Israel traced its origin to Babylonia. It was from “Ur of the Chaldees” that Abraham “the Hebrew” had come, the rock out of which it was hewn. Here on the western bank of the Euphrates was the earliest home of the Hebrews, of whom the Israelites claimed to be a part.
But they were not the only nation of the ancient Oriental world which derived its ancestry from Abraham. He was the father not only of the Israelites, but of the inhabitants of northern and central Arabia as well. The Ishmaelites who were settled in the north of the Arabian peninsula, the descendants of Keturah who colonised Midian and the western coast, were also his children. Moab and Ammon, moreover, traced their pedigree to his nephew, while Edom was the elder brother of Israel. Israel, in fact, was united by the closest ties of blood to all the populations which in the historic age dwelt between the borders of Palestine and the mountain-ranges of south-eastern Arabia. They formed a single family which claimed descent from a common ancestor.
Israel was the latest of them to appear on the scene of history. Moab and Ammon had subjugated or absorbed the old Amorite population on the eastern side of the Jordan, Ishmael and the Keturites had made themselves a home in Arabia, Edom had possessed itself of the mountain-fastnesses of the Horite and the Amalekite, long before the Israelites had escaped from their bondage in Egypt, or formed themselves into a nation in the desert. They were the youngest member of the Hebrew family, though but for them the names of their brethren would have remained forgotten and unknown. Israel needed the discipline of a long preparation for the part it was destined to play in the future history of the world.
The Hebrews belonged to the Semitic race. The race is distinguished by certain common characteristics, but more especially by the possession of a common type of language, which is markedly different from the other languages of mankind. Its words are built on what is termed the principle of triliteralism; the skeleton, as it were, of each of them consisting of three consonants, while the vowels, which give flesh and life to the skeleton, vary according to the grammatical signification of the word. The relations of grammar are thus expressed for the most part by changes of vocalic sound, just as in English the plural of “man” is denoted by a change in the vowel. The verb is but imperfectly developed; it is, in fact, rather a noun than a verb, expressing relation rather than time. Compound words, moreover, are rare, the compounds of our European languages being replaced in the Semitic dialects by separate words.