Mamre

MAMRE (măm'rē, Heb. mamrē’, strength)



MAMRE măm’ rə (מַמְרֵ֔א, LXX Μαμβρή, meaning unknown) (1) A friend of Abraham. (2) A place near or in Hebron where Abraham lived.

Three men bearing the names of Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre helped the patriarch Abraham rout the invading Mesopotamian kings according to Genesis 14:24. Earlier in that ch. Abraham had pitched his tents by the oaks or terebinths of Mamre, who is given the patronymic Amorite (v. 13). Most likely it was this man who gave his name to the place.

Abraham was still living in Mamre when he entertained the three heavenly visitors described at the beginning of Genesis 18. It was in Mamre that he prayed for the deliverance of Sodom and Gomorrah.

After Sarah died, Abraham bought a burial plot from Ephron the Hitt. Thus Abraham came into possession of the field of Machpelah which is E of Mamre, and there he buried his wife (Gen 23:17-20). The four other times Machpelah is mentioned are always in relation to Mamre (Gen 23:19; 25:9; 49:30; 50:13).

Genesis 23:29 and 35:27 seem to identify Mamre with Hebron, which is the same as Kiriath-arba, whereas Genesis 13:18 states that Mamre was in or by (Heb. בְּ Hebron.

Through the centuries there have been several places vying for the site of Mamre and Abraham’s oaks. The first problem in establishing its identity is the great antiquity of the place—nearly 4,000 years. The second problem is that oaks do not live that long. The third is that the building and destruction of shrines by Jews, pagans, and Christians have focused undeserved attention on some places and perhaps obscured the true site.

Khirbet Nimreh and ’Ain Nimreh (Ruin and Spring of Nimreh) have a name similar to Mamre. They are about one and a half m. NNW of Hebron. However, the best accepted site today is Ramat el-Khalil, “The high place of the friend (of God),” which is c. two m. N of Hebron. An enclosure of huge proportions built by Herod is there. It may have marked where the site was thought to be in NT times. Chalcolithic and Early Bronze remains found in the vicinity show at least that it is an ancient site.

If Machpelah is indeed under the mosque at Hebron, then Ramat el-Khalil does not lie before it in the usual sense of those words in Heb., i.e., E of it. On the other hand, if Hebron were generally approached from the N, then this preposition would not be out of order in describing the relationship between Mamre and Hebron.

Bibliography

A. E. Mader, Mambrie, Die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen im heiligen Bezir Râmet et-Ḥalêl in Sudpalästina (2 vols., 1957).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(mamre’; Septuagint Mambre):

(1) In Ge 14:24 Mamre is mentioned as the name of one of Abraham’s allies, who in 14:13 is described as the Amorite, brother of Eschcol and Aner.

1. Biblical Data:

The name of the grove of trees is evidently considered as derived from this sheikh or chieftain. The "oaks" ("terebinths") of Mamre where Abram pitched his tent (Ge 14:13; 18:1) are described (Ge 13:18) as "in Hebron." Later on MACHPELAH (which see) is described as "before," i.e. "to the East of Mamre" (Ge 23:17; 25:9; 49:30; 50:13), and Mamre is identified with Hebron itself (Ge 23:19).

2. Traditional Sites:

While Mamre has always been looked for in the vicinity of Hebron, the traditions have varied greatly, determined apparently by the presence of a suitable tree. The one site which has a claim on grounds other than tradition is that called Khirbet and `Ain Nimreh (literally, the "ruin" and "spring" of "the leopard"), about 1/2 mile North-Northwest of modern Hebron. The word Nimreh may be a survival of the ancient Mamre, the name, as often happens, being assimilated by a familiar word. The site is a possible one, but, beyond this, the name has not much to commend it.

Tradition has centered round three different sites at various periods:

(1) The modern tradition points to a magnificent oak (Quercus ilex, Arabic Sindian), 1 1/2 miles West-Northwest of the modern city, as the terebinth of Abraham; its trunk has a girth of 32 ft. It is now in a dying condition, but when Robinson visited it (BR, II, 72, 81) it was in fine condition; he mentions a Mohammedan tradition that this was "Abraham’s oak." Since then the site had been bought by the Russians, a hospice and church have been erected, and the tradition, though of no antiquity, has become crystallized.

(2) The second tradition, which flourished from the 16th century down to the commencement of the 19th century, pointed to the hill of Deir el Arba`in (see Hebron) as that of Mamre, relying especially, no doubt, in its inception on the identity of Mamre and Hebron (Ge 23:19). A magnificent terebinth which stood there was pointed out as that of Abraham. The site agrees well with the statement that the cave of Machpelah was "before," i.e. to the East of Mamre (Ge 23:17, etc.).

(3) The third and much older tradition, mentioned in several Christian writers, refers to a great terebinth which once stood in an enclosure some 2 miles North of Hebron, near the road to Jerusalem. It is practically certain that the site of this enclosure is the strange Ramet el-Khalil. This is an enclosure some 214 ft. long and 162 ft. wide. The enclosing walls are made of extremely fine and massive masonry and are 6 ft. thick; the stones are very well laid and the jointing is very fine, but the building was evidently never completed. In one corner is a well--Bir el-Khalil--lined with beautiful ashlar masonry, cut to the curve of the circumference.

It is probable that this enclosure surrounded a magnificent terebinth; if so, it was at this spot that before the days of Constantine a great annual fair was held, attended by Jews, Christians and heathen who united a pay honor to the sacred tree, while the well was on the same occasion illuminated, and offerings were made to it. Similar customs survive today at several shrines in Palestine. Constantine suppressed these "superstitions," and built a church in the neighborhood, probably the so-called "Abraham’s house," Beit Ibrahim of today. The tree which stood here is apparently that mentioned by Josephus (BJ, IV, ix, 7) as having continued "since the creation of the world." At this enclosure, too, Jewish women and children were sold at auction after the suppression of the revolt of Bar Cochba. Whatever the origin of the veneration paid to this terebinth--now long centuries dead and gone--early Christian tradition associated it with Abraham and located Mamre here. This tradition is mentioned by Jerome (4th century), by Eucherius (6th century), by Areulphus (700 AD) and by Benjamin of Tudela (1163 AD). Among the modern Jews it is looked upon as the site of "Abraham’s oak." It is probable that the view that Abraham was connected with this tree is one attached to it much later than its original sanctity; it was originally one of the many "holy trees" of the land venerated by primitive Semitic religions feeling, and the nearness of Hebron caused the Bible story to be attached to it. Judging from the Bible data, it appears to be too far from Hebron and Machpelah to suit the conditions; the site of Mamre must have been nearer to Deir el Arba`in, but it has probably been entirely lost since very early times.

For a very good discussion about Mamre see Mambre by Le R. P. Abel des Freres Precheurs in the Conferences de Saint Etienne, 1909-10 (Paris).

(2) An Amorite chief, owner of the "oaks" mentioned above (Ge 14:13,14).