DISCUSSION

The Mountain of Judah

78. Arbo, also the Terebinth. The Oak of Mambre - (Ramat al- Khalil)

The site of Mamre. known in Arabic as Haram Ramet el-Khalil, lies approximately 3 kin (2 mi.) north of Hebron (map reference 1088.1602). on the ancient road linking the main Hebron-Jerusalem and Bcthlehem-Ziph routes. The Bible describes Elonei (oaks of) Mamre as Abraham's dwelling place, Ahere lie built an altar to God (Gen. 13:18, 18:1. 23:19). Sonic scholars locate the biblical Elonei Mamre within the town of ancient Hebron (Tell Rumeideh); others identify, it with the enclosure of Haram Ramet el-Khalil. which was already considered a sacred site in the Second Temple period.
Josephus relates that Abraham resided near Hebron, by an oak called ogyges, the oak of genesis (Antiq. 1, 186). Elsewhere he mentions a terebinth 6 stadia from Hebron that had stood there since creation ( War IV, 533); it is not clear whether both references are to the same place. In Antiquities he tells the biblical story, calling the tree Lin oak: whereas in War of the Jews he is describing a holy place in his own time. calling it a terebinth. Josephus is mistaken about the distance between Elonei Mamre Lind Hebron, which is not 6 but approximately 18 stadia (3 km). Neither does he mention a structure around the terebinth. Modern excavations have made it clear that the structure was already standing in his time.
The book of Jubilees (29:17-19; 37:14. 17) refers to Abraham's capital in the Hebron Hills as a tower (migdal). The reference is probably to Abraham's residence Lit Elonei Mamre. If so, the author. a contemporary of the Second Temple. was describing the enclosure at Elonei Mamre in terms associated with the Temple Mount -migdal or birah- both meaning tower or fortress. Talmudic literature refers to the place as Beth Ilanim or Botnah. and it is mentioned as the site of one of the most important fairs in Palestine: "There are three fairs: the fair of Gaza, the fair of Acco, the fair of Botnah, and the least doubtful of them all is the fair of Botnah," meaning that of the three fairs this was the one most definitely associated with idolatry and therefore Jews were forbidden to participate in it (J.T.. A.Z. 39c; Gen. Rab. 47: 10). The fair is mentioned in two of Jerome's commentaries (In Hieremiam VI, 18, 6, CCSL 74, 307; In Zachariam 111, 11, 4-5. CCSL 76A, 851), where it is said that Hadrian brought the captive Jews to the famous marketplace at Terebinth. There he sold many into slavery. For this reason the Jews in Jerome's time shunned the annual fair. The same story is told in the seventh-century Chronicon Paschale (PG 92, col. 613) with some additions.
The Bordeaux Pilgrim (Itin. Burd. 599, 3-7) states that the emperor Constantine built a basilica there. Eusebius ( Vita Constantini 111. 51-53, GCS 7, 99-10 1) and Sozomenus (HE II, 4. GCS 50, 54-56) report the circumstances and the official documentation referring to the building. Both Julius Africanus (Chron. XVIII) and Eusebius (Vita Constantini 111, 53, 100; Onom. 6. 12-14; 76. 1-3) mention a pagan altar at the site.
The most detailed description of the site is in the work of Sozomenos (op. cit.). He reports that the place. situated 15 stadia from Hebron, was the site of the terebinth, where the angels had appeared to Abraham. In summer, he states. a great fair was held there. attracting hordes of people from far away. who came to offer libations and burn incense, but also to trade; among them were pagans, Christians and Jews.
The Medeba map seems to differentiate between Botna and Mamre, as the mosaic depicts both a church and a terebinth. During the seventh century CE there was a monastery at the site that continued to exist after the Arab conquest (Adamnanus, De Locis Sanctis 11, 11. 6, CCSL 175, 211). In Crusader times, the site may have been occupied by the Church of the Trinity.

Itzhaq Magen, The New Encyclopedia of Archaelogical Excavations in the Holy Land, Jerusalem 1993, ad v. "Mamre" (extract)

Noël Duval ("Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 144 - see also the complete article)
Arbô ou le [te]rebinthos - Mambré. A côté d'une église conventionnelle symbolisant le sanctuaire (qui était enfermé dans une enceinte avec le chêne, figuré ici à droite), apparaît un bâtiment à deux étages avec un portique qui représente peut-être le monastère, mais peut être aussi une vue de l'intérieur de l'église.

Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 61)
The site is identical with Haram Ramat al-Halil (coord . 160-107), 3 km north of Hebron (al-Halil). Arbo is Kirjath-Arba (Gen. 23:2), one of the names of ancient Hebron, and does not originally belong to Mamre but to the city of Hebron itself. The representation can be compared to the excavation results; see E. Mader, Mambre. Die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen im Hl. Bezirk Ramet el- Halil in Sudpalastina 1926-28 (1957). We see the basilica, built by the emperor Constantine around 330, destroyed by the Persians under Chosroes II in 614. North of it there is a red-roofed building, seemingly in two storeys, the upper one colonnaded. Is it an indication of the temenos wall, erected by the Roman emperor Hadrian ­ for Mamre has a remarkable pre-Christian history ­ and renewed by Constantine? In this case the basilica, situated within the holy area in the east, is put outside in order to make it visible. There are, however, no literary or archaeological traces of columns upon the big square stones of the wall. Or did the mosaicist intend to indicate the annexes of the basilica or even a monastery? On the right side Abraham's sacred tree is shown: the terebinth or oak, standing immediately beside Abraham's well, not represented here. The fragmentarily preserved church south of it does not belong to Mamre, although it is beneath the inscription 'the oak of Mamre', but to Hebron itself: it is the Byzantine church of the Patriarchal tombs, above the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 23), at Haram al-Halil. The image of the city of Hebron, to the south, is lost.

Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)

The sacred enclosures of Mambre and Hebron

Haram Ramet el-Khalil, Mambre. The large enclosure is preserved so badly that it does not allow for such study as might specify its date with certainty. In the fourth century buildings occupied its eastern part following Constantine's intervention. Eutropia, Constantine's mother-in-law, while visiting the holy place which commemorated the apparition of the three angels to Abraham, observed the mixed cult offered there by Jews, Christians and even by heathens, and begged her son-in-law to erect a church on the site. The latter gave the order to Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem. In 333 the church was finished, as the pilgrim of Bordeaux noted. According to Peter the Deacon, whose testimony is said to derive from missing sections of Egeria's itinerary, the place included a well, an altar in front of the church, and two "most bright" caves where Abraham had stayed. The adjective "most bright," which presumes a Judeo-Christian theology, was not part of Egeria's vocabulary; Peter the Deacon must have joined different texts. In any case, the notice about the caves really refers to Hebron, to the tombs of the Patriarchs.


Plan and reconstruction of the sacred enclosure of Mamre
in Constantinian times (after Mader, 1957)

The church was frequented by the Christians who left some graffiti, among which we note the invocation in Greek: "Lord, help your servant Paregorios"; at other inscriptions we have only names, for example, Arsenius, Christopher, and Demas, or invocations where the name of the supplicant has disappeared. Many lamps, some of them with Christian emblems, testify to the cult practiced there. The place was a cult center, especially for the nearby villages.
The church continued to be visited after the Arab conquest; in 670 Arculph noted within the enclosure a large oak said to date back to Abraham's time. Later the spot seems to have been abandoned because at the beginning of the Middle Ages a different oak, today preserved by the Russians, began to be venerated.
Nevertheless, the location was continually visited by pilgrims. Thus, for example, Barbone Morosini, describing in 1514 his excursion to Hebron, says: "We found large buildings and ruins; our friars told us that the place had been called Mambre" (TS 1950, p. 49).
German Catholics made some excavations directed by A.E. Mader, who gave some preliminary reports, for example, on the church in Rivista di Archeologia cristiana ( [1929], pp. 249-312), with sketches and reconstructions by Dom Maurice Gisler; then he published all the finds in two volumes (Mambre, Freiburg i. Br. 1957). Among the more than thousand coins brought to light, the majority are from the Constantinian period (fourth century) while there are none from the period of Hadrian (135). This raises some doubts on the identification of the Haram as the market-place where Hadrian had the Jewish captives sold into slavery after the Second Jewish War.
In the southwest corner of the enclosure, there is a well built of beautiful stones which is used by the nearby inhabitants to this day ; it is believed to have been built in the Constantinian period. Among the several superimposed stone floors are some channels which allow a glimpse of the various transformations that occurred there. A section of pavement not covered over with stones could have been the place of the oak tree mentioned by pilgrims .
It has been suggested that the church was left so short in comparison to its width (Fig. 9, 4) so as to leave room in front for an altar where Christians and Jews came to perform acts of worship. However, the excavations carried out in recent times have not confirmed this hypothesis. Anyway, up to now the caves mentioned by Peter the Deacon have not been found .
Almost no remains of a village around the enclosure have come to light as yet; thus we do not have archeological evidence that there had ever been one around the shrine. On the contrary, Arculph testifies that the surrounding area was dotted with monastic cells, which seems to exclude the presence of a settlement at least in the seventh century.


