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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Scriptural Data:
The cave belonged to Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, from whom Abraham purchased it for 400 shekels of silver (Genesis 23:8-16 ). It is described as "before," i.e. "to the East of" Mamre (Genesis 23:17 ) which (Genesis 23:19 ) is described as the same as Hebron (see, too, Genesis 25:9; Genesis 49:30; Genesis 50:13 ). Here were buried Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. (Compare however the curious variant tradition in Acts 7:16 , "Shechem" instead of "Hebron.")
2. Tradition Regarding the Site:
3. The Charam at Hebron:
The space containing the traditional tombs is a great quadrangle 197 ft. in length (Northwest to Southeast) and 111 ft. in breadth (Northeast to Southwest). It is enclosed by a massive wall of great blocks of limestone, very hard and akin to marble. The walls which are between 8,9 ft thick are of solid masonry throughout. At the height of 15 ft. from the ground, at indeed the level of the floor within, the wall is set back about 10 inches at intervals, so as to leave pilasters 3 ft. 9 inches wide, with space between each of 7 ft. all round. On the longer sides there are 16 and on the shorter sides 8 such pilasters, and there are also buttresses 9 ft. wide on each face at each angle. This pilastered wall runs up for 25 ft., giving the total average height from the ground of 40 ft. The whole character of the masonry is so similar to the wall of the Jerusalem
The southern end of the great enclosure is occupied by a church - probably a building entirely of the crusading period - with a nave and two aisles. The rest is a courtyard open to the air. The cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca are within the church; those of Abraham and Sarah occupy octagonal chapels in the double porch before the church doors; those of Jacob and Leah are placed in chambers near the north end of the
4. The Cave:
It is over this cave that the chief mystery hangs. It is not known whether it has been entered by any man at present alive, Moslem or otherwise. While the cave was in the hands of the Crusaders, pilgrims and others were allowed to visit this spot. Thus Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, writing in 1163 AD, says that "if a Jew comes, who gives an additional fee to the keeper of the cave, an iron door is opened, which dates from the times of our forefathers who rest in peace, and with a burning candle in his hand the visitor descends into a first cave which is empty, traverses a second in the same state and at last reaches a third which contains six sepulchres - those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, one opposite the other.... A lamp burns in the cave and upon the sepulchre continually, both night and day." The account reminds us of the condition of many Christian tomb-shrines in Palestine today.
It would appear from the description of modern observers that all entrance to the cave is now closed; the only known approaches are never now opened and can only be reached by breaking up the flags of the flooring. Through one of the openings - which had a stone over it pierced by a circular hole 1 ft. in diameter - near the northern wall of the old church, Conder was able by lowering a lantern to see into a chamber some 15 ft. under the church. He estimated it to be some 12 ft. square; it had plastered walls, and in the wall toward the Southeast there was a door which appeared like the entrance to a rock-cut tomb. On the outside of the
The evidence, historical and archaeological seems to show that the cave occupies only the south end of the great quadrilateral enclosure under part only of the area covered by the church. See
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Machpelah'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/m/machpelah.html. 1915.