What Was Caleb the Kenizzite’s Connection to Hebron?
Caleb Will Enter Canaan and Inherit Land
During the reconnaissance mission in the Promised Land, the scouts reach the city of Hebron:
במדבר יג:כב וַיַּעֲל֣וּ בַנֶּגֶב֘ וַיָּבֹ֣א עַד חֶבְרוֹן֒ וְשָׁ֤ם אֲחִימַן֙ שֵׁשַׁ֣י וְתַלְמַ֔י יְלִידֵ֖י הָעֲנָ֑ק וְחֶבְר֗וֹן שֶׁ֤בַע שָׁנִים֙ נִבְנְתָ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י צֹ֥עַן מִצְרָֽיִם:
Num 13:22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron, where lived Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant(s) (anak). Now Hebron was founded seven years before Zoan of Egypt.
Later, the scouts make their report to the nation, claiming that the natives are too powerful for Israel to conquer. Caleb, the scout representing the tribe of Judah, jumps in to encourage the people to conquer the land. But the people ignore Caleb and God punishes them with 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; only the next generation is allowed to inherit the land. God, however, makes an exception for Caleb:
במדבר יד:כד וְעַבְדִּ֣י כָלֵ֗ב עֵ֣קֶב הָֽיְתָ֞ה ר֤וּחַ אַחֶ֙רֶת֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וַיְמַלֵּ֖א אַחֲרָ֑י וַהֲבִֽיאֹתִ֗יו אֶל הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁר בָּ֣א שָׁ֔מָּה וְזַרְע֖וֹ יוֹרִשֶֽׁנָּה:
Num 14:24 But My servant Caleb, because he was imbued with a different spirit and remained loyal to Me—him will I bring into the land to which he came, and his offspring shall hold it as a possession.
The text refers to the land Caleb’s offspring will inherit as “the land to which he came.” Considering the description of the scouts’ itinerary in 13:22, “they went up into the Negev and came to Hebron,” this phrase is likely a reference to Hebron.
The Land Upon Which Caleb’s Feet Trod
In Moses’ retelling of the story in Deuteronomy, God makes the almost identical promise to Caleb:
דברים א:לו …וְלֽוֹ אֶתֵּ֧ן אֶת הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר דָּֽרַךְ בָּ֖הּ וּלְבָנָ֑יו יַ֕עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִלֵּ֖א אַחֲרֵ֥י יְ-הֹוָֽה:
Deut 1:36 and to him and his descendants will I give the land on which he has tread, because he remained loyal to YHWH.
The simple interpretation of this land-grant in this passage is that Caleb is being given the entire hill country upon which he trod, up to the Eshkol stream, or at least a large, unspecified swath of it.
Caleb Requests His Land-grant
In the book of Joshua (14:6-12), in a story set 45 years later (v. 10), Caleb comes to Joshua to claim his land:
יהושע יד:ט וַיִּשָּׁבַ֣ע מֹשֶׁ֗ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֘ לֵאמֹר֒ אִם לֹ֗א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר דָּרְכָ֤ה רַגְלְךָ֙ בָּ֔הּ לְךָ֨ תִֽהְיֶ֧ה לְנַחֲלָ֛ה וּלְבָנֶ֖יךָ עַד עוֹלָ֑ם כִּ֣י מִלֵּ֔אתָ אַחֲרֵ֖י יְ-הֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהָֽי… יד:יב וְעַתָּ֗ה תְּנָה לִּי֙ אֶת הָהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא כִּ֣י אַתָּֽה שָׁמַעְתָּ֩ בַיּ֨וֹם הַה֜וּא כִּֽי עֲנָקִ֣ים שָׁ֗ם וְעָרִים֙ גְּדֹל֣וֹת בְּצֻר֔וֹת אוּלַ֨י יְ-הֹוָ֤ה אוֹתִי֙ וְה֣וֹרַשְׁתִּ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָֽה:
Josh 14:9 On that day, Moses promised on oath, “The land on which your foot trod shall be a portion for you and your descendants forever, because you were loyal to YHWH my God.”… 14:12 So assign to me this hill country as YHWH promised on that day. Though you too heard on that day that giants are there and great fortified cities, if only YHWH is with me, I will dispossess them, as YHWH promised.
