Rachel’s tomb (1 Samuel 10)

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Rachel died near Ephrath, which is another name for Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19, 48:7). Traditionally, her burial place has been located at a medieval building near the town, but 1 Samuel 10:2 indicates that the site was within the tribal territory of Benjamin. Jeremiah 31:5, in which Rachel’s weeping voice is heard “in Ramah”, suggests that the site was actually in the vicinity of Benjamite Ramah, located a few miles north of Jerusalem. Some suggest that there was another Bethlehem nearby, a “Bethlehem of Benjamin”, but evidence for this is slight, and most believe that the only Bethlehem/Ephrath of the Bible was in Juda, south of Jerusalem (according to Joshua 19:15 there was another Bethlehem in Zebulun, but this has no bearing on the burial place of Rachel).

Where, then, was Rachel buried? One possible solution is that she was actually buried in Bethlehem of Judah but that her tomb in Benjamin was a cenotaph, an empty tomb intended to serve as a memorial to a deceased ancestor. Cenotaphs were common in the ancient world, and the Benjamites had a particular reason to so honour Rachel: The matriarch of the tribe, she had died giving birth to Benjamin.

Matthew 2:18 cites Jeremiah 31:15, claiming that this property was fulfilled in the slaughter of the innocents. It appears that Matthew was working from two different perspectives. First, Rachel’s actual burial place was in Bethlehem, where the slaughter took place. Second, Jesus’ suffering and the bloodshed around Him echoed the suffering of Ephraim and Benjamin that Jeremiah 31:15 bewailed.


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