(An exclusive story translated from German and reprinted with permission of News Agency NAI)
For 714 years, entering the Jewish forefathers' grave had been forbidden by law to all non-Muslims -and now it is once again.
In 1981, Dr. Seev Jevin, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, forced himself through a narrow opening in the underground grave chamber of the Machpela cave, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were believed to be buried. He did this under strict observation by the Islamic Waqf. Behind bolted doors in Yitzhak Hall, the secret entrance in the southeast wall was opened. Jews had long suspected that the entrance to the real burial chamber must be here, and because of that they placed their prayer slips of paper in wall cracks on the exterior of the building at this same location.
The discovery that Dr. Jevin made in 1981 was concealed for political reasons. However, now that Hebron has been handed back to the Muslims, he has recounted to Nachrichten aus Israel (News from Israel) how he forced himself through a narrow entrance, went down 16 steps and crawled along a 20-meters long, 60-cm high and 100-cm wide tunnel in order to finally reach a 3.5 x 3.5 meter room. The chamber, tunnel and steps were all made of the same worked stones as the building exterior. They were a homogenous group of building materials belonging to Herodian-era construction, identical to those used in the Jerusalem temple.
Dr. Jevin determined that plaster covering the black walls in the grave chamber dated from a later time and was designed to hide the original Herodian stones. "This is a customary tactic of the Muslims by which they attempt to cover up the original," said Dr. Jevin.
Behind broken-off plaster, he discovered Latin script, dating to Crusader times, containing the names Jacob and Abraham. It was obvious Christians regarded this location as a holy place. Could this room be the true burial chamber?
Earlier Moshe Dayan, both Israel's Defense Minister and an amateur archaeologist, had been curious about this site. Following the Six Day War, he and 12-year-old Michal lowered themselves with a rope through the 30-cm, narrow opening into this chamber, which was 20 cm from the blocked floor opening in Yitzhak Hall. They measured this chamber but found no bones. Now, Dr. Jevin was standing in this same underground chamber. He was prepared to break off his search when he stumbled on a floor plate. Suspecting a hollow space underneath, he lifted the plate, found a hole and slid through the narrow opening. Now Dr. Jevin found himself in a 3.5 x 4 meter room from which a passage to a second smaller oval room led. He recalled the Talmud (Baba Bathra 58,770), which indicated two caves and recalled that the name "Machpela" itself means "double cave."
So Dr. Seev Jevin became the first Jew to discover the true burial chamber of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-three floors below the north grave chamber. In a nearby chamber in the cave, their wives Sarah, Rebekah and Leah would be resting.
With uncanny silence surrounding him, Dr. Jevin looked around full of awe and found clay shards dating from Israelite times, perhaps from Abraham's era-artifacts almost 4,000 years old. He found pieces of a lamp and also an intact wine jug. Could this be the jug in which monks washed the bones of the forefathers in 1119 A.D., as old texts explain?
The archaeological find proves that Machpela is a Jewish burial place and that hundreds of years prior to Mohammed it had been a holy place for the Jews. Now Palestinians maintain that "Jews are foreigners in Hebron." Also, when the Muslims succeeded in removing almost all Jewish traces from the halls above, only the actual grave chamber itself remained Jewish. The still walled-in passage in the tunnel pointed towards an underground labyrinth, perhaps a Herodian necropolis.
Muslims falsified Jewish holy places, converting them into "lifelong" Muslim holy places. From the Jewish temple mount in Jerusalem they made their third holy place al-Aqsa and are now converting Solomon's stables into a mosque. At the same time they are protesting Israel's Judaizing of Jerusalem.
"And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had made in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. And the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah which was before Mamre the field and the cave, which was therein, and all the trees which were in the field, that were in all the borders round about were made sure. Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of all the children of Heth and all went in the gate of the city and after this Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, the same in Hebron the land of Canaan. And the field and the cave that is therein were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying place by the sons of Heth." (Genesis 23:16-20) "...and his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Abraham) in the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar, the Hittite, which is before Mamre." (Genesis 25:9)
What is important is that Abraham obtained the burial place by paying the full price, which signified under law that he and his posterity had in so doing bought legal rights to this land. The Armana letter said this 1,400 years before Christ and it is still local legal custom today. Abraham rejected all offers of Ephron to bury his dead in Hittite graves, because that would not have given him perpetual rights. Abraham stood on the fact that the contract mentioned that he had obtained the cave and the trees which surrounded it and that according to both the law of that time and today he had rights to harvest from that ground.
In the Bible, Machpela is mentioned three times; this is the cave which has guarded its secret for 4,000 years as the burial place of the Jewish forefathers. Dr. Jevin was the first to bring its secret to light. He recounted to NAI that Hebron has once again become a political challenge.
Before King David conquered Jerusalem, he reigned for seven years from Hebron. Around the end of 1 B.C., Herod had artisans, who were adorning the second temple, construct a 60-meter long and 32-meter wide holy building, which has been regarded as a holy place to the present day. Whoever sees the construction over the Machpela cave site can imagine how the earlier exterior walls of Jerusalem appeared. Hebron and Jerusalem belong together.
The Byzantine Christians overlaid part of the Jewish construction and made a basilica out of it. The grave sites of the forefathers became from this time forward a holy place for Jews and Christians. An eyewitness from the sixth century, Antonius the Martyr, said, "Jews and Christians entered the four walls through separate entrances." After the Holy Land was conquered by the Muslims, the Jewish/Christian prayer site was converted to a Muslim one.
In the 12th century, the Crusaders made a church out of the site, and 150 years later the Mame-lukes made it a mosque once again and added two minarets, wall decorations, and a marble facade. For 700 years, from 1267 to June 8, 1967, the Muslims forbade Jews and Christians access to the Machpela cave. During this time, Jews could only approach the steps on the east side and only to the seventh step, where they would stick their prayer papers in wall crevices, behind which ran eight grave chambers-a newly discovered fact which they didn't know. So it was drafts of wind that carried their letters of petition directly to Abraham's bosom.
Around the turn of the century, archaeologists Aly Bey, L.H. Vincent, J.H. Mackay and Pierotti made more contemporaneous measurements of the site, but only Dr. Jevin got into the actual (and unknown) burial chambers, because the Waqf commissioned him to examine the already-known chamber to determine whether or not foreigners had caused damage. Thereby he had discovered the grave of his ancestors and proved that this spot was primarily a holy site of the Jews-which was not made known due to political considerations.
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