Hebron is a city in the West Bank, located in the Judean Mountains between Jerusalem and Beersheba. It is an ancient city, with a long and rich history. But what was the name of Hebron formerly? In the Bible, there are two passages that refer to Hebron by its former name, Kiryat-arba. In both passages, it appears that Kiryat-arba was inserted as an editorial commentary or gloss.
According to biblical textual criticism scholar Emanuel Tov, these types of brief explanations of names and words are often added to the full text during textual transmission or at an earlier stage. The phrase “Hebron's name was formerly Kiryat-arba” fits this description. It is believed that before it was called Hebron, the city was known as Quiriat-arba, because Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. This is mentioned in the Bible in a verse that states that Caleb received “Kiryat-arba”, which is Hebron.
As the traditions of Hebron and Kiryat-arba merged, the tradition of the “giants”, which originated in Hebron, also became associated with Kiryat-arba. This led some scribes to embellish Hebron with the phrase: “Hebron's original name was Kiryat-arba”. It is possible that the scribe writers were no longer familiar with the location of Kiryat-arba and associated it with a more well-known place in the vicinity, the large city of Hebron. As the idea that Hebron and Kiryat-arba were identical developed, several scribes overlooked other references to Kiryat-arba and used the wrong name for Hebron.
The history of Hebron's name is an interesting one, and it is clear that it has gone through many changes over time. From Quiriat-arba to Kiryat-arba to its current name of Hebron, this ancient city has had many names throughout its long history.