[b-hebrew] Where Is the Patriarchs' "Hebron"?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Oct 7 09:34:30 EDT 2008

Where Is the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”?
In chapter 13 of Genesis, Abraham and Lot return to Beth-el in central Canaan after briefly having been in Egypt.  Abraham at that point tells Lot that the two men must now separate.  Abraham specifically says to Lot:
“‘Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me;  if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right;  or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left.'”  Genesis 13: 9
The natural reading of that passage would seem to be that (i) Lot will choose what direction to depart from Beth-el, and (ii) Abraham will then also depart from Beth-el, with Abraham going in precisely the opposite direction than Lot.  So if Lot leaves Beth-el heading  e-a-s-t, we would expect Abraham to then leave Beth-el going  w-e-s-t.  If Lot leaves Beth-el heading  e-a-s-t, we would not expect Abraham to head straight  s-o-u-t-h  from Beth-el (to the city of Hebron), because Abraham had so clearly stated to Lot:  “‘[I]f thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right;  or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left.'”
Lot then looks at the Jordan River Valley (the “KKR of the Jordan”), and Lot duly leaves Beth-el, heading  e-a-s-t:
“Lot chose him all the [KKR/valley/]plain of the Jordan;  and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other.’”  Genesis 13: 11
The text unequivocally states that “Lot journeyed east” upon leaving Beth-el.  Bearing in mind that Abraham had, just before that, said to Lot that “‘if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right;  or if thou take the right hand, then I will go to the left'”, it certainly seems that we should now expect Abraham, for his part, to leave Beth-el traveling exactly the opposite direction:  w-e-s-t.
Moreover, YHWH’s words to Abraham right after Lot has left Beth-el would seem to confirm the above interpretation, namely that Abraham at this point should head out  w-e-s-t  from Beth-el (not south toward the city of Hebron that lies 20 miles south of Jerusalem and 35 miles south of Beth-el):
“And the LORD [YHWH] said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him:  'Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward and eastward and westward;… Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it.'”   Genesis 13: 14, 17
The natural reading of those two verses would seem to be that YHWH is advising Abraham that Abraham should check out the land north and south and east and west of Beth-el.  We know that the first three directions have already been covered by Abraham.  Abraham had been in the Shechem area, which is straight north of Beth-el, prior to arriving at Beth-el the first time.  Abraham has now gone to and from Egypt, meaning that Abraham has twice traveled the entire length of the land south of Beth-el.  And Abraham came from the east, crossing the Jordan River which lies east of Beth-el.  So the one direction that is obviously missing here is:  w-e-s-t.  Abraham has never been west of Beth-el.
Based on what Abraham and YHWH say at Beth-el, and what Lot does at Beth-el, chapter 13 of Genesis seems to be definitely saying that after Lot left Beth-el heading  e-a-s-t, Abraham should then be expected to leave Beth-el heading the opposite direction:  w-e-s-t.
We know that Abraham proceeds to the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, and while there, Abraham many years later eventually deals with the townspeople of Kiriath Arbe (in order to purchase a gravesite for Sarah).  The word “kiriath” means “city”;  Kiriath Arbe is expressly stated at Genesis 23: 10, 18 to be a “city” that has a “gate”.  By contrast, the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is never called a “city”, and is never said to have a “gate”.  “Kiriath Arbe” means “city of Arbe”.  In the ancient world, there is no inscriptional evidence of a town called Arbe south of Jerusalem.  And there is no inscriptional evidence of “Hebron” being the name of a place south of Jerusalem until the Iron Age, in the 8th century BCE or so.  But if we look  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el, which chapter 13 of Genesis seems to indicate is the direction Abraham should have gone in leaving Beth-el, we may find the historical city of Kiriath Arbe documented by several inscriptions in the Late Bronze Age.  We may also find a well-watered meadowland, being a famous valley, that features the finest land in Canaan for grazing sheep and goats, whose pre-Hebrew name in the mid-15th century BCE may be the forerunner of the Patriarchal name “Hebron”.
