“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.”
Genesis 25:8-10, NIV
There are so many strange names and places in the Bible it’s easy to just keep reading without digging into the details. But the details contain evidence for the historicity of the Scriptures, even if we don’t appreciate them. Just because we’re dealing with “long ago and far away” doesn’t mean we’re reading fairy tales.
For all their pratfalls and controversies, archaeology and history have a lot to offer in terms of making sense of obscure names and places. Take the “cave of Machpelah near Mamre” in Genesis 25 for instance. It turns out that this cave is a well-known place, also known as the “Cave of the Patriarchs.” The cave is memorialized in Judaism underneath the only fully surviving Herodian structure from the first century. According to the biblical accounts in Genesis, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah—the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people—were all buried in this cave. We are also told in Genesis 23 that Abraham paid Ephron the Hittite 400 Shekels of silver for the cave, the field, and all the trees in the field. Pretty detailed information.
The Cave of the Patriarchs is located in Hebron, in the Palestinian West Bank. This site is considered the second holiest site in Judaism (after the Western Wall of the Temple Mount). Hebron was traditionally viewed as one of the “four holy cities of Islam.” Consequently, the site has been scorched with violence over the millennia. It’s very risky to go there today among the automatic weaponry and rocks.
What’s really astonishing is how little people know about Patriarchal history. If you want a fascinating read, filled with intrigue, that corroborates the Bible:
- Read the Wikipedia article on the Cave of the Patriarchs;
- (Don’t miss Moshe Dayan’s attempt to explore the cave described in that article);
- Or the attempts of others to get close to the remains;
- And check out at least one of the scores of amateur videos showing the inside and outside of the Mosque/Synagogue containing the cenotaphs (not tombs).
As with many ancient sites, myth and legend have mixed with history—the entrance to the Garden of Eden? Really?! Definitely not in the Bible. But clearly there is real archaeological and historical provenance at this site that matches up nicely with the text in Genesis.