AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Friday June 29:
Here’s another land claim, this time to Hebron. We are getting the idea, that over 4 millennia, people have been refugees, resident aliens, citizens or occupiers of this same geographic turf. Who gets to claim ‘legitimate’ land title, not simply personal rights to occupy the land?
The names change over millennia. Kiriath-arba is an old name. Machpelah and the ‘oak of Mamre’ will recur. Hebron has modern resonance. Sarah’s death and burial in this key locality expresses the antiquity of the biblical claim to this part of the land of Canaan. It will later be David’s base in the hills, in the first 7 years of his insurgency before he moved to Jerusalem for 33 years.
The tale this time reflects some elaborate Oriental courtesies, as Abraham tries to buy land, declines to accept it as a favour, insists on paying and haggles a price. The price is extravagant – perhaps less deniable. The reference to ‘the merchant’s rate’ in silver comes from Babylonian language. This key text has signs of the deeper Jahweh God source or voice, right through to the Priestly voice with concern for years, and Babylonian diction.
In the end, this account justifies millennia of Jewish claims to Hebron’s heights as ancestral home. Where are your people buried? What is the basis of your land claim to your home – and how would first nations folks hear your claims? How do ‘Crown Land’ claims hold up in the face of First Nations title?
Notice how the Hittites, and Ephron in particular, are happy to grant Abraham the privilege of burying his wife as a favour – but resist actually selling the title to the land. Our language distinguishes between ‘rights’ and ‘’privileges’, ‘prohibitions’ or ‘permissions’, ‘hard lines’ and ‘concessions’ toward refugees, migrants, and legal residents of nations states. Can you tour your ancestors’ graves?