Excerpt from Gene Genie
The Cave of the Patriarchs:
In its formative stages Hebron was a Canaanite city. Tom would therefore have been very interested in visiting the city, because ‘his’ Phoenicians had originated from Canaan too.
A great deal of history, emotion and bloodshed had shaped the city down through the centuries. But it was probably an immigrant from Iraq, some 3,700 years ago, who had attracted much of this attention with the simple purchase of a small plot of land and a cave from a local Hittite. He bought the parcel of land to have somewhere he could bury his wife.
The fact that made this significant was that the ancient land purchaser was the biblical and Qur’an figure of Abraham. He made the acquisition following the death of his wife Sarah. He and she both have tombs on the site; as do their son Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and their grandson Jacob with his wife Leah. These six significant burials and their location are all faithfully recorded in the Bible in the book of Genesis.
There are those who suggest that this plot of land is also where Adam, the fourth Patriarch, and his wife Eve were buried. But others consider the story of these two individuals to be more of a fictional device than the history of real individuals.
Dom Berkeley of Mission always liked a good story so was completely open-minded. At one meeting he had used an appalling cockney accent to say that he for one was fully prepared to ‘Adam & Eve’ it until the facts showed otherwise.
Dom could not believe his luck that they had so conveniently arranged for the vast majority of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs of the Jewish people to be so neatly laid out in two rows of three; only Rachel was missing. He learned that she died in childbirth and was buried somewhere near Bethlehem.
No surprise then that this was one of their earliest defined targets. The double cave of Machpelah was after all the second most sacred site in the Holy Land for both Judaism and Christianity.
Known as Ibrahim, Ishāq and Yakub, these historic figures are also central in the Qur’an, the same six tombs therefore are just as revered by Muslims; but it was this fact that meant they came up against something of a problem.
The Prophet Muhammad granted Hebron, among other lands, to Tamim al-Dari. He was not permitted to enslave the local inhabitants but he was allowed to tax them. He was also awarded a waqf, an inalienable religious endowment, to protect and preserve the tombs at the site the Muslims term the ‘Ibrahim mosque’.
Dom and his team felt that Hebron’s story was a who’s who of Holy Land figures. The Virgin Mary’s sister Elizabeth was said to have lived there, John the Baptist to have been born there. Saladin captured the city only to have it wrested away later by Richard the Lionheart. The Templars and the Hospitallers vied for many years over control of the city. There had been a Byzantine and a Crusader church established, an Augustinian chapter too, together with a series of mosques. One account also claims that a synagogue was once located in Hebron. The Egyptians, the British, the Jordanians and the Israelis have all tried to impose their will upon the place; none of them achieved any great credit or success.
Dom Berkeley had no time to dwell on all this history. The place had been very high on his list of targets since the very formation of Mission. Every time they had considered it before they had concluded it was an impossibility. Now finally he thought they had found an angle; a superb window of opportunity had presented itself.
He obviously wanted to get in and out of it as fast as possible. He knew this was currently one of the most dangerous places on earth and he certainly didn’t want to be there any longer than was absolutely necessary.
While the six had been left to rest in peace for millennia, the city above their heads had been the focus of many centuries of strife.