Christian Visitor Banned from Machpela in 1830s Hebron

"I shall never forget the kindness with which, as a stranger and Christian, I was received by the Jews in the capital of their ancient kingdom," JL Stephens, 1837.

30.3.17, 21:46
John Lloyd Stephens (1805 – 1852) was an American explorer, writer, diplomat and a pivotal figure in the rediscovery of Maya civilization. He also helped plan the Panama railroad.
His 1837 book describes his visit to the Land of Israel, which included Hebron. His observations of the Jewish community are helpful for understanding the times, and his status as a foreigner brings a unique perspective.
Of note are his descriptions of how the non-Jewish authorities persecuted the Jewish community and the denial of entry into the Tomb of Machpela. Also of interest is the description of "abundance of grapes, vines, and olives," an apt description of the area both today and in Biblical times.
His book Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land was first published by Harper & Brothers in 1837 and reprinted several times.
Edgar Allan Poe, the celebrated American author of The Raven, and other poems and short stories, wrote a review of the book which mentions Hebron several times. Review of Stephens' Arabia Petraea was printed in the October 1837 issue of the New York Review and praises the book for content and writing style.
These excerpts come from Volume 2 of the Stephens book beginning on page 114.
We followed the valley for more than an hour, finding the land good and well cultivated, with abundance of grapes, vines, and olives, as in the day when the spies sent by Moses entered it; and I can only wonder that, to a hardy and warlike people like the Israelites, after a long journey in the desert, the rich products of Hebron did not present more powerful considerations than the enmity of the men of Anak. We turned a point of the mountain to the left; and at the extreme end of the valley, on the side of a hill, bounding it, stands the little city of Hebron, the ancient capital of the kingdom of David. But it bears no traces of the glory of its Jewish king. Thunder and lightning, and earthquakes, wars, pestilence, and famine, have passed over it; and a small town of white houses, compactly built on the side of the mountain, a mosque and two minarets, are all that mark the ancient city of Hebron...

This over, I followed the janizary, who conducted me around outside the walls and through the burying-ground, where the women were scattered in groups among the tombs, to a distant and separate quarter of the city. I had no idea where he was taking me; but I had not advanced a horse's length in the narrow streets before their peculiar costume and physiognomies told me that I was among the unhappy remnant of a fallen people, the persecuted and despised Israelites.

They were removed from the Turkish quarter, as if the slightest contact with this once-favored people would contaminate the bigoted follower of the prophet. The governor, in the haughty spirit of a Turk, probably thought that the house of a Jew was a fit place for the repose of a Christian; and following the janizary through a low range of narrow, dark, and filthy lanes, mountings, and turnings, of which it is impossible to give any idea, with the whole Jewish population turning out to review us, and the sheik and all his attendants with their long swords clattering at my heels, I was conducted to the house of the chief Rabbi of Hebron. 