The language here is similar to that of Deuteronomy 1:36, that Caleb should receive “the land upon which his foot trod (הארץ אשר דרך בה).” His reference to the hill country also fits Deuteronomy:
דברים א:כד וַיִּפְנוּ֙ וַיַּעֲל֣וּ הָהָ֔רָה וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ עַד נַ֣חַל אֶשְׁכֹּ֑ל וַֽיְרַגְּל֖וּ אֹתָֽהּ:
Deut 1:24 They made for the hill country, came to Wadi Eshkol, and scouted it out.
As in Deuteronomy, Caleb never mentions Hebron, the Negev, or where “this hill country” is located. But he does reiterate that it is the place referred in the divine promise. The connection between this passage and that of Deuteronomy is easily understandable, since the book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomistic History. (This means that it was composed—or at least edited—by the same school of scribes that composed Deuteronomy.)
Caleb Puts His Courage to Action
Caleb further mentions that the land has giants and fortified cities. That the 85-year-old leader (v. 10) will now have to battle giants is par for the course, since Caleb is the scout that expressed no fear of the giants. The reference to giants also resonates with Deuteronomy:
דברים א:כח …אַחֵינוּ֩ הֵמַ֨סּוּ אֶת לְבָבֵ֜נוּ לֵאמֹ֗ר עַ֣ם גָּד֤וֹל וָרָם֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ עָרִ֛ים גְּדֹלֹ֥ת וּבְצוּרֹ֖ת בַּשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְגַם בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָקִ֖ים רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם:
Deut 1:28 …Our kinsmen have melted our hearts, saying, “We saw there a people stronger and taller than we, great fortified cities with walls sky-high, and even giants.”
The term “great fortified cities,” which appears in Caleb’s speech and in Deuteronomy’s description of the Negev, indicates that Caleb understands his land-grant as covering a large hilly area. A maximalist interpretation would suggest that he received all of “the land upon which he trod.” According to Deut 1:24, Caleb, along with the other scouts, walked through the entire (Negev) hill-country up to the Eshkol stream.
Joshua Narrows the Land-grant to Hebron
Although Caleb refers to “this hill-country,” Joshua 14:13 understands Caleb’s request as a specific reference to Hebron:
יהושע יד:יג וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ וַיִּתֵּ֧ן אֶת חֶבְר֛וֹן לְכָלֵ֥ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֖ה לְנַחֲלָֽה:
Josh 14:13 So Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and assigned Hebron to him as his portion.
This is further glossed in the following verse:
יד:יד עַל כֵּ֣ן הָיְתָֽה חֶ֠בְרוֹן לְכָלֵ֨ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֤ה הַקְּנִזִּי֙ לְֽנַחֲלָ֔ה עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה יַ֚עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר מִלֵּ֔א אַחֲרֵ֕י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
14:14 Thus Hebron became the portion of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, as it still is, because he was loyal to YHWH, the God of Israel.
This explains the granting of land to Caleb in general. But it does not explain why he is given Hebron specifically and solely.
Caleb Conquers the Land of Giants (Joshua 15)
The tension between a general land-grant and a specific named city appears again in the account of Caleb’s conquest in Joshua 15.
יהושע טו:יג וּלְכָלֵ֣ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֗ה נָ֤תַן חֵ֙לֶק֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ בְּנֵֽי יְהוּדָ֔ה אֶל פִּ֥י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה לִֽיהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ אֶת קִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע אֲבִ֥י הָעֲנָ֖ק הִ֥יא חֶבְרֽוֹן:
Josh 15:13 Caleb son of Jephunneh was given a portion among the Judahites, in accordance with Yhwh’s command to Joshua, namely, Kiryat-arba—the father of the giant(s) (anak)—that is, Hebron.
The verse begins by saying that Caleb was given a land-grant, and then goes back to specify what the grant specifically was. Why not just name the city upfront, and say, “And to Caleb son of Jephunneh was given Kiryat-arba”?
