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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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MACHPELAH. The name of a locality in which, according to the Priestly narrative of the Hexateuch, were situated a field and a cave purchased by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite, to serve as a burial-place for himself and his family ( Genesis 23:17-18 ). Here Sarah was buried by her husband; and subsequently Abraham himself, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob were laid to rest in the same spot ( Genesis 49:31 ). The appellation ‘Machpelah,’ which seems in strictness to designate the site comprehensively, is also applied to the actual field and the cave within it, which are respectively called ‘the field of Machpelah’ ( Genesis 23:19; Genesis 49:30; Genesis 50:18 ) and the ‘cave of Machpelah’ ( Genesis 23:9; Genesis 25:9 ). The place is described as being ‘before Mamre’ ( Genesis 25:9 ), ‘before’ usually meaning ‘east of’ (see Genesis 25:18 , Joshua 13:3 , 1 Kings 11:7 ), just as ‘behind’ signifies ‘west of’ ( Numbers 3:23 ). Mamre, in Genesis 23:19 , is identified with Hebron, which is the modern el-Khalil (‘the Friend,’ i.e . Abraham, cf. Isaiah 41:3 , James 2:23 ), a town built on the sides of a narrow valley, the main portion of it lying on the face of the E. slope. The traditional site of the cave of Machpelah is on the E. hill, so that it would appear that ancient Hebron was built to the west of the modern city, on the W. hill, and that it has subsequently extended into the valley and climbed the opposite declivity.

Above the supposed site of the cave there is now a rectangular enclosure called the Haram , measuring 181 ft. by 93 ft. internally (the longer axis running from N.W. to S.E.), and surrounded by massive walls 40 ft. high, which are conjectured to date from the time of Herod the Great, though some authorities incline to assign them to a still earlier period. At the S.E. end of the quadrangle is a mosque, once a Christian church, 70 ft. by 93 ft., parts of which are attributed to the 12th century. Within the mosque are cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah; in a porch on the N.W. side are those of Abraham and Sarah; whilst at the opposite end of the enclosure are those of Jacob and Leah. The Haram has been but rarely entered by Christians in modern times. King Edward vii. was admitted to it, when Prince of Wales, in 1862; and the present Prince of Wales, with his brother, visited it in 1882. The cave, which is reputed to be the real resting-place of the patriarchs and their wives, is below the floor of the mosque, and is thought to be double, in accordance with a tradition which perhaps is derived from the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] rendering of Machpelah as ‘the double cave.’ The entrances to it, of which there are said to be three, are in the flagged flooring of the building. It is doubtful whether any Christian has been allowed to enter it in modern times.

G. W. Wade.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Machpelah'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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