Monday, November 21, 2022

Chayei Sarah=The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron and the rights of acquisition by purchase, c 1800 BCE and c 1900 CE


Link to discussion Nov 19

Chayei Sarah=The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron and the rights of acquisition by purchase, c 1800 BCE and c 1900 CE


An interesting aside on the oldest Canaanite (pre-cursor to Hebrew) inscription in the oldest Canaanite( again, pre-cursor to Hebrew) alphabet- on, of all things, a comb to brush out lice,  reported just recently.  Estimated about the time of the Patriarchs.


A background on the Cave of Machpelah, Cave of the Patriarchs/Matriarchs.


Why did Abraham pay cold cash?



While preparing for a meeting with West Hollywood Planning Commission I noted this introduction:

Land Acknowledgment: "The West Hollywood Planning Commission acknowledges that the land on which we gather and that is currently known as the City of West Hollywood is the occupied, unceded, seized territory of the Gabrieleño Tongva and Gabrieleño Kizh peoples."

This has become increasingly popular in North American settings. It also smacks of false virtue, and there are voices from indigenous Americans saying so:

Land acknowledgments are a classic culture-war issue, Nick Estes, an American-studies professor at the University of New Mexico, told me via email. They can be “a pantomime of caring or outrage mostly by professional class elites and educational institutions.” Meanwhile, he asked, what of “the real issues facing Indigenous peoples—housing, employment, child removal, generational poverty, lack of adequate healthcare, police violence, racism, and erasure; in other words, real colonialism”?

That allows the political and corporate entities to then go about their business, which is making business, while feeling good about it.


 If anyone should know about erasure of history, it is we, Jews, who were erased from the land of Israel and our name for the land taken away from us.

How does this tie into Abraham and the burial of Sarah.?

Here is the story in short: Gen 23

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying,

[Who are the Hittites? One of the seven peoples under the rubric of “ Canaan”: Canaanites the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Jebusites and the Perizzites.

Hittites- presumably southern most elements of the ancient Hittite Empire, based in Anatalia ( Turkey) that was at its peak. An Indo-European language, rather than Semitic. Other Indo-Europeans- the Philistines, from which Palestine-the Greek islands). Indicates that there was not one people “Cannanites” but multiple groups of people]


“I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.”

And the Hittites replied to Abraham, saying to him,

“Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.”

[It would seem to be a free gift]

Thereupon Abraham bowed low to the landowning citizens[Am HaAretz]. the Hittites,

and he said to them, “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar.

Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”

Ephron was present among the Hittites; so Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, the assembly in his town’s gate saying,

“No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.” [ Give- does he really mean it? Or is it a vacant gesture, like the token acknowledgement I mentioned above].

Then Abraham bowed low before the landowning citizens,

and spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the landowning citizens, saying, “If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” [He recognizes that “ free” is a mere formality= there is no free lunch.

And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him,

“My lord, do hear me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Go and bury your dead.” [Apparantly well over the asking price]

Abraham accepted Ephron’s terms. Abraham paid out to Ephron the money that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites—four hundred shekels of silver at the going merchants’ rate.

So Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre—the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field—passed

to Abraham as his possession, in the presence of the Hittites, of the assembly in his town’s gate.


Why negotiate?

It’s his. Why did he not insist on it as his right?

 Afterall. God had only a few years before promised him the land:

Gen 15

On that day יהוה made a covenant with Abram: “To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”) more than 7 nations)

Gen 17

I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding. I will be their God.”

Why not seize the land?

It’s not yet his by right-therefore, he gets rights only by buying it, or by developing it ( rights to the well at Beer Sheva from the Philistines, and a binding treaty.)

Back to gen 15

And [God] said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years;

but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth.

As for you,
You shall go to your ancestors in peace;
You shall be buried at a ripe old age.

And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”[Amorite- a collective term for western, north west semitic peoples.]

What is their great sin? We are not told.

What is the underlying premise:

Go back to Flood story- all nations one, theypton break up, and can no longer understand each other- in the study of pre-history and antiquity, use the term “ Ursprache”.For example- the Indo-European languages- from English to Persian to Hindi- stem from a common ancestral language. Similarly, Semitic—Arabic, Aramaic,ancient Babylonian & Akkadian—as well as the related “ Hamitic languages-Egyptian, North and central African languages. Similar grammar features, similar core words.

