Muslim holds ancient key to Jesus tomb
site in Jerusalem
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[November 30, 2017]
By Rinat Harash
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - As dark falls, Adeeb
Joudeh, a Muslim, makes his way through the stone alleyways of
Jerusalem's walled Old City cradling the ancient key to one of
Christianity's holiest sites.
Centuries ago, the imposing iron key to the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre, built where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and
buried, was entrusted to his family, one of Jerusalem's most prominent
clans, says Joudeh.
He dates the arrangement back to the time of Saladin, the Muslim
conqueror who seized the holy city from the Crusaders in 1187.
"Honestly, it's a great honor for a Muslim to hold the key to the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the most important church in
Christendom," Joudeh, 53, said.
Another of the city's oldest Muslim families, the Nusseibehs, were
entrusted with the duty of opening and closing the church doors, a task
they perform to this day. It requires firm fingers: The key is 30 cm (12
inches) long and weighs 250 grams (0.5 pounds).
Historians differ on the roots of the arrangement. Some researchers say
Saladin most likely bestowed the guardianship upon the two families in
order to assert Muslim dominance over Christianity in the city. It also
had financial implications, with a tax from visitors collected at the
Documentation, however, only goes back to the 16th century, Joudeh said,
displaying dozens of "Fermans", or royal decrees by rulers of the
Ottoman empire, bestowing the key custodianship upon his family.
Jerusalem's Old City today houses sites that are sacred to all three
major monotheisms. It and other east Jerusalem areas were captured by
Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.
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Adeeb Joudeh, a Muslim, displays the ancient keys to the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre, during an interview with Reuters at his home
near Jerusalem's Old City November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israel has since declared the entire city its undivided capital.
This status is not recognized internationally and is rejected by the
Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as capital of a state they hope
Joudeh says his key is about 800 years old. Another copy he holds
broke after centuries of use.
"I started learning this when I was eight years old. It's handed
down from father to son," said Joudeh. "I have been doing this for
30 years and I feel that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is my
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share
custody of the church, where tensions often run high over control of
its various sectors.
Christianity scholar Yisca Harani said having Muslim families in
charge of the key and the doors helps somewhat in keeping the peace
between the denominations.
"The church is definitely a model of co-existence," Harani said.
(Editing by Maayan Lubell and Richard Balmforth)
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