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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
He´bron, a town in the south of Palestine and in the tribe of Judah, 18 miles south from Jerusalem, in 31° 32′ 30″ N. lat., 35° 8′ 20″ E. long., at the height of 2664 Paris feet above the level of the sea. It is one of the most ancient cities existing, having, as the sacred writer informs us, been built 'seven years before Zoan in Egypt,' and being mentioned even prior to Damascus (;; comp. 15:2). Its most ancient name was Kirjath-arba, that is, 'the city of Arba,' from Arba, the father of Anak and of the Anakim who dwelt in and around Hebron (;;;; ). It appears to have been also called Mamre, probably from the name of Abraham's Amoritish ally (;; comp. 14:13, 24). The ancient city lay in a valley; and the two remaining pools, one of which at least existed in the time of David, serve, with other circumstances, to identify the modern with the ancient site (; ). Much of the life-time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was spent in this neighborhood, where they were all entombed; and it was from hence that the patriarchal family departed for Egypt by the way of Beersheba (; ). After the return of the Israelites, the city was taken by Joshua and given over to Caleb, who expelled the Anakim from its territories (;;; ). It was afterwards made one of the cities of refuge, and assigned to the priests and Levites (;; ). David, on becoming king of Judah, made Hebron his royal residence. Here he reigned seven years and a half; here most of his sons were born; and here he was anointed king over all Israel (;;;; ). On this extension of his kingdom Hebron ceased to be sufficiently central, and Jerusalem then became the metropolis. It is possible that this step excited a degree of discontent in Hebron which afterwards encouraged Absalom to raise in that city the standard of rebellion against his father (). Hebron was one of the places fortified by Rehoboam (); and after the exile the Jews who returned to Palestine occupied Hebron and the surrounding villages ().
Hebron is not named by the prophets, nor in the New Testament; but we learn from the first book of Maccabees, and from Josephus, that it came into the power of the Edomites who had taken possession of the south of Judah, and was recovered from them by Judas Maccabaeus. During the great war, Hebron was seized by the rebel Simon Giorides, but was recaptured and burnt by Cerealis, an officer of Vespasian. Josephus describes the tombs of the patriarchs as existing in his day; and both Eusebius and Jerome, and all subsequent writers who mention Hebron down to the time of the Crusades, speak of the place chiefly as containing these sepulchers. Among the Muslims it is still called el-Khulil, from the name which they give to Abraham, meaning 'the friend' (of God).
Since the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, Hebron has always remained in the possession of the Muslims. In the modern history of Hebron the most remarkable circumstance is the part which the inhabitants of the town and district took in the rebellion of 1834, and the heavy retribution which it brought down upon them. They held out to the last, and gave battle to Ibrahim Pasha near Solomon's Pools. They were defeated; but retired and entrenched themselves in Hebron, which Ibrahim carried by storm, and gave over to sack and pillage. The town has not yet recovered from the blow it then sustained.
In the fourteenth century pilgrims passed from Sinai to Jerusalem direct through the desert by Beersheba and Hebron, and it continued to be occasionally visited by European travelers down to the latter part of the seventeenth century; but from that time till the present century it appears to have been little frequented by them.
The town of Hebron lies low down on the sloping sides of a narrow valley (of Mamre), chiefly on the eastern side, but in the southern part stretches across also to the western side. The houses are all of stone, high and well built, with windows and flat roofs, and on these roofs are small domes, sometimes two or three to each house. The shops are well furnished, better indeed than those of towns of the same class in Egypt, and the commodities are of a very similar description. The only display of local manufactures is the produce of the glass-works, for which the place has long been celebrated in these parts. Gates are placed not only at the entrance of the city, but in different parts of the interior, and are closed at night for the better preservation of order, as well as to prevent communication between the different quarters.
There are nine mosques in Hebron, none of which possess any architectural or other interest, with the exception of the massive structure which is built over the tombs of the patriarchs. This is esteemed by the Muslims one of their holiest places, and Christians are rigorously excluded from it. At the period, however, when the Holy Land was in the power of the Christians, access was not denied; and Benjamin of Tudela says that the sarcophagi above ground were shown to the generality of pilgrims as what they desired to see; but if a rich Jew offered an additional fee, 'an iron door is opened, which dates from the time of our forefathers who rest in peace, and with a burning taper in his hands the visitor descends into a first cave, which is empty, traverses a second in the same state, and at last reaches a third, which contains six sepulchers, those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, one opposite the other. All these sepulchers bear inscriptions, the letters being engraved; thus upon that of Abraham: “This is the sepulcher of our father Abraham, upon whom be peace;” even so upon that of Isaac and all the other sepulchers.' The identity of this place with the cave of Machpelah has not been called in question.
The court in which the mosque stands is surrounded by an extensive and lofty wall, formed of large stones, and strengthened by square buttresses. This wall is the greatest antiquity in Hebron, and even Dr. Robinson supposes that it may be substantially the same which is mentioned by Josephus, and by Eusebius and Jerome as the sepulcher of Abraham. Besides this venerable wall, there is nothing at Hebron bearing the stamp of antiquity, save two reservoirs for rain water outside the town. As these pools are doubtless of high antiquity, one of them is in all likelihood the 'pool of Hebron' over which David hanged up the assassins of Ishbosheth ().
The present population of Hebron has not been clearly ascertained, but it probably amounts to about 5000. Most of the inhabitants are Muslims, of fierce and intolerant character. There are no resident Christians. The Jews amount to about one hundred families, mostly natives of different countries of Europe, who have emigrated to this place for the purpose of having their bones laid near the sepulchers of their illustrious ancestors. They have two synagogues and several schools.
The environs of Hebron are very fertile. Vineyards and plantations of fruit-trees, chiefly olive-trees, cover the valleys and arable grounds; while the tops and sides of the hills, although stony, are covered with rich pastures, which support a great number of cattle, sheep, and goats, constituting an important branch of the industry and wealth of Hebron. The hill country of Judah, of which it is the capital, is indeed highly productive, and under a paternal government would be capable of sustaining a large population. That it did so once, is manifest from the great number and extent of ruined terraces and dilapidated towns. It is at present abandoned, and cultivation ceases at the distance of two miles north of the town. The hills then become covered with prickly and other stunted trees, which furnish Bethlehem and other villages with wood.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hebron'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​h/hebron.html.