[b-hebrew] The Role of Hebron: Abraham and Isaac

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Mon Jan 14 17:02:59 EST 2008

Maybe we should read "Hermon" instead of "Hebron", thus placing the 
Patriarchs' burial place in northern Canaan as well?

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, January 14, 2008 4:46 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] The Role of Hebron: Abraham and Isaac

> The Role of Hebron:  Abraham and Isaac
> The primary role of Hebron in the Patriarchal narratives is as a place for
> the Patriarchs’ retirement and burial.  As such, Hebron’s role is much 
> less
> grandiose than has been supposed.  This is a critically important point, 
> because
> it betrays a northern Hebrew’s somewhat unflattering view of modest Hebron 
> in
> southern Canaan, not a southern Hebrew’s overly positive view of Hebron.
> Abraham’s Initial Encounter with Hebron
> Abraham proceeds to Hebron in the second half of chapter 13 of Genesis, 
> and
> Abraham makes the Covenant with YHWH at Hebron in chapter 15 of Genesis. 
> But
> though Abraham stays at Hebron for 12 long regular years, nothing else 
> happens
> there, except that YHWH speaks to Abraham on several occasions there.  In
> particular, Sarah never gets pregnant with Isaac at Hebron.  Abraham then
> determines that he should leave Hebron, and go to Gerar, where Isaac is 
> born.
> Although we know from the beginning of chapter 13 of Genesis that Abraham 
> was very
> wealthy when he arrived at Hebron, there is no mention of wealth when 
> Abraham
> suddenly leaves Hebron and moves to Gerar.  Reading between the lines, 
> Abraham
> probably used up much of his material wealth in living at modest Hebron 
> for 12
> years.
> Hebron as Abraham’s Place of Retirement and Burial
> Abraham moves to Gerar, where Sarah gets pregnant and Isaac is born.  The
> Covenant is fulfilled with Isaac’s birth at Gerar, rather than the 
> Covenant being
> fulfilled at Hebron.  Why doesn’t Abraham then quickly move back to 
> Hebron?
> Instead, the text makes a point of telling us at the end of chapter 21 of
> Genesis that Abraham stays in Gerar for a long, long time.  We know from 
> chapter
> 26 of Genesis that Isaac will get rich growing crops at Gerar.  Abraham is
> savvier than Isaac, so the implication, with hindsight, is that Abraham as 
> well
> prospered economically at Gerar, doing far better than Abraham ever did at
> modest Hebron.  That must be one of the reasons why Abraham was in no 
> hurry to
> return to modest Hebron.
> As far as we can tell, Abraham does not move back to Hebron until Abraham 
> is
> an old man and Sarah is on her deathbed.  Abraham famously buries old 
> Sarah at
> Hebron in a large burial plot, and Abraham, a very old man by now (age 68½
> regular years at Sarah’s death), lives out the remainder of his days at 
> Hebron,
> in retirement.  Later, Abraham will be buried at Hebron.
> Hebron as Isaac’s Place of Retirement and Burial
> Isaac does not live at Hebron with his father after Sarah’s death. 
> Although
> Isaac comes back to Hebron to bury his father at Hebron, nevertheless 
> Isaac
> continues to live at Beer-lahai-roi, just north of the Negev Desert, well 
> south
> of Hebron.  When a terrible famine then hits southern Canaan, Isaac’s 
> first
> thought is to go to Egypt.  But YHWH tells Isaac to go to Gerar instead. 
> Note
> that there is no hint that Isaac has any material wealth worth mentioning 
> when
> Isaac moves to Gerar.  Isaac does not have a large flock, or else Isaac 
> would
> not have been living on the edge of the Negev Desert.  We come to realize 
> that
> during Abraham’s long retirement at Hebron, Abraham must have used up most
> all of his material funds, including his formerly vast flock.  At Abraham’s
> death, there appears to be effectively no material wealth to speak of to 
> be
> haggled over by Isaac and Ishmael (both of whom come to Hebron for Abraham’s
> burial).  Abraham has clearly, and properly, designated Isaac as Abraham’s 
> sole
> spiritual heir, and Ishmael does not contest that, but there’s apparently 
> no real
> material wealth left to pass to anyone at Abraham’s death in modest 
> Hebron.
> Going back now to the time period immediately before Isaac moves to Gerar, 
> a
> terrible famine was afflicting southern Canaan at that time.  Isaac was 
> living
> just north of the Negev Desert at Beer-lahai-roi.  The traditional view 
> that
> Isaac at that point moves to the middle of the Negev Desert, and gets rich
> growing crops in the Negev Desert, all the while a terrible famine is 
> raging in
> southern Canaan, is nonsensical.  Historically, Gerar/Garu is in wealthy
> northern Canaan, not in the ultra-modest Negev Desert or the uninhabitable 
> Sinai
> Desert.  The reference to Sur at Genesis 20: 1 points to the island 
> city-state of
> Sur (later called “Tyre” by the Greeks) in northern Canaan, which was on 
> the
> west edge of historical Garu (Biblical “Gerar”).  The name of the ruler of
> historical Sur in the mid-14th century BCE was Abimilki, which is 
> essentially
> the same name as the ruler of Gerar in Genesis:  Abimelech.  Both rulers
> uniquely spend much of their time jousting for access rights to valuable 
> water
> wells.  Finally, and very importantly, both in the Bible and in secular 
> history,
> the only place where a Hebrew could get wealthy selling agricultural crops 
> was
> in northern Canaan, where the rich buyer was Sur, a wealthy island 
> city-state
> that had to buy all its food.
> It is obvious that the Patriarchs prosper much more, on a material sphere, 
> at
> Gerar (in northern Canaan) than they ever do at modest Hebron in southern
> Canaan.  Like Abraham before him, Isaac shows no inclination to leave the 
> greater
> Gerar area.  As far as we can tell, Isaac does not go back to Hebron 
> until,
> just like Abraham, Isaac’s beloved wife Rebekah is on her deathbed. 
> Rebekah is
> buried at Hebron, and Isaac retires at Hebron, just like his father 
> Abraham
> before him.  And like Abraham, Isaac will later be buried at Hebron.
> During the very long time period (30 regular years, from age 60 regular 
> years
> to age 90 regular years) when Isaac is in retirement at Hebron, Isaac does
> nothing.  At least, nothing is reported in the text as to Isaac doing 
> anything
> at Hebron.
> As we are seeing, Hebron is viewed in the Patriarchal narratives primarily 
> as
> being a fitting place for each Patriarch’s retirement and burial, not much
> more than that.
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois
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