Beersheba - Encyclopedia

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BEERSHEBA, a place midway between Gaza and Hebron (28 m. from each), frequently referred to in the Bible as the southern limit of Palestine ("Dan to Beersheba," Judg. xx. 1, &c.) Its foundation is variously ascribed to Abraham and Isaac, and different etymologies for its name are suggested, in the fundamental documents of Genesis (xxi. 22, xxvi. 26). It was an important holy place, where Abraham planted a sacred tree (Gen. xxi. 23), and where divine manifestations were vouchsafed to Hagar (Gen. xxi. 17), Isaac (xxvi. 24), Jacob (xlvi. 2) and Elijah (1 Kings xix. 5). Amos mentions it in connexion with the shrines of Bethel and Gilgal (Amos v. 5) and denounces oaths by its numen (viii. 14). The most probable meaning of the name is "seven wells," despite the non-Semitic construction involved in this interpretation. Seven ancient wells still exist here, though two are stopped up. Eusebius and Jerome mention the place in the 4th century as a large village and the seat of a Roman garrison. Extensive remains of this village exist, though they are being rapidly quarried away for building; some inscriptions of great importance have been found here. Later it appears to have been the site of a bishopric; remains of its churches were still standing in the 14th century. Some fine mosaics have been here unearthed and immediately destroyed, in sheer wantonness, by the natives quarrying building-stone. The Biblical Beersheba probably exists at Bir es-Seba`, 2 m. distant.

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