Map of the holy places of Hebron (in red)
(after Meisterman, 1906)

Hebron. An important publication on the sacred enclosure which includes the remAins of Abraham and his first descendants, prepared by Fr. L.H.Vincent, E.J.H. Mackay, and Fr. F.M. Abel (Hébron, le Haram el-Khalil, Paris 1923), traces in detail the history and archeology of the monument. We concern ourselves with Hebron as a Christian village, although actually, this does not amount to much.
Contrary to the Judeo-Christian tradition of the burial of Adam on Golgatha, the Jews, who had first located Adam's tomb on Mount Moriah, transferred it to Hebron. St. Jerome, in direct dependence on them, seeks to make this tradition acceptable to the Christian world; but his arguments are fictitious (Hébron, pp. 145-46). Then again, while Christian traditions located the tomb of the close descendants of Adam on Golgotha where Jesus "descended" to free them, the Jews identified the spot with Hebron. Underlying these localizations, as can be understood, are theological ideas and polemics.
In 333 the pilgrim of Bordeaux wrote: "From the Terebinth to Hebron is two miles; a memorial is found there in the form of a square building with stones of great beauty in which are laid Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah" (CCL 175, p. 20). As is well-know, this anonymous pilgrim was the first after Josephus Flavius (War IV, 9, 7) to mention the large enclosure built by Herod the Great or by his successors. The pilgrim does not mention Christians nor does he say that the monument is in their hands. His information comes from the biblical text.
A passage believed copied by Peter the Deacon from the lost section of Egeria's Itinerary makes a distinction between the mausoleum and the other parts of the village. It says: "Then, within Hebron, is the house of David; part of it remains and in the cubicle where he lived there is now an oratory. Not far out of Hebron, 300 paces distant, in the place called Abramiri is the house of Jacob where a roofless church is built. Fifty paces further on is the tomb of Caleb. Abramiri is a vineyard in which one finds a cave where the bodies of the eleven sons of Jacob lie. Joseph's bones, however, are buried separately in a church of his own. Not far from Hebron is the tomb of Abner, son of Ner" (CCSL 175, p. 97).
There is not a single mention of Christian buildings among the various parts of the city described in this text. This does not exclude the possibility that they could have been there and that the lady in question - if the text is Egeria's -visited priests and monks there. When the original text is discovered, we shall be able to have a more precise idea of what the Christian village was like in that period. The oratory built in David's house is the place that in Christian belief had always belonged to them. Did it belong to the Judeo-Christians?
The anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza visited Hebron in about 570 and noted: "Twenty-four miles separate Bethlehem and the oak of Mambre where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah are buried and where the bones of Joseph lie too. A basilica was built over a quadriportico; the atrium in the middle is uncovered, in the middle it has a gate, from one side the Christians enter and from the other the Jews with much incense. In fact the deposition of Jacob and David in that ground is devoutly celebrated by all the day after the Birth of the Lord, thus from all the world over an innumerable crowd of Jews comes together and they carry incense and lights and offer gifts and serve" (CCSL 175, p. 144). The anonymous pilgrim does not distinguish between the two places: the one where Abraham stayed and had the vision of the angels and the other where he bought the grotto for his and his family's burial.
The enclosure seems to be encircled within by a colonnade, leaving the inner space empty and closed off by gates that regulated the inflow of pilgrims of various faiths. The principal feast fell on December 26, as appears also from the Calendar of the Church of Jerusalem (Garitte, pp. 417-18) which, however, does not mention Hebron. This feast seems to be of Jewish origin. The Christians adopted it, relating it to the birth of Jesus who was of David's stock. They thus demonstrate the legitimacy of the appellation "Son of David" and hence his Messiahship.
The Piacenza pilgrim speaks of Christians; these could also have come from elsewhere, but in every likelihood they lived in Hebron as a minority. The presence of Christians is attested to by two graffiti, half-preserved and described by Father Vincent who copied them from the stones of the enclosure. They evidently belonged to the Byzantine period. There is also another, complete inscription engraved by a hand which did not know Greek well. The first graffito gives us only names since it is damaged. One ending in -nenos could have been Zonenos, found among the Christians of Mahay (cf. R. Canova, Iscrizioni e monumenti protocristiani del Paese di Moab, Città del Vaticano 1954, p. 393, no. 403). Further down is the name Abraham and beneath it Romanus, broken at the beginning. Naturally, the genitive case of these names presupposes a preceding formula, like that of the other graffito: "Lord remember your servant, your servants," or another common one: "Lord have pity on your senants..." The complete inscription, placed on the inside northern wall and plastered, can be translated: "Saint Abram have pity on your servant Nilus the chief marbleworker, and on Agathemeros, Hygia, Omabis, Thomas, Abdallah, and Anastasia." The language is popular Greek with changes of letters; the invocation is of a similar type to the other two. The opening cross shows clearly that the individuals were Christians. Some names are common, like Nilus, who, according to the SEG (VIII, n. 240), would be the head of the other workers; others are known from Syrian inscriptions; for example, Omabis; Abdallah (servant of God) occurs frequently among the Arabs. The inscription dates back to the sixth century.
