History

Tomb of Esau's Head / Joseph in Hebron

The Yosefiyya is one of the later additions to the ancient Tomb of Machpela structure.

26.11.18, 20:28
The Tomb of Machpela is arguably the oldest still-standing structure in the world being used for the same purpose for which it was built. However even ancient structures have received additions and renovations. One of these is an area which is called the Tomb of Joseph by Muslims, but may as well be the Tomb of Esau's head, or maybe simply an extra room constructed during the post-Crusader / early Muslim era.

The 2,000-year-old stone walls of the Tomb of Machpela were erected by King Herod over the even older underground caverns where the Matriarchs and Patriarchs of the Jewish people are buried. 

The area today known as the Yosefiyya has its origins in the 10th century when an entrance was pierced through the north-eastern wall and steps from the north and from the east were built up to it -- one set of steps for entering, the other for leaving. A building known as the qal'ah (also spelled kalah, i.e. castle) was constructed near the middle of the southwestern side. Some Muslims called it the location of the Tomb of Joseph. Certain archaeologists believe that the original entrance to Herod's structure was in the location of the qal'ah. 
 
In the late 14th century, under the Mamluks, two additional entrances were pierced into the western end of the south western side and the kalah was extended upwards to the level of the rest of the enclosure. A cenotaph in memory of Joseph was created in the upper level of the kalah so that visitors to the enclosure would not need to exit the building and travel around the outside.

According to Joshua 24:32, Joseph was buried in Shchem. Today, an ancient memorial and stone coffin-like memorial is venerated as Joseph's final resting place,a s it has been for generations. 
 
However, many Muslim traditions still hold that Joseph was buried in Hebron. The Yosefiyya contains a cenotaph, or memorial marker, very much like the other six in the Machpela complex. Set off to the side near the Brit Milah hall near the Jewish entrance, the memorial is protected by iron bars like the other memorial rooms. 

Many Jewish worshipers dismissed the idea that the room marks the grave of Joseph and referred to it instead as the spot where Esau's head was buried. The tradition that Jacob's twin brother Esau, or at least his head, is buried in Hebron has its source in Midrash and was even quoted by a Muslim historian, Al-Suyuti in 1470.
 
Shemot Rabbah 31:17 states that Jacob gave all his possessions to acquire a tomb in the Cave of the Patriarchs. He put a large pile of gold and silver, all the riches left him by their father Isaac before Esau and asked, "My brother, do you prefer your portion of this cave, or all this gold and silver?" This sale was also ratified by a document, which Jacob put in an earthen vessel to preserve it from decay.
 
The story of Esau selling his right to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs is also recorded in Sefer HaYashar 27:12-14 which states:
 
"And he said unto his brother Jacob, Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright? And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord.  And Esau's portion in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham had bought from the children of Heth for the possession of a burial ground, Esau also sold to Jacob, and Jacob bought all this from his brother Esau for value given. And Jacob wrote the whole of this in a book, and he testified the same with witnesses, and he sealed it, and the book remained in the hands of Jacob."
 
Rabbi Yochanan elaborated, quoting Rabbi Shimon Ben Yehotzadak, that the word "kirah" in this verse means none other than "selling," i.e. aquisition.
 
Generally, if a person has two sons, one of whom is legally deemed a firstborn son, the firstborn takes a double portion in the inheritance (see Deuteronomy 21:17). This means that the firstborn would take two thirds of the estate and the other son one third (as if there were three sons and the firstborn was equal to two). Now, Esau argued that in the lentil-stew, he had waived his special rights as a son. Thus no one would receiev a double portion; rather they would split the inheritance in two (see Rashi; cf. Maharsha).
 
THE BEHEADING OF ESAU
 
A Midrash states that after his twin brother's death, Esau disputed the sale and tried to prevent the burial of Jacob:

As the twelve sons of Jacob and their families arrived at the Machpelah Cave for their father's burial, Esau his twin brother came and prevented their entry. He said: “At Mamre, Kiriat Arba, the same is Hebron , there are four couples destined to be buried. Jacob buried Leah in his portion and the one remaining is mine!”

They said to him, "You sold it!"

He said, "Indeed I sold my birthright, but I did not sell my rights to the land!"

They said, "Yes you did, since it is said (by Jacob) the land which I had dug (i.e. purchased) (Genesis 50:5) and "digging" in this context means purchase.
 
Esau: “Bring me the deed!”
 
