Posts Tagged ‘Tomb of the Patriarchs’

Genesis 23:1-20 – Hebron and the West Bank

“Sarah lived to be 127 years old; these were the years of Sarah’s life. Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba, also known as Hevron (Hebron), in the land of Kena’an (Canaan); and Avraham came to mourn Sarah and weep for her.  Then he got up from his dead one and said to the sons of Het.”

Het is the son of Canaan, the son of Ham, the son of Noah.

“I am a foreigner living as an alien with you; let me have a burial site with you, so that I can bury my dead wife.” The sons of Het answered Avraham,  “Listen to us, my lord. You are a prince of God among us, so choose any of our tombs to bury your dead — not one of us would refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

Abraham was considered a prince among the people and the sons of Het were willing to give him land to bury his dead.  Abraham knew these people as he lived with them. He  did not accept the offer, but asked to buy the cave from Efron, the son of Tzochar, so he would own a burial site for his family. 

“Avraham got up, bowed before the people of the land, the sons of Het, and spoke with them. “If it is your desire to help me bury my dead, then listen to me: ask ‘Efron the son of Tzochar to give me the cave of Makhpelah, which he owns, the one at the end of his field. He should sell it to me in your presence at its full value; then I will have a burial site of my own.”

Efron also offered to give the land for free to Abraham.  There are no Hittites today,  but the region they would have come from would be western Turkey.

‘Efron the Hitti was sitting among the sons of Het, and he gave Avraham his answer in the presence of the sons of Het who belonged to the ruling council of the city:  “No, my lord, listen to me: I’m giving you the field, with its cave — I’m giving it to you. In the presence of my people I give it to you.”  Avraham bowed before the people of the land and spoke to ‘Efron in their hearing: “Please be good enough to listen to me. I will pay the price of the field; accept it from me, and I will bury my dead there.”

Efron, though he wants to give the land to Abraham, he mentions its value at 400 shekels or ten pounds of silver as nothing between ‘friends.’  Abraham understood Efron’s meaning:  “I’ll give it to you as it is worth only 400 shekels.”   Abraham weighs out the money in the presence of Het.

“But ‘Efron answered Avraham, “My lord, listen to me. A plot of land worth 400 silver shekels — what is that between me and you? Just bury your dead.” Avraham got the point of what ‘Efron had said, so he weighed out for ‘Efron the amount of money he had specified in the presence of the sons of Het, 400 silver shekels of the weight accepted among merchants [ten pounds].”

When the transaction is complete, Abraham owns the plot of land in Hebron and is given the deed to the property.  

“Thus the field of ‘Efron in Makhpelah, which is by Mamre — the field, its cave and all the trees in and around it — were deeded to Avraham as his possession in the presence of the sons of Het who belonged to the ruling council of the city.”

There is a repetition of the event making it clear that in the front of Het, Abraham bought a cave in a field from Efron in the land of Canaan as a burial site for his wife.

“Then Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Makhpelah, by Mamre, also known as Hevron (Hebron), in the land of Kena‘an. The field and its cave had been purchased by Avraham from the sons of Het as a burial-site which would belong to him.”

Sarah is buried in this cave along with Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.  Rachel was buried near Bethlehem.  This cave is now known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, a tourist attraction in Hebron. 

Hebron etymologically means ‘alliance’ and can also mean ‘friend’ as Abraham was a ‘friend of God.’  It also means ‘City of the Hebrews.’  Hebron is 12 miles south of Jerusalem and the largest city in the West Bank, the second largest Palestinian territory after Gaza.   Eighty percent of the city is controlled by Palestinians while twenty percent by Israel.    Historically, it was the last city to fall to the Muslims in the seventh century and is not mentioned in any of the Arab conquests.  The Islamic Caliphate established rule over Hebron and transformed the Byzantine church over Abraham’s ‘land’ into a mosque.  It remained in other nations’ possession until the Six-Day War in June 1967 when Israel regained complete control of Hebron along with other West Bank land owned by Jordan   As part of a peace agreement, Israel annexed only a part of the land and returned the rest to Jordan.  David ben Gurion believed there needed to be a Jewish settlement in Hebron as it was part of conquered territory, and they had  ‘inalienable rights’ according to the Biblical deed bought by Abraham.   The Koran is silent on the burial ground that Abraham purchased. Nothing is mentioned about Abraham’s wives and children being buried there nor that they won the land back in warfare.   This has created mixed feelings as some Jews and Arabs live peaceably with one one another in Hebron while others want the Jews out.  Israel was generous to return 52% of the conquered land back to Jordan.

This is why Abraham bought the land and received the deed – so ownership of the land would never be disputed.

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