A place situated on the southern boundary of Judea (compare Judges xx. 1; II Sam. xvii. 11; I Kings xix. 3) which was allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Josh. xix. 2). It is referred to in Gen. xxii. 19 as the dwelling-place of Abraham; and according to Gen. xxi. 31, Abraham and Abimelech made a treaty there, whence it derives its name Beer-sheba, the "well of the oath." According to Gen. xxvi. 23 et seq., the place derived its name from the fact that Isaac and Abimelech made a treaty there. Isaac also built a shrine at Beersheba; and again, according to Gen. xxviii. 10 and xlvi. 5, it was Jacob who sojourned there for a time. As early as the days of Samuel, Beer-sheba was animportant place, since it is stated that the sons of Samuel "were judges in Beer-sheba" (I Sam. viii. 2). Amos (v. 4 et seq., viii. 14) speaks of the shrine and of its impure ritual. The importance of the place is further shown by the fact that the mother of King Jehoash came from Beer-sheba (II Kings xii. 1). In post-exilic times Beer-sheba is mentioned in Neh. xi. 27, 30. Later, it belonged to that part of the country held by the Idumeans. At the time of Eusebius and Jerome, Beer-sheba was an important garrisoned city. After this, however, it fell into decay; and now nothing remains of it but the well, the name "Bi'r es-saba," and some unimportant ruins.
In the Old Testament, as already mentioned, the name is said to mean "the well of the oath"; others, as Stade, explain it as meaning the "seven wells." But grammatically this is questionable on account of the order of the words; and according to careful investigation of travelers (see especially Gautier, "Souvenirs de la Terre Sainte," pp. 149 et seq.; "The Expository Times," x. 328), there are only three wells on the site.
- G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, pp. 279-286;
- Robinson, Biblical Researches, i. 204;
- Guérin, Judée, ii. 278-283;
- Hull, Mount Seir, Sinai, and Western Palestine.