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HEBRON (hē'brŏn, Heb. hevrôn, league, confederacy). 1. One of the oldest cities of the world, and one that has had several names at different times. It is located nineteen miles (thirty-two km.) SW of Jerusalem on the main road to Beersheba and has one of the longest records of continuous occupation. Though lying in a shallow valley, it is about 3,000 feet (940 m.) above sea level and 4,300 feet (1,340 m.) above the Dead Sea, which lies a few miles east of Hebron. The hills about the city still bear choice grapes, and the Jewish people there make a fine wine. The Valley of Eshcol, from which the spies brought an immense cluster of grapes (Num.13.22-Num.13.24), runs quite near Hebron. Hebron’s original name was Kiriath Arba, i.e., “fourfold city” (Josh.14.15; Josh.15.13).

2. Third son of Kohath, and so an uncle of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Exod.6.18). His descendants, 1,700 men of valor in the days of David, had the responsibility for the Lord’s business and for the service of the king west of the Jordan (1Chr.26.30).

3. A town in Asher (Josh.19.28kjv). ASV, NASB, and RSV, as well as most Hebrew MSS, have “Ebron,” but “Abdon” (Josh.21.30, copied in 1Chr.6.74) is found in JB and NIV.

4. A descendant of Caleb, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah (1Chr.2.42-1Chr.2.43), not to be confused with Caleb, the good spy, who was a distant cousin.

2. Son of Mareshah; father of Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shema (1 Chron 2:43f.).

HEBRON he’ brən (חֶבְרֹ֑ון, association, league; Arab. El Khalîl, “the friend [of God],” Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23), a city about twenty-five m. SSW of Jerusalem at c. 2800 ft. above sea level, situated between two ridges and occupying the valley between, lying somewhat W-NW by ESE, having a population of c. 40,000 (1966).

The main residential part of the city lies on the slopes of the ridges to the E and N with movement to the SW ridge and up the NE slope of Gebel er-Rumeida, site of the ancient tell of Hebron. The present city extends N from the W end of the valley on both sides of a wide street forming the present road to Jerusalem. The city valley itself is the lower end of the Wadi Tuffa’, Valley of the Apples. A large number of springs and wells dot the landscape, making it certain of occupation. Two large pools (birket) with cut stone walls are located within the city area. Apple, plum, fig, pomegranate, apricot, and nut trees are found in profusion; grapes, melons, and several vegetables are produced in profusion from the rich soil of valley and terrace.

The principal landmark in the present city is the Harâm el-Khalîl, the area sacred to the Arabs, covering the ancient cave of Machpelah, and Deir el-Arba’in, the traditional burying place of Ruth and Jesse.

Hebron is listed fifty times in the OT, and five times its earlier name of Kirjath-Arba’ (tetrapolis) is given. It was built (rebuilt?) seven years before Zoan (Gr. Tanis) in Egypt (Num 13:22) c. 1728 b.c. which is the Hyksos period. However, excavations performed in 1964-1966 show that the tell on Gebel er-Rumeida was occupied as early as c. 3300 b.c. and has enjoyed fairly continuous habitation down to the present time (P. Hammond, American Expedition to Hebron [1966]. Preliminary Report, 1), which makes it appear that the building spoken of is a rebuilding, prob. under the Hyksos, since a Middle Bronze II wall some thirty ft. wide has been uncovered at the SE corner of what was an ancient tell, now obscured by grape and olive yard terraces but with masonry outcroppings visible here and there.

Hebron is the later name for the general area (Gen 23:19) in the days of Moses, and included Mamre, the latter traditionally located c. 1 2/3 m. N of Hebron to the E of the Jerusalem road where is the site of a temple built by Constantine to the memory of Abraham’s sojourn there.

The earlier name of Hebron was Kirjath-Arba. Some (J. F. Moore, Judges [ICC], 23; F. Hommel, The Ancient Hebrew Tradition [1897], 232-234) deemed the older name to mean “tetrapolis” on the fact that the form of the name is an anomalous Heb. form, indicative of being a loan word, therefore not a personal name; the similarity to Arba, the father of Anak (cf. Josh 14:15), is a coincidence and here a play on the word. What the four cities were which made up the alliance (viz., Hebron) is not known except for Mamre.

The archeology of Hebron (Gebel er-Rumeida) may be summarized as follows. Evidence of Chalcolithic occupation from as early as c. 3000 b.c. was exposed at the SE angle of what should prove to be the Middle Bronze wall. Not far away under a new house to the S was found evidence of Early Bronze I habitation, but outside the Middle Bronze II wall. The latter was discovered to be c. 30 ft. broad, with a large portion of its southern face exposed to display the usual cyclopean unworked stones. The wall continued at least 330 ft. westward.

Some 197 ft. northward of the Middle Bronze II wall, Iron I occupation was unearthed in a significant house of the monarchy period (11th-10th centuries b.c.). Subsequent seasons will add their data to these periods, and some indications may point to the invasions of Sennacherib and the destruction of the land by Nebuchadrezzar.

