A Visit to Tel Hebron & Cave of Machpelah

We walked into a rocky, arid field, bordered by a metal fence, and guarded by two Israelis soldiers with Uzis. Only the sign “Welcome to Tel Hebron,” written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic let us know we were in an historic site. Tel Hebron had only been open for one year, in 2018, and hadn’t yet experienced the renovative fate of many historic sites, like Shiloh, with its visitor center, theater and picnic area. But then Shiloh is not in the heart of a highly-contested Palestinian area. I’m not sure how conspicuous the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority wants Tel Hebron to become.  And  for me, this the value of Hargrave Ministries tours, finding archeological and historical gems like this, off the beaten tourist path.

But Tel Hebron should be a prominent site, for Jews, Christians and Muslims. While the Cave of Machpelah, the burial site of Abraham and Sarah, along with the other patriarchs and their wives (about a half-hour walk from Tel Hebron), has been memorialized by Herod’s 12-meter high walls, and adorned within, Tel Hebron remains a rocky outpost. Yet according to our guide, it may in fact be the location of the city gates where transfer of title was made from Ephron the Hittite to Abraham. For the very steep price of 400 shekels of silver, Abraham obtained the Cave of Machpelah for Sarah’s burial site.

Is this important? The Torah seems to think so.

Genesis 23:17-20

Mentions twice that Ephron deeded it over to Abraham

Genesis 23:17-20

Mentions that Abraham purchased the cave from the sons of Heth.

Genesis 49:29-32

We are told twice that that Abraham bought this cave and the field from Ephron and from the sons of Heth.

Genesis 50:13

We hear again that Abraham bought the cave and field from Ephron the Hittite.

So what then is the significance of Tel Hebron? The Torah wants us to know that before the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, Abraham was already the rightful owner of that cave and field, as a token of all the land which God would give to His people. Nebuchadnezzar would drive the Jews out of their land, but they would return. The Greeks would dominate and defile the land for a time, but it was never their land. The Romans oppressed and expelled the Jews; the Umayyads, the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire would rule the territory, but only for a time. When the last of the tyrants and empires has left the stage of history, the cave and the field will always belong to its rightful owner, to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife (Gen. 25:9-10).