An ancient royal city of Chanaan, famous in biblical history, especially at the time of the patriarchs and under David
Hebron (CHBDVN, chebron), an ancient royal city of Chanaan, famous in biblical history, especially at the time of the patriarchs and under David. During the Middle Ages it was an episcopal see—at present it is only a titular one—and was situated in Palestina Prima, with Caesarea as metropolitan. Hence the division of this article into two parts: (I) Biblical Epoch, (II) Christian Epoch.
I. BIBLICAL EPOCH.—Hebron is one of the earliest towns mentioned in history. According to the Bible (Num., xiii, 23) it was founded seven years before Zoan or Tanis, the most ancient town in Lower Egypt, which means that it existed from the first half of the third millennium B.C. Josephus (Bel. Jud., IV, ix, 7) says that in his time the town was already 2300 years old. It was originally called Kiriat Arba, or Kiriat-ha-Arba (D. V., Cariath-Arbe, Gen., xxiii, 2; xxxv, 27; Jos., xiv, 15, xv, 13. 54, xx, 7, xxi, 11; Judges, i, 10; II Esd., xi, 25) from the name of Arba, “the greatest among the Enacims” (Jos., xiv,15). The Vulgate, taking the common name ha-adam in this last expression, i.e. the man, for the proper name Adam, translates as follows: “Adam the greatest among the Enacim was laid there”; whence it should not be inferred, as was the case with some ancient authors, that Hebron contains the tomb of the first man. The explanation of the name Kiriat-Arba by the Bible shows all others to be merely fanciful. Such, for instance, is that of St. Jerome (De locis et nominibus locorum Hebraicorum, s.v. Arbac, P.L., XXIII, 862; Ep. xlvi, P.L., XXII, 491; Ep. cviii, P.L., XXII, 886; Quaest. in Gen., P.L., XXIII, 978) and of some Jewish commentators who take the word Arba to mean “four”, and Kiriat-Arba to be the “town of the four”, i.e. the four patriarchs buried in the cave of Machpelah: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom must be added, according to various opinions, either Adam, Caleb, Esau, or Joseph. According to de Saulcy (Voyage en Terre Sainte, I, 152) the name means “the town of the four quarters”; while it suits the modern town, this is not at all true of the ancient one. The Bible, however, insists over and over again on the true origin of the name: “Cariath-Arbe the father of Enac, which is Hebron” (Jos., xv. 13; xxi, 11). The name Hebron is also very ancient. It appears under the form Cheburo on Egyptian monuments of the second millennium B.C. (Brugsch, “Geog. Inschriften altagypt. Denkmaler”, II, 76).
The earliest mention of Hebron in the Scriptures occurs (Gen., xiii, 18) on the occasion of Abraham’s coming to the vale of Mambre; and this last name is often given to Hebron (Gen., xxiii, 19, xxxv. 27). On the death of Sara, his wife, the patriarch bought from Ephron the Hethite the cave of Machpelah to serve as a burying place for his family (Gen., xxiii); Abraham himself was buried there (Gen., xxv, 9), as were also Isaac (Gen., xxxv, 27-29) and Jacob (Gen., 1, 13). Hebron thus became the second homeland of Abraham, and the center of attraction during the wanderings of the patriarchs. Isaac and Jacob dwelt at Mambre, and it was from the “vale of Hebron” that Joseph was sent towards Sichem and Dothain to inquire after his brethren (Gen., xxxvii, 14, 17). The Hebrew spies sent by Moses into Chanaan went as far as Hebron, and it was from the adjacent valley of Escol that they brought back a vine-branch with its cluster of grapes, and some pomegranates and figs (Num., xiii, 23-25). When the Israelites invaded Chanaan, Oham, King of Hebron, allied himself against them with four other Chanaanite princes to besiege Gabaon. After Josue had defeated them, and put them to death, he went on to attack Hebron, which he took, putting all its inhabitants to death (Jos., x, 3, 23-26, 36-37; xi, 21; xii, 10). On the division of the Promised Land, Hebron fell to the tribe of Juda and was given to Caleb (Jos., xiv, 13, 14, xv, 13, 54; Judges, i, 20). It soon afterwards became a city of refuge, falling to the lot of the children of Aaron (Jos., xx, 7, xxi, 11, 13; I Par., vi, 55, 57). After the death of Saul on Mount Gelboe, David went to Hebron with his men, and occupied all the surrounding villages (II Kings, ii, 1, 3). He was there anointed King of Juda; made Hebron his capital, and reigned there seven years and a half (II Kings, ii, 11, iii, 2, 5, v, 5; III Kings, ii, 11: I Par., iii, 1, 4; and xxix, 27). Abner, the leader of Saul’s army, came to Hebron to see David, was well received by him, but was afterwards killed by Joab. The king wept over Abner, gave him burial, and composed a lament over him (II Kings, iii, 19—iv, 1). It was also to Hebron that Baana and Rechab, chiefs of the bands of Isboseth, brought the head of that son of Saul whom they had traitorously slain. David ordered the murderers to be put to death; their hands and feet were cut off, and hanged up over the pool in Hebron (II Kings, iv, 2-12). Then all the tribes of Israel came and made submission to David (II Kings, v, 1-3; I Par., xi, 1-3). When Absalom revolted against his father, who had then become King of Jerusalem, it was Hebron he made his headquarters (II Kings, xv, 7-11). The town was fortified by Roboam (II Par., xi, 10). Cariath-Arbe is also mentioned among the towns occupied by the children of Juda after the captivity (II Esd., xi, 25). Under Syrian domination, it passed into the hands of the Idumeans; Judas Machabeus, who drove them out, razed the fortifications of Chebron (I Mach., v, 65).
