[b-hebrew] At Which Bethlehem Did Rachel Die?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jan 9 09:07:55 EST 2008


Genesis 35: 19 tells us that Jacob buried Rachel at Bethlehem.  But there are 
two Bethlehems in Canaan.  At which Bethlehem did Rachel die?
 
Bethlehem of Judea?
 
The more famous Bethlehem, namely Bethlehem of Judea, is located (i) 7 miles 
south of Jerusalem, and (ii) 12 miles north of Hebron.  (Hebron is 19 miles 
south of Jerusalem.)
  
Bethlehem of Galilee?
 
By contrast, Bethlehem of Galilee is located about 100 miles north of 
Jerusalem (120 miles north of Hebron), just north of the Jezreel Valley that was 
dominated by Beth Shan, and on the southern edge of the sphere of influence that 
Sur/Tyre often exercised from southern Lebanon.  [In the Jerusalem Talmud, 
Bethlehem of Galilee is referred to as "Beth Lechem Zoria" (that is, “Bethlehem Sur
”), as it was within the sphere of influence of Sur/Tyre at the time.  We 
have previously noted that Jacob’s Bethel-Luz may be historical Lus, later called 
Dan, in northern Canaan near Sur.  In chapter 35 of Genesis, Jacob leaves 
Bethel-Luz, which likely is in northern Canaan (as opposed to Abraham’s 
Bethel-Ai, which is located between Jerusalem and Shechem in southern Canaan), and 
Jacob comes to Bethlehem (which, if this is Bethlehem of Galilee/Bethlehem Sur, is 
located in northern Canaan, not in southern Canaan south of Jerusalem).]
 
The key point here, in connection with Rachel’s death and burial, is that (i) 
Bethlehem of Judea is located a mere 12 miles north of Hebron, whereas (ii) 
Bethlehem of Galilee is located 120 long miles north of Hebron. 
 
In this post, we will focus on two key lines of text in Genesis that strongly 
suggest that Rachel died at Bethlehem of Galilee, 120 long miles north of 
Hebron, not as usually supposed at Bethlehem of Judea, a mere 12 miles north of 
Hebron.  These two distinct lines of text indicate that Jacob’s family was not 
at or near Hebron when Rachel died.
 
1.  Rachel Is Not Buried at Hebron
 
Genesis 35: 19 says that Jacob buried Rachel at Bethlehem.  Why didn’t Jacob 
bury Rachel at Hebron?
 
Bethlehem of Judea is a mere 12 miles north of Hebron.  Instead of burying 
his favorite wife in an unknown place, why didn’t Jacob take beloved Rachel’s 
body a mere 12 miles south for burial at Hebron?
 
Moreover, we know for certain that Jacob immediately proceeded past Bethlehem 
(going south toward Hebron, on the traditional view of the case), because the 
text tells us:
 
“And [after burying Rachel] Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond 
Migdal-eder.”  Genesis 35: 21
 
Thus Jacob immediately goes beyond Bethlehem.  If Rachel had died at 
Bethlehem of Judea, Jacob would have immediately journeyed south to a locale just a 
few miles (if that) north of Hebron.  So then why not bury beloved Rachel at 
Hebron?
 
This conundrum is instantly resolved once it is realized that Rachel died at 
Bethlehem of Galilee, not Bethlehem of Judea.  It was not possible to carry 
Rachel’s body 120 miles south of Bethlehem of Galilee to Hebron for burial.  
Moreover, at the moment of Rachel’s death, Jacob was still worried about avoiding 
the neighbors of the murdered men of Shechem, so that Jacob could not have 
safely taken the most direct 120-mile route from Bethlehem of Galilee to Hebron.
 
2.  Where Is “That Land” in Which, Shortly After Rachel’s Death, Reuben Has 
His Father’s Concubine Stay in Reuben’s Tent for One Night?
 
Consider now Genesis 35: 21-22:
 
“And [after burying Rachel] Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond 
Migdal-eder [Edor].  And it came to pass, while Israel dwelt in that land, that 
Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine;  and Israel heard of it.”
 
Where is “that land”, where Reuben’s incident occurred?  Surely it cannot be 
a few miles north of Hebron, practically within eyesight of Hebron.  The text 
is referring to some other place, to “that land”, as opposed to areas of 
Canaan where Jacob (age 50 regular years) had lived before, and where Jacob’s 
elderly father Isaac (age 80 regular years) is currently living.
 
The one and only time when a Patriarch is near the Jezreel Valley is when 
Jacob sojourns near Bethlehem of Galilee (Bethlehem Sur).  The area immediately 
north of the Jezreel Valley is a perfect locale to be “that land”, where 
Reuben has his father’s concubine stay one night in Reuben’s tent.
 
3.  Why No Mention of Jerusalem?  What About JEPD?
 
If Jacob is operating so very close to Jerusalem at this time (on the 
traditional view), why would the author (or authors, such as JEPD) bend over 
backwards never to mention Jerusalem?  That makes no sense.  On the traditional view, 
Rachel must have been within eyesight of Jerusalem when she went into labor.  
Why then take such pains never to mention the most important city in the area? 
 If JEPD is making this stuff up over the course of several centuries in the 
mid-1st millennium BCE (not my view), or repeating and re-working old 
traditions (not my view either), why on earth wouldn’t JEPD take this golden 
opportunity to refer to sacred Jerusalem?
 
What JEPD did do, in the mid-1st millennium BCE, was to apply a systematic 
southern Hebrew bias to reinterpret the geographical locations in the truly 
ancient text of the Patriarchal narratives.  “Sur”, the island city-state in 
southern Lebanon, was reinterpreted to be a reference to the western Sinai Desert, 
despite the fact that Isaac is portrayed as getting rich by growing crops 
near Sur.  Jacob’s “Bethel-Luz” was reinterpreted to be the same locale as 
Abraham’s Bethel-Ai, despite the fact that Jacob could not leave the Negev Desert 
and get to Bethel-Ai the first night of his trip out to Harran, whereas Jacob 
could easily travel from near Sur in southern Lebanon to Lus, or Bethel-Luz, in 
one day.  And Rachel’s burial at “Bethlehem” was reinterpreted to mean 
Bethlehem of Judea, even though Jacob would in that event certainly have taken 
beloved Rachel’s body a few more miles south for burial at Hebron.  The story 
makes complete sense if and only if Rachel died at Bethlehem of Galilee, Bethlehem 
Sur, for then we see that Jacob could not travel 120 long miles (and go right 
past still dangerous Shechem) in order to bury beloved Rachel at Hebron.
 
Why should we be stuck today with JEPD’s reinterpretation/misinterpretation 
of the truly ancient Patriarchal narratives?  The text itself has not changed.  
So why not look at that truly ancient text with new eyes, and see that it 
makes perfect sense, in all ways, if we will only drop the 2,500-year-old 
southern Hebrew bias of JEPD? 
 
4.  Conclusion
 
Rachel did not die between Jerusalem and Hebron, at Bethlehem of Judea, a 
mere 12 miles north of Hebron.  No, Rachel is presented in the Patriarchal 
narratives as dying 120 long miles north of Hebron, at Bethlehem of 
Galilee/Bethlehem Sur.  That’s why Jacob did not bury Rachel at Hebron.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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