In the book of Genesis, The Lord made covenant with Abram/Abraham in two different occasions: The first one is known as the “Covenant of the parts” (Hebrew: Brit bein HaBetarim). The second one is the “Covenant of Circumcision” (Hebrew: Brit Milah)
Covenant of the Parts:
1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:1, 9-11, 18-21)
Covenant of Circumcision:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. (Genesis 17:1-11)
In this post, I am not going to talk about the meaning of the covenant, but rather on the question: where did it take place?
The Lord commanded Abram: “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you. (Genesis 13:17).
And indeed, Abraham walked the land from north to south and from east to west.
Many places are mentioned by their names and what Abraham did there:
He built altars in Shechem and Bethel; Moved his tent to Elonei Mamre; Journeyed to Kadesh and Shur; Planted a tree in Beersheba; Pursued kings to Damascus; Sacrificed in the Land of Moriah; and so on.
But two events are described without any reference to a location: the two covenants.
As Bible scholars, we want to learn: where were the places of the covenants.
Let’s start our investigation:
Where was the place of the “Covenants of the Parts”
One very common suggestion for the place of the “Covenant of the Parts” is Mount Hermon.
There are several reason to believe that this is the place: The covenant took place, as described in the Bible, immediately after Abram met king of Sodom and Melchizedek king of Salem in “Valley of Shaveh” (Gen 14:17). Unfortunately, there is not an agreement about where valley of Shaveh is…
So, if we look in the Bible a little before that story, we read that Abram was chasing the four kings that took Lot until Hobah which is north of Damascus (Gen 14:15). So, it makes sense, that on his way back, The Lord made the covenant with Abraham on a high mountain somewhere between Damascus and Canaan. Mount Hermon is a good candidate.
Another reason to believe that mount Hermon was the place is the fact that there is an old Jewish tradition (and even Muslim tradition) that relates Mount Hermon to our story. There is even a site that is called “Place of the Parts” that refers to Abraham.
There are though, two problem with the identification of Mount Hermon:
- Abraham met King of Sodom and Melchizedek in “Valley of Shaveh that is, the King’s Valley”. Valley of Shaveh is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, but the King’s valley is mentioned once more as the place where Absalom had built himself a pillar as a tomb. (2 Samuel 18:18). It makes sense that Absalom built his tomb close to Jerusalem and not in Hermon Mountain.
- The Jewish tradition of “Place of the Parts” on mount Hermon started not before 16th century AD by Jewish pilgrims. So it is quite a “new” tradition that does not go back to Biblical times.
Elonei Mamre (Oaks of Mamre) in Hebron
Let’s read again the verse from the Bible:
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh, that is, the King’s Valley, after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. (Genesis 14:17)
Note that the Bible says: “after his return“. This can point out that all this happened close to where Abraham lived. But Abraham did not live in one place: he moved from one place to another. So how about looking for the last place where he set his tent.?
Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. (Genesis 13:18)
Oaks of Mamre, or in Hebrew Elonei Mamre, is then the new candidate for the place of the covenant.
And where was the place of the Covenant of Circumcision?
This is in Genesis 17. Again here, there is no reference for a place.
If we go to the previous chapter, to find a reference, then it is the story of Hagar and Ishmael. This story in chapter 16 ends with the saying that Abram was 86 years old.
Chapter 17 starts telling us that Abram was 99 years old when the Lord appeared to him.
It means that 13 years passed between the two stories. We cannot just assume that he was in the same place all those years…
So, why not try to get the location reference from what happens after the Covenant of the Circumcision. In Chapter 18:
Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. (Genesis 18:1)
This is the beginning of the Story of the three men that came to Abraham and promised him a son from his wife.
We understand that Abraham, after many years, was still in Elonei Mamre. (Later on he would move to the south and set his tent in Beersheba).
So here again, Elonei Mamre is the place where the Covenant could have take place.
Another option though…
I want to come with a different approach about where the covenants took place.
And this is directly from the Bible itself:
Could it be that there is a reason why it was not mentioned where exactly the covenants took place?
If all Abraham’s moves in the country were commented so well exactly where he went and what he did in every place, but the covenants do not have a location – maybe this is in purpose?
Both covenants come with the promise of the inheritance of the land:
18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21)
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. 8 Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)
The promise in the covenant is the inheritance of the whole land of Canaan. Therefore there is no specific location.
I believe that when the Bible does not mention a place – there is a reason and purpose!
I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God