[b-hebrew] Is "Kiriath Arbe" in Genesis an Historically-Documented City Name?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Oct 16 10:56:36 EDT 2008

Is “Kiriath Arbe” in Genesis an Historically-Documented City Name?
In chapter 23 of Genesis, Abraham buys Sarah’s gravesite from certain 
townspeople of the city of Kiriath Arbe.    The word “kiriath” or “kiryat” is the 
construct form of kirya, which means “town” or “city”.  Genesis 23: 2 refers 
to “Kiriath Arbe”, where “Kiriath” might be considered part of the city 
name.  By contrast, Genesis 35: 27 has the definite article in the middle, so the 
reference there seems to be to the “city of [kiriath] the Arbe”.  In addition 
to those two explicit references, the town of Kiriath Arbe is referred to 
indirectly, but surely, as being a “city” that has a “gate” on two occasions, 
at Genesis 23: 10 and 23: 18.  Thus it is absolutely certain that Genesis 
presents Kiriath Arbe as being a city or town.  [As to English transliterations, 
which are not of particular relevance here, qof-resh-yod-tav/QRYT is sometimes 
transliterated as “Kiriath” or “Kiryat”, though “Qiryt” or “Qiryat” would 
be more literal.  Aleph-resh-bet-ayin/)RB( is transliterated in this post as “
Arbe”, to distinguish clearly the initial aleph from the final ayin, though “
Arba” or “Arbah” are the usual transliterations.]
But is “Kiriath Arbe”, or the city of “Arbe”, an historically-documented 
city name?
The conventional view is that (1) “Kiriath Arbe” is the former name of the 
later city of Hebron, south of Jerusalem, and that (2) there is no 
documentation whatsoever in secular history to support that proposition.  The only support 
for the view that “Kiriath Arbe” is the former name of the city of Hebron 
comes not from secular history, but rather from statements to that effect at 
Joshua 14: 15 and Judges 1: 10.
It seems peculiar that the text of the Patriarchal narratives would mention, 
on two separate occasions, the former name of the city of Hebron.  What would 
be the point of that?  Moreover, the Patriarchal narratives themselves, so 
unlike Joshua 14: 15 and Judges 1: 10, never say that “Kiriath Arbe” is the 
former name of the city of Hebron.  Indeed, if the Patriarchal narratives actually 
said that (which they don’t), there would presumably be little or no reason 
for Joshua 14: 15 or Judges 1: 10 to make such an assertion.
Instead of relying on the Books of Joshua and Judges (which are not part of 
the first five books of the Bible) as being the definitive interpretation of 
this aspect of the Patriarchal narratives, why don’t we investigate this matter 
for ourselves?  With the wealth of city names in Canaan that we have in 
secular historical sources, several of the most famous of which are from the Late 
Bronze Age, we should quickly be able to determine if “Kiriath Arbe” is or is 
not an historically-documented city name.
In looking for an historical city name “Kiriath Arbe”, we should not 
restrict our search exclusively to the city of Hebron area, 20 miles south of 
Jerusalem.  Scholars to date have found  n-o-t-h-i-n-g  in secular history to back up 
the view that “Kiriath Arbe” is the former name of the city of Hebron.  So 
we should look at the whole of Canaan in our search for the city name “Kiriath 
If we are willing to look throughout ancient Bronze Age Canaan for the city 
name “Kiriath Arbe”, we will find it almost instantly.  It’s right there, 
staring us in the face.  The reason why scholars have overlooked it is not because 
the secular historical city name is not the linguistic equivalent of “Kiriath 
Arbe”.  No, it’s because such city is not located 20 miles south of 
Jerusalem, at the locale of the city that since the 8th century BCE has been called “
Hebron”.  It’s easy to find the historical city name that is the linguistic 
equivalent of “Kiriath Arbe”, but only if we are willing to look outside the 
precincts of the city of Hebron south of Jerusalem.
Granted, there might be more than one city named “Kiriath Arbe” in ancient 
Canaan.    But aren’t we interested in finding out the location of a city in 
Bronze Age Canaan whose name is the linguistic equivalent of “Kiriath Arbe” or 
city of “Arbe”?
If we ask this question, it will be easy to find an answer.  It’s simply a 
matter of matching the key consonants in “Arbe” to an historical city name from 
Bronze Age Canaan that has the identical key consonants.  It’s not difficult 
to do, if we’re willing to pursue this question.
Let’s look for the historical city name that is the linguistic equivalent of “
Kiriath Arbe” or city of “Arbe” in Bronze Age Canaan.  After we have located 
the historical city that bears that city name, then, and only then, should we 
ask whether that city named “Arbe”, or a close equivalent of “Arbe”, is or 
is not the place where Sarah is portrayed as being buried in the Patriarchal 
narratives.  I realize that everyone has always assumed that the locale where 
Sarah is buried is the city of Hebron, 20 miles south of Jerusalem.  But “Hebron
” as a city name is not attested prior to the 8th century BCE, many centuries 
after any historical Patriarchal Age.  And unlike in the rest of the Bible, 
the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is not stated in the Patriarchal narratives to be a “
city”, or to be “up” in the high “hill” country, leading one to question 
whether the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” is necessarily the same place as the city of 
Hebron high up in hill country south of Jerusalem.  The Hebrew word “)LNY”, 
which is usually translated “oak trees”, is not attested in secular history, at 
least not in an historical name that has anything to do with oak trees 
(though it may arguably be an archaic, non-standard spelling of “Aijalon”, 
especially if originally there had been a yod after the aleph, so that the original 
spelling had been “)YLNY”, with the final yod/Y being an archaic case ending 
and the optional vav/W in the later standard spelling “)YLWN” being omitted).  
And the city name “Kiriath Arbe” has to date not been identified either.  
In sum, scholars to date (1) have not documented a city-name “Hebron” in 
secular history prior to the 8th century BCE, (2) have not identified “)LNY” in 
secular history, and (3) have not documented a “Kiriath Arbe” or city of “Arbe
” regarding a Patriarchal location in secular history in any time period.  
But if the Patriarchal narratives are historically based (as I believe they 
are), then certainly there should be  s-o-m-e  secular historical confirmation in 
the Bronze Age of at least one of these three geographical names.
Let’s use our knowledge of Biblical Hebrew to find an historical Bronze Age 
city in Canaan whose name is the linguistic equivalent of “Kiriath Arbe” or 
city of “Arbe”.  Then we’ll go from there.
Let the chips fall where they may.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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