Abram and Lot and their clans leave Egypt and move into Judeo. Their herds are competing over the same lands. God offers them a choice: the Jordan and Hebron. Lot takes the plains of Jordan, east of the Dead Sea. Abram takes the area around Hebron. Upon Lot’s departure, God makes a covenant with Abram:
Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. and I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it nd in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. And Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.Genesis 13:14-18
Mamre is the site where Abraham pitched the tents for his camp, built an altar (Genesis 13:18), and was brought divine tidings, in the guise of three angels, of Sarah‘s pregnancy (Genesis 18:1-15). There appear to be three main sites which have been known, at different times in history, as Mamre. These are, chronologically:
- Khirbet Nimra, an archaeological site next to Hebron and 2.5 km north of Ramat el-Khalil, identified as Persian and Hellenistic Mamre.
- Ramat el-Khalil, also spelled Ramet el-Khulil, is the site identified as Mamre in the time of King Herod (1st century BCE), Constantine the Great (4th century CE), and possibly the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem (12th-13th centuries CE). The ruins of the Herodian and Constantinian structure became also known in Arabic as Beit el-Khalil, lit. “Abraham’s House“. Talmudic sources refer to the site as Beth Ilanim or Botnah.
- Khirbet es-Sibte (also Ain Sebta), the present-day site of the so-called Oak of Mamre, 2 km southwest of Ramat el-Khalil, has been considered since the 19th century by Christians to be the place where Abraham saw the angels. A modern Russian Orthodox monastery is marking the site.
The Palestinian authorities have made the site accessible to visitors under the name Haram Ramat Al Khalil.
Since, in Islam, the Kaaba in Mecca is sacred as the “house of Ibrahim/Abraham”, his tradition of hospitality has also moved to that city, and under Muslim rule Mamre has lost its historical significance as an inter-religious place of worship and festivity. The site was excavated by 20th-century Christian and Jewish archaeologists, and a 2015 initiative by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, joined by the UN and youth belonging to all three communities in the area — Muslim, Jewish, and Christian — restored the site for visitors and built a new “meeting center”. However, as of 2019, the center had not yet been opened and the site itself doesn’t see much traffic.
There are stages from animism to monotheism. In animism, a certain tree might contain a spirit which guards a plain and provides wisdom to the inhabitants. Across the field, a river may be guarded by another spirit. Making offerings to it will ensure that it floods each year to quench the soil for crowing crops. There may be a large boulder in the field over which the harvest moon rises. Making an offering to the spirit of the rock will bring good crop yield.
The tribes who live on the plain would never think of asserting their tree spirit to the tribe in the next valley. The fairies, spirits, and ghosts who were concerned with the tribe’s day-to-day lives were local phenomena. The tribes may have been aware of a larger cosmic force: “fate” for example, but that force was impartial to the lives of man.
It’s when multiple tribes in a large area come under the rulership of a centralized city and its king that a hierarchy of influential deities must be administered. Polytheism. The local tribes still retained their local spirits and fairies, but a pantheon of deities with a pecking order interceded in man’s affairs. Patron saints still guard over cities in France and Italy to this day.