HAR HA-MELEKH (Heb. הַר הַמֶּלֶךְ; "king's mountain"; Aramaic Tor Malka), a hilly district in Judah. It should probably be identified with the toparchy of Orine (Latin for "the hilly one," Pliny, Natural History, 5, 14:70), i.e., the district of Jerusalem in Hasmonean times (Josephus, War 3, 3:5 (54–55); Antiq. 12, I:I (7)) and this may very well be the same as the "hill country" mentioned in Luke (1:39–40, 65). The Protevangelium of James (c. 150 c.e.) also mentions Mary and Joseph going into "the hill country." According to the Talmud, "any mountain that is in Judah is Har ha-Melekh" (tj, Shev 9:2, 38d). Its original borders thus extended from Gibeah of Saul (Tell el-Ful) in the north to Solomon's Pools in the south and from Kiriath-Jearim in the west to the ascent of Adummim in the east. The word melekh ("king") apparently indicates the Hasmonean kings beginning with Alexander Yannai. Har ha-Melekh, according to rabbinic sources, was very fertile and contained fields and vegetable gardens, olives, and grapes, and its fowls were sent to the Temple. After the destruction of the settlements in the district during the Bar Kokhba War (132–135), Har ha-Melekh was attached to the territory of *Aelia Capitolina. Its Jewish inhabitants were expelled and its produce, which continued to be supplied to Caesarea, was considered gentile produce and thus exempt from tithes. In later talmudic literature the true extent of its area was forgotten and villages in the Bet Guvrin district (e.g., Kefar Bish, Kefar Shiḥlayim) were erroneously attributed to Har ha-Melekh. The alleged number of its villages reached fantastic proportions ("60,000 myriads") and their populations are also highly exaggerated (tb, Git. 57a; Lam. R. 2:2, no. 4). B.Z. Luria proposed to locate Har ha-Melekh in the Mt. Ephraim range, in the direction of the Carmel, between Kefar Otenai and Narbata.
S. Klein, Ereẓ Yehudah (1939), 239ff.; B.Z. Luria, Yannai ha-Melekh (1961), 38ff.; Press, Ereẓ, s.v.add. bibliography: G. Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways: Studies in the Topography of the Gospels (1935), 52–53; E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 bc–ad 135), rev. and ed. by G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M. Black, vol. 2 (1979), 191; S. Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist (2004), 25–26.
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]