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Mahanaim (meaning two camps in Hebrew) is a place near Jabbok, beyond the Jordan River, mentioned a number of times by the Bible. The precise location of Mahanaim is very uncertain, the Biblical data being inconclusive. Although two possible sites have been identified, the one most widely accepted lies about ten miles east of Jordan River. The other is located nine miles farther upstream on the Jabbok River itself. Mahanaim was in the same general area as Jabesh-gilead.
The location is first mentioned by the bible as the place where Jacob, returning from Padan-aram to southern Canaan, had a vision of angels (Gen. 32:2). Jacob's realization that the place was "God's camp", led him to name the place Mahanaim - Two Camps, or Two Companies, to memorialize the occasion of his own company sharing the place with God's. Later in the story, Jacob is moved by fear at the approach of his brother (whom he has reason to fear) and as a result divided his retinue into two hosts (two companies), hence the town built on the site took two hosts as its name. This is regarded as a clear case of folk etymology for the place name by most critical scholars, and although the form of the name appears to be dual (hence two ...), many scholars at the present day prefer to regard the termination in this case as a corruption of a shorter ending. From the point of view of critical scholars, the place name was originally host, and this and the presence of angels in the story, is thought instead to derive from Mahanaim having been a sanctuary from very early times. According to the Biblical narrative it became a Levitical city (Joshua 13:26, 13:30, 21:38; cf. 1 Chronicles 6:80), though according to critical scholars it had always been a city associated with holiness.
The dance of Mahanaim is mentioned in Song of Solomon 6:13.
According to the Biblical narrative it had been the southern boundary of Bashan until the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites (Josh. 13:26, 30), and after the conquest, it became the boundary between Machir (the eastern half-tribe of Manasseh) and Gilead (later known as Gad). However, according to some critical scholars, the conquest never happened , and the Israelites were simply Canaanites who had undergone a smooth cultural evolution; here the implication being that Machir was simply the newer name of Bashan, and the reason for the border between Machir and Gilead being placed there being that that was where it had always been.
In the Biblical narrative, around the start of the United Monarchy, the city was a stronghold that had been adapted to serve as a sanctuary for important fugitives (2 Samuel 18:2); the narrative states that after King Saul died, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, established Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, in Mahanaim as king of Israel (2 Sam 2:8). Mahanaim is also the location to which David is described as fleeing, when his son Absalom rebelled; having arrived at Mahanaim, David is described as having been entertained by a man named Barzillai, and having mustered forces there to combat Absalom's army. It is also the location that the bible states was the place where David was informed about his victory over Absalom, and the death of his son.
According to Maspero ("The Struggle of the Nations," p. 773), Mahanaim was among the cities plundered by Shishak during his invasion (I Kings 14:25) of Israelitish territory. There is no subsequent reference to the city in the annals, and it is not improbable that a vigorous resistance to Shishak or to some other invader brought about its utter demolition.