Flight to Egypt - Part 2


"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt." (Matthew 2:13).

For Israelis (and tourist busses) the drive to Hebron is seamless using Israeli-only roads. For Palestinians it is a combination of checkpoints and slow public transportation.

About 3 miles north of Hebron, just east of Road 6O, is the large Palestinian village (population 22,413 in 2007) of Halhul (below left). In Joshua 11, Halhul is listed among the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. A 12th century chronicler wrote that the tomb of Yunis ibn Matta (Jonah son of Amittai) was located there. Jonah appears in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet from Gath-Hepher (a few miles north of Nazareth), the central character in the book of Jonah famous for being swallowed by a fish. The biblical story of Jonah is repeated in the Qur'an. According to an old Jewish tradition Halhul also was the burial place of Gad, David's seer (2 Samuel 24:11). (Below right) an old house in Halhul. 

Palestinian village of Halhul with mosque old stone house in Halhul

Roughly half way between Halhul and Hebron, we turn right on the road towards Jericho. 500 yards further, on the left, is Elonei Mamre ("Oaks/Terebinths of Mamre"), which refers to a Canaanite cultic shrine that was in use from 2600-2000 BC. It was dedicated to El, the supreme sky-god of the Canaanite pantheon. According to the Biblical account Mamre was where Abram set up his tents and built an altar (Genesis 13:18). A grove of large trees there belonged to Abram's ally, an Amorite named Mamreh (the derivation of Mamre) (Genesis 14:13).

Near the great trees of Mamre several significant incidents took place in Abram's life:

Abraham's Oak foundations at Mamre

(Above left) so-called Abraham's Oak; according to tradition, Abraham pitched his tent opposite this tree (actually a terebinth). During the Crusades the site was visited frequently by pilgrims. It became customary to hold the Feast of the Trinity under its shadow, connecting it Abraham's three visitors. An ancient well, more than 16 feet in diameter, is referred to as Abraham's Well. It is perhaps also where David reigned for seven years, as archaeological excavations show signs of towers and walls from Davidic kingdom and early monarchy. A six-foot-thick stone wall enclosing area 150-feet-wide and 200-feet-long (above right) was constructed by Herod, possibly as place of worship or walled compound serving later as market place or caravanserai.

Hebron (below left) (Arabic al-Khalīl "friend;" Hebrew Hevron) is the largest city in the West Bank, home to some 166,000 Palestinians and over 500 Israeli Jews, It lies 3,050 feet above sea level and is well-known for its grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories. In ancient time it was also known as Kirjath Arba (Genesis 23:2), possibly after Arba, a great man among the Anakim (Joshua 14:15). According to Numbers 13:22 Hebron was founded seven years before Zoan in Egypt. Zoan was founded about 1720 BC, thus Hebron was settled at the beginning of the 18th century BC. It was owned by the sons of Heth (Genesis 23:1-7) and Abraham was a foreigner and sojourner among them (Genesis 23:4). Joshua defeated the king of Hebron at Gibeon and the city was allotted to its conqueror, Caleb (Joshua 15:13). Here, too, David was anointed king of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4) and reigned in Hebron for seven years and six months (2 Samuel 5:5), before heading twenty miles north to conquer the Jebusite city of Jebus (Jerusalem), which became his capital. The most ancient part of the city is located at Tell el-Rumeidah (below right) on top one of the hills of the modern city.

modern Hebron view remains at ancient hebron

The most famous historic site in Hebron, the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah (below left) according to Genesis, Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place for his wife Sarah; subsequently Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah were also buried there. For this reason, Hebron is regarded as one of the four Jewish holy cities, second to Jerusalem.  rights to this place are a point of bitter contention between Jews and Muslims.

Cave of the Patriarchs (Hebrew Me'arat HaMachpela; Arabic Al Magharah or Ibrahimi Mosque) Isaac Hall with its two cenotaphs

(Above left) the enclosure of the Cave of the Patriarchs (Hebrew Me'arat HaMachpela; Arabic Al Magharah or Ibrahimi Mosque). After thousands of years the uniquely impressive building still fulfills its original function as a memorial to the patriarchs and matriarchs thought to be buried in the complex of caves beneath; information on the caves and their contents. Herod the Great surrounded it with massive walls (the only fully intact Herodian structure), Byzantines and Crusaders transformed it into a church, Muslims turned it into a mosque. Today, the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah is divided into three rooms. Ohel Yitzhak (Isaac Hall) is a mosque; Ohel Avraham (Abraham Hall) and Ohel Ya'akov (Jacob Hall) serve as a Jewish synagogue. Jews have access to Ohel Yitzhak, the largest room, only ten days a year. (Above right) the Isaac Hall with its two cenotaphs ("a tomb or monument erected in honor of a person or persons whose remains are elsewhere") dedicated to Isaac and Rebekah. The other three fifths of the great structure contains six cenotaphs, each housed in individual octagonal rooms separated by corridors, and dedicated to Jacob and Leah, Abraham (below left) and Sarah (below right).

abraham cenotaph

South of Hebron, Route 60 continues to the market town of Dhahriya, described as the "Wild West" of Palestine. It is the market center for 140,000 Arab-Israeli Bedouins from the Negev in the south of Israel. Few tourists venture there, for the simple reason that there is very little to attract them.

Some 4 miles south of Dhahriya, Route 60 crosses the "Green Line," the Palestine-Israel border, and continues on to ancient Beersheba. In Old Testament times Beersheba marked the southernmost limits of Israel. When the Biblical authors wanted to refer to the entire nation of Israel from north to south, they used the phrase "from Dan to Beersheba," a distance of 150 miles.

Archeological finds indicate that the site was used from around 4000 BC through to the 16th century AD, probably due to the abundance of underground water, as evidenced by the numerous wells in the area.

At the time of Abraham, Beersheba was an important caravan oasis for travelers going to or from the desert area. Here Abraham dug a well, then to establish ownership, he paid seven lambs and swore an oath with Abimelech, king of Gerar (Genesis 21:25-31). God confirmed the promises made to Abraham with his son Isaac at Beersheba (Genesis 26:23-25). Later, Jacob stole Esau's birthright while his family was camped at Beersheba (Genesis 27). Many years later, Beersheba was a stopping place for Jacob on the way to Egypt to meet his son Joseph. It was located at a confluence of two dry river beds (wadis) that are only filled during the rainy season; they are natural roads the rest of the year. Today, Beersheba is the sixth largest city in Israel.

Beersheva excavations well at beersheba

(Above left) Tell Sheva, site of the ancient city. The streets are laid out in a grid, with separate areas for administrative, military, commercial and residential use. The town is regarded as the first planned settlement in the region. (Above right) the outer gate of the city with "Abraham's Well" and a tamarisk tree. Both are later than the time of the patriarchs, but they are a reminder of the well Abraham dug and the tree he planted (Genesis 21). With its deep root system and its ability to survive on brackish water, the tamarisk tree is well-suited to life in the Negev (the desert and semi-desert region of southern Israel). It secretes salt on its leaves and drips water in the morning.

From modern Beersheba, the road veers sharply westward toward the now infamous Palestinian city of Gaza, one of the five Philistine cities in Old Testament times.

From Gaza Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have followed the coastal highway down through Rafah to Pelusium, the portal of Egypt. With an average of about 20 miles a day on fairly level terrain, the Holy Family would have reached Egypt in about 10 days from Bethlehem.

Jesus' Life Home n Exile in Egypt