From Jericho we proceed to Hebron, far off in situation, but next to it in dignity: yea, there was a time, when it went before Jerusalem itself in name and honour;--namely, while the first foundations of the kingdom of David were laid; and, at that time, Jericho was buried in rubbish, and Jerusalem was trampled upon by the profane feet of the Jebusites.
Hebron was placed, as in the mountainous country of Judea, so in a place very rocky, but yet in a very fruitful coast.
"There is no place, in all the land of Israel, more stony than Hebron: thence, a burying-place of the dead is there." The Gemarists sift what that means: "Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt, Numbers 13:22." And they reduce it to this sense, which you may find cited also in R. Solomon, upon that text of Moses, "There is no land more excellent than Egypt; as it is said, 'As the garden of the Lord, as Egypt': nor is there in Egypt any place more excellent than Zoan; as it is said, 'Her princes were in Zoan'; and yet Hebron was seven times nobler, however it were rocky, than Zoan." For this tradition obtained among them, "Rams from Moab, lambs from Hebron." And to this they apply that of Absalom, "Let me go, I pray, to Hebron, that I may pay my vow.--And why to Hebron?--R. Bar Bar Chanan saith, He went thither, that thence he might fetch lambs for sacrifice. For the turf was fine, yielding grass acceptable to sheep," &c.
You may observe the situation of Hebron, in respect of Jerusalem, from those things which are related of a daily custom and rite in the Temple. "The president of the service in the Temple was wont to say every morning, Go, and see whether it be time to kill the sacrifice. If it were time, he, that was sent to see, said, It is light. Mathia Ben Samuel said, The whole face of the east is light unto Hebron: to whom another answers, Well," &c. Upon which words Rambam thus; "There was a high place in the Temple, whither he who was sent to see went up; and when he saw the face of the east shining, he said, It is light, &c. And they who were in the court, said, What! As the light is unto Hebron?--That is, Is the light come so far, that thine eyes may see Hebron?--And he answered, Yes." So also the Gloss upon Tamid; "The morning (saith he, who is on the roof) is seen as far as Hebron; because they could see Hebron thence."
"And therefore they made mention of Hebron, (although the east was on that coast), that the memory of the merit of those, that were buried in Hebron, might occur at the daily sacrifice." They are the words of the author of Juchaisn, out of which those are especially to be marked, "Though the east was on that coast"; or, "Though the east were on that quarter of the heaven." Consider which words, and consult the Gemarists upon the place quoted: for they understand those words,--"What! As the light is unto Hebron?"--of the light reaching as far as Hebron; just as the Gloss understands them of his eyes reaching thither that went to look. All which things compared, come at last to this,--if credit may be given to these authors,--that Hebron, however it be placed south of Jerusalem, yet did decline somewhat towards the east, and might be seen from the high towers in the Temple and in Jerusalem. Let the reader judge.
Of Machpelah, the burying-place near Hebron, very many things are said by very many men. The city was called Hebron, that is, a consociation,--perhaps, from the pairs there buried, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their wives.
Not a few believe Adam was buried there in like manner: some, that he was buried once, and buried again. "Adam said, (say they), After my death, they will come perhaps, and, taking my bones, will worship them; but I will hide my coffin very deep in the earth, 'in a cave within a cave.' It is therefore called, the cave Machpelah, or the doubled cave."