Semites, Semitic peoples or Semitic cultures was a term for an ethnic, cultural or racial group.On the use of the terms “(anti-)Semitic” and “(anti-) Zionist” in modern Middle Eastern discourse, Orientalia Suecana LXI Suppl. (2012)
Lutz Eberhard Edzard
"In linguistics context, the term "Semitic" is generally speaking non-controversial... As an ethnic term, "Semitic" should best be avoided these days, in spite of ongoing genetic research (which also is supported by the Israeli scholarly community itself) that tries to scientifically underpin such a concept."
Review of "The Canaanites" (1964)

"The term "Semitic," coined by Schlozer in 1781, should be strictly limited to linguistic matters since this is the only area in which a degree of objectivity is attainable. The Semitic languages comprise a fairly distinct linguistic family, a fact appreciated long before the relationship of the Indo-European languages was recognized. The ethnography and ethnology of the various peoples who spoke or still speak Semitic languages or dialects is a much more mixed and confused matter and one over which we have little scientific control."
The terminology is now largely obsolete outside the grouping "Semitic languages" in linguistics. First used in the 1770s by members of the Göttingen School of History, this biblical terminology for race was derived from Shem ( he|שֵׁם), one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis, together with the parallel terms Hamites and Japhetites. In archaeology, the term is sometimes used informally as "a kind of shorthand" for ancient Semitic-speaking peoples.

Ethnicity and race

The term Semitic in a racial sense was coined by members of the Göttingen School of History in the early 1770s. Other members of the Göttingen School of History coined the separate term Caucasian in the 1780s. These terms were used and developed by numerous other scholars over the next century. In the early 20th century, the racialist classifications of Carleton S. Coon included the Semitic peoples in the Caucasian race, as similar in appearance to the Indo-European, Northwest Caucasian, and Kartvelian-speaking peoples. Due to the interweaving of language studies and cultural studies, the term also came to be applied to the religions (ancient Semitic and Abrahamic) and ethnicities of various cultures associated by geographic and linguistic distribution.


The terms "anti-Semite" or "antisemitism" came by a circuitous route to refer more narrowly to anyone who was hostile or discriminatory towards Jews in particular. Anthropologists of the 19th century such as Ernest Renan readily aligned linguistic groupings with ethnicity and culture, appealing to anecdote, science and folklore in their efforts to define racial character. Moritz Steinschneider, in his periodical of Jewish letters ''Hamaskir'' (3 (Berlin 1860), 16), discusses an article by Heymann Steinthal criticising Renan's article "New Considerations on the General Character of the Semitic Peoples, In Particular Their Tendency to Monotheism". Renan had acknowledged the importance of the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Israel etc. but called the Semitic races inferior to the Aryan for their monotheism, which he held to arise from their supposed lustful, violent, unscrupulous and selfish racial instincts. Steinthal summed up these predispositions as "Semitism", and so Steinschneider characterised Renan's ideas as "anti-Semitic prejudice". In 1879 the German journalist Wilhelm Marr began the politicisation of the term by speaking of a struggle between Jews and Germans in a pamphlet called ''Der Weg zum Siege des Germanenthums über das Judenthum'' ("The Way to Victory of Germanism over Judaism"). He accused the Jews of being liberals, a people without roots who had Judaized Germans beyond salvation. In 1879 Marr's adherents founded the "League for Anti-Semitism",Moshe Zimmermann, ''Wilhelm Marr: The Patriarch of Anti-Semitism'', Oxford University Press, USA, 1987 which concerned itself entirely with anti-Jewish political action. Objections to the usage of the term, such as the obsolete nature of the term "Semitic" as a racial term and the exclusion of discrimination against non-Jewish Semitic peoples, have been raised since at least the 1930s.

See also

* Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples * Generations of Noah * Hamites * Japhetites



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External links

Semitic geneticsSemitic language family tree
included under "Afro-Asiatic" in SIL'

The south Arabian origin of ancient ArabsThe perished ArabsAncient Semitic peoples (video)
{{Authority control Category:Historical definitions of race Category:Islam and Judaism Category:Shem