[b-hebrew] At Which Bethlehem Did Rachel Die?
avi.wollman at gmail.com
Thu Jan 10 06:48:46 EST 2008
Others contend that Rachel's Tomb is located in northern Jerusalem at a site local Arabs call "the grave of the sons of Israel" which is near present day A-Ram, the site of Biblical Ramah. The place is mentioned in the "Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible as the site of Rachel's burial when King Saul visits the site, in I Samuel 10:2
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of JimStinehart at aol.com
Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2008 12:35 AM
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [b-hebrew] At Which Bethlehem Did Rachel Die?
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
(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
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
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
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