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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Hebron (1)

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hē´brun ( חברון , ḥebhrōn , "league" or "confederacy"; Χεβρών , Chebrō̇n ): One of the most ancient and important cities in Southern Palestine, now known to the Moslems as el Khalı̂l (i.e. Khalı̂l er Rahmān , "the friend of the Merciful," i.e. of God, a favorite name for Abraham; compare James 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 ( Numbers 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 Joshua 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 (Genesis 13:18 ); from here he went to the rescue of Lot and brought him back after the defeat of Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:13 f); here his name was changed to Abraham ( Genesis 17:5 ); to this place came the three angels with the promise of a son (Genesis 18:1 f); Sarah died here ( Genesis 23:2 ), and for her sepulcher Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:17 ); here Isaac and Jacob spent much of their lives (Genesis 35:27; Genesis 37:14 ); from here Jacob sent Joseph to seek his brethren (Genesis 37:14 ), and hence, Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt (Genesis 46:1 ). In the cave of Machpelah all the patriarchs and their wives, except Rachel, were buried (Genesis 49:30 f; Genesis 50:13 ).

2. Times of Joshua and Judges

The spies visited Hebron and near there cut the cluster of grapes (Numbers 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 (Joshua 10:3 f). Caleb drove out from Hebron the "Three sons of Anak" ( Joshua 14:12; Joshua 15:14 ); it became one of the cities of Judah (Joshua 15:54 ), but was set apart for the Kohathite Levites (Joshua 21:10 f), and became a city of refuge ( Joshua 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" (Judges 16:3 ).

3. The Days of the Monarchy

David, when a fugitive, received kindness from the people of this city (1 Samuel 30:31 ); here Abner was treacherously slain by Joab at the gate (2 Samuel 3:27 ), and the sons of Rimmon, after their hands and feet had been cut off, were hanged "beside the pool" (2 Samuel 4:12 ). After the death of Saul, David was here anointed king (2 Samuel 5:3 ) and reigned here 7 1/2 years, until he captured Jerusalem and made that his capital (2 Samuel 5:5 ); while here, six sons were born to him (2 Samuel 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 Samuel 15:7 f). Josephus mistakenly places here the dream of Solomon ( Ant. , VIII, ii, 1) which occurred at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4 ). Hebron was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 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 (Nehemiah 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 (which see); 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 Dêr 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, 5,6 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 Rāmet el Khalı̂l . See MAMRE .

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 Ḳassasin , 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 Samuel 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.

For Hebron ( Joshua 19:28 ) see EBRON .

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Hebron (1)'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/h/hebron-1.html. 1915.

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