In Joshua 15:15-17 (and its parallel in Judges 1:11-13), Caleb goes on to conquer Kiryat-Sefer/Debir, southwest of Hebron.
יהושע טו:טו וַיַּ֣עַל מִשָּׁ֔ם אֶל יֹשְׁבֵ֖י דְּבִ֑ר וְשֵׁם דְּבִ֥ר לְפָנִ֖ים קִרְיַת־סֵֽפֶר:טו:טז וַיֹּ֣אמֶר כָּלֵ֔ב אֲשֶׁר יַכֶּ֥ה אֶת קִרְיַת סֵ֖פֶר וּלְכָדָ֑הּ וְנָתַ֥תִּי ל֛וֹ אֶת עַכְסָ֥ה בִתִּ֖י לְאִשָּֽׁה: טו:יז וַֽיִּלְכְּדָ֛הּ עָתְנִיאֵ֥ל בֶּן קְנַ֖ז אֲחִ֣י כָלֵ֑ב וַיִּתֶּן ל֛וֹ אֶת עַכְסָ֥ה בִתּ֖וֹ לְאִשָּֽׁה:
Joshua 15:15 From there he marched against the inhabitants of Debir—the name of Debir was formerly Kiriath-sepher—15:16 and Caleb announced, “I will give my daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” 15:17 His kinsman Othniel ben Kenaz captured it; and Caleb gave him his daughter Achsah in marriage.
The assumption that the Negev is also Caleb’s territory is the premise of the final part of the story—when Caleb gives away Negev land to his daughter Achsah, including cities and water sources, as if they are his.
יהושע טו:יח וַיְהִ֣י בְּבוֹאָ֗הּ וַתְּסִיתֵ֙הוּ֙ לִשְׁא֤וֹל מֵֽאֵת אָבִ֙יהָ֙ שָׂדֶ֔ה וַתִּצְנַ֖ח מֵעַ֣ל הַחֲמ֑וֹר וַיֹּֽאמֶר לָ֥הּ כָּלֵ֖ב מַה לָּֽךְ: טו:יט וַתֹּ֜אמֶר תְּנָה לִּ֣י בְרָכָ֗ה כִּ֣י אֶ֤רֶץ הַנֶּ֙גֶב֙ נְתַתָּ֔נִי וְנָתַתָּ֥ה לִ֖י גֻּלֹּ֣ת מָ֑יִם וַיִּתֶּן לָ֗הּ אֵ֚ת גֻּלֹּ֣ת עִלִּיּ֔וֹת וְאֵ֖ת גֻּלֹּ֥ת תַּחְתִּיּֽוֹת:
Joshua 15:18 When she (=Caleb’s daughter Achsah) came [to Otniel], she induced him to ask her father for some property. She dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb asked her, “What is the matter?” 15:19 She replied, “Give me a present; for you have given me away as Negev-land; so give me springs of water.” And he gave her Upper Gullot and Lower Gullot.
Thus, the texts in Joshua combine two different perspectives: one that Hebron alone was given to Caleb (Josh 14: 13-15, 15:13b, 14b), and one that he was given a much larger territory (Josh 14:9-12, 15:13a, 14a, 15-19).
Caleb’s Connection to Hebron: A Redactional Layer
The tension between the tradition that Caleb is given the entire Negev and that he is given only Hebron can be explained by positing that all the references to Hebron in the Caleb accounts are redactional.
The Non-Priestly Scout Account in Numbers
The original text of the scout account in Numbers likely had the scouts traversing the Negev up to the Eshkol stream (Num 13:22-23). This is reflected in what follows, where the indented material is redactional:
They went up into the Negeb
and he came to Hebron…
וַיָּבֹ֜אוּ עַד־נַ֣חַל אֶשְׁכֹּ֗ל וַיִּכְרְת֨וּ מִשָּׁ֤ם זְמוֹרָה֙ וְאֶשְׁכּ֤וֹל עֲנָבִים֙ אֶחָ֔ד
And they came to the Eshkol stream, and there they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes…
A number of factors support the contention that the Hebron passage is redactional.
