The cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23)

Genesis 23

Until his wife’s death, Abraham wandered through Canaan as a nomadic herdsman. Needing a burial plot for Sarah, he purchasedhi first small slice of the vast territoryGod had promised his descendants (Gen. 15:18). The purchase included the burial cave and the field in which it was located, both known as Machpelah and located in Hebron. The writer of Genesis carefully noted that Sarah, Abraham (25:9-10) and Isaac (35:27-29) were all buried in his cave. Later, upon his deathbed in Egypt, Jacob/Israel instructed that his bones were to be brought to Canaan and buried at this location along with those of his grandfather (Abraham) and grandmother (Sarah), father (Isaac), mother (Rebeca) and wife (Leah). See 49:29-32 and 50:13.
Not surprisingly, the Israelites rememberd this cave throughout the ages. A monumental enclosure was built over the site during the days of Herod the Great. This beautiful 200 by 110 foot (61 x 33,5m) structure, bearing a remarkable architectural similarity to Herod’s temple mount in Jerusalem, is stll intact today. Inside it, above ground, six large, medival cenotaphs (empty tombs serving as monuments) commemorate the patriachs and the matriarchs buried there.
A Byzantine church later constructed inside this enclosure has been converted back and forth from church to mosque following successive chages of rule (and thereby religion) in the area. During the fourteenth century A.D. Muslims sealed the subterranean structures beneath the compound, but cladestine investigations have since been carried out. One twentieth-century examination, under the direction of Israel’s Moshe Dyan, involved the nighttime lowering of a twelve-year-old girl, equipped with camera. into the tomb area! Investigators reported the existence of a staircase, a long hallway and a simple room.


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