II. CHRISTIAN EPOCH.—Some writers, following Baronius, Papebroch, Cornelius a Lapide, and Matth. Polus, have identified Hebron as the city of Juda where the Visitation took place, and where St. John the Baptist was born. They hold that Hebron was the most important of the towns of Juda, since Jerusalem belonged to Benjamin; and that, moreover, Hebron was the most important of the Levitical towns belonging to the sons of Caath, from whom came Zachary, father of the Precursor. However there is a fairly strong local tradition in favor of identifying the “city of Juda” with Carem, the modern Ain-Karim (see Carem; Heidet in Vig., “Dict. de la Bible”, s.v. Carem; and Meistermann, “La patrie de S. Jean Baptiste”). At the time of the great Jewish rebellion, Simon ben Giora captured Hebron from the Romans; but the town was soon retaken, shortly before the siege of Jerusalem, by Cerealis, one of Vespasian’s generals, who ravaged it with fire and sword (Josephus, “Bel. Jud.”, IV, ix, 7-9). It was with great difficulty that Hebron ever recovered. Eusebius (Onomast., s.v.Arbo) tells us that in his day (fourth century) it was merely a large hamlet; but the neighborhood has always been dear to pagans, Jews, and Christians alike (Eusebius, “Vita Constantini”, III, li, in P.G. XX, 1112-1117; Socrates, “Hist. Eccl.”, I, 18, in P.G. LXVII, 124; Sozomen, “Hist. Eccl.”, in P.G., LXVII 941-946). Even the Mussulmans held it dear by reason of its many Scriptural associations, especially the apparition of the angels to Abraham, and because it contains the tomb of the patriarchs. This tomb is mentioned by Josephus (loc. cit.; “Ant.”, I, 14), by Eusebius (Onomasticon, loc. cit.), by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333, and by visitors of after-ages, as a sanctuary held in the highest reverence. At the time of the Arab conquest in 637, Hebron, for all these reasons, was chosen as one of the four holy cities of Islam. Previously Khusrau (614), the Persian king, had spared it in deference to the Jews of whom there were many in his army. Eusebius, Socrates, and Sozomen (loc. cit.) relate that Constantine ordered a church to be built at Mambre, with the object of putting an end to the superstitious practices that took place there every year during a semi-religious fair. But we do not know at what epoch a basilica was first built over the cave of Machpelah. It is certain that the Crusaders took the town in 1100, and that the sanctuary became the church of Saint Abraham, also called the church of the Holy Cave (Sancta Caverna or Spelunca, agion spelaion). The town itself is often styled by the chroniclers of that period Castel Saint-Abraham, Praesidium or Castellum ad Sanctum Abraham. A priory of Canons Regular of St. Augustine was installed to take charge of the basilica (de Roziere, “Cartulaire du Saint-Sepulchre”, 120, 142, etc., 171).
A curious document relating to the medieval period and taken from a fifteenth-century manuscript, is found in the “Recueil des historiens des croisades” (Hist. Occid., V, 302-316) under the heading: “Canonici Hebronensis tractatus de inventione sanctorum patriarcharum Abraham, Ysaac et Jacob” [see Riant, “Invention de la sepulture des patriarches … a Hebron, le 25 juin 1119”, in “Archives de l’Orient latin”, II (1883), 411-421; also “Acta SS.”, October, IV, 683-691; and “Analecta Bollandiana”, XX (1901), 464]. This story seems to be founded on fact; two Arab historians, who may have lived contemporaneously, mention such a discovery (Recueil des Hist. des Croisades, op. cit., p. 64).
Its most interesting historical materials are: a description of the sanctuary existing on the site of the tombs before the coming of the Franks; the sending of an embassy from Constantinople to Palestine by Theodosius the Younger, about 415, to bring back the bodies of the three patriarchs, and the failure of this attempt; the existence of a synagogue at Hebron at the time of the First Crusade; the spoliation of the sanctuary at Hebron between 1099 and 1102 by a Latin archbishop, probably Pierre de Narbonne, transferred from the See of Alban to that of Apamea between 1112 and 1119. A reference is made, at the year 1119, to Rainier, prior of Hebron, and to two monks, Odo and Arnulph, who gave the anonymous writer the facts he relates; mention is also made of Baudouin, seigneur of Saint-Abraham; Guermond, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 1128); and a description occurs of the sepulchral crypt where the bodies of the patriarchs lay. In 1167 Hebron became a Latin see; its first titular was Rainaldus (1167-1170), nephew of the patriarch Foucher (Du Cange, “Families d’outremer”, 794).