- The double “and he came” “and they came” is awkward.
- The verb for Hebron is singular “and he came,” while all the surrounding verbs are plural.
- An itinerary of Negev to Eshkol stream works with Moses’s command (vv. 17-20):
עֲל֥וּ זֶה֙ בַּנֶּ֔גֶב וַעֲלִיתֶ֖ם אֶת הָהָֽר. וּרְאִיתֶ֥ם אֶת הָאָ֖רֶץ מַה הִ֑וא… וּלְקַחְתֶּ֖ם מִפְּרִ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ
Go up there into the Negev and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is…. And bring back some of the fruit of the land.
- The other two references to the trip skip over the stop at Hebron:
Moses’ speech to the Transjordanian tribes (Num 32:8-9)
כֹּ֥ה עָשׂ֖וּ אֲבֹתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּשָׁלְחִ֥י אֹתָ֛ם מִקָּדֵ֥שׁ בַּרְנֵ֖עַ לִרְא֥וֹת אֶת הָאָֽרֶץ: וַֽיַּעֲל֞וּ עַד נַ֣חַל אֶשְׁכּ֗וֹל וַיִּרְאוּ֙ אֶת הָאָ֔רֶץ…
That is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to survey the land. After going up to the Eshkol stream and surveying the land…
Moses’ recounting in Deuteronomy (1:24-25)
וַיִּפְנוּ֙ וַיַּעֲל֣וּ הָהָ֔רָה וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ עַד נַ֣חַל אֶשְׁכֹּ֑ל וַֽיְרַגְּל֖וּ אֹתָֽהּ: וַיִּקְח֤וּ בְיָדָם֙ מִפְּרִ֣י הָאָ֔רֶץ…
They made for the hill country, came to the Eshkol stream, and scouted it out. They took some of the fruit of the land with them and brought it down to us…
If the Hebron passage is a supplement, we can better understand the divine statement in Num 14:24: God is giving Caleb “the land he traversed up to the place which he came (=the Eshkol stream),” namely, the Negev. This makes the promise in Numbers exactly parallel to the promise as recorded in Deuteronomy and Joshua 14.
Caleb’s Speech and Joshua’s Response (Josh 14)
As previously noted, Joshua’s granting of Hebron is not what God promised Caleb or what Caleb requested. Thus, the indented sections in what follows would seem to be a gloss:
יהושע יד:יב וְעַתָּ֗ה תְּנָה לִּי֙ אֶת־הָהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא כִּ֣י אַתָּֽה שָׁמַעְתָּ֩ בַיּ֨וֹם הַה֜וּא כִּֽי עֲנָקִ֣ים שָׁ֗ם וְעָרִים֙ גְּדֹל֣וֹת בְּצֻר֔וֹת אוּלַ֨י יְ-הֹוָ֤ה אוֹתִי֙ וְה֣וֹרַשְׁתִּ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָֽה: יד:יג וַֽיְבָרְכֵ֖הוּ יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ
Josh 14:12 So assign to me this hill country as YHWH promised on that day. Though you too heard on that day that Anakites are there and great fortified cities, if only YHWH is with me, I will dispossess them, as YHWH promised.” 14:13 So Joshua blessed him.
וַיִּתֵּ֧ן אֶת חֶבְר֛וֹן לְכָלֵ֥ב בֶּן יְפֻנֶּ֖ה לְנַחֲלָֽה:יד:יד עַל כֵּ֣ן הָיְתָֽה חֶ֠בְרוֹן לְכָלֵ֨ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֤ה הַקְּנִזִּי֙ לְֽנַחֲלָ֔ה עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה יַ֚עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר מִלֵּ֔א אַחֲרֵ֕י יְקֹוָ֖ק אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: יד:טווְשֵׁ֨ם חֶבְר֤וֹן לְפָנִים֙ קִרְיַ֣ת אַרְבַּ֔ע הָאָדָ֧ם הַגָּד֛וֹל בָּעֲנָקִ֖ים ה֑וּא וְהָאָ֥רֶץ שָׁקְטָ֖ה מִמִּלְחָמָֽה:
And he assigned Caleb son of Jephunneh Hebron as his portion. 14:14 Thus Hebron became the portion of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, as it still is, because he was loyal to YHWH, the God of Israel.— 14:15 The name of Hebron was formerly Kiryat-arba: [Arba] was the great man among the Anakites. And the land had rest from war.
