Semitic people occupy a relatively small portion of the world geographically, but they have held significant historic, cultural and religious importance. The diverse cultures and ethnicities classified as Semitic share commonalities in language. Originating in Arabia and Ethiopia, Semites share a large portion of their history and background but have found little peace amongst each other.
Semitic people can find their roots in Biblical history. According to the Genesis account, Noah and his family survived a global flood by living in an ark. Semites can trace their heritage back to Shem, one of Noah’s sons. In ancient history the term “Semite” included Arabs, Assyrians, the Akkadians of Babylonia, the Canaanites, Aramean tribes, certain groups in Ethiopia and the Hebrew tribes. Most Semitic groups were nomadic and traveled throughout the Arabic peninsula. By 2,500 BC they had migrated as far as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean coastline. Contemporary Semitic people are primarily Hebrews and Arabs.
The term Semitic is often mistakenly used to describe attributes pertaining to Hebrew or Jewish culture. The Hebrew people claim their genealogy back to Heber, a great-grandson of Shem. They were an ancient nomadic people in the Middle East who people referred to by their religious affiliation, the Jews. When they conquered the land of Canaan they embraced a national identity with the term Israelites. The term Semitic also refers to Jewish people living outside the Middle East region. Jewish tradition is based on the Torah.
Although the term Semite connotes ideas of Jewish or Hebrew people, Arabs are also Semitic people. Arabs consider about 22 countries through the Middle East and Africa home. The Arabic language is the defining feature of an individual Arab. Arabic is a Semite language, similar to Hebrew in grammar and syntax. They are an ethnically diverse populace with different languages and cultures. Arab is a cultural attribute, not a race or nationality. Although Judaism and Christianity can be found in Arab countries, Islam is the dominant religion.
The Amhara, in Ethiopia, are classified as Semitic because of their language and Arabian origins. The Amhara trace their origins to the land that modern-day Yemen now occupies. They are primarily farmers residing in north central areas of Ethiopia. The Amharic language uses similar words and structure to Hebrew and other Semitic languages.
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