[b-hebrew] At Which Bethlehem Did Rachel die?
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jan 10 11:19:16 EST 2008
In determining whether Rachel died at Bethlehem of Galilee, as opposed to the
more famous Bethlehem of Judea, two important clues in the text are the names
of the places that chapter 35 of Genesis presents as being close to
Bethlehem: Aprachah and Edor.
To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever come up with good candidates for
what historical places would be Aprachah (traditionally transliterated into
English as “Ephrath”), or Edor (traditionally transliterated into English as “
Eder”, or “Migdal-eder”). According to chapter 35 of Genesis, Aprachah must
be extremely close to Bethlehem, to the point that in some circumstances they
might be conceptualized as being the same place. Edor must be some distance
past Bethlehem, not necessarily very close to Bethlehem. As argued in my prior
post, the story makes sense if and only if none of Bethlehem, Aprachah and
Edor are located close to Hebron, because we know for certain that Jacob did not
bury beloved Rachel at Hebron, even though all the other Patriarchs and
Matriarchs are buried at Hebron. (At the time of Rachel’s death, the audience
knows only that Abraham and Sarah have been buried at Hebron. By reading between
the lines of later chapters in the Patriarchal narratives, we can determine
that at the time of Rachel’s death, both Rebekah and Leah had already died, and
the later text explicitly tells us that both Rebekah and Leah were buried in
honor at Hebron. Of course, Jacob knew all that information about the previous
burials of Rebekah and Leah at Hebron, at the time of Rachel’s death, even
though we the audience do not know that yet at chapter 35 of Genesis.)
As briefly mentioned in my prior post, in chapter 35 of Genesis Jacob starts
out from Bethel-Luz (after fleeing there from Shechem). It is likely that
Bethel-Luz is Luz, which is Lus, a city near Mt. Lebanon that is alternatively
called Lus or Lusi or Laish or Lechem or Dan. If so, then upon leaving Shechem,
Jacob heads back north to Lus/Luz/Bethel-Luz, near Mt. Lebanon, for
consultation with YHWH at the place where YHWH had appeared to Jacob in the Jacob’s
Ladder scene. Jacob then logically decides to proceed southwest, in the general
direction of historical Achsapa, which as we shall now see is located very
close to Bethlehem of Galilee/Bethlehem Sur, with Jacob prudently staying far to
the north of still potentially dangerous Shechem.
If the geography in chapter 35 of Genesis is historical and accurate, then we
need a place, with a name something like Aprachah, that is located extremely
close to Bethlehem of Galilee. That place is historical Achsapa (or Aksapa),
which is well known from the Amarna Letters of the mid-14th century BCE.
The name of the place near Bethlehem at Genesis 35: 16, 19, in connection
with Rachel’s death, could be transliterated into English as Aprachah.
The name “Aprachah” seems somewhat similar to “Achsapa” from the Amarna
Letters (spelled “Aksapa” in Amarna Letters #366 and #367). In secular history,
Bethlehem is, in this time period, a small town or “suburb” located 3 miles
southeast of the important city-state of Achsapa in Galilee in northern
Canaan. That geography fits Genesis 35: 16, 19 perfectly. Jacob is on his way to
an area dominated by the important city-state of Aprachah/Achsapa, of which
Bethlehem of Galilee is a type of “suburb” (small town close to a much bigger
town). Rachel dies. Jacob cannot possibly take beloved Rachel’s body 120 miles
south to Hebron, so Jacob buries Rachel in Bethlehem of Galilee, which is a
type of “suburb” of Aprachah/Achsapa, and is at one point in the text stated
to be Aprachah.
It is perhaps worth noting that in Amarna Letters #366 and #367, the ruler of
Achsapa is “Endaruta”. If that is Endar-uta, then the “Endar” portion of
this leader’s name could be viewed as being vaguely reminiscent of the other
city that is mentioned in connection with Rachel’s death, as the place where
Jacob settles shortly after burying Rachel in Bethlehem: Eder/Edar/Edor.
But the main reference to “Edor” at Genesis 35: 21 would probably be Endor,
located about 35 miles southeast of Bethlehem of Galilee, fairly close to the
Jordan River, in northern Canaan. (From there, Jacob will later decide to
proceed straight south to Hebron, where Jacob plans to retire like the other two
Patriarchs. Jacob prudently waits to do this until Jacob is quite sure that
the neighbors of the murdered men of Shechem will not be launching reprisals.)
On this logical scenario, we see that after burying Rachel at Bethlehem of
Galilee, Jacob slowly proceeds 35 miles east, back toward the Jordan River, at
all times being immediately north of the Jezreel Valley. This fairly brief
sojourning just north of the Jezreel Valley is unique in the Patriarchal
narratives. It is during the short time that Jacob’s family is near the Jezreel
Valley when firstborn son Reuben has one of Jacob’s two minor wives stay in Reuben’
s tent for one night, while the family was in “that land”. The family is
nowhere near Hebron. No, Jacob’s family is in “that land”, namely just north
of the Jezreel Valley, the only time the Patriarchs ever sojourn, if briefly,
in that particular locale.
3. Geographical Perfection
Note how the geography works perfectly on this theory of the case. The names
of the two places mentioned in connection with Bethlehem in the text are
somewhat similar, though not identical. In particular, historical Achsapa, which
seems to be the “Aprachah” in the Biblical text, is fittingly located
extremely close to Bethlehem of Galilee/Bethlehem Sur. It makes perfect sense for
Jacob to be traveling to those places after leaving Lus/Luz/Bethel-Luz near Mt.
Just as surely, the geography on the traditional view of the case is
impossible. Once one travels a day or two past Bethlehem, one is at Hebron, not in “
that land”. And if Jacob were only a day or two away from Hebron, why wouldn’
t Jacob have buried beloved Rachel in Hebron, instead of at a place of no
significance to the Patriarchs? Finally, if Rachel started her labor within
eyesight of Jerusalem, which would seem to have to be the case on the traditional
view, why wouldn’t the text mention Jerusalem?
The closer you look at it, the clearer it becomes. Rachel did not die at
Bethlehem of Judea. No, the Patriarchal narratives present Rachel as dying and
being buried 120 long miles north of Hebron, at Bethlehem of Galilee, in
We should not let the manifest southern Hebrew bias of the mid-1st millennium
BCE Hebrews who reinterpreted/misinterpreted the Patriarchal narratives cloud
our objective analysis of the received text of the Patriarchal narratives.
The “Sur” near which the Patriarchs sojourn is an extremely famous and
important rich island city-state in southern Lebanon, not the western edge of the
uninhabitable Sinai Desert. The “Bethel-Luz” where Jacob has the Jacob’s Ladder
experience is Lus (later Dan) at the foot of Mt. Lebanon in northern Canaan,
not Abraham’s Bethel-Ai between Jerusalem and Shechem in southern Canaan. And
“Bethlehem” in chapter 35 of Genesis is Bethlehem of Galilee (Bethlehem
Sur), in northern Canaan, not Bethlehem of Judea located just south of Jerusalem.
The fact that in later books of the Bible, composed in the mid-1st millennium
BCE, Rachel may be re-conceptualized as having died near Jerusalem, does not
change what the original meaning of the Patriarchal narratives originally was.
It is only the southern Hebrew bias of JEPD which has prevented us from
seeing that the Patriarchal narratives make logical sense if and only if those
three sites are recognized to be in northern Canaan, not southern Canaan near
Indeