Hebron: what happened there
According to the Bible, Hebron is the burial place of Abraham and Sarah. Genesis 23:17-21 tells the story of Abraham's purchase of a cave, the Cave of Machpelah, for a tomb in which he and his descendents could be buried. He paid an exorbitant amount, so that his descendants would have the right of burial there forever. And indeed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were laid there to rest; so were the matriarch Rebecca and Jacobís wife Leah.
The Burial of Sarah
Recent excavations have uncovered a 9ft-thick city wall and fortified tower that dates to the Middle Bronze period, circa 1700 BC. Scholars say this is about the time when, according to the biblical story, Abraham came to the city.
Between the tower and the city wall, archaeologists have unearthed two stone-walled rooms that they believe date back to the period of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose 12 sons became the founders of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Artifacts found in the rooms include silver jewelry, bronze axe heads, two scarabs and the handle of a dagger.
Upper Pool of David, from a 1937 photograph. This may be
the site of
Hebron was King David's first capital city of Judah - see David's story at Bible People: David. It was also the site of David's anointing as King of all Israel (11 Samuel 5:1-3). The city reached its zenith in the early part of David's reign, serving as his capital for the first seven and a half years of his rule over Judea (II Samuel 2:1-4).
But some years after he came to power he established his new capital at Jerusalem, which was more centrally located and easier to defend. But Hebron was still important. It was still regarded as a political and religious centre throughout the period of the monarchy. It became a Levitical city, that is a city for priests and Levites, as well as a haven of refuge.
It was at Hebron that the fearsome army general Joab killed Abner ben-Ner, and Absalom raised the banner of revolt against his father (11 Sam. 15:7-10). Rehoboam fortified Hebron, as well as many other places in the Judean mountains (II Ch. I I :10). It also served as an important administrative centre in the later period of the monarchy. Seals bearing the inscription ImIk hbrn (to the king of Hebron) have been found stamped on jars in many sites in Judah.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron
The lower sections of the Tomb date from the time of Herod the Great
Jews settled in Hebron after their return from the Babylonian Exile (Nehemiah 11:25). In the early period of the Second Temple, the Edomites occupied the southern part of Judea, including Hebron. The Hasmoneans later wrested it from them, destroyed it, and burned down its walls (Ant. Bk. 12, 8:6). Herod erected many buildings in Hebron, including an imposing structure over the Cave of Machpelah with an outer wall modelled on that of the Temple Mount. It was made of huge blocks of stone, characteristic of the best Herodian masonry.
A prominent church and monastery were later built in Hebron and the site became a centre of pilgrimage for Christians. The Arabic name of Hebron, "al-Khalil", meaning "the friend of God", is a significant indication of the reverence in which Abraham's name is held by Moslems. Abraham is revered as the original founder of the three great religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
Early 20th century photograph of Hebron
King David and Hebron (extra information)
The Second Book of Samuel opens with
David's lament over Saul and Jonathan and David's move to Hebron, the tribal and cultic centre of Judah and close to Bethlehem, David's birthplace.
Between Judea and the larger part of the kingdom of Saul, lay the mountain enclave of Jerusalem still occupiedby the Canaanite clan of the Jebusites. While this remained, political and military control of a united Palestine was impossible. David attacked
Jerusalem, the hero of the battle being his commander, Joab. By creating a diversion within the city he enabled David and his men to break through its defences and capture the stronghold.
THE STORY OF HEBRON
The foundation of this important and ancient city of Palestine is mentioned in the Old Testament in a unique manner: "And Hebron was built seven years before Zoan of Egypt" (Nu. 13:22). The date of the foundation of Zoan, which served as the capital of the Hyksos, can be calculated from extra-biblical sources as circa 1720 BC. It may therefore be assumed that Hebron was built at the beginning of the Middle Bronze (Canaanite) Age 11, which coincides with the Hyksos period. This estimate is also borne out by the frequent mention of Hebron in the Patriarchal Epics (Genesis 13:18; 35:27, and elsewhere), as the Patriarchal period also coincides with that of the Hyksos.
The Canaanite Period
Indications of Canaanite occupation of Hebron occur several times in the Old Testament. One such tradition is the account of
Abraham's purchase of the Field of Machpelah in Hebron from Ephron the Hittite (Gn. 23:17-20). The Cave of Machpelah later became the burial-place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.
During the Monarchy
Hebron reached its zenith in the early part of
David's reign, serving as his capital for the first seven and a half years of his rule over Judea (II Sam. 2:1-4). Subsequently, Jerusalem was made the capital of the united kingdom. Hebron was also the site of David's anointing as King of all Israel (II Sam. 5:1-3). In deference to the tombs of the Patriarchs within its boundaries, Hebron continued to be regarded as a political and religious centre throughout the period of the monarchy. It became a Levitical city, i.e. a city for priests and Levites, as well as a haven of refuge.
Post-Exilic and Roman Period
Jews settled in Hebron after their return from the Babylonian Exile (Nehemiah 11:25). In the early period of the Second Temple, the Edomites occupied the southern part of Judea, including Hebron. The Hasmoneans later wrested it from them, destroyed it, and burned down its walls (Antiquities Book 12, 8:6). Herod erected many buildings in Hebron, including an imposing structure over the Cave of Machpelah with an outer wall modelled on that of the Temple Mount. It was made of huge blocks of stone, characteristic of the best Herodian masonry. Herod also erected other buildings in the Mamre quarter.
of stone formed the base of the Temple Mount, built by Herod the
Scant Archaeological Evidence
The present site of Hebron is on four hills: At Muhawer, Nimrah, Jabal al Ja'barah, and Jabal ar-Rumaidah. As yet (this was written in 1964) no systematic excavations of the town have been carried out; there is no unanimity as to the location of Hebron and its quarters in Old Testament times. Nevertheless, there is a strong presumption, based on a number of potsherds from the Iron Age, that the town first stood on Jabal ar-Rumaidah. Among the sites uncovered on that hill was one of a tomb containing pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1700 BC), which seems to fit in with the literary materials bearing on the age of Hebron.
The Cave of Machpelah
According to tradition, the site of the Cave is at Haram el-Khalil in the eastern part of modern Hebron. The Cave, which is sacred to Moslems, is surrounded by an enclosure or "Haram" measuring sixty by thirty-three metres, and a building whose foundations date to the time of Herod. After the Arab conquest, the Cave of Machpelah was covered by a synagogue. Following the Crusades, the Arabs banned the entry of non-Moslems. Those few who have entered report the presence of a blocked cave under the sealed enclosure.
Mamre and Abraham's Tent
The place where Abraham pitched his tent (Gn. 13 :18; 18:1) is near Hebron. Apparently the location has been shifted a number of times because of its association with an ancient oak tree. During
Herod's reign and for a long time thereafter, one such tree existed north of Hebron at Ramat-el-Khalil. The site of the tent at Mamre was probably fixed during this period, as Herod built a rectangular enclosure of magnificent masonry there at the same time that he erected the "Haram". The site was rebuilt as a pagan centre with a great market-place during the Hadrianic era. It was chiefly remembered by Jews as the place where, after the Bar Kochba
War, thousands of their co-religionists were sold into slavery for less than the price of cattle.