Reflects idea of a common origin of humanity that has moved out and settled in different places. No one nation is inherently indigenous. All nations in constant flux- langauge, speech, culture shifts.

Reflected in words of Prophet,

Amos=Ch 9

To Me, O Israelites, you are
Just like the Cushites [indicating-far and very different in appearance-it makes no difference]
—declares the LORD.
True, I brought Israel up
From the land of Egypt,
But also the Philistines from Caphtor[ the eastern Mediteranean]
And the Arameans from Kir [location in Mesopotamia-form which they moved west to Syria]

all the nations pawns on God’s chess table.The idea of conditionality- right to be on the land- permeates the Torah and esp Deuteronomy.

Go back to purchase by Abraham

Idea that we had to acquire rights rather than take by force- we were aware that we were aliens in our own land. The Greeks,as we know them, were aliens in Greece[ replaced the original Mycenaen civilization]

The Hindu Indo-Aryans- were late comers to India- replaced the much older Indus valley civilizations.

What’s the difference- I believe ancient Israelites were very conscious of this, and constantly asked,” Why are we here?”By what right.?

It was asked by other. Rashi, commentary on Gen 1:

For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan”, Israel may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us” (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).

An ancient argument-why does rashi bring this source here? Here is sitting in Central Europe, the Christians and the Muslim are fighting over the Holy Land, and he is reminding his children and grandchildren- It is ours from the scratch.

Going back to the land- the constant argument- Listim atem- You are thieves- the rejection of any right. But go back to a century ago, before there was a state of Israel, before there was an Israeli armed forces that could beat back six invading armies and push back the native Palestinian Arab uprising. Back to when the land was under colonial control of the Ottoman Empire (later British). The land is bought, dunam po, dunam sham. A 1,000 square meters( still in use, an Ottoman term) .ownership= land registry-tabu= also Turkish.

What did we buy up?

An example from the period of the 1930’s


Eliahu Epstein summed up the problems and prospects for Jewish land purchase in the wake of Arab violence in the mid-1930s, and the recently published British policy statement, the July 1937 Peel Report, suggested the division of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states.

 Epstein’s summary of the special JNF-sponsored meeting reveals that more Arab offers to sell land existed than there were Jewish funds available to make those purchases. This discrepancy allowed the Zionists to make critical choices regarding which land areas would be best to acquire. Jewish land ownership itself was important, but not as vital as acquiring land to satisfy a particular strategic requirement, and to have it settled by recent or future immigrants. The discussion revealed agreements on both priorities, which included buying land along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv corridor in order to connect Jewish presence in Jerusalem to Jewish areas in the coastal plain, in the north of Palestine near the strategic port of Haifa and lands that were in close proximity to the headwaters of the Jordan River. Buying land outside the boundaries of the proposed Jewish state was considered another priority so that ‘facts on the ground’ could be established and hopefully enlarge the imminent Jewish state. The evolving strategic land purchase policy reinforced a commitment to broaden contiguous blocks of Jewish-owned land, and not to acquire land in a helter-skelter fashion based on religious or philosophical motivations to settle in all the Land of Israel. The Zionist leaders who participated in this meeting reasoned that once land was securely in Jewish hands, the British might amend projected borders to include said land within the Jewish state. Creating facts on the ground was a land purchase priority.



Epstein summarized this critical discussion. His letter was then dispatched to Zionist decision-makers in Palestine and a few key Zionists abroad, informing them of “land politics.” Knowing that Arabs wanted to sell their lands had three important consequences: first, it reinforced the Zionist leadership’s commitment to find ways to acquire land; second, it allowed important decisions to be made about what lands would best suit the strategic needs of the growing Jewish National Home; and finally, it strengthened overall Zionist political resolve by highlighting the contradiction between public Arab demands to halt the Jewish national home and private Arab behavior. Within two years of this meeting, the British imposed immigration and land transfer restrictions on the development of the Jewish state. Evidence provided from the Jewish National Fund’s directorate minutes from the 1940s indicates that Arab offers to sell did not appreciably abate, allowing Zionists to choose land needs based on strategic priorities.                                                                                                      

–Ken Stein, April 2010 


There is here, drawn a clear line from Abraham’s purchase of a field and a cave, and the rebirth of the Land and State of Israel.


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