A letter of Clement IV, dated June 1, 1267, orders the Patriarch of Jerusalem to supply the church of Hebron with a priest (Eubel, “Hierarchia Catholica”, I, 283). After Geoffrey (Gaufridus), O.P., 1273-1283, the bishops of Hebron were merely titulars, and a great confusion existed in their list (Lequien, “Oriens Christ.”, III, 639-642, 1269-1270; Gams, “Series episc.”, 435 Eubel, op. cit., I, 283, II, 180). Cardinal Mermillod was at one time Titular of Hebron. The titular at present is Monsignor Petkoff, Vicar Apostolic of the Uniat Bulgarians in Thrace, who resides at Adrianople. As a residential see, Hebron enjoyed a very brief existence. However it survived the triumph of Saladin in 1187, and the march of the Kharesmian hordes in 1244. Saladin, after the victory at Hattin (July 15, 1187), and that at Ascalon (September 5), hastened, before marching on Jerusalem, to occupy Hebron, and to associate the sanctuary of Abraham with the worship of Islam. The Kharesmians destroyed the town, but did not touch the sanctuary (Riant, “Archives”, II, 420-421).
In spite of Mohammedan fanaticism, which since the fourteenth century had forbidden a non-Mussulman to enter the hallowed place (Isaac Chelo, 1334, “Les chemins de Jerusalem”, in Carmoly, “Itineraires”, 243), the schismatic Greeks, after the departure of the Latins, retained for a time a residing bishop in Hebron. Lequien (III, 641-642) mentions one of these bishops, Joannikios, whose name appears with that of Christodoulos of Gaza in the Acts of the Council of Jerusalem in 1672 (Mansi, XXXIV B, 1771) under the title of Ioannikiou tou theophilestatou archiepiskopou tou agiou spelaiou (Joannikios, most holy Archbishop of the holy Cave). Among the other signatories (ibid., 1174) were two priests of the same church, George and Isas, both of whom describe themselves as iereus kai ephemerios tou agiou spelaiou (priest and servant of the holy Cave). This Greek see did not last long; and it is not mentioned in the notice of Chrysanthus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, 1707-1731. In 1834, after defeating, near the Pools of Soloman, the inhabitants of Hebron who had risen against his authority, Ibrahim Pasha took their town by assault.
Hebron is today one of the principal towns of Palestine. It is about twenty-four miles to the south of Jerusalem, is the residence of a kaimakam, and has a population of 20,000, of whom 2000 are Jews of German, Spanish, or Portuguese origin; the remainder are Mussulman fanatics. Its Arab name, El-Khalil, signifies “the friend of God”, and calls to mind Abraham who is given that appellation in James, ii, 23. The town is picturesquely situated at about 3000 feet above the sea, on a narrow plateau among the hills of Judea. Its only monument of interest is the “Holy Enclosure” (Haram-el-Khalil), within which stands the mosque over the burial cave of Machpelah. The Haram is in the form of a rectangular parallelogram about 200 feet long, by 120 broad, and 50 to 60 feet high. The walls are adorned with many pilasters, and are built of enormous rough stones. The style of the construction belongs to the time when the crypts of the Haram at Jerusalem were built, and seems Roman in character. The modern mosque is built on the site of an ancient basilica restored by the Crusaders (La Palestine, Guide historique et pratique, par des professeurs de N.D. de France a Jerusalem, p. 268). The sacred enclosure is one of the finest relics of ancient architecture in Palestine, and has been admired since the time of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux (fourth century). In the opinion of many it is of Jewish origin and dates from the time of the kings of Juda (cf. Legendre in Vig., “Dict. de la Bible”, s.v. Hebron). Consult Riant, “Archives”, II, 412, for a list of the few travellers who, during the nineteenth century, were able to visit this sanctuary so fanatically guarded by the Mussulmans. In 1862 the present King of England, then Prince of Wales, and in 1869 the Crown Prince of Prussia, later Frederick III, were among the visitors. The trade of the town is much the same as in all Arab countries. The comparative fertility of the soil and an abundance of water contribute to increase this trade, which consists mainly in the making of goat-skin water bags, jars, and especially glass ware for which, for centuries, Hebron has used a soda extracted from the trans-Jordan regions. The vineyards around the town are very fine; they belong mainly to the Jews who trade in dried raisins, and manufacture a syrup and an excellent wine, known as Hebron wine. Of late years the Russians have contrived to get a foothold at El-Khalil, and they have now a hostelry at the entrance to the town.