The sediment of the well yielded up, in fact, more than a thousand coins (mostly from the time of Constantine), as well as pottery and lamps. The sacrificial altar was probably in the middle, where a black segment appears in the diagram above. Here were found metal bells, rings, earrings, pieces of crystal, animal bones and a great many rooster feet. The rooster was holy to Hermes-Mercury, who was not only the messenger but also the god of commerce. An inscription honoring him turned up as well. (Keel,Othmar Keel, Max Kuechler and Christoph Uehlinger, Orte und Landschaften der Bibel, Koeln: Benziger and Goettingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1984. Volumes I and II. p. 713.) Elsewhere in the enclosure, a smashed (!) head of Dionysus-Bacchus was found. This is significant, for one may well ask, Why should the biggest annual fair in the country - bigger than those in Acco or Gaza - be here, off the beaten track of antiquity? The answer may be "Wine!", for which this area was so famous. The only comfortable road from the west, through the straight Wadi Kof, led directly up to this site, which was cooler than the lowlands in summer. So this would have been the natural place for an annual drinking party. The road up Wadi Kof, in fact, connected the ShephelahAn area of low hills and valleys between the Judean mountain range and the Mediterranean coast. It includes (from north to south) Beit Shemesh, the Valley of Elah (where David encountered Goliath), Maresha a.k.a. Beit Guvrin and Lachish. with this part of the mountain range. During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, both these areas were mainly inhabited by Edomites (Idumeans). This fact heightens the possible significance of one small find: a stone altar containing the name Cos, inscribed in Greek. Cos was the chief Edomite god. Here, perhaps, we have a clue to the enclosure's original function. Already in the Hellenistic period, there may have been a tree cult here that the Edomites associated with their god. After the Hasmoneans annexed the area, most Edomites converted to Judaism, but they retained their ethnic identity and their desire for independence. For example, Herod, himself an Edomite, had an Edomite brother-in-law named Costobar (a name formed from that of the god). We read in Josephus'Josephus Flavius (36 – 100 AD), Jewish general, one of two directing the revolt against Rome in Galilee. After Vespasian captured him, he prophesied the latter would be emperor. When this proved true, the Romans honored him. He then turned historian, writing The Jewish War, The Antiquities of the Jews and many other books. Because of a paragraph about John the Baptist (and maybe a sentence about Jesus), the Church preserved his works. (AntiquitiesAntiquities of the Jews, translated by William Whiston XV 7, 9):

Costobarus was an Idumean by birth, and one of principal dignity among them, and one whose ancestors had been priests to the Koze, whom the Idumeans had esteemed as a god; but after Hyrcanus had made a change in their political government, and made them receive the Jewish customs and law, Herod made Costobarus governor of Idumea and Gaza, and gave him his sister Salome to wife; ... When Costobarus had gotten to be so highly advanced, it pleased him and was more than he hoped for, and he was more and more puffed up by his good success, and in a little while he exceeded all bounds, and did not think fit to obey what Herod, as their ruler, commanded him, or that the Idumeans should make use of the Jewish customs, or be subject to them.

