Semite

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Semite

(sĕm`īt, sē`mīt), originally one of a people believed to be descended from Shem, son of Noah. Later the term came to include the following peoples: Arabs; the Akkadians of ancient Babylonia; the Assyrians; the Canaanites (including Amorites, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, and Phoenicians); the various Aramaean tribes (including Hebrews); and a considerable portion of the population of Ethiopia. These peoples are grouped under the term Semite, chiefly because their languages were found to be related, deriving presumably from a common tongue, Semitic. The Semites were largely nomadic pastoralists, although some settled in villages. At least as early as 2500 B.C., the Semites had begun to leave the Arabian peninsula in successive waves of migration that took them to Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean coast, and the Nile delta. They were organized into patrilineal tribes, occupying defined territories and ruled by hereditary leaders, or sheiks. In Mesopotamia, Semitic people from the earliest times were in contact with Sumerian civilization and with the rise of Sargon of Agade (Akkad) and Hammurabi of Babylon were able to dominate it completely (see SumerSumer
and Sumerian civilization
. The term Sumer is used today to designate the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. From the earliest date of which there is any record, S Mesopotamia was occupied by a people, known as Sumerians, speaking a non-Semitic language.
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). In PhoeniciaPhoenicia
, ancient territory occupied by Phoenicians. The name Phoenicia also appears as Phenice and Phenicia. These people were Canaanites (see Canaan), and in the 9th cent. B.C.
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 the Semitic population developed a widespread maritime trade and became the first great seafaring people. That group of Hebrews that had been diverted through Sinai into the Nile delta settled at last with other Semitic inhabitants in Palestine. These southern or Judean Hebrews became the leaders of a new nation and religion (see JewsJews
[from Judah], traditionally, descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, whose tribe, with that of his half-brother Benjamin, made up the kingdom of Judah; historically, members of the worldwide community of adherents to Judaism.
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 and JudaismJudaism
, the religious beliefs and practices and the way of life of the Jews. The term itself was first used by Hellenized Jews to describe their religious practice, but it is of predominantly modern usage; it is not used in the Bible or in Rabbinic literature and only rarely
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).

Bibliography

See W. R. Smith, History of the Semites (1956, repr. 1972).

Semite

(less commonly), Shemite
1. a member of the group of Caucasoid peoples who speak a Semitic language, including the Jews and Arabs as well as the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians
2. another word for a Jew