History

Tombs of Nathan and Gad - Jewish History in Halhul

Many Arab cities in the Judea and Samaria have a wealth of Jewish archaeology and history.

29.4.18, 13:43
(PHOTO:  Neby Yunis, by Halhul, 18 May 1940, Matson Photo Service / Wiki Commons.)
 
The city of Halhoul (also spelled Halhul) is a major population center in the greater Hebron region known for its agricultural industry and stone quarries. Its location along the road from Hebron to Jerusalem makes it economically important.
 
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the city had a population of 29,222 Muslim inhabitants in 2016.
 
While today the city brings up thoughts of neighboring Hebron, the largest city in the Palestinian Authority, it also has a rich Jewish history.
 
Halhul is mentioned in Bible in the Book of Joshua 15:58 as one of the cities in the Hebron region. Other ancient neighboring towns that still exist today mentioned in the chapter are Beit Zur, Maon, Carmel, Ziph and Yatta.
 
Interestingly enough, the Bible mentions grape cultivation in the region, which today is still a big market.
 
It is built atop Mount Nabi Yunis, the highest peak in Judea at 1,030 meters above sea level. The city has a land area of 37,335 dunams.
 
Nabi Yunis is the Arabic translation of Navi Yonah, or as he is called in English, the Prophet Jonah. One tradition holds that Jonah was buried there and an old stone structure is believed by some to be his final resting place. Other locations of the Tomb of Jonah include Nineveh, the ancient city where Jonah uttered his prophesies, which today is in modern Iraq. Alternative locations of his grave are Gath-hepher in northern Israel, and Sarepta in modern day Lebanon.
 
It is also the traditional location of the tomb of the Biblical prophets Gad the Seer and Nathan the Prophet.
 
A considerable amount of pottery has been unearthed bearing inscriptions in ancient Hebrew, most of them reading "To the king" and mentioning names of locations nearby. Handles with Jewish names inscribed in Greek have been found from the Hellenistic period.
 
A Jewish community existed in the city during the Second Temple period according to Josephus, the Jewish historian from that era who authored The Jewish War, and Antiquities of the Jews. He also describes it as a settlement in which the Edomites, or Idumean lived during the Great Revolt against Rome.
 
HISTORICAL RECORDS ON JEWISH HALHUL
 
The 1334 journal entitled The Roads from Jerusalem by Isaac ben Joseph ibn Cehlo mentions the holy site and a Jewish community located there:
 
"From there we reached Halhul, a place mentioned by Joshua. Here there are a certain number of Jews. They take travelers to see a ancient sepulchral monument attributed to Gad the Seer. It is the third tomb of the seven prophets.
From Halhul the road leads to Hebron, a place which bore formerly the name of Kiriath-Arba, the city of Arba, Father of the Anakim. he was a giant even among giants, and there still remains to this day at Hebron a skeleton of enormous stature said to be that of one of these giants.
 
The Jews, who are very numerous here, do a considerable trade in cotton, which they spin and dye themselves, as well as in all sorts of glass-ware made by them in Hebron. They have an ancient Synagogue and pray there day and night, for they are very devout.
 
During the ten days of penitence they visit the tombs of Jesse, father of King David, and of Abner, son of Ner. There, with faces turned towards the Cave of Machpela they implore that God will have mercy and restore this sacred place where the patriarchs are buried (Please be with them !) into their hands, as in former days they used to be. On the eve of the day of the great pardon they all resort to the tombs of Rachel and of Nathan the Prophet to perform their devotions there.
 
I have visited these two tombs. The first is a moment composed of twelve great stone, surmounted by a cupola also of stone. The second is one single recumbent stone. I have prayed for you and for myself on the sepulchre of our mother Rachel, and I have prayed and wept for the health of my sick son on the tomb of the prophet Nathan. (May God grant my prayer !)
 
From Hebron the way leads to Ziph, a city mentioned in Joshua..."
 
The work is reprinted in Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages: 19 Firsthand Accounts by Elkan Nathan Adler‏, page 135.

Johann Heinrich Hottinger, a Swiss philologist and theologian wrote in his 1662 book Cippi Hebraici, with accompanying Hebrew translation by Uri ben Simeon (page 32): "...and by the way which we go to Chalchul, by Hebron, where was buried Gad, the seer of David."
 
The 1845 Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature, edited by John Kitto reiterates Halhul as the site of the Tomb of Gad the Seer and call it "unquestionably the ancient Halhul." Kitto concludes (page 200):
 
"The modern name is identical with the Hebrew ; and the name has thus remained unchanged for more than 3300 years!" 
 
John Wilson described it in his 1847 book The Lands of the Bible: Visited and Described in an Extensive Journey (page 384) as such:
 
"Some of them, whose names we heard, evidently belong to places mentioned in the Scripture. Halhul about a mile in advance of er-Ramah, on a height to the right, where there are a mosk and ruins, has long been recognised as the Halhul of Joshua XXV. 58. It is a place of Jewish pilgrimage, and it is considered as the burying-place of Gad the Seer. The mosk is called Nabi Yunas, 'the Prophet Jonas.'"
 