In the original, Joshua merely acquiesces and offers him a blessing (וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ). All Caleb really needed was this acquiescence, since he will have to conquer the Negev himself, with his own forces, as he does in chapter 15.
Caleb’s Conquest (Joshua 15)
The tradition in Joshua 15, which contains a similar tension between Caleb receiving the general land-grant versus Kiryat-arba/Hebron specifically, appears also to be the result of a redaction. The indented material indicates the glosses:
יהושע טו:יג וּלְכָלֵ֣ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֗ה נָ֤תַן חֵ֙לֶק֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ בְּנֵֽי־יְהוּדָ֔ה
Josh 15:13 Caleb son of Jephunneh was given a portion among the Judahites,
אֶל־פִּ֥י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה לִֽיהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ
in accordance with Yhwh’s command to Joshua,
אֶת־קִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע אֲבִ֥י הָעֲנָ֖ק הִ֥יא חֶבְרֽוֹן:
namely, Kiryat-arba—the father of the giant(s) (anak)—that is, Hebron.
טו:יד וַיֹּ֤רֶשׁ מִשָּׁם֙ כָּלֵ֔ב אֶת־שְׁלוֹשָׁ֖ה בְּנֵ֣י הָעֲנָ֑ק
15:14 Caleb dislodged from there the three sons of the giant(s) (anak)
אֶת־שֵׁשַׁ֤י וְאֶת־אֲחִימַן֙ וְאֶת־תַּלְמַ֔י יְלִידֵ֖י הָעֲנָֽק:
Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant(s) (anak)
First, we are told that Caleb dislodged “the three sons of the giant(s).” Then, after listing their names, it tells us that they are “the descendants of the giant(s).” It seems clear from this cumbersome doubling that the phrase, “Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of the giant(s),” was added to the verse.
“In Accordance with YHWH’s Command to Joshua”
The phrase “by the mouth of YHWH to Joshua” is probably also a gloss. Had it been original, the verse should have read something like the following:
ולכלב בן יפנה נתן יהושע חלק ונחלה בתוך בני יהודה על פי י-הוה.
And Joshua gave Caleb a portion among the Judahites according to the word of YHWH.
Moreover, the verse as it is pointed in the Masoretic text makes little sense: “and to Caleb he gave (natan) a portion among the Judahites.” Who is the he in this verse? The pointing is likely an error for nittan, “and to Caleb was given a portion…”
The original verse, before all the glossing, was meant to inform the reader that Caleb was also given a portion among the Judahites, since he fought alongside them during the conquest. This gloss was needed since Caleb was not originally a Judahite.
In two other places in the Bible, Caleb is attached to Hebron:
Caleb Gets Part of Aaron’s Levitical City
The first comes again in the book of Joshua, in the list of cities granted to the Levites (Josh 21):
יהושע כא:י וַֽיְהִי֙ לִבְנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֔ן מִמִּשְׁפְּח֥וֹת הַקְּהָתִ֖י מִבְּנֵ֣י לֵוִ֑י כִּ֥י לָהֶ֛ם הָיָ֥ה הַגּוֹרָ֖ל רִיאשֹׁנָֽה: כא:יא וַיִּתְּנ֨וּ לָהֶ֜ם אֶת קִרְיַת֩ אַרְבַּ֨ע אֲבִ֧י הָֽעֲנ֛וֹק הִ֥יא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּהַ֣ר יְהוּדָ֑ה וְאֶת מִגְרָשֶׁ֖הָ סְבִיבֹתֶֽיהָ: כא:יב וְאֶת שְׂדֵ֥ה הָעִ֖יר וְאֶת חֲצֵרֶ֑יהָ נָֽתְנ֛וּ לְכָלֵ֥ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֖ה בַּאֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ: ס כא:יג וְלִבְנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֗ן נָֽתְנוּ֙ אֶת־עִיר֙ מִקְלַ֣ט הָרֹצֵ֔חַ אֶת חֶבְר֖וֹן וְאֶת מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ וְאֶת לִבְנָ֖ה וְאֶת מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ:
Josh 21:10 They went to the descendants of Aaron among the Kohathite clans of the Levites, for the first lot had fallen to them. 21:11 To them were assigned in the hill country of Judah Kiryat-arba—father of the giant(s)— that is, Hebron, together with the pastures around it. 21:12 They gave the fields and the villages of the town to Caleb son of Jephunneh as his holding. 21:13 But to the descendants of Aaron the priest they assigned Hebron—the city of refuge for manslayers—together with its pastures, Libnah with its pastures…
Hebron is mentioned here twice: once as a gloss on the name Kiryat-arba and once as the city of refuge. Both verses state that the city was given to Aaron’s descendants and both state that the city and its pastures were given together. This phrase “with its pastures” is standard, and comes after every city listed in this chapter. It is meant to express that not just the city but also the surrounding land is being given to the Levitical clan in question.
And yet, v. 12 states that Caleb is given “fields and villages of the town.” How can Aaron be given the town and his pastures, but Caleb be given the fields and villages of the town? The simple answer is that this is impossible and contradictory. A later scribe, seeing that in this chapter Kiryat-arba/Hebron were being given to Aaron, felt the need to correct this passage and reconcile it with the tradition that Caleb received Hebron.
Caleb is the Father of Hebron
The second example comes from the genealogy list in the book of Chronicles.
דברי הימים א ב:ט וּבְנֵ֥י חֶצְר֖וֹן אֲשֶׁ֣ר נוֹלַד ל֑וֹ אֶת יְרַחְמְאֵ֥ל וְאֶת רָ֖ם וְאֶת כְּלוּבָֽי…
1 Chron 2:9 The sons of Hezron that were born to him: Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai (=the Calebite)…
ב:יט …וַיִּֽקַּֽח ל֤וֹ כָלֵב֙ אֶת אֶפְרָ֔ת וַתֵּ֥לֶד ל֖וֹ אֶת־חֽוּר: ב:כ וְחוּר֙ הוֹלִ֣יד אֶת אוּרִ֔י וְאוּרִ֖י הוֹלִ֥יד אֶת בְּצַלְאֵֽל: ס
2:19 …Caleb married Ephrath, who bore him Hur. 2:20 Hur begot Uri, and Uri begot Bezalel.
ב:מב וּבְנֵ֤י כָלֵב֙ אֲחִ֣י יְרַחְמְאֵ֔ל מֵישָׁ֥ע בְּכֹר֖וֹ ה֣וּא אֲבִי זִ֑יף וּבְנֵ֥י מָרֵשָׁ֖ה אֲבִ֥י חֶבְרֽוֹן:
2:42 The sons of Caleb brother of Jerahmeel: Meshah his first-born, who was the father of Ziph. The sons of Mareshah father of Hebron.
ב:נ אֵ֤לֶּה הָיוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י כָלֵ֔ב בֶּן ח֖וּר בְּכ֣וֹר אֶפְרָ֑תָה שׁוֹבָ֕ל אֲבִ֖י קִרְיַ֥ת יְעָרִֽים: ב:נאשַׂלְמָא֙ אֲבִ֣י בֵֽית־לָ֔חֶם
2:50 These were the descendants of Caleb. The sons of Hur the first-born of Ephrathah: Shobal father of Kiriath-jearim, 2:51 Salma father of Bethlehem,
The simple point of this genealogy is to combat the idea that Caleb, the father of the Calebites, was a foreigner. Instead, this genealogy places him firmly into the Judahite line. It even makes him the ancestor of a number of prestigious Judahites, such as Hur, mentioned as one of Moses’ attendant in Exodus, Betzalel, the man who designed the Tabernacle, and Salma, the ancestor of King David himself. For our purposes, however, it is important to note that he is also described as the father of Hebron, ostensibly an ancestor figure or founder of the city of Hebron.
