History of Judea
Judea is the biblical name derived from the son of the Jewish Patriarch, Jacob, who had a son Yehuda. The Israelite tribe of Judah and was associated with this region. The name of the region continued to be incorporated through out history, through the Babylonian conquest, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods as Yehud, Yehud Medinata, Hasmonean Judea, and consequently Herodian Judea and Roman Judea, respectively. It was only in 135 CE that the region was renamed and merged with what was then Roman Syria.
In terms of modern history, much of Judea was part of the Jordanian West Bank from 1948 through 1967 when it was conquered and liberated by Israel as a result of the Six Day War. Situated approximately 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem, Hebron is the primary city in this region.
History of Hebron
Dating back to the time of Abraham, Hebron remains one of the worlds most ancient cities which is why the city remains one of the most important cities to the Jewish people. Up until the middle part of the 20th century Hebron had a continuous Jewish presence. However, today there are only 800 Jews living there amidst a city of 163,000 Arabs. However, for those who understand the word of God, Hebron was the first Jewish city in the land of Israel, home of the patriarchs and matriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. King David ruled from Hebron for more than seven years before moving the capital to Jerusalem,
At Tel Hebron, also known as “Tel Rumeida,” artifacts from the period of Abraham were discovered. 2,700 year old seals inscribed inscribed with the word “Hevron” in ancient Hebrew, were uncovered there by archeologists. Jews lived in Hebron for most of the next few thousand of years, up until 1929 when a massacre caused the remaining Jews to depart the city. However, following the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel regained control of all of Judea which had, from 1948 through 1967, been under control of Jordan, Jews again had access to the city and those that moved back felt they they were returning ‘home’.
Cave of the Patriarchs
The great sages of the Jewish People teach that Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpela some 3,700 years ago for the full market price rather than receive it as a gift, so that the nations would never be able to dispute the eternal ownership by the People of Israel.
When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, she was in “Kiryat Arba, that is, Hebron.” Abraham went there to purchase a burial cave from Ephron the Hittite.
Genesis 23/17-20: “So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre – both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field – was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.” The Cave of Machpelah is the world’s most ancient Jewish site and one of the holiest places for the Jewish people. The patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are all buried in the Cave of Machpelah. The only one who is missing is Rachel, who was buried near Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.
The structure known as the Tombs of the Patriarchs, is a shrine complex built mainly by King Herod during the second temple period (1st century BCE), with additions by the Muslims and Crusaders. The site is the second holiest in Judaism after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and has been a Jewish pilgrimage destination from earliest times until today. The site is the burial place of three Biblical couples: Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob and Leah. It is also sacred to Muslims and to Christians. Herod built the shrine in the same style as he used at the renovated (Second) Temple in Jerusalem. Its centerpiece is the ancient Cave of Machpelah. Nothing is known of the configuration of the burial cave, as entrance to it is forbidden. It has been suggested that it may originally have been a rock-cut shaft tomb, of the type common around 2,000 BCE. Likewise, there is no knowledge of the mode of burial practiced by the patriarchs, except for the obvious fact that the cave was reused over several generations for successive burials. The massive Herodian walls that enclosed a large, rectangular open area have remained intact. The open rectangle, however, was built up in later periods with a succession of churches and mosques, which produced the rather confusing structure now standing on the site. … Under the present arrangements, Jews are restricted to entering by the southwestern side, and limited to the southwestern corridor and the corridors which run between the cenotaphs [monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere], while Muslims may only enter by the northeastern side, and are restricted to the remainder of the enclosure.”
Known by a number of names including the Al-Haram Al Ibrahimi al Kahalil (the Sanctuary of Ibrahim, the friend), the outside walls of the Machpela cave visible today are at least 2000 years old and were likely constructed by King Herod who also built what today is known as the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The massive structure has a 20 meter high wall with the lower part dating from the time of Herod while the main part was formerly a Crusader Church. The Machpela cave is the best kept structure built by Herod still standing and for that reason alone it is of particular significance. Another structural feature of note are the spectacularly painted Crusader ceilings inside the building, very detailed and of high artistic quality. Two minarets, added during the period of the Marmeluks, remain. As the place of King David’s anointment and the burial of the patriarchs, the sanctuary is regarded as holy to Jews, Christians and Muslim.
The site is closed for visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. Organized tours are recommended.
Beit Hadassah offers a visitor center and a museum. For information tel: 02-996-5333
Jews and Muslims share the holy site equally. Ten days a year the entire site is accessible to Jews and 10 days a year the entire holy site is accessible to Muslims. During the rest of the year the site is shared by Jews and Muslims each having access to different areas.