Josephus goes on to list Costobar's treasons, for which Herod executed him. It is tempting to think that the inconsistent pattern we have seen in the building of the enclosure, and the premature termination of the Herodian phase, may reflect the ups and downs of Herod's relations with his fellow Edomites. One can invent hypotheses. For example (following a suggestion by MagenItzhak Magen, "Elonei Mamre: Atar Pulhan Miyamei Hordus" ("The Oaks of Mamre: A Cultic Site from the time of Herod"), in Qadmoniot 24:46-55, 1991. 54-55), perhaps, in order better to integrate the Edomites with the rest of the Jewish people, Herod decided to ignore the problem of the distance and to turn their sacred tree into an Abraham shrine. Abraham and Sarah, after all, were ancestors of the Edomites, as was the son God had promised them under the tree. (If it was Herod who connected the site to Abraham, the tree may have been the one mentioned by Josephus, although the distance he gives is off by more than a mile.) To complete this survey of the site in the Roman period: JeromeJerome (a.k.a. Hieronymus) (ca. 347 – 420 AD), the learned Church father (and favorite saint of Christian painters after the Holy Family), spent the last 34 years of his life in Bethlehem, where he translated both the Hebrew First Testament and the Greek Second Testament into Latin, the so-called "Vulgate." It remained the authoritative version of the Bible for Western Christendom for a thousand years. He took part in the great theological controversies of his day, and his influence was tremendous. From what remains of his vast correspondence, he appears to have kept his faith at the cost of struggle with his own impulses; his bitter, combative disposition (perhaps a result of that struggle) often seems far from the teachings of tolerance found in Jesus, Paul and Origen., relying on a Roman source, reports that after quelling the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD, HadrianPublius Aelius Hadrianus (76 – 138 AD). Roman emperor from 117 until his death. He quelled the Bar Kokhba revolt, the second major Jewish uprising in the land. After banishing the Jews from Jerusalem, he rebuilt the city, naming it Aelia Capitolina. He is also remembered as the builder of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. led a multitude of Jewish captives to the market at Terebinthus (which Jerome also calls Mamre) and there sold them as slaves (In Zachariam 111, 11, 4-5). The site in the Byzantine period Where Mamre was concerned, the Byzantines would have been more interested in the tree of Genesis 18 than in the burial cave of Genesis 23. For at this tree the Holy Trinity had appeared to Abraham.In Genesis 18:1Yahweh appears to Abraham "by the great tree of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood opposite him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, 'My lord, if now I have found favor in your [singular in Hebrew] sight, please don’t go away from your servant. Now let a little water be fetched, wash your [plural] feet, and rest yourselves [plural] under the tree. I will get a morsel of bread so you can refresh your heart. After that you may go your way, now that you have come to your servant.'" The terebinth at our site was probably the only grand tree in the Hebron area during the early 4th century, when the first Christian pilgrims arrived. It had already reached its apogee and was dead by 361. In translating into Latin (ca. 390 AD) the Onomasticon of Eusebius (ca. 330 AD) and inserting his comments (here in square brackets), Jerome remarked:  "Mamre near Hebron, where there is a [very old and of many years] terebinth even now [up to the time of my childhood and the reign of Emperor Constantine] pointed out" (Onomasticon, Section D, under Drus. In Jerome's childhood the emperor was Constantius II, son of Constantine, who ruled until 361 AD). As far as the evidence goes, the site was first identified as Mamre in the 320's. Constantine's mother-in-law, Eutropia, attended the annual fair. She wrote home complaining about the pagan practices she had witnessed. Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine (Chapters 51-53), reports  the response of the Emperor:

But having heard that the self-same Saviour who a while ago had appeared on earth had in ages long since past afforded a manifestation of his Divine presence to holy men of Palestine near the oak of Mamre, he ordered that a house of prayer should be built there also in honor of the God who had thus appeared.

Constantine wrote his bishops in Palestine:

"She assures me, then, that the place which takes its name from the oak of Mamre, where we find that Abraham dwelt, is defiled by certain of the slaves of superstition in every possible way. She declares that idols which should be utterly destroyed have been erected on the site of that tree; that an altar is near the spot; and that impure sacrifices are continually performed."

He ordered that the altar be demolished and that a church be built. Soon after these orders were carried out, the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333 AD) passed by:

From thence to Bethasora [Beth Zur], 14 miles. There is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch. Thence to the Terebinthus, 8 miles. Here Abraham dwelt, and dug a well under a terebinth tree, and spoke with angels, and ate food with them. Here a basilica of wondrous beauty has been built by the command of Constantine. From Terebinthus to Hebron, 2 miles. Here is a monument of square form built of stone of wondrous beauty, in which lie Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah.

