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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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CAVE (מִעָרָה, חֹד, σπήλαιον).—Caves, both natural and artificial, abound in Palestine; the soft chalky soil of Syria readily lends itself to both. Caves were used in Palestine for a variety of purposes; originally as dwelling-places* [Note: Recent excavations in Palestine have thrown considerable light on Troglodyte dwellings, see PEFSt, 1903, pp. 20–23.] (cf. the ‘Horites’ or ‘cave-dwellers,’ Genesis 14:6; Genesis 36:20 ff., Deuteronomy 2:22, see also Genesis 19:30). In the Haurân there must have been many of these; sometimes regular underground towns, such as the ancient Edrei, existed: [Note: Wetzstein, Reisebericht über Hauran und die Trachonen, p. 44 ff.] even at the present day there may be seen in Gilead (Wâdy Ezrak), a village, named Anab, of Troglodyte dwellers; in this village there are about a hundred families. [Note: Nowack, Hebräische Archäalogie, i. 136.] Caves were used, further, as places of refuge (Judges 6:2, 1 Samuel 13:8; 1 Samuel 14:11, 1 Kings 18:4, Hebrews 11:38, Revelation 6:15), as hiding-places for robbers (Jeremiah 7:11, cf. Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46), as stables,§ [Note: Conder, Tent Work in Palestine, p. 145.] as cisterns,|| [Note: | PEFSt, 1903, p. 315.] as folds for flocks, [Note: Jewish Encycl. iii. 634.] and, above all, as burying-places (Genesis 23:19; Genesis 49:29, John 11:38); the accounts of the burial caves discovered in the lower strata of the site of ancient Gezer are of the highest interest.** [Note: * See PEFSt, 1902, pp. 347–356; 1903, pp. 14–20; 1904, pp. 18–20, 113, 114.]

It is, however, in reference to the place of birth and the place of burial of Christ that the chief interest in caves centres here. Justin Martyr (Dial. circa (about) Tryph. lxxviii.), in recounting the story of the birth of Christ, says that it took place in a cave (ἐν σπηλαίῳ τινι) near the village of Bethlehem.† [Note: † Cf. also Tobler, Bethlehem in Palästina, pp. 145–159; Palmer, ‘Das jetzige Bethlehem’ in ZDPV xvii. p. 89 ff.] That cave stables, both ancient and modern, are to be found in Palestine, admits of no doubt. Conder‡ [Note: ‡ Op. cit. p. 145.] says that there are ‘innumerable instances of stables cut in rock, resembling the Bethlehem grotto. Such stables I have planned and measured at Tekoa, ’Aziz, and other places south of Bethlehem, and the mangers existing in them leave no doubt as to their use and character.’ It seems, therefore, not unreasonable to accept the ancient tradition that Christ was born in a cave. See art. Bethlehem.

Rock-hewn tombs, or caves for burial, were of four distinct kinds: (1) tombs which were cut down into the rock, in the same way in which graves are dug at the present time in European countries; the body was let down into these; (2) tombs cut into the face of the rock, into which the bodies were pushed; (3) tombs, somewhat like the last class, excepting that within, against the wall, there was a kind of step, about two feet high, upon which the body was laid; (4) tombs which were little more than a shelf cut into the rock, just long enough and high enough to hold the body. The first three of these classes varied very much in size; in the case of the first, the top, which was level with the ground, was covered with a stone slab; the others were closed by means of a stone slab which could be pushed aside (Matthew 27:60), or else a small door was fixed at the entrance. Tombs were not infrequently furnished with an antechamber, from which one entered into an inner space, the tomb proper, through a low doorway. As a rule, a raised shelf ran round the burial-chamber, and upon this the body was laid; that part on which the head rested was slightly higher.* [Note: Nowack, Heb. Arch. i. 191; Benzinger, Heb. Arch. pp. 225–227; Latham, The Risen Master, pp. 32 ff., 87, 88, and see the two illustrations at the commencement of the work.] See Burial, Tomb.

The data to be gathered from the Gospels are not numerous; see Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 11:38; John 20:1-12.

Literature.—Guthe in ZDPV [Note: DPV Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins.] , ‘Zur Topographie der Grabeskirche in Jerusalem,’ xiv. 35–40; Schick in ZDPV [Note: DPV Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins.] , ‘Neu aufgedeckte Graber,’ xvi. 202–205, where a very interesting plate is given; T. Tobler, Bethlehem in Palatstina, pp. 124–227, S. Gallen, 1849; Badeker, Palestine and Syria3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. cxi ff., Leipzig, 1898; the references, given above, in PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] . See also W. R Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] 197 f., and the ‘Index of Subjects’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Volume.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Cave'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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