Although Caleb is a character in the Bible, he represents the Calebites, who appear to have been an independent group occupying the Negev. In 1Sam 25:3, Nabal, a wealthy man living in Hebron, is referred to as a Calebite (כָלִבִּי). In 1 Sam 30:14, David refers to “the Negev of the Calebites (נֶגֶב כָּלֵב),” showing that the Calebites were living in the south of Judah. It is likely that the Calebites lived among Judahites, were allies with them, and took on some Judahite identity during the monarchic period. Perhaps they had a similar status to the Kenites, who lived nearby and were also allies with Judah and fought alongside them.
From Calebite to Kenizzite
Three times in the Bible, Caleb is referred to as “the Kenizzite” (הַקְּנִזִּי): twice in Joshua 14 (vv. 6 and 14) and once in Numbers (32:12). The Kenizzites are referenced in Gen 15:19 as one of the peoples who occupy the land, along with the Kenites, the Kadmonites, etc. In Genesis 36:11, we are told that Kenaz is a descendent of Esau. In that same chapter, Kenaz or Kenizzite is listed as the name of an Edomite group (אלוף).
The Calebites and Kenizzites were originally separate groups who occupied the Negev region, and may have been allies. One tradition describes Caleb as the kinsman of Otniel ben Kenaz (Josh 15:17) or even his older brother (Judg 1:16). Again, although they are being described as individuals, Caleb and Otniel are representative figures of their respective clans, the Calebites and the Kenizzites.
The Political Reality that Changed Calebites Identity
The identification of Caleb as an actual Kenizzite probably took place during the Second Temple period. At this time, Judah (Yehud) lost control of its southernmost territories to the Edomites (Idumeans), whose borders included Hebron.
The following scenario presents itself: The Calebites likely lived in the Negev region, including the city of Hebron, during the First and Second Temple periods. As stated above, the book of Samuel refers to “the Negev of Caleb (נגב כלב; Sam 30:1),” as well as to a prominent Calebite, Nabal, who lived in Hebron (1Sam 25:3). As long as Judah ruled Hebron and the Negev region, the Calebites likely associated / identified with the Judahites. But as the Idumeans came to occupy the region and the city after the fall of Judah in 586 BCE, the Calebites became part of that polity, merging with the Kenizzites, who had already adopted the Edomite identity.
That later scribes worked hard to place Caleb’s land-grant in Hebron is clear. We can only speculate as to why. In the Bible, Hebron is also associated with the Patriarchs and King David. Genesis places Abraham at Hebron in a number of stories, and the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are said to be buried there, in the Cave of Machpelah. The book of Samuel references Hebron more than 20 times, including the tradition that David was crowned there and ruled from Hebron for 7 and a half years. Hebron may have long competed with Jerusalem as the capital of the kingdom of Judah. But during the Second Temple period, all this changed, with the city becoming part of Idumea.
The biblical texts were attempting to come to terms with this reality: Yes, Hebron had long belonged to the Kenizzites. But that is because their ancestor Caleb, father of the Calebites, and himself a Kenizzite, joined the tribe of Judah as a scout. As such, he participated in the conquest of the land with Joshua. And this is why he was rewarded with that illustrious city:
יהושע יד:יד עַל כֵּ֣ן הָיְתָֽה חֶ֠בְרוֹן לְכָלֵ֨ב בֶּן יְפֻנֶּ֤ה הַקְּנִזִּי֙ לְֽנַחֲלָ֔ה עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה יַ֚עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר מִלֵּ֔א אַחֲרֵ֕י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Josh 14:14 Thus Hebron became the portion of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, as it still is, because he was loyal to YHWH, the God of Israel.
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Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of TheTorah.com, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
Prof. Jacob L. Wright is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and the Director of Graduate Studies in Emory’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies. His doctorate is from Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen. He is the author of Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and its Earliest Readers (which won a Templeton prize) and David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory.
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