BUTNAH (Heb. בּוּטְנָה), the site of a fair in Ereẓ Israel, famous in mishnaic and talmudic times. The fair was apparently established by Hadrian and is mentioned together with those of Acre and Gaza (TJ, Av. Zar. 1:4, 39d; Gen. R. 47–end). Josephus refers to Butnah as "a huge terebinth tree" (Wars, 4:533). After the collapse of the Bar Kokhba war (132–35 C.E.), large numbers of Jews were sold into slavery there. It was identified with *Mamre in the Second Temple period. In later times Jews, Christians, and pagans worshiped there. The emperor Constantine erected a church at Butnah and abolished the pagan cult, but as late as the sixth century Butnah attracted both Jewish and Christian pilgrims. It has been identified with Rāmat al-Khalil, about 1¼ mi. (2 km.) north of Hebron, and east of the Jerusalem-Hebron highway. The site was excavated in 1926–28 by E. Mader, who discovered remains of a Herodian enclosure surrounded by a strong wall (enclosing an area of 213 × 164 ft. (65 × 50 m.), as well as a Constantinian church, an altar, and a sacred well filled with the offerings (money, figurines, etc.) of worshipers. Additional excavations were conducted at the site by Y. Magen between 1984 and 1986. Butnah is apparently also to be identified with Ayelet mentioned in the Mishnah (Ma'as. Sh. 5:2), a locality one day's journey south of Jerusalem, and with the Bet Ilnis mentioned in Sifrei Deuteronomy (306). In the Roman period it was one of the forts of the Palestinian frontier fortifications (limes). It is represented on the *Madaba Map by a church and the inscription [Ter]ebinthos.
S. Klein, Ereẓ Yehudah (1939), 166ff.; A.E. Mader, in: Rivista di archeologia cristiana, 6 (1929), 249–312; idem, in: RB, 39 (1930), 84–117, 199–225; idem, Altchristliche Basiliken… (1918), 47–103; idem, Mambre, 2 vols. (Ger., 1957). F.N. Hepper and S. Gibson, "Abraham's Oak of Mamre. The Story of a Venerable Tree," in: Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 126 (1994), 94–105, appendix; Y. Magen, "Mamre: A Cultic Site from the Reign of Herod," in: C.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni, and L.D. Chrupcala (eds.), One Land, Many Cultures: Archaeological Studies in Honour of Stanislao Loffreda OFM (2003), 245–57.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.