, Michelson (citation ) performed a careful count of the proportion of red hairs in the heads of his subjects. Of 2,361 final subjects (very light hair was excluded), 56 had 50% or more red hairs on the head (2.37%).
<<There seems to be a consensus that redheads account for about 4% of the population>> (of Britain).
A very High proportion of red-heads amongst Jews were reported in "Galicia" in Eastern Europe. Unconfirmed opinions state that 12% of the Scottish are red-haired and that redhair was especially prevalent amongst the Picts. Red-heads are also common in Ireland (perhaps reaching their highest in Donegal, ca. 15%, in the Northwest), Scotland, Norway and are found in small numbers throughout Europe.
Red-heads were also common in the population of ancient Thrace in which we reported entities from Edom to have settled and from there moved to Germany.
Some of the Pharaohs had red hair though most Egyptians were darkish. The Egyptians used to sacrifice red-heads. The Egyptian god Seth was described as red-haired and was associated with the Hyksos and with the Land of Canaan. Seth could be considered to sometimes represent Israel in Egyptian thought. Red-hairs used to be associated with Seth. People from the Land of Israel are occasionally depicted as red-haired in Egyptian paintings. Egyptian illustrations of foreign peoples had an element of caricature and ethnic distinctions were emphasized. Red colored hair for Egyptian artists was considered one of the distinguishing characteristics of Semites from the region of Ancient Israel and the Middle east in general.
Red-heads however are found in small numbers all over the world. It is a similar phenomenon to albinoism or blond hair. It may be due to genetics interacting with environmental influences.
People with red hair have a chance of being related to each other BUT IT IS NOT NECESSARILY SO.
Israelite Racial Color. a. Bible Sources