“It is in Egypt and who is going to get it? Let Naphtali go for he is as light as a gazelle, as it is said: ‘Naphtali is an antelope let loose who gives good words’” (Genesis 49:21).
 
Hushim the son of Dan was there and he was hard of hearing [some translate he was deaf] and he said: “What is this?”
 
“He (Esau) is preventing the burial until Naphtali returns from Egypt,” answered the brothers.
 
“And until he returns my grandfather will lie here disgracefully,” concluded Hushim.
 
Hushim then took a big sword and hit Esau on the head; he died and his head rolled by Jacob's feet. At that moment Jacob opened his eyes and smiled. As it is said: ”The righteous will rejoice when he sees revenge; his feet will bathe in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalms 58:11).  - 
Talmud Bavli Sotah 13b.
 
The Koran does not mention details of Joseph's burial, but Ali of Herat (1119), Yaqut (1229) and Ibn Battuta (1369) all state that both Shchem and Hebron could be possible locations of the Biblical figure's final resting spot.
 
The Islamic historian Ibn 'Asakir (1106–1175) also quotes the Rabbinical tradition found in the Babylonian Talmud:
 
"Then the sons of Jacob met together, and also Esau and his brethren, and they said, 'Let us leave the entrance of the cavern open, so that when any die he may be buried therein.' But afterwards a dispute arose among them, and one of the brothers of Esau — or, as some say, one of the sons of Jacob— raised his hand and struck Esau a blow that caused his head to fall off, and it rolled into the cave. And they carried away his body and buried it without the head, for the head remained within the cave."

Some hasidic traditions derive a spiritual message from the story. The Chabad-Lubavich movement teaches that Esau exhibited both material greediness and a desire for instant gratification as represented by his body, but also a desire for spirituality and a thirst for greater meaning as represented by his head, thus his head is buried with his spiritual ancestors. 
 
An apocryphal work called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs references eleven of Jacob's twelve sons being buried in the Cave in Hebron. In the case of Joseph it does not mentions his final resting place.
 
ALTERNATIVE POSSIBLE LOCATION

According to the 1883 Palestine Exploration Fund's Survey of Western Palestine there is a tradition that the tomb of Esau is located in the modern town of Sa'ir, in the Southern Hebron Hill Region. 

Claude Conder and H.H. Kitchener, authors of the volume wrote "the tomb of El 'Ais (Esau), south of the village, is in a chamber 37 feet east and west by 20 feet north and south, with a Mihrab on the south wall. The tomb is 12 feet long, 3 1/2 feet broad, 5 feet high, covered with a dark green cloth and a canopy above. An ostrich egg is hung near. North of the chamber is a vaulted room of equal size, and to the east is an open court with a fig-tree, and a second cenotaph rudely plastered, said to be that of Esau's slave. Rock-cut tombs exist south-west of this place."
 
JOSEPH'S CONNECTION TO HEBRON IN THE TORAH
 
Genesis 37:14 states  that Joseph was instructed by his father Jacob, "'Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word.' So he sent him out of the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem."
 
Nehama Leibowitz in her work Studies in Genesis, page 395 explains the statements of the great sage Rashi who comments:
 
"Surely Hebron was in the mountain region, but the reference is not to the physical Hebron but to the mysterious, deep advice imparted to that righteous man who was buried in Hebron, in fulfillment of what was said to Abraham at the covenant between the pieces, "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a strange land" (Genesis 15:13).
 
Mrs. Leibowitz elaborates,
 
The homiletical interpretation of the phrase "emek Hebron" (Hebron valley) from Genesis 37:14 as a reference to God's mysterious prophesy to Abraham turns on a play of the word "emek, literally "deep place."
 
Since Hebron was in the high hills and not the valley, the apparently superfluous insertion, emek, is taken figuratively, to imply "deep," in the sense of: "mysterious." Hebron is taken as a figurative expression for the Patriarch Abraham who was buried there. Thus we have an allusion to the "mysterious advice" imparted to Abraham regarding the future of his descendants, that they would sojourn in a land not their own. It was this prophesy that Jacob and Joseph were fulfilling, unwittingly; the father -- in sending, and the son -- in going to seek his brothers.
 
Rashi regards the references to Hebron not merely in the locative-geographical sense, but in the deeper one, of spiritual causation. The Prime Mover of all things was ultimately behind the departure of Joseph, in accordance with the pattern -- "the mysterious advice" imparted to Abraham, and who can fathom its mystery?
 
NOTES:
 
The Beheading of Esau - Chabad.org
MACHPELAH - The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
 
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