obsolete term for an ethnic group in the Middle East
(Redirected from Semitic people)

Semites was a word used for people who speak a Semitic language like Arabic or Hebrew. Scientists don't use the words "Semites" or "Semitic peoples" any longer, but they still speak of "Semitic languages".[1][2][3][4][5]

The word "Semite" was taken from Shem, a son of Noah in Genesis (chapters 6-11). It was first used in the 1770s by German professors at Göttingen university.[6]


  1. Liverani1995, p. 392: "A more critical look at this complex of problems should advise employing today the term and the concept "Semites" exclusively in its linguistic sense, and, on the other hand, tracing back every cultural fact to its concrete historical environment. The use of the term "Semitic" in culture, subject as it is to arbitrary simplifications, shows methodological risks which exceed by far the possibility of positive historical analysis. In any case the Semitic character of every cultural fact is a problem which in each situation must be ascenained in its limits and in its historical setting (both in time and in the social environment), and may not be assumed as obvious or traced back to a presumed "Proto-Semitic" culture, statically conceived."
  2. On the use of the terms “(anti-)Semitic” and “(anti-) Zionist” in modern Middle Eastern discourse, Orientalia Suecana LXI Suppl. (2012) by Lutz Eberhard Edzard Archived 2017-10-11 at the Wayback Machine: "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."
  3. Anidjar 2008, p. (Foreword): "This collection of essays explores the now mostly extinct notion of Semites. Invented in the nineteenth century and essential to the making of modern conceptions of religion and race, the strange unity of Jew and Arab under one term, Semite (the opposing term was Aryan), and the circumstances that brought about its disappearance constitute the subject of this volume."
  4. Anidjar 2008, p. 6: "To a large extent, or rather, to a quite complete extent, Semites were, like their ever so distant relatives – the Aryans – a concrete figment of the Western imagination, the peculiar imagination that concerns me in the chapters that follow. And just as the witches (the simultaneous efficacy and deep unreliability of "spectral evidence"), Semites were – I write in the past tense because Semites are a thing of the past, ephemeral beings long vanished as such – Semites were, then, something of a hypothesis (Chapter 1), contemporary with, and constitutive of, that other powerfully incarnate fiction named "secularism" (Chapter 2). Again, and as underscored by Edward Said, who raIsed anew the "Semitic question", the role of the imagination can hardly be downplayed."
  5. Lewis, Bernard (1987). Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice. W W Norton & Co Inc. ISBN 978-0393304206. The confusion between race and language goes back a long way, and was compounded by the rapidly changing content of the word "race" in European and later in American usage. Serious scholars have pointed out–repeatedly and ineffectually-‑that "Semitic" is a linguistic and cultural classification, denoting certain languages and in some contexts the literatures and civilizations expressed in those languages. As a kind of shorthand, it was sometimes retained to designate the speakers of those languages. At one time it might thus have had a connotation of race, when that word itself was used to designate national and cultural entities. It has nothing whatever to do with race in the anthropological sense that is now common usage. A glance at the present‑day speakers of Arabic, from Khartoum to Aleppo and from Mauritania to Mosul, or even of Hebrew speakers in the modern state of Israel, will suffice to show the enormous diversity of racial types.
  6. Baasten, Martin (2003). "A Note on the History of 'Semitic'". Hamlet on a Hill: Semitic and Greek Studies Presented to Professor T. Muraoka on the Occasion of His Sixty-fifth Birthday. Peeters Publishers. p. 57–73. ISBN 9789042912151.