Hebron in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible
Hebron was one of the most ancient and important cities in Southern Palestine, now known to the Moslems as el Khalil (i.e. Khalil er Rahman, "the friend of the Merciful," i.e. of God, a favorite name for Abraham; compare Jas 2:23). The city is some 20 miles South of Jerusalem, situated in an open valley, 3,040 ft. above sea-level.
I. History of the City
Hebron is said to have been rounded before Zoan (i.e. Tanis) in Egypt (Nu 13:22); its ancient name was Kiriath-arba, probably meaning the "Four Cities," perhaps because divided at one time into four quarters, but according to Jewish writers so called because four patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Adam were buried there. According to Josh 15:13 it was so called after Arba, the father of Anak.
1. Patriarchal Period:
Abram came and dwelt by the oaks of &MAMRE (which see), "which are in Hebron" Gen (13:18); from here he went to the rescue of Lot and brought him back after the defeat of Chedorlaomer (14:13 f); here his name was changed to Abraham (17:5); to this place came the three angels with the promise of a son (18:1 f); Sarah died here (23:2), and for her sepulcher Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah (23:17); here Isaac and Jacob spent much of their lives (35:27; 37:14); from here Jacob sent Joseph to seek his brethren (37:14), and hence, Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt (46:1). In the cave of Machpelah all the patriarchs and their wives, except Rachel, were buried (49:30 f; 50:13).
2. Times of Joshua and Judges:
The spies visited Hebron and near there cut the cluster of grapes (Nu 13:22 f). &HOHAM (which see), king of Hebron, was one of the five kings defeated by Joshua at Beth-horon and slain at Makkedah (Josh 10:3 f). Caleb drove out from Hebron the "three sons of Anak" (Josh 14:12; 15:14); it became one of the cities of Judah (Josh 15:54), but was set apart for the Kohathite Levites (Josh 21:10 f), and became a city of refuge (Josh 20:7). One of Samson's exploits was the carrying of the gate of Gaza "to the top of the mountain that is before Hebron" (Jdg 16:3).
3. The Days of the Monarchy:
David, when a fugitive, received kindness from the people of this city (1 Sam 30:31); here Abner was treacherously slain by Joab at the gate (2 Sam 3:27), and the sons of Rimmon, after their hands and feet had been cut off, were hanged "beside the pool" (2 Sam 4:12). After the death of Saul, David was here anointed king (2 Sam 5:3) and reigned here 7 1/2 years, until he captured Jerusalem and made that his capital (2 Sam 5:5); while here, six sons were born to him (2 Sam 3:2).
In this city Absalom found a center for his disaffection, and repairing there under pretense of performing a vow to Yahweh, he raised the standard of revolt (2 Sam 15:7 f). Josephus mistakenly places here the dream of Solomon (Ant., VIII, ii, 1) which occurred at Gibeon (1 Ki 3:4). Hebron was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Ch 11:10).
4. Later History:
Probably during the captivity Hebron came into the hands of Edom, though it appears to have been colonized by returning Jews (Neh 11:25); it was recovered from Edom by Simon Maccabeus (1 Macc 5:65; Josephus, Ant, XII, viii, 6). In the first great revolt against Rome, Simon bar-Gioras captured the city (BJ, IV, ix, 7), but it was retaken, for Vespasian, by his general Cerealis who carried it by storm, slaughtered the inhabitants and burnt it (ibid., 9).
During the Muslim period Hebron has retained its importance on account of veneration to the patriarchs, especially Abraham; for the same reason it was respected by the Crusaders who called it Castellum ad Sanctum Abraham. In 1165 it became the see of a Latin bishop, but 20 years later it fell to the victorious arms of Saladin, and it has ever since remained a fanatic Moslem center, although regarded as a holy city, alike by Moslem, Jew and Christian.
II. The Ancient Site
Modern Hebron is a straggling town clustered round the Haram or sacred enclosure built above the traditional cave of &MACHPELAH ; it is this sacred spot which has determined the present position of the town all through the Christian era, but it is quite evident that an exposed and indefensible situation, running along a valley, like this, could not have been that of earlier and less settled times.
From many of the pilgrim narratives, we can gather that for long there had been a tradition that the original site was some distance from the modern town, and, as analogy might suggest, upon a hill. There can be little doubt that the site of the Hebron of Old Testament history is a lofty, olive-covered hill, lying to the West of the present town, known as er Rumeidy.
Upon its summit are cyclopian walls and other traces of ancient occupation. In the midst are the ruins of a medieval building known as Der el-Arba`in, the "monastery of the forty" (martyrs) about whom the Hebronites have an interesting folklore tale. In the building are shown the so-called tombs of Jesse and Ruth.
Near the foot of the hill are several fine old tombs, while to the North is a large and very ancient Jewish cemetery, the graves of which are each covered with a massive monolith, 5 and 6 ft. long. At the eastern foot of the hill is a perennial spring, `Ain el Judeideh; the water rises in a vault, roofed by masonry and reached by steps. The environs of this hill are full of folklore associations; the summit would well repay a thorough excavation.
A mile or more to the Northwest of Hebron is the famous oak of &MAMRE (which see), or "Abraham's oak," near which the Russians have erected a hospice. It is a fine specimen of the Holm oak (Quercus coccifera), but is gradually dying. The present site appears to have been pointed out as that of Abraham's tent since the 12th century; the earlier traditional site was at Ramet el Khalil.
III. Modern Hebron
Modern Hebron is a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, 85 percent of whom are Moslems and the remainder mostly Jews. The city is divided into seven quarters, one of which is known as that of the "glass blowers" and another as that of the "water-skin makers." These industries, with the manufacture of pottery, are the main sources of trade. The most conspicuous building is the Haram (see &MACHPELAH).
In the town are two large open reservoirs the Birket el Qassasin, the "pool of the glass blowers" and Birket es Sultan, "the pool of the Sultan." This latter, which is the larger, is by tradition the site of the execution of the murderers of Ishbosheth (2 Sam 4:12).
The Moslem inhabitants are noted for their fanatical exclusiveness and conservatism, but this has been greatly modified in recent years through the patient and beneficent work of Dr. Paterson, of the U. F. Ch. of S. Med. Mission. The Jews, who number about 1,500, are mostly confined to a special ghetto; they have four synagogues, two Sephardic and two Ashkenazic; they are a poor and unprogressive community.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).