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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Jan 9 17:34:44 EST 2008


Rev. Bryant J. Williams III:
 
1.  You wrote:  “Going 12 miles to bury a body in that period of time, even 
now, in the Middle East would be courting disaster.  Rigor mortis sets in, heat 
in that area would horrendous, etc.  Burial was immediate NOT delayed.”
 
But in the Patriarchal narratives, it simply is not true that “Burial was 
immediate NOT delayed”, as we know in particular from the case of Sarah’s famous 
burial at Hebron:
 
“And Sarah died in Kiriatharba--the same is Hebron--in the land of Canaan;  
and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.  And Abraham rose up 
from before his dead, and spoke unto the children of Heth [sons of the 
Hittites], saying: 'I am a stranger and a sojourner with you:  give me a possession 
of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'  …And 
Abraham hearkened unto Ephron;  and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which 
he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of 
silver, current money with the merchant.  So the field of Ephron, which was in 
Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, 
and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof 
round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of 
the children of Heth [sons of the Hittites], before all that went in at the 
gate of his city.  And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of 
the field of Machpelah before Mamre--the same is Hebron--in the land of Canaan.”
  Genesis 23: 2-4, 16-19 
 
Please note the sequence:
 
(a)  Sarah dies.  Abraham has not yet arranged for any place to bury Sarah at 
the time of her death.
 
(b)  Abraham mourns Sarah’s death.  This is before Abraham starts to try to 
find a place to bury Sarah.
 
(c)  Abraham engages in a lengthy bargaining process with the “sons of the 
Hittites” (that is, the local Hurrians at Hebron) to purchase a burial plot.  
(Most of this lengthy bargaining process is not reproduced in the above 
truncated quotation.)
 
(d)  Abraham pays Ephron the silver for the burial place, and makes sure to 
take proper (oral) title to the burial place.  Sarah still has not been buried.
 
(e)  “And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in…Hebron”.
 
Thus burial did not have to be immediate.  If Rachel had died at Bethlehem of 
Judea, Jacob could have mourned Rachel’s death on the short trip from 
Bethlehem of Judea to Hebron.  Jacob would not need to waste time bargaining with the 
local Hurrians, since his grandfather Abraham had already purchased a fine 
burial ground for the Patriarchs and Matriarchs at Hebron.  And Jacob would not 
need to pay anybody anything for this burial plot at Hebron, which would also 
save precious time.
 
In a word, Jacob could have quickly traveled to Hebron to bury Rachel in the 
family burial plot, if Rachel had died at Bethlehem of Judea, a mere 12 miles 
north of Hebron.
 
Though chapter 37 of Genesis is quite opaque, it is likely that Leah died at 
Shechem, and Jacob took Leah’s body all the way south from Shechem to Hebron 
for burial.  (That is why the flock and Jacob’s older sons are up at Shechem, 
where the family has been living, and Jacob sends young Joseph up from Hebron, 
where Jacob has gone temporarily to bury Leah and to mourn Leah’s death, to 
see how Jacob’s older sons are doing in tending the invaluable family flock of 
sheep and goats.)
 
And although the circumstances are admittedly quite different, note that 
Jacob himself dies in Egypt, but is buried at Hebron in Canaan.
 
The real reason why Jacob never gives a moment’s thought to burying beloved 
Rachel in Hebron is that Rachel died in Bethlehem of Galilee (Bethlehem Sur), 
120 long miles north of Hebron, making it impossible for Jacob to consider 
burying beloved Rachel at Hebron.
 
2.  You wrote:  “Regarding "that land" the Hebrew is referring to the 
previous antecedent, Migdal-eder. The question is where is Migdal-eder?”
 
As will become clear in my next post, I see it as being historical Endor, 35 
miles southeast of Bethlehem of Galilee.  More exciting than that, however, is 
that Bethlehem of Galilee was only 3 miles away from the major city-state of 
Achsapa (referred to in the Amarna Letters), which I view as being Biblical 
Aprachah (Ephrath), which is referenced in chapter 35 of Genesis as basically 
being a twin city of Bethlehem.
 
3.  You wrote:  “Finally, Jerusalem is not mentioned because it is known as 
Salem as early as Genesis 14 with Abraham and Melchizedek. It is not known as 
Jerusalem until
 David captured it in the early 10th Century BCE.”
 
[I wrote this before I read Yigal Levin’s fine post on this same subject, but 
I have decided to post this anyway, without changing what I had written.  
This is such an absolutely critical point to me that I want to emphasize it.]  
Going all the way back to the Execration Texts of Egypt, Jerusalem has always 
been called something like “Jerusalem”, never Salim.  The Amarna Letters from 
the mid-14th century BCE refer to Jerusalem as “Urusalim”.  By contrast to 
Jerusalem, Salim was a “suburb” of Shechem, being a small town in the orbit of 
the major city-state of nearby Shechem.  See Genesis 33: 18, where Salim is 
mentioned immediately before Jacob gets to Shechem.  (“Salim” there means the 
small town of Salim, just east of Shechem, not “in peace”/shalom.)  Abraham has 
been north of Damascus to rescue Lot from the Hittites in chapter 14 of 
Genesis.  Abraham gives Lot back to the King of Sodom at Salim, near Shechem.  
Abraham did not bring Lot back to Jerusalem, nor did the King of Sodom travel to 
Jerusalem to pick up Lot.
 
Neither in the Patriarchal narratives, nor in secular history, is Jerusalem 
ever known as Salim.  Scholars know that.  They don’t say it out loud, though, 
because that would make the Patriarchal narratives look truly ancient in never 
mentioning the city that in the 1st millennium BCE became the Hebrews’ sacred 
city.
 
Only a truly ancient Hebrew composition could feature the early Hebrews being 
at Hebron and Bethel-Ai and Shechem in southern Canaan, and never once 
mention Jerusalem.  That’s an old text!
 
Yigal Levin is such a fine scholar and such a fine person and so 
knowledgeable.  So how then can Yigal Levin possibly think that JEPD made up the 
Patriarchal narratives on a fictional basis in the mid-1st millennium BCE, and somehow 
all four of J, E, P and D “forgot” to ever mention Jerusalem!!!  If you were 
tasked in the mid-1st millennium BCE with creating a fictional account of the 
first Hebrews, wouldn’t the very first fictional sentence you would put in the 
text be something like this:  “And YHWH vouchsafed the city of Jerusalem to 
the Patriarchs and their descendants for all time.”  How could any Hebrew on 
the face of the earth in the mid-1st millennium BCE possibly “forget” to make 
any specific claim whatsoever regarding Jerusalem?  The total absence of 
Jerusalem in the Patriarchal narratives is one key indication that the Patriarchal 
narratives were composed before Jerusalem became a special city for the 
Hebrews, and that the text of the Patriarchal narratives was not subsequently edited. 
 That makes the Patriarchal narratives truly ancient.  There’s no JEPD in 
sight.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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