Richard A. Gabriel has a military interpretation of the Exodus.

A key part of his analysis is that

Avadeem is not the word for slave, it is the word for “worker” or even servant.

If this is true, this may confirm, to him, his theory that Exodus Jews were also the "habiru", buffer mercenaries of Egypt who became unmanageable & fearsome and were "set to labor" as corvee.

Essentially, he states that a transition from mercenary to outright slave is unlikely because there would undoubtedly be opposition, hastening the Exodus outcome. If they were simply nudged to a state of corvee labor, where ownership isn't explicit and right are partially instead of totally revoked, they would be less likely to revolt and risk a life in the wilderness away from civilization.

If they were born slaves for many generations, they would be unlikely to be able to fight their way out as he claims. To support this he offers an interpreted Exodus 12:35 as evidence for fighting:

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

That militarily speaking, this could not be done except by forceful coercion.

How precisely is "avadeem" defined based upon its usage in the Torah only? What are all of its usages in the Torah only?

  • 2
    I just want to add that the "habiru" thing is pretty discredited it; I spoke to a prof. at Bar Ilan University a while ago about it, and he (a fluent Hebrew, Aramaic, Hittite, Akkadian, and Egyptian speaker) said there was no academic backing for it.
    – user5540
    Jul 29, 2014 at 3:51
  • @eliyahu-g Thank you eliyahu-g! Can you point me toward some research? Thank you so much in advance!
    – user6800
    Jul 29, 2014 at 3:55
  • 2
    Off the top of my head, check out footnote 5 in this article:digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/…
    – user5540
    Jul 29, 2014 at 4:39
  • There's some good stuff on JTSOR, but if you don't work in a university (I do), then you may have trouble accessing that
    – user5540
    Jul 29, 2014 at 4:40
  • @Cincinnatus hope that helps!
    – user5540
    Jul 29, 2014 at 4:40

2 Answers 2


Exodus 1:13 uses a word sharing the ayin-vet-yod (e-v-d) root "So the Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel with back breaking labor."

The phrase "back breaking labor" seems to point not to a simple worker or servant and the details in verse 14 flesh out that enslavement. Chapter 2 verse 27 shows that the "work" (from the same root) was oppressive (as explained in 3:7 and 9) and forced the people to cry out. 5:26 and surrounding verses also show that Pharaoh had control over every aspect of the people's lives, more than one would expect from a simple laborer.

The root e-v-d means "work" in many different senses -- it is used to describe sacrifices in the temple, and the basic work people perform daily. But when it is used in a forced sense (made them work) and is accompanied by the oppressive control other verses describe it seems clear that we are not talking about an innocuous servant status.

When it is used later in the text to describe the laws of owning a slave (still in the sense of ownership, something not present when one describes being a "worker") the text speaks of the limits of control, and yet the slave is still a slave. When the slave has no rights, how much more so is it apparent that slavery is the situation?

  • Thank you Danno! In the laws of slave ownership, is "avadeem" still used to describe a slave, or is an alternative or something more precise? Thank you so much in advance!
    – user6800
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:30
  • 1
    Why can't ויעבדיו mean "and they worked them" instead of "and they enslaved them"?
    – Double AA
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:34
  • @DoubleAA I think Danno's point is ממה נפשך: if the Jews had no choice, then it's still in the sense of slavery; if they did, then why the emphasis on "עבודה קשה"?
    – MTL
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:38
  • @DoubleAA my point was that the forced nature ("and they worked them") using what some see as a generic term for what could be inoffensive "work" is contextualized by the other descriptors which explain that the word means more than its strictest root/denotation.
    – rosends
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:43
  • @Cincinnatus you might want to define how you understand "slave" as distinct from indentured servant, house maid etc.
    – rosends
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:44

Eliezer was an 'eved' of Avraham. An 'eved' goes out after six years. We don't seem to differentiate in terminology. But when the request to leave is denied, we can easily translate his into modern English as slave. What was his point?

  • He frequently uses the term "corvee laborer" for more precision. His assertion is that Exodus Jews were the habiru mercenaries and that many years of doing the fighting for Egypt and a population boom to boot made Seti change their job title. Can you provide a list of example usage of "avadeem" in the Torah? Thank you so much in advance!
    – user6800
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:17
  • @Cincinnatus If you want a list of the usage of "avadeem" in the Torah, try using a Concordance, as most people don't have access to that type of information off the top of their heads.
    – MTL
    Jul 29, 2014 at 2:40

You must log in to answer this question.