Why is no “Arbe” documented in the ancient world south of Jerusalem?  Why is the name “Hebron” not documented south of Jerusalem prior to the 8th century BCE?  By sharp contrast, why do both the names “Arbe” and “Hebron” seem to appear in the Late Bronze Age, if we are willing to look  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el, instead of insisting on the traditional approach of solely looking south of Beth-el, at the locale of the city that from the Iron Age to the present has been called Hebron?  Why should we follow the traditional approach of confining ourselves exclusively to the  c-i-t-y  of Hebron, located 20 miles south of Jerusalem, when Genesis 13: 12 explicitly tells us that tent-dwelling Abraham, unlike Lot, did  n-o-t  live in a city?  Genesis 13: 12 tells us that Abraham, unlike Lot, lived in the  c-o-u-n-t-r-y-s-i-d-e  of Canaan.  Abraham had a huge flock of sheep and goats, and per Genesis 14: 14 Abraham had 318 armed retainers.  The Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, which features a magnificent grove of oak trees (Genesis 13: 18), must be a rural locale that is conducive to herding a huge flock of sheep and goats, not a city.
Have people been looking for Kiriath Arbe and the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” in the wrong place for 2½ millennia?  Given the analysis above of what chapter 13 of Genesis seems to specifically say as to where Abraham would be expected to go upon leaving Beth-el, shouldn’t we cast our eyes  w-e-s-t, and see if we can document the names “Arbe” and “Hebron” in a Bronze Age inscription at a locale  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el?  Why continue to look in vain for a Bronze Age inscription of either of those two names south of Jerusalem, at the locale of the city of Hebron?
Can we on the b-hebrew list do what no scholar has ever accomplished -- find Late Bronze Age inscriptions for “Arbe” (Kiriath Arbe) and for the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”?  Are we willing to look  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el for such ancient inscriptions?  If we are willing to cast our eyes west of Beth-el, instead of doggedly insisting on only looking south of Beth-el, we may well find both the Biblical city of Kiriath Arbe, and the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”.  Both of these key Biblical places may be attested by well-known Late Bronze Age inscriptions.  The one real question here is whether or not we are willing to look  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el for such ancient inscriptions.
Why not take a chance?  Why not look  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el for Late Bronze Age inscriptions of “Arbe” and the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”?  If we want to investigate whether the names “Arbe” and “Hebron” match ancient Bronze Age inscriptions in secular history, and thereby in large part validate the historicity of the Patriarchal narratives, we must be willing to jettison the traditional, non-textual assumption as to where the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is located.  It makes no sense for Abraham to take a huge flock of sheep and goats and 318 armed retainers way “up” to the austere city of Hebron in the forbidding “hill” country south of Jerusalem, where there is very little good pastureland.  The common words “up” and “hill” are never used in Genesis to describe the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, which in fact is  n-o-t  “up” in “hill” country.  No, Abraham, with a great divine blessing in hand, would naturally have sought a tremendous pastureland, a “well-watered meadowland”, “the well-watered meadowland place”, H + )BR + WN, that is, the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” [XBRWN, where heth/X, having an H plus guttural sound, has been substituted for he-aleph/H)].  The well-watered meadowland place/“Hebron” in the Patriarchal narratives is, unlike the city of Hebron, located 17½ miles west of Beth-el, just as chapter 13 of Genesis indicates (with Lot having gone 17½ miles east of Beth-el to get to the Jordan River).  So let’s look for Late Bronze Age inscriptions 17½ miles west of Beth-el that say “Arbe” and “Hebron”, instead of solely looking south of Beth-el and Jerusalem.  If we are brave enough to buck tradition and cast our eyes  w-e-s-t  of Beth-el, we will surely find those ancient inscriptions in secular history.  Then we will know, for the first time in 2,500 years, where Abraham actually went after he split from Lot at Beth-el.  
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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