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Meaning: portion; double cave

This is the cave which Abraham bought, together with the field in which it stood, from Ephron the Hittite, for a family burying-place (Genesis 23).

It is one of those Bible localities about the identification of which there can be no doubt. It was on the slope of a hill on the east of Hebron, “before Mamre.”

Here were laid the bodies of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah (Genesis 23:19; 25:9; 49:31; 50:13).

Overlooking Machpelah and the city of Shechem is Mount Ebal where the first great altar to YHWH was built by Joshua.

Over the cave of Machpelah an ancient Christian church was later erected, probably in the time of the Roman emperor Justinian. This church was later converted into an Islamic mosque. The whole is surrounded by the el-Haram i.e., “the sacred enclosure,” about 200 feet long, 115 broad, and of an average height of about 50. This building, from the immense size of some of its stones, and the manner in which they are fitted together, is supposed by some to have been erected in the days of David or of Solomon, while others ascribe it to the time of Herod. It is looked upon as the most ancient and finest relic of Jewish architecture.

On the floor of the mosque are erected six large cenotaphs as monuments to the dead who are buried in the cave beneath. Between the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah there is a circular opening in the floor into the cavern below, the cave of Machpelah. Here it may be that the body of Jacob, which was embalmed in Egypt, is still preserved (much older embalmed bodies have recently been found in the cave of Deir el-Bahari in Egypt, see PHARAOH), though those of the others there buried may have long ago mouldered into dust.

In the 19th century, the interior of the mosque was visited by the Prince of Wales in 1862 by a special favor of the Islamic authorities. An interesting account of this visit is given in Dean Stanley's Lectures on the Jewish Church. It was also visited in 1866 by the Marquis of Bute, and in 1869 by the late Emperor (Frederick) of Germany, then the Crown Prince of Prussia. In 1881 it was visited by the two sons of the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Sir C. Wilson and others. (See: Palestine Quarterly Statement, October 1882).

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Article Version: April 26, 2022