Destruction of Joseph’s Burial Sparks Indignation

Mar 10, 2003 02:13 PM EST

Israel -- The destruction of the sacred burial site of the patriarch Joseph has left Israeli government officials indignant. The destruction comes at the wake of the 107the congress decision to bar all aid to the Palestinian authority, should they continue to vandalize Jewish artifacts.

Entry to the tomb of the patriarch Joseph, which is located in Nablus, has been forbidden since October 2002, due to Palestinian control of the city. The Jewish group; The Jewish group known as the Bratslave Hassidim continued to enter illegally, and found the destruction of the site, late February.

"The grave was pounded with hammers. The tree at the entrance is broken," Bratslav leader Aaron Klieger. Car parts and trash littered the tomb, which has a "huge hole in its dome," he added.

Seminary professor views the destruction as a tragic loss for students of biblical archaeology.

"It's a travesty to all humankind when traditional or archaeological sites are destroyed -- sites that are revered and respected-regardless of who does it in the name of science or war or anger," said Steve Andrews, professor of Old Testament and archaeology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

Israeli official, Natan Sharansky ties the destruction to extreme religious intolerance.

"We are talking about the tomb of one of the fathers of our nation," said Natan Sharansky, Israel's construction and housing minister. "I do not know who should be criticized more here, those who destroyed it, or ourselves for ignoring it."

Natan calls on the Israeli government to take action by publicizing details of the destruction.

“Imagine for a second that if, God forbid, one of the graves of a Moslem holy man were to be damaged, the Muslims would be on the barricades and the United Nations would pass one resolution after another, and they would be correct in doing so," he said.

Professor Andrews agrees with Sharansky’s suggestion to increase protection of all sacred Middle Eastern sites.

"I think that this needs to be an issue in the whole peace plan -- that traditional sites would be revered and respected so that we're not going to see New Testament Jericho desecrated or we're not going to see anyone try and storm the Temple Mount to remove the Islamic people from it. It works both ways," said Andres

Andrews, the director of Midwestern Seminary’s Morton Seats Institute of Archaelogy and Antrhopology explained the significance of Joseph’s tomb; it is a “traditional site” that lacks concrete evidence to connect it to the biblical event, nonetheless, it is revered by many as sacred.

"Joseph was embalmed in Egypt, and the promise was to carry his bones out of Egypt and burry them in Canaan," Andrews said. "They buried the embalmed body somewhere in Shechem area (modern-day Nablus). We don't have the evidence to say this is exactly the place where he was buried. It's just revered by tradition."

Other examples of traditional sites include David’s tomb on Mt. Zion, Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus is allegedly buried.

Emphasizing the archaelogical value of the site, Andrews noted that the site was “revered and held to be special by Jews.”

"There may be antiquity there, and as such it needs to be studied," he said.

The Cantor who led the 107th Israeli congress offered the Temple Mount Preservation Act as a means to protect such traditional sites. The bill would withhold U.S. financial aid to the Palestinians until vandalism has stopped.

In introducing his bill, Cantor noted the amount of U.S. aid given to the Palestines each year, and proposed that such aid be suspended until destruction of religious artifacts halts.

"Anybody with any reasonable perspective would hold that the Temple Mount should be preserved and any disturbance thereon closely monitored," he said.

"This issue has implications not only for my constituents in Virginia, but for individuals across the globe."

Andrews supported of the bill to protect Middle Eastern historical sites, noting that such legislation would be "appropriate if it also includes withholding funds from Israel if it destroys Palestinian sites, or any other nation that would seek to destroy the ancient things that would need to be respected as sacred sites or revered sites by any nation."

"It underscores our need to really pray earnestly for the peace of Jerusalem," he said, "... and to help them come to know the Prince of Peace.... [T]he only way I think peace will come is if all the parties concerned would receive the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he continued.

Ultimately, the 107the Congress did not pass the proposed legislation.

By Pauline J.