Cave of Machpelah

Cave of Machpelah. By Utilisateur:Djampa – User:Djampa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Twelve-year-old girl lowered into Cave of Machpelah.

Ma‘arat Ha-Machpelah, the cave of Machpelah, where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried, is one of the best-known but least-explored sites in the entire Holy Land. For centuries Jewish, Moslem and Christian pilgrims have wended their way to Hebron, but few have plumbed the cave’s subterranean mysteries.

Above ground, the only complete Herodian edifice still standing marks the site—a magnificent structure, called in Arabic Harama el Khalil, the Enclosure of Abraham (the friend of God). Inside the enclosure is a raised courtyard, a mosque and a network of passages and rooms built over the centuries by numerous conquerors, each wishing to leave his imprint on the patriarchal burial ground.

A rich folklore has developed about the shrine, its history and those buried below. According to Jewish, Christian and Moslem legends, not only are the patriarchs and their wivesb buried at Machpelah, but also Adam and Eve, Esau and the 12 sons of Jacob. Some Jewish traditions hold that the path to the Garden of Eden lies within the cave. Other stories focus on the visitors who were able to bypass the guardians of the shrine, and enter the tombs. Those “insolent” enough to do so, we learn, were almost always punished. Some visitors simply swooned before the glory of the patriarchs; others died in a horrible conflagration; still others were struck blind.

Read the rest of Patriarchal Burial Site Explored for First Time in 700 Years in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.