Benjamin Netanyahu claims historical basis to Abraham’s purchase of Tomb of Patriarchs. But forgets that the Giants owned it.

At the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting, on 9 July 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read from Genesis 23.16, 19-20. This passage narrates the story of Abraham’s purchase of a tomb for the burial of his wife, near the city of Hebron.

16 Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants…. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.

Hebron is a city in Palestine which is currently under military occupation by Israel.

On 7 July 2017, UNESCO voted to recognize the Mamluk-era Old Town of Hebron (Al-Khalil), including its first-century CE Tomb of the Patriarchs (the Ibrahimi mosque), as a protected World Heritage site.

In response, Netanyahu argued, based on the legendary account in Genesis 23, that Hebron was Jewish. “The connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history which may be without parallel in the history of peoples.” Netanyahu also had a bit of a tantrum, and said that he wouldn’t pay $1 million from Israel’s United Nations membership dues, but would instead transfer the funds to the establishment of The Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron.

But did Abraham really buy the tomb?

According to Genesis 23, Abraham bought the tomb from a Hittite man named Ephron. However, Abraham’s legal title to the land is highly questionable, in light of the rival account in the Torah, in Numbers 13. Here, the city of Hebron clearly belongs to three Giants (Anakim), named Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. It doesn’t belong to Hittites at all. So on the basis of Numbers 13, we have to question whether the Hittite Ephron ever had a good legal title to give to Abraham. Hebron, according to this account, belonged to Giants.

Therefore, under the legal principle of Nemo dat quod non habet (a person cannot grant a better title than they have), Abraham never legally bought the land. He could only have bought it from its legal owners, the Giants. If we treat the Torah as history, we must respect the legal ownership of Hebron by ancient Giants.

… unless, of course, both Genesis 23 and Numbers 13 are just legends, and neither should be cited as “history” by a modern Prime Minister.

But then, might the Israeli government have to admit that the notion of modern Israel’s right to “Greater Israel” (Kol Yisrael) might itself be based on legends?

 

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Imagined Communities: Netanyahu’s speech to US Congress

In his speech before the US Congress on Tuesday 24 May, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, notes how he suffers at the thought of having “to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland”. Very graciously – acting only from the noble aim of bringing peace to the region – Netanyahu promises to give up the “ancestral Jewish homeland” to Palestinians – although the land he will give back, and more besides, was in fact their homeland for the 2000 years before 1967.

Now, this is not easy for me. It’s not easy, because I recognize that in a genuine peace, we’ll be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland. And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. (Cheers, applause.)

It is indeed possible to trace back some of the ancestors of Jews to people who once lived in the Levant in the first millennium BC (i.e. more than 2000 years ago). But Netanyahu – not afraid of grossly embellishing a kernel of truth when talking to fellow Chosen Peoples who believe the same myths – goes on to adds another millennium before that for good measure. And just to take the piss, Netanyahu then includes the two millennia after that (when, for most of it, very few Jews were there). (Rich Americans cheer and applaud.) Knowing that attack is the best defence when you’re talking complete shit to an audience that shares most of your myths, Netanyahu denounces any who would deny the “4000-year-old” [sic] history [sic] of Jews in Judea and Samaria, [sic] – claiming that it is they who present a “distortion of history” [sic]. (Rich Americans applaud vigourously.)

Netanyahu defends his “4000-year-old history” of Jews in the land with a reference to a figure of legend called Abraham, and a legendary story of a boy (David) who slays a Giant. Legendary founding figures and Giants, apparently, are not “distortions of history”. He also makes reference to a reactionary vision report by some unknown Judean who fantasized that Judea could one day rule the world in the same manner as the Persian Empire.

(The US Congress, recalling these stories from Sunday School, and so knowing they are thereby true, automatically applauds.)

We’re not the British in India. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one god, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw his vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history — and boy am I reading a lot of distortions of history lately, old and new — no distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land. (Sustained applause.)