If I had had my choice, these were the very persons I would have selected for my first acquaintances in the Holy Land. The descendants of Israel were fit persons to welcome a stranger to the ancient city of their fathers; and if they had been then sitting under the shadow of the throne of David, they could not have given me a warmer reception. It may be that, standing in the same relation to the Turks, alike the victims of persecution and contempt, they forgot the great cause which had torn us apart and made us a separate people, and felt only a sympathy for the object of mutual oppression.
But whatever was the cause, I shall never forget the kindness with which, as a stranger and Christian, I was received by the Jews in the capital of their ancient kingdom; and I look to my reception here, and by the monks of Mount Sinai, as among the few bright spots in my long and dreary pilgrimage through the desert and of the wild spirit of freedom which men talk of without knowing, to make me cling more fondly than ever even to the lowest grade of civilization; and I could have sat down that night, provided it was under a roof, with the fiercest Mussulman, as in a family circle.
Judge, then, of my satisfaction at being welcomed from the desert by the friendly and hospitable Israelites. Returned once more to the occupation of our busy, money-making life, floating again upon the stream of business, and carried away by the cares and anxieties which agitate every portion of our stirring community, it is refreshing to turn to the few brief moments when far other thoughts occupied my mind; and my speculating, scheming friends and fellow-citizens would have smiled to see me that night, with a Syrian dress and long beard, sitting cross-legged on a divan, with the chief rabbi of the Jews at Hebron, and half the synagogue around us, talking of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as of old and mutual friends.
With the few moments of daylight that remained, my Jewish friends conducted me around their miserable quarter. They had few lions to show me, but they took me to their synagogue, in which an old white-bearded Israelite was teaching some prattling children to read the laws of Moses in the language of their fathers; and when the sun was setting in the west, and the Muezzin from the top of the minaret was calling the sons of the faithful to evening prayers, the old rabbi and myself, a Jew and a Christian, were sitting on the roof of the little synagogue, looking out as by stealth upon the sacred mosque containing the hallowed ashes of their patriarch fathers.
...The Turk guards the door, and the Jew and the Christian are not permitted to enter; and the old rabbi was pointing to the different parts of the mosque, where, as he told me, under tombs adorned with carpets of silk and gold, rested the mortal remains of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
page 125
Hebron, one of the oldest cities of Canaan, is now a small Arab town, containing seven or eight hundred Arab families. The present inhabitants are the wildest, most lawless, and desperate people in the Holy Land; and it is a singular fact, that they sustain now the same mutinous character with the rebels of ancient days, who armed with David against Saul, and with Absalom against David. In the late desperate revolution against Mohammed Ali, they were foremost in the strife, the first to draw the sword, and the last to return it to its scabbard. A petty Turk now wields the sceptre of the son of Jesse, and a small remnant of a despised and persecuted people still hover round the graves of their fathers; and though degraded and trampled under foot, from the very dust in which they lie are still looking to the restoration of their temporal kingdom. 
Accompanied by my Jewish friends, I visited the few spots which tradition marks as connected with scenes of Bible history. Passing through the bazaars at the extreme end, and descending a few steps, we entered a vault containing a large monument, intended in memory of Abner, the greatest captain of his age, the favored and for a long time trusted officer of David, who, as the Jews told me, was killed in battle near Hebron, and his body brought here and buried.
The great mosque, the walls of which, the Jews say, are built with the ruins of the temple of Solomon, according to the belief of the Mussulmans and the better authority of the Jews, covers the site of the Cave of Machpelah, which Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite; and within its sacred precincts are the supposed tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The doors were guarded with jealous care by the bigoted Mussulmans; and when, with my Jewish companion, I stopped for a moment to look up at the long marble staircase leading to the tomb of Abraham, a Turk came out from the bazaars, and, with furious gesticulations, gathered a crowd around us; and a Jew and a Christian were driven with contempt from the sepulchre of the patriarch whom they both revered. 
A special firman from the pacha, or perhaps a large bribe to the governor, might have procured me a private admission; but death or the Koran would have been the penalty required by the bigoted people of Hebron. 
On a rising ground a little beyond the mosque, is a large fountain or reservoir, supported by marble pillars, where my companions told me that Sarah had washed the clothes of Abraham and Isaac. Leaving this, I went once more to the two pools outside the walls, and after examining them as the so-called works of Solomon, I had seen all a stranger could see in Hebron. 
I cannot leave this place, however, without a word I cannot leave this place, however, without a word  or two more. I had spent a long evening with my Jewish friends. The old rabbi talked to me of their prospects and condition, and told me how he had left his country in Europe many years before, and come with his wife and children to lay their bones in the Holy Land. He was now eighty years old ; and for thirty years, he said, he had lived with the sword suspended over his head had been reviled, buffetted, and spit upon ; and though sometimes enjoying a respite from persecution, he never knew at what moment the bloodhounds might not be let loose upon him ; that, since the country had been wrested from the sultan by the Pacha of Egypt, they had been comparatively safe and tranquil ; though some idea may be formed of this comparative security from the fact, that during the revolution two years before, when Ibrahim Pacha, after having been pent up several months in Jerusalem, burst out like a roaring lion, the first place upon which his wrath descended was the unhappy Hebron ; and while their guilty brethren were sometimes spared, the un-happy Jews, never offending but always suffering, received the full weight of Arab vengeance. Their houses were ransacked and plundered; their gold and silver, and all things valuable, carried away ; and their wives and daughters violated before their eyes by a brutal soldiery. 
* Portion of Stephens account of Hebron reprinted in The Dhimmi by Bat Yeor 


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