The next certain occupation was that of the Hel. period, most striking in the large pottery works with at least two kilns at the westward end below and outside of the Middle Bronze II wall, and on the N side of the tell as well. In this area, a remarkable settling and water storage system from the Byzantine era was unearthed hardly a ft. below terrace level. However, the largest amount of evidence for Byzantine occupation was unearthed below Arab remains at the eastern end of Er-Rumeida some 400 ft. E of the tell. An extensive Byzantine burial ground was uncovered with typical artifacts. A later Moslem palatial house covered part of this area and below its courtyard were found evidences of Rom. occupation (ibid.). All phases of Islamic occupation down to the present era were brought to light.

Abram moved to Hebron after the parting from Lot (Gen 13:18) when Mamre was known as part of Hebron, the latter being the Biblical author’s identification of the place by the later name. Abram built the first altar there to Jahweh. Mamre was named at this time after Mamre the Amorite (Gen 14:13) in league with Abram. In his ninety-ninth year, Yahweh appeared to him in Mamre (18:1ff.) with the two angels. Here “plains” should be ’elon, terebinth, or tall tree of some sort, not an oak. Two ancient oaks, nevertheless, in the vicinity of Hebron have been called the oaks of Mamre traditionally associated with Abram: one near the traditional site of Mamre, and another on the western edge of the Wadi Tuffa in the grounds of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the word “oak” as used of certain trees in this area is not the oak as such, but another kind, possibly the terebinth. At Mamre, Abraham “presumed” to plead with Yahweh to spare Sodom (18:23), marking him as the “friend of God.”

The name of Hebron was changed to Kirjath-Arba (Gen 23:2; see above), again identified by the later name of Hebron. Here Sarah died and Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah (23:17), which was opposite Mamre, from Ephron the Hitt., one of the Hitt. enclaves in the area. By this time they had replaced the Amorites of chs. 13, 14. There he buried Sarah, and Jacob buried Leah there as Isaac and Rebekah before him (49:31); there Joseph buried Jacob (50:13).

In the days of the Exodus, spies were sent into the land and from the brook Eschol in Hebron took back the wondrous grapes on a staff (Num 13:22-24). For his valor and constancy (cf. Josh 14:9), Caleb was given the area of Hebron (14:13), but the city became a city of refuge. To Hebron, Samson carried off the gates of Gaza (Judg 16:3).

David settled in Hebron after the death of Saul (2 Sam 2:1) and from there ruled over Judah for seven and a half years before being anointed king over all Israel (5:4, 5). After this, he moved to Jerusalem. However, it was from Hebron that Absalom launched his revolt (15:7ff.), perhaps considering he would have stronger support there for his rebellion. In his own days, Rehoboam fortified Hebron, possibly in the prospect of attack from Egypt by Shishak.

The next references to Hebron are from the Maccabean period, for Judas Maccabeus defeated the Edomites who had invaded the Negeb from Edom and established themselves as far N as Hebron. Herod erected the enclosure (Haram) about the ancient burial place of Abraham; the “Herodian” masonry is clearly distinguishable from later work. Pilasters adorn the walls, a distinct peculiarity, and the Muslim work begins above them.

Islam has made the Haram a sacred site because Mohammed is said to have passed through it on his night journey to heaven. It came into Muslim control after the Arab conquests.

In the 19th cent. a.d., Guy le Strange summarized some of the reports of ten previous visitors to Hebron, one of whom, in a.d. 1172, declared he saw the bodies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In 1168, Hebron was made the seat of a bishopric but reverted to Arab rule in 1187 in Saladin’s conquests. Joseph’s body may have been moved there by 1395 as reported by Ibn Battuta. Cenotaphs within the Haram are reputedly over the resting places of the bodies. History and tradition thus combine in designating this as the cave of Machpelah where Abraham and others were buried.


E. Robinson and E. Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine, II (1841), 431-446; T. Wright, ed., Early Travel in Palestine (1848); F. Hommel, The Ancient Hebrew Tradition (1897), 232-234; L. H. Vincent, “Le Sepulture des Patriarches d’après la Bible,” RB (1929); E. F. Bishop, “Hebron, City of Abraham, the Friend of God,” JBR, XVI, 94-99; C. D. Matthews, Palestine, Mohammedan Holy Land (1949); E. Mader, Mambre (1957).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

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 Jos 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" Ge (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 (Jos 10:3 f). Caleb drove out from Hebron the "three sons of Anak" (Jos 14:12; 15:14); it became one of the cities of Judah (Jos 15:54), but was set apart for the Kohathite Levites (Jos 21:10 f), and became a city of refuge (Jos 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" (Jud 16:3).

3. The Days of the Monarchy:

4. Later History:

Probably during the captivity Hebron came into the hands of Edom, though it appears to have been colonized by returning Jews (Ne 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 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.

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 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 (2Sa 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 (Jos 19:28) see Ebron.

(chebhron, "league," "association"):

(1) The third son of Kohath, son of Levi (Ex 6:18; Nu 3:19,27; 1Ch 6:2,18; 23:12,19).

(2) A son of Mareshah and descendant of Caleb (1Ch 2:42,43).

See also KORAH.