[b-hebrew] Hebron, mountains, and flocks

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Oct 8 14:05:57 EDT 2008

Kenneth Greifer:
You wrote:  “I don't know much about flocks, but I thought that sheep and 
goats do well in mountainous areas. I don't think cows can live in mountainous 
places though. When you say that Hebron was too mountainous for flocks, what 
kind of flocks do you mean and are you sure that that is true?”
That is an important issue to raise.  Consider the following:
1.  When about 250 Hebrew villages suddenly sprang up in the 12th century 
BCE, where were they located?  By my count, approximately 93% of the new unwalled 
Hebrew villages were in the hill country north of Jerusalem and south of the 
Jezreel Valley.  What explains the location of these Hebrew villages?  The 
land in the Jezreel Valley was too good, and was never abandoned by the dwindling 
number of Canaanites, so the early Hebrews could not build villages in that 
fine grain-growing area, which was the breadbasket of Canaan.  There were also 
only a few Hebrew villages in the Aijalon Valley area.  Although the Aijalon 
Valley is wonderful pastureland, it had no natural defense whatsoever, so it 
was dangerous to build unwalled villages in the Aijalon Valley.  Most 
importantly for us here, there were only a few Hebrew villages south of Jerusalem, 
including the city of Hebron area.  Why?  Because the hill country south of 
Jerusalem is at a higher altitude, and has smaller amounts of good pastureland, and 
smaller amounts of land suitable for small-time grain growing.  The natural 
defense of the high altitude hill country around the city of Hebron is excellent, 
but the land is poor, almost being a desert.  We see that the first Hebrew 
villages sprang up exactly where they should have.  The hill country provided 
natural defense.  But by concentrating 93% of the new Hebrew villages north of 
Jerusalem, the better hill country land north of Jerusalem was chosen, instead 
of the poorer land in the higher altitude hill country south of Jerusalem.  
See the map at p. 116 of Israel Finkelstein’s “The Bible Unearthed”.
2.  The reason for the location of the city of Hebron is because of its 
natural defense posture.  In the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, there were huge 
fortifications at the city there (though that city was not called “Hebron” at the 
time), which made the fortress located at that site virtually impregnable.  
Yet the majority view is that this city was abandoned in the Late Bronze Age, 
and even the minority view agrees that no Late Bronze Age buildings are there.  
If that city was not to be used as a fortress, then the poor land in that 
area made it not worthwhile to live there.
3.  In searching the Internet, I found the following site that nicely 
explains how rugged and forbidding the city of Hebron area is:
[Note:  Please ignore completely the unfortunate politics of that site, which 
will be very distasteful to many people, and with which I for one do not 
agree.  But that site nevertheless gives good information about the very modest 
countryside surrounding the city of Hebron.]
Here are a few relevant quotes:
“The tan, rocky, low-mountain desert of southern Palestine receives a yearly 
average of about ten inches of rainfall and that is almost exclusively in the 
winter.  …Hardy scrubs and grasses are sufficient to feed the small flocks of 
sheep and goats of the Bedouin people who eke out a living here.  …[We] hiked 
these rugged south Hebron hills to Tuba….  Bedouin life is gentle to the land. 
 Their diet consists of dairy products and meat from their animals, bread 
from the wheat they plant and harvests in the sloping ravines….A few olive trees 
[and] grape vines…provide treats now and then.  …Bedouins dwell in tent-like 
housing or caves, carefully using the water they draw from deep cisterns on 
the hill slopes.  When necessary, they walk, use donkeys….”
4.  If Abraham had settled for decades at or near the city of Hebron, that is 
the unprepossessing life he would have led -- a life of mere subsistence:  “
people who eke out a living here [in] these rugged south Hebron hills”.  Yes, 
sheep and goats can survive there, but only in small numbers.  Yes, there is 
some agriculture possible there, but it is quite modest.
Remember, Abraham has a grand divine blessing from YHWH as to the entire land 
of Canaan.  And Abraham has 318 armed retainers at Genesis 14: 14.  And 
Abraham has a confederate relationship with tent-dwelling Amorites at Genesis 14: 
13.  So Abraham has enough military muscle to live in the finest pastureland in 
all of Canaan -- the Aijalon Valley, located 17½ miles west of Beth-el.
It would make no sense for the text to portray Abraham as taking a huge flock 
of sheep and goats, other animals, a large household, many shepherds, and 318 
armed retainers up into the high hill country of the city of Hebron, where 
only a hard scrabble subsistence life would have been possible.  Genesis does  
n-o-t  portray Abraham as living like the ultra-modest Bedouins do near Hebron 
today.  No, Abraham is explicitly said to be rich in gold and silver and 
animals.  Genesis 13: 2  Abraham gives fabulous gold betrothal gifts to his future 
daughter-in-law, Rebekah, a woman whom Abraham has not yet seen.  Genesis 24: 
22  Abraham is, at least oftentimes, wealthy and powerful.  None of that makes 
sense in the geographical context of the city of Hebron or the city of Hebron 
area, where tent-dwelling people could only have eked out a mere subsistence 
In my view, Abraham is portrayed in the text as grandly dominating the finest 
pastureland in all of Canaan, namely the Aijalon Valley (which is also famous 
for its groves of oak trees referenced at Genesis 13: 18).
The more one thinks about it, the more logical it is that Abraham would be 
portrayed as sojourning for decades in the ideal pastureland of the Aijalon 
Valley, not in “the rugged south Hebron hills” where, as we speak today, 
tent-dwelling “people…eke out a living” in poor conditions unknown to wealthy 
Patriarch #1 Abraham.  Abraham and the poor land of the city of Hebron don’t mix.  
Abraham needed, and could sojourn on and defend, a large amount of fine 
5.  It is important to realize that prior to the 8th century BCE, many 
centuries after the Patriarchal Age, the name “Hebron” is never associated in 
secular history with the city south of Jerusalem that was later called “Hebron”.  
Accordingly, we cannot rely on the  n-a-m-e  “Hebron” to tell us where the 
Patriarchs’ “Hebron” was located.  In fact, I think I have located the mid-15th 
century BCE version of the name “Hebron” in the Aijalon Valley, northwest of 
Jerusalem, nowhere near the city of Hebron.
Once one realizes that we should not rely on the  n-a-m-e  “Hebron” in the 
Patriarchal narratives as specifying the city of Hebron or the geographical 
area near the city of Hebron, one suddenly realizes that  n-o-t-h-i-n-g  in 
Genesis about the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” matches what we know about the city of 
Hebron!  Nothing.  Unlike later books in the Bible, Genesis never uses the common 
words “up” or “hill” in connection with the Patriarchs’ “Hebron”, though 
the city of Hebron is definitely located “up” in “hill” country.  That’s 
because the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is not located anywhere near the ancient city 
that centuries later was re-named by the Hebrews “Hebron”.  No, the Patriarchs’ “
Hebron” is not a city, and is not located “up” in “hill” country.  Rather, 
the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is the fine pastureland of the lovely Aijalon 
Valley:  “the well-watered meadowland place”.  H + “JBR” + WN  =  H + )BR + WN  =  
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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