Cave Is Crypt For Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

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JERUSALEM -- The 18-square-mile city of Hebron and its Cave of the Patriarchs are important to tourism in the Holy Land because of their frequent mention in the Scriptures.

The Bible records that Abraham, patriarch of monotheism, bought the cave four millennia ago as a crypt. He and his wife, Sarah, were buried there, as were their sons Isaac and Jacob and their wives.

Jacob's second wife, Rachel, is buried near Jerusalem; from her tomb, it is about five miles south to Bethlehem and another 10 to Hebron, and the sites frequently are combined as a day trip from the capital.

Visitors to the Cave of the Patriarchs do not enter the ancient burial chambers; instead, they visit the cenotaphs in the building above, which was built by Herod 2,000 years ago.

In subsequent centuries, it was converted to a mosque by Arab conquerors, to a church by the Crusaders and, in 1188, to the mosque it is today.

Jews have lived in Hebron and in the adjacent town of Kiryat Arba for three millennia, although they were banned by Muslims from entering the cave from 1267 to 1967.

Jews gave up residence in the town after a massacre by Arabs in 1929, and the area was demolished by the Jordanian army during its occupation from 1948 to 1967.

After that year's Six-Day War, Israel regained control and opened it to visitors of all faiths.

Visitors climb a long flight of steps to reach the entrance. The cenotaphs are behind marked gates.

One room, Abraham Hall, is used for Jewish worship; Isaac Hall is where Muslims pray.

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