(At last someone mentions the Hebron temenos!) The outlines of Constantine's church can be seen today (although J. Wilkinson thinks they are Crusader). While it occupied the width of the temenos (48.5 meters), it was remarkably short in length (20 meters). The reason, perhaps, was to avoid interfering with the tree. Were the Byzantines troubled by the two miles separating their Mamre from the burial cave in Hebron? Apparently not, for they built a church into the Hebron temenos too. With a huge empire at their disposal, and accustomed to travel great distances, two miles may have seemed a trifle to them. For here, after all, they had a grand tree. {mospagebreak title=David's Hebron} The Hebron of David and later... After the death of Saul, the land lay open and vulnerable to the Philistines. David was their vassal, ruling Ziklag on the northwest fringe of the Negev. Now that his own people were in need of defense, he...

,,,inquired of Yahweh, saying, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” Yahweh said to him, “Go up.” David said, “Where shall I go up?” He said, “To Hebron.” So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. cb(2,3);   David brought up his men who were with him, every man with his household. They lived in the cities of Hebron. cb(2,4);   The men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. [2 Samuel 2:1-4]

Hebron was the natural choice for a rebellious vassal who needed to build a power base. Hailing from Judah, David would have wanted to establish himself on that tribe's mountain. His home town of Bethlehem was too vulnerable. Its hill lacked a spring. The Philistines or the other Israelite tribes could mass on the Benjamin plateau and attack from the north. The Philistines had little trouble, apparently, in reaching the Valley of Rephaim 2 Samuel 5: 17-18. When the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. between Jebusite Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hebron was much stronger. To see why, please go to our first page on Hebron, which gives the geographical logic behind David's ascent to "the cities of Hebron." He brought his wives and militia, but there is no record of his having had to conquer it. Most likely, its residents preferred a strong ruler from their own tribe over the weak successor of Saul the Benjaminite. After the disaster that had befallen the army of Israel, the Judahites, like everyone else, would have felt threatened by the Philistines. What is more, David likely had alliances in the area by marriage: his wives were from Carmel and Jezreel, both of them locations in the Hebron regionJoshua 15: 20, 48, 54-56. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Judah according to their families....In the hill country .... Kiriath Arba (the same is Hebron), and ...Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Jutah, Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah. In his mountain bastion, David spent seven and a half years accumulating power. When we look at the tell, using the sparse excavations to estimate where the walls would have been, we may wonder at the smallness of the "city."

According to the most recent excavator, Avi Ofer,Avi Ofer, "Hebron," The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Jerusalem, 1993 Hebron was the major city in the area during the Middle Bronze Age.2000 – 1550 BC A massive "cyclopean" wall from this time can still be seen at places on the tell. After the turmoil of 1550 BC, when the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos and ravaged the land, Hebron underwent a decline, as did the rest of the highlands. There are no finds for the Late Bronze Age1550 – 1200 BC except nearby cemeteries used by nomads. The city revived in the 11th century, however, probably when the Calebites took over. Judging from his finds, Ofer believes that Hebron had its "golden era" in the 10th century, which would fit its function as David's capital. Ofer believes (1) that the strong walls from Middle Bronze II continued in use during David's time, protecting the upper part of the city, but (2) that the city extended beyond them. To confirm these points, more work is required. In any case, we should recall that in the First Testament period a city on a hill was the hub of a wider metropolitan area. For every person living inside, there would have been another ten or so living in nearby villages, producing food to support the urban aristocrat and themselves. David's main concern at first was not with the Philistines, rather with the remnant of the Israelite forces under Saul's son, Ishbosheth, whose army was headed by Abner. After both were murdered, the northern tribes found themselves leaderless. There was nothing to stop the Philistines from dominating, say, the Jezreel Plain or the valley at Shechem, cutting them off from each other. Under the old system from the period of the judges, the tribes should have waited for God to call up a leader, granting him charisma to unite them against the enemy. But this wouldn't work against the Philistines, who were better organized, faster and more mobile than the Canaanite city-states. That was why the tribes had taken Saul as their first human king, and it was why they now went to David in Hebron. 

