The story of this project must begin in 1979, for it was then that Ron met a young Arab man in Jerusalem at a restaurant he and his boys frequented- and this young man told Ron of something very strange that was happening at his family’s home in Hebron. (To protect the family’s identity, we will call the young Arab man “James”.)
Surprisingly, James led him right to his family home with no stops. The family is very large- many brothers- and they all lived in the area, some at home with their mother, and some had their own homes. He took Ron to the site and Ron saw nothing. Nothing, that is, except limestone swelling up from beneath the surface of the earth like a giant balloon buried under them. To Ron, this suggested perhaps a cave under their feet. He picked up a large rock and threw it down hard upon the limestone and the resulting thump resounded through the area like a large hollow drum. So he asked James if there was a cave anywhere in the area. The answer was yes. He showed Ron an entrance to a cave which was too small to enter; a site which had become a depositary for discarded junk, just as the site he was excavating in Jerusalem. (When he first pointed to the area he later excavated for the Ark, it too was a junk pile area.)
The family was serious about their story- they were a bit frightened about the lights they had seen there. And Ron was puzzled- he couldn’t do anything to help them. But he knew the circumstances that had led him here were not of the ordinary sort. And from the beginning, Ron suspected that this was probably the site of the real cave of Machpelah- the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives. But for the next 14 years, he never saw the site again.
James went back to work in the restaurant where Ron had met him. But in the mid 1980s, James had the misfortune of visiting in Jordan at the wrong time. Ron later learned that he happened to be there at a point in time when a mandate was passed that all Arabs out of the country of Israel at that time could not return. And to this day, Ron has never seen James again, although he has spoken with him numerous times by telephone.
In April of 1993, Ron returned to Israel. I went with him, as did Lloyd Hiler, a surgeon from Memphis, Tennessee. Leaving Lloyd and I in Jerusalem, Ron went alone for the initial visit, then came and told us to get our bags- we were going to stay at the site. Now, Hebron is an area of a great deal of tension. An American woman would be very conspicuous, so I had to stay out of sight most of the daytime hours. Even Lloyd and Ron had to be careful about being seen. We stayed indoors the rest of the day. That night, under the full moon, we all went to the site in the midst of all the homes. It was a garden area and the brothers had planted fruit trees and all sorts of herbs in the area, so we had to watch carefully where we walked. We stood up on that high plain and looked out where we could see Tel Aviv off in the distance. The brothers told us how they were able to see the scud missiles fall there during the Gulf war. But as we chit-chatted, Ron was nonchalantly doing electronic scanning of the site. After about 1 1/2 hours, we went back in the house we were to stay in. Ron, Lloyd and I all camped in one room- Ron and I on a mattress on the floor and Lloyd on a couch. In the next room was one of the wives and the daughter of a brother who had 2 wives. He told us he would stay with his other wife that night, who lived in a house just about 20 feet away. I had a hard time with that situation- I liked both wives equally and I couldn’t imagine living in such a situation. But I must say, they seemed quite happy, although I never saw the 2 wives together.
Finally morning came and we all awoke, anxious and a bit nervous. The brothers had been busy even before we awoke. A plan had been formulated the night before. The family would dig underground into the site- their “cover story” for curious onlookers would be that they were digging a well. They did not want other prying eyes to know what they were really doing. This meant that Ron couldn’t participate in the actual excavation, at least not for the time being.
I never got to go back to the site in the back yard again that trip, even though it was only about 100 steps from the house. Work had begun and I had to stay out of sight. Ron and Lloyd would each go back there at times, but they didn’t dare takes cameras. The trick was going to be in avoiding attention of the neighboring family members. We all knew that the motivation of the family was more than just finding Abraham’s burial site- they sensed that this could be something that could bring good fortune to the family. And that was fine with us. After all, it is their land.
Finally, we decided to come back home. If we changed our airline tickets, it would cost a lot extra. The initial work of digging would be slow and we could do nothing to help. The entire family was extremely gracious to us all and we grew to love the children, especially the little 4 year old girl who lived in the house we were staying in. She had been so shy with us the first day. But the second day, when I began to talk “bird talk” to her little pet finches like she did, she warmed right up. She recited both the Arabic and the English alphabet and tried desperately to teach me the Arabic alphabet. I was a total failure- she would repeat the Arabic letters to me, pressing my cheeks together with her little hands exactly like I’m sure her teacher did to her when she was learning her pronunciation. When I would say it all wrong, she and her mother would just giggle and then- so as not to make me feel embarrassed- they would repeat it over and over again for me. I videotaped this entire scenario and I will never forget how stupid I felt. This little 4 year old knew my alphabet by heart, but I couldn’t even say hers. And to think, we have children in this country who can’t even read when they graduate.
stranger in the midst. They had gotten to know Ron, Lloyd and I, and for a short while, Marty said, the brothers acted very suspicious. But Marty very quickly won their confidence and the brothers proudly showed them the work they had been doing- they showed them the cave. The excitement at entering the cave was offset for Ron and Marty by the sudden realization that the work was just beginning. The cave had been damaged by an earthquake and lots of dirt was in the bottom. Ron had them dig one place to see how far down the floor of the cave was- it was about 5 1/2 feet. But most disappointing was the fact that there were no bones there. In fact, there was nothing except broken pieces of a very large flattish bowl which dates from the time of Abraham. But, there were what appeared to be 3 giant-sized crypts and a smaller, shelf-like section carved into one wall which was a little above waist level. There were holes in the walls around the cave entrance which clearly looked like attachments for some type of door. There were holes which were set in the wall at an angle, which appeared to be for torches to be set in the wall.
But of equal interest was the ancient building above the cave. Ron had seen this structure years earlier but since he didn’t know exactly where the cave was, he didn’t associate the building with the cave. But once inside the cave, they found what looked to be a “vent” hole in the ceiling of the cave, and discovered that the building was built directly over this hole. While the “vent” hole is now plugged with rocks, it may be that initially the building was built to cover this open vent and prevent rain, snow and debris from falling into the tomb. At the same time, the building’s design indicates that it was erected as a type of monument, as it is about the same size as the cave.
In a few days, Lloyd arrived and all three men carefully documented the evidence. They videoed and photographed. They measured everything. Samples of the material from the floor of the cave and each crypt were taken, which will be examined in laboratories for evidences. And then, Ron, Marty and Lloyd headed home.
The work is not near finished. The brothers are, as I write this, sifting through the soil and debris in the floor of the cave, searching for anything that will give evidence. Now, we will share with you the evidence at the site, and hopefully by the next newsletter, we will have the evidence we believe is there. As we all reviewed the video tapes and photographs, we realize we are in the same situation we were at in 1990 with Sodom and Gomorrah- we believed without a doubt that those were the ashen remains of the cities of the plain. But we didn’t have the definitive evidence until we found the sulfur capsules throughout the ash. Today, we really believe this site to be the cave of Machpelah- the evidence has revealed nothing which would negate that conclusion. And we won’t stop work until we find the evidence we believe is there, or until the Lord intervenes.