After having visited the tomb of the Patriarchs on a trip to Hebron in 1946, we noticed on the road to the north, not far from the sacred building, a capital which we decided to photograph. Was this capital part of the portico built within the sacred precinct, as can be gathered from the description given by the anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza, or did it belong to a building of which no trace has yet been found?
As confirmation of the presence of Christians for the Byzantine period, we have some sacred elements which are said to come from Hebron. One is a reliquary with a suspension ring brought to France by M. de Saulcy and donated to the Louvre in 1864. It is said to have been found near Hebron (RB 14 [1905], p. 576). As the majority of reliquaries, it bears no inscription. An epitaph, preserved at the Flagellation and originating in Hebron, says: "Here was laid blessed Peter the first day of the month of Artemisius, in the third indiction. Here rests also blessed Abraham the physician, having died May 8 which is the 18th of Artemisius, in the twelfth indiction, the year 365." The year is given according to the Greek-Arabic era and corresponds to A.D. 564 (A. Jaussen et al., RB 14 [1905], pp. 248-49).
Three fragments of inscriptions painted on plaster were acquired in the Bethlehem market as coming from Hebron where the antiquarian had bought them. Do they come from the city or from nearby localities? Whatever the case, they reproduce words taken from the Holy Scripture. One cites Mt 11, 28: "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Another quotes Jn 5, 24: "[Truly I say to you,] he who [hears my word and] believes in [him who sent] me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgement..." A third is also composed of biblical phrases: "I am the light and the life, the alpha and the omega" (Jn 1, 4; Ap. 1, 8). The fragments were published by B. Lifshitz (RB 84 [1977], pp. 77-79). Since the fragments are small in size, it is possible that they derive from a wall painting discovered in some clandestine dig.
In his Life of St. Sabas (ch.42; Festugière III, 2, p. 59), Cyril of Scythopolis tells us of two brothers of Hebron called Zannus and Benjamin. They were Sabas' disciples in the Great Laura and asked the saint to give them a hermitage. Sabas agreed, seeing they were well disposed, and helped them to develop the place. Thus the monastery called after Zannus was founded south of the Laura of St. Sabas. When the historian wrote in about the year 555, it was still flourishing.
The Early Arab Period. The pilgrim Arculph, visiting Hebron in about 670, found the city in ruins and only the enclosure of the Patriarchs' tombs standing. Adamnanus writes: "Today, as Arculph relates, [Hebron] has no walled enclosure and only the ruined vestiges of the city that once was can be seen" (CCSL 175, p. 209). Some ascribe the destruction to the Persians who would have spared the enclosure because the Jews were their allies (Hébron, p. 159). This would mean that the Christian village extended to the western hill where the shrine of the Forty martyrs (Deir 'Arbain) is later mentioned; here the Christians recalled a church transformed into a mosque. The opinion seems based on the tract "On the Finding of the Patriarchs," written in the Middle Ages. If this is so, the tradition had been perpetuated up to that time.
The Medieval Period. Having occupied Hebron in 1100, the Crusaders entrusted it to the Canons of St. Augustine guided by a prior. In 1136 the amanuensis Arnulphus discovered by accident the entrance to the underground tombs and with much effort succeeded in getting into the caves where the bones were scattered. He gave a report reproduced in Hébron (pp. 166-176) in the original Latin text and in French translation , followed by an archeological interpretation which aims at determining what is found under the floor. De Sandoli (Itinera I, 331-338) gives the original text with an Italian translation.
During the Crusader period Roehricht (ZDPV 10 [1887], pp. 26-27) enumerates 5 bishops, 12 canons and 4 priors (some residents of Acre); in fact, an episcopal see was established in 1167 at Hebron but lapsed in 1187 when the town fell into the hands of Saladin. It does not seem that a new Christian village was formed. The Crusaders built the church within the enclosure which has been left intact to this day.

Additions by Leah Di Segni (Jerusalem):
1. The reliquary mentioned in Bagatti's article was indeed discovered in secondary use in a house of the Jewish Quarter in Hebron, but it is supposed to have come from Beersheba: see A. Alt, Die griechischen Inschriften der Palaestina Tertia westlich der Araba, Berlin und Leipzich 1921, p.19, no.22.
2. An exploration of the inner part of the Patriarchs' tombs was made also by Yeivin and Dayan and published in Qadmoniot 9 (1976), pp. 125-31.

For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Hebron", 141-142; "Mamre. Terebintos, Botana", 177-178.

Map Section 6 Place Sources

logo logo

Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:40:05
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
Webmaster: John Abela ofm - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex
copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000