History

Elonei Mamre Archaeological Site and Herod's Walls

Ancient walls hearken back to a time when Hebron and its outskirts were a major commercial center.

1.8.16, 12:05
(PHOTO: Hebron spokesperson Noam Arnon at the Elonei Mamre archeological site.)
 
Elonei Mamre is an ancient archaeological site in Hebron. The walls, which still stand today, were part of a structure where Jews were sold as slaves. For generations this site has been associated with the Biblical Mamre, where Abraham and Sarah lived. However some researchers believe another archaeological site in Hebron called Nimra, is the actual site of Abraham's home. Because of the similarity of the names, Khirbet Nimra, or the Ruin of Nimra, may be the original location. Full excavations have not been conducted.
 
Since 1997, the site which today is referred to as Elonei Mamre has been under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Hebron Accords. Mostly inaccessible, tourists have a rare opportunities to visit the ruins of what once was an important central location in the region.
 
Nearby is the Eshel Avraham, or Oak of Mamre, a tree which held great religious significance for many. Today the tree is dry, bare and propped up by iron beams. Nearby is a Russian church, the last vestige of Christianity in Hebron.
 
 
In Genesis 13:18 it states, "And Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built there an altar unto HaShem." The word terebinth refers to a type of tree.
 
Mamre is later mentioned in Genesis 14:13 staying, "Abram the Hebrew--now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre..."  It is from here that Abram "led forth his trained men, born in his house" to rescue his nephew Lot from the hands of his kidnappers. 
 
The site is later mentioned in Genesis 18:01, "And HaShem appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day." It is here that the three angel came to deliver the news that he and his wife Sarah were to have a child. 
 
In modern Hebrew culture, the classic song Three Angels is about the Biblical story with the lyrics referring to Elonei Mamre. The song is performed by the 1960's group HaGashash HaHiver and composed by the famous songwriters Yehonatan Geffen and Matti Caspi.
 

The site is also mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as one of three sites where a fair took place. Referred to as Botnah, the sages warned against attending the fair due to idolatrous rituals that took place there, performed by pre-Christian groups. The book Abodah Zarah: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation Talmud of the Land of Israel translated by Jacob Neusner, 1982 quotes the Jerusalem Talmud, Avodah Zarah 1:4, 39d in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: 
 
"They prohibited a fair only in the case of one of the character of that at Botnah. As it has been taught along these same lines in a Tannaitic tradition. There are three fairs, the fair at Gaza, the fair at Acre, and the fair at Botnah, and the most debased of the lot of them is the fair of Botnah."
 
Today, Eloni Mamre is an impressive ancient site, surrounded by a massive low stone wall, measuring two-meters-high, 70-by-30-meters. The location is near "Glass Junction" which was the main entrance to Hebron and Kiryat Arba for many years until the Hebron Accords. The style and construction of the walls are similar to that of the Tomb of Machpela complex, and the remains of the walls of the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Researchers assume the walls of Mamre were also built by King Herod the Great because they use the same Herodian masonry. 
 
After the revolt of the Jewish leader Shimon Bar Kochba against the Roman occupiers, (132–136 BCE), many Jews were captured by the Romans and sold into slavery at this site.
 

(PHOTO: Hebron, including the Constantine church at Mamre cicled in red. Reproduction of the Madaba Map discovered in Saint George Church in Madaba, Jordan. Credit: Bernard Gagnon / Wiki Commons.)
Elonei Mamre is one of four holy sites that are currently inaccessible, except in rare circumstances. Section 6 of the 1997 Hebron Accords reads as follows:
 
Paragraphs 2 and 3(a) of Article 32 of Appendix 1 to Annex III of the Interim Agreement will be applicable to the following Holy Sites in Area H-1:
 
1. The Cave of Othniel Ben Knaz/El-Khalil;
2. Elonei Mamre/Haram Er-Rameh;
3. Eshel Avraham/Balotat Ibrahim; and
4. Maayan Sarah/Ein Sarah.
 
The Palestinian Police will be responsible for the protection of the above Jewish Holy Sites. Without derogating from the above responsibility of the Palestinian Police, visits to the above Holy Sites by worshipers or other visitors shall be accompanied by a Joint Mobile Unit, which will ensure free, unimpeded and secure access to the Holy Sites, as well as their peaceful use.
 
Many travelers over the years have mentioned visiting the site, such as Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon. He passed away in 1217, leading scholars to believe his travels took place sometime between 1170 and 1180.
 
The English translation of Travels of Petachia of Ratisbon was published in London in 1856. The following is an excerpt: 

"Among the oaks of Mamre, at a distance from there, dwelled an old man, who was near death when Rabbi Petachia arrived there, and he told his son to show Rabbi Petachia the tree under which the angels rested. He also showed him a fine olive tree cleft into three parts with a stone in the middle. They have a tradition that when the angels sat down the tree was cleft into three parts each resting under one tree whilst sitting on the stone . The fruits of the tree are very sweet. By the tree is the well of Sarah; its waters are clear and sweet. By the well is the tent of Sarah. Close by Mamre is a plain and on the other side there are about a hundred cubits from the well of Sarah to the well of Abraham its water is very agreeable. They also showed him a stone of twenty-eight cubits, upon which Abraham, our father, was circumcised." Pages 65-67.
 
The medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela (1130 - 1173) wrote:
 
"Beyond the field of Machpelah is the house of Abraham; there is a well in front of the house, but out of reverence for the Patriarch Abraham no one is allowed to build in the neighbourhood."
 
The 1537 book Yihus HaAvot also describes the oak of Abraham as a holy site for the Jewish community. The 1866 book The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula by Carl Ritter translates some of those references to the Oak of Mamre and the stone of Abraham's circumcision.  Page 300 states,
 
"The anonymous Jewish author of the Jichus ha-Abot [usually pronounced Yichus HaAvot], written in 1537, seems to have taken the ground that this place is correctly supposed to have been the site of Abraham's tent. After describing the sepulchres of Hebron in which the patriarchs were buried, he speaks of the place where Jesse the father of David was interred, outside of the city, and passes to speak of the graves of other Israelites to whom he wishes peace. He then goes on to say, that in the neighbourhood of the city, between the vineyards, are the oaks of Mamre, where Abraham pitched his tent, and the stone on which he sat during the circumcision. This stone, which was regarded as a sacred memorial of the covenant with the Jews (Gen. xvii. 8, 9, 23-27), was visited three hundred years earlier (1210) by the Jewish pilgrim Samuel bar Simson, who tells us that it was held in great reverence by the Arabs, i.e. the Ishmaelites. Benjamin of Tudela visited the place in 1160, but his description is very indefinite."
 
For full article on the Oak on Mamre click here: Oak of Mamre: Is Abraham's Oak Israel's Oldest Tree?
 
SOURCE NOTES:
 
A Rare Visit Allonei Mamre (news article with numerous photos)
Mamre and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (includes artistic reconstruction)
Mamre in Hebron by John Schou, M.D. (descibes PA takeover)
Byzantine Mamre (discusses if Nimra was actual Biblical Mamre)
Looking for Mamre (maps and pictures, debates actual location)

To arrange a guided tour of Hebron contact us:
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

In Israel contact the offices of the Jewish Community of Hebron at:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
 
RECOMMENDED ARTICLES:
 
Oak of Mamre: Is Abraham's Oak Israel's Oldest Tree?
This Date in History: Harry Potter Killed on Road to Hebron
Was the Now Violent Mahamra Clan of Yatta Once Jewish?