Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The cave of Machpelah

But as we chit-chatted, Ron was nonchalantly doing electronic scanning of the site. Now, Hebron is an area of a great deal of tension. He told us he would stay with his other wife that night, who lived in a house just about 20 feet away. The Mamluks forbade Jews from entering the site, allowing them only as close as the fifth step on a staircase at the southeast, but after some time this was increased to the seventh step.

During the 10th century, an entrance was pierced through the north-eastern wall, some way above the external ground level, and steps from the north and from the east were built up to it (one set of steps for entering, the other for leaving). The Mamluks also built the northwestern staircase and the six cenotaphs (for Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, Abraham, and Sarah, respectively), distributed evenly throughout the enclosure. I had a hard time with that situation- I liked both wives equally and I couldn. Even Lloyd and Ron had to be careful about being seen. Foreign conquerors and invaders used the site for their own purposes, depending on their religious orientation: the Byzantines and Crusaders transformed it into a church and the Muslims rendered it a mosque. It was also filled with dust, but among the dust were bone and remnants of pottery scattered around, some of which were in good condition.

Sarah died in Hebron. Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah, near ...

This uniquely impressive building is the only one that stands intact and still fulfills its original function after thousands of years. That night, under the full moon, we all went to the site in the midst of all the homes. Some archaeologists believe that the original entrance to Herod's structure was in the location of the kalah and that the northeastern entrance was created so that the kalah could be built by the former entrance.

We crawled in a very narrow opening into a circular cave, carved in the stone, deep in the earth. After Adam and Eve were buried there, the light was hidden.

In April of 1993, Ron returned to Israel. An American woman would be very conspicuous, so I had to stay out of sight most of the daytime hours. About 700 years ago, the Muslim Mamelukes conquered Hebron, declared the structure a mosque and forbade entry to Jews, who were not allowed past the seventh step on a staircase outside the building.

The Zohar relates, that the Cave of Machpelah is special not by virtue of those who rest there, but because it is the gateway to the Garden of Eden. In the late 14th century, under the Mamluks, two additional entrances were pierced into the western end of the south western side and the kalah was extended upwards to the level of the rest of the enclosure. The brothers told us how they were able to see the scud missiles fall there during the Gulf war. Leaving Lloyd and I in Jerusalem, Ron went alone for the initial visit, then came and told us to get our bags- we were going to stay at the site. We stood up on that high plain and looked out where we could see Tel Aviv off in the distance. It was impossible to stand or sit, only to crawl. We continued inside until it widened, and then, a second cave. He therefore dug the cave as a burial place for himself and his wife. A cenotaph in memory of Joseph was created in the upper level of the kalah so that visitors to the enclosure would not need to leave and travel round the outside just to pay respects. Ron, Lloyd and I all camped in one room- Ron and I on a mattress on the floor and Lloyd on a couch. In the next room was one of the wives and the daughter of a brother who had 2 wives. The cave was filled with dust, to its very edge. We stayed indoors the rest of the day. Adam, the first man, recognized the uniqueness of the location when he saw a ray of light emanating from the area. After about 1 1/2 hours, we went back in the house we were to stay in. I went with him, as did Lloyd Hiler, a surgeon from Memphis, Tennessee. It was a garden area and the brothers had planted fruit trees and all sorts of herbs in the area, so we had to watch carefully where we walked. A building known as the kalah (castle) was also constructed near the middle of the southwestern side. Between 1318 and 1320, the Mamluk, the governor of Gaza, a province that included Hebron, Sanjar al-Jawli ordered the construction of the Amir Jawli Mosque within the Haram enclosure to enlarge the prayer space and accommodate worshipers. This cave was smaller than the first, but here awaited us another surprise. Its purpose is unknown but one historic account claims that it marked the spot where Joseph was buried (see Joseph's tomb), the area having been excavated by a Muslim caliph, under the influence of a local tradition regarding Joseph's tomb.

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