Sumerian term for refugees of various races scattered round the Fertile Crescent from about 2900 to 1200 BCE. The Tell el-Amarna letters found in 1887 at a town on the River Nile, were sent to the Pharaohs in the 15–14th cents. BCE from Egyptian governors in Palestine; they mention hostile incursions of the Habiru, whom some archaeologists identified as the Hebrews of the Exodus. But the hypothesis has the difficulty that Jerusalem, from which one of the letters was sent, was not taken by the Hebrews until its capture by David in c. 1000 BCE.

The term is now thought to be a description of a social rather than an ethnic group, meaning outsiders or refugees.