Hebron (2 Samuel 3)

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Hebron (meaning “confederacy”) is situated on a hill about 30 km south-southwest of Jerusalem. Numbers 13:22 states that the city was built seven years before the Egyptian city Zoan (“Tanis” in Greek), around 1735 B.C., but this must have been a rebuilding since excavations have uncovered occupation levels dating back to a millennium and a half earlier. Formerly, Hebron was called Kiriath Arba (Genesis 23:2). Some have suggested that this means “twon of four”, indicating a league of four towns in the vicinity, but Joshua 14:15 and 15:3 state that it was named after Arba, an ancestor of the Anakim.

Abraham lived at Hebron near “the great trees of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18) and built an altar to Yahweh there. Mamre was a small site less than 3,2 km north of Hebron, named after Mamre the Amorite (Genesis 14:13). Abraham was visited there by the Lord and two angels, who repeated the promise of a son (Genesis 18:1-15). At Hebron Abraham also purchased the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:17) as a family burial site.

During the conquest Joshua defeated the ruler of Hebron (Joshua 10:1-27), and the city was given to Caleb on account of his bravery (Joshua 14:6-15, 15:13-14). It was later set apart as a city of refuge and a Levitical town (Joshua 20:7, 21:11).

During the judges period Samson carried the gates of Gaza toward Hebron (Judges 16:3). David and his mercenaries curried the favour of the Hebron inhabitants after defeating the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:26-31), and after Saul’s death David ruled Judah from this location before becoming king over all of Israel (2 Samuel 2:1, 5:4-5). Absalom began his conspiracy at Hebron, his birthplace (3:2-3, 15:7-12), and during the reign of Rehoboam the city was among the many that were fortified in preparation for possible attack (2 Chronicles 11:5-12).

Excavations have uncovered a portion of a Middle Bronze Age wall about 9,1 m wide and a large domicile from the Iron period. Hellenistic period kilns and pottery were discovered there, as well as Byzantine period burial places. Herod the Great built an encolsure of large ashlar masonry around the burial cave of the patriarchs (the Haram in Arabic). A Byzantine church and a mosque were later successively built above the Haran, which remains a sacred site for Muslims. Two ancient oaks are traditionally revered as the “great trees of Mamre”, but the Hebrew most likely refers to terebinth trees.


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