The elders asked David to make a compact with them, under whose terms he would rule them as king. In the Ancient Near East, a king was not normally bound by a compact to his people; he was above the law by which he ruled them (Keel,Othmar Keel, Max Kuechler and Christoph Uehlinger, Orte und Landschaften der Bibel, Koeln: Benziger and Goettingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1984. Volumes I and II. pp. 677-78). The tribes' insistence on a compact would have been a vestige from the older system, under which each of them had retained a large measure of independence. As a capital from which to rule all the tribes, Hebron would have been too far south. So David set his sights on Jebusite Jerusalem, a decision we've discussed there. He conquered it and made it his capital, gaining a foothold on the Benjamin Plateau. Then he attempted to consolidate his kingdom according to his own standards of efficiency, ignoring the compact with the tribes. This act fueled the first great rebellion against him, led by Absalom his son. Absalom had been born in Hebron and could take it as his base, for the city no doubt resented its loss of status to Jerusalem. After Solomon's death and the split in the kingdom, the data become thin. Enough exists, however, to indicate that Hebron continued to function until the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC and even later. Of special interest from the reign of Hezekiah are five jar handles inscribed "For the King,"Throughout the territory of Judah, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of jar handles bearing the inscription, "For the King" (lamelekh), followed by the name Hebron or Soco or Zif or Mamshit. All were made of the same kind of clay, probably in one place. Some bear the image of a scarab, others of the sun with wings. All date from Hezekiah's reign. The jars would have contained wine, grain and oil. These provisions would have been collected at the four named places, then packed in the jars and distributed. What was the purpose of this system? Many of the jar inscriptions included private names, and this may be a partial clue. It was the practice in Assyria to pay royal functionaries with wine and grain. Hezekiah perhaps copied this. That would explain why so many handles were found in the three cities of royal residence: Jerusalem, Ramat Rahel, and Lachish. When Hezekiah prepared his revolt against Assyria, he perhaps adapted this system in order to store provisions in the towns of Judah, for he knew they would be under siege. two including the name "Hebron." This was one of four Judean towns appointed to collect provisions in such jars. Clearly, it was in the grip of Jerusalem. In 539 BC Babylon fell to Cyrus of Persia. Throughout the Persian period (that is, until 332 BC) Hebron was empty. No finds have turned up on the tell or in the valley below. Instead, there was habitation on the next hill to the north at a place called the Ruin of Nimra (Mamre?). By the fifth century, the Edomites had become the dominant group in the area. The Persians organized their lands as the province of Idumea. Hebron re-emerged as a town in the HellenisticThe period of Greek domination in the land, from the conquest by Alexander the Great (332 BC) until the Maccabean revolt, which started in 167 BC and proved successful by 143 BC period, but never again would its center be on the tell. It was now in the valley to the east. The population was largely Edomite, as is evident from the many tombstone inscriptions that carry, as a component of the person's name, the syllable -cos. Cos was the chief god of Edom.  

Judah Maccabee conquered the region in 160 BC. Half a century later, the Hasmonean John HyrcanusJohn Hyrcanus, Jewish king and high priest, reigned 134-104 BC. He was the son of Simon the Maccabee and the first of the second Hasmonean generation to assume the crown. He defeated the Edomites, giving them a choice of conversion or exile. Among the converts was Antipater, father of Herod the Great. Hyrcanus also defeated the Samaritans, destroying their cities and the temple on Mt. Gerizim. A Hasmonean – later Herodian – fortress in the Judaean desert was named after him. annexed Idumea, and many Edomites converted to Judaism. (Among them was the future Herod's paternal grandfather.) Some of them retained their ethnic identity, however, as well as a desire for independence.