Edward Robinson visited Halhul in 1852 and stated in his book Later Biblical Researches in Palestine, and in the Adjacent Regions, page 281:
 
"We left er-Ramah at 4.45 for Halhul, descending the hill towards the north. At the foot was an excavated cistern now dry, with steps to descend into it. A fertile plain was before us, sloping very gently eastwards to a Wady. Passing this plain, and crossing a low water-shed, we descended into a the deep Wady Kabun, here running northeast under Halhul ; but further down sweeping around to the southeast to the great Wady which lies towards Beni Naim ; and having the ruins of Beit Ainun on its left side, apparently near the junction. Ascending again the oppose slope through extensive and well cultivated fields, we reached Halhul at 5.10 ; and found our tent pitched on the summit of the ridge, not far from the sightly mosk.
 
Everything around Halhul looks thrifty ; fine fields, fine vineyards, and many cattle and goats. Especially is the eastern slope fertile and well tilled. The village is just below the eastern brow ; and thus is not visible from the Jerusalem road. It is the head of the district.
 
The people were barely civil ; and would not answer many of our inquires, especially as to sepulcures. The old mosk or Wely of Neby Yunas is a poor structure. It has a tower or minaret ; which makes it look at a distance like a New England church on a hill. We thought at first it might have been perhaps originally a church ; but there are no tokens of it. It lies so high, and is seen so far, that we supposed many villages would be in sight from it ; but in this were disappointed. We were not allowed to enter the mosk.
 
The ancient Halhul of the book of Joshua, to which this place corresponds, is mentioned also in the Onomasticon of Jerome. A Jewish traveller of the fourteenth century speaks of it as containing the sepulcure of Gad the seer. The identity of no ancient site is more undisputed ; though it seems not to have been recognized before our former journey."

Carl Ritter a German geographer, mentions both Halhul and references the writings of Cherlo in his 1866 book The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula, as follows (page 326) : 
 
"...having taken this preliminary view of the territory held by the tribe of Judah at the time of Joshua, we are the better prepared to advance on the way from Hebron to Jerusalem, and speak intelligently of the ruins and localities on the road. North of Khurbet el Nurarah, and in the neighborhood of Neby Junas (Prophet Jonah), already mentioned, there are the shattered vestiges of an old town on the right side of the highway No traveler has yet explored it, but it is called by the Arabs Hulhul, in which name Robinson thinks that he recognises the Halhul of the fourth group of Joshua's mountain cities. Jerome speaks of it as Elul, and locates it in the neighborhood of Hebron... He [Robinson] mentions, however that Ebn Batuta speaks of the grave of Jonah, and that Neibuhr alludes to the burial-place of the prophet Nathan, without mentioning the name Hulhul. Ishak Chelo, the Aragonese pilgrim, visited Halhul in 1333, and speaks of seeing there several Jews, who showed him the tomb of the prophet Gad, who counselled David, when a refugee in Moab, to leave that land and enter Judah (1 Sam. xxii. 5) Wilson confirms the locality of Hulhul..."
 
The 2010 compilation Holy Places in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Confrontation and Co-existence includes a chapter entitled Wars and Sacred Space by Doron Bar (page 71) which reads:
 
"...in addition to the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron and its environs were home to several other holy sites which attracted at least some Jewish residents of, and visitors to, Hebron for purposes of pilgrimage and prayer. Many of these sacred burial caves were under Muslim control and the Jews were forced to seek the protection of various families who held the sites. These sites included, among others, the Tombs of Jesse and Ruth, the Tomb of Otniel Ben Kenaz, the Tomb of Avner Ben Ner and Mifiboshet, which attracted mainly Sephardic residents of Hebron particularly on the day following Shavuot (issru chag), Halhul, on the Jerusalem-Hebron road, was also home to a burial site sacred to the Jews -- contained the tombs of Gad the Seer and Nathan the Prophet. Although located in a mosque, Jews would stop here to pray while traveling between Jerusalem and Hebron."
 
MODERN VISIT TO ANCIENT SITE  
 
Regarding the tombs of the Biblical prophets Nathan and Gad, in November of 2017, a group of 300 Jewish worshipers visited the site. One worshiper told AFP news service that it was the first time in 18 years that Jews were allowed to pray at the site, deep in a Palestinian Authority-controlled area. 
 
Gad the Seer is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:5 where he tells King David to leave his refuge in Moab and return to in the land of Judah. He is also mentioned in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.
 
Nathan the Prophet is discussed in the Book of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as an adviser and advocate of King David. The Bible states that both prophets authored books which are believed to be lost.
 
Similar to trips to the Tomb of Joseph in Shchem, the 2017 trip was held in the pre-dawn hours with army escort. The burial site is described as a cave covered in a green color and caged off from the public. The graves are located inside a cave which today is inside the mosque. The Jewish worshipers did not enter the holy site, rather recited pre-dawn prayers on the road outside.
 
This year's visit to Halhul will hopefully be the beginning of greater access to Jewish holy sites in Judea and Samaria, a right granted in the 1993 Oslo Accords. There are many other little-known and little-visited sites of historical interest in the Hebron Hills region, attesting to the rich history which inspires the community of today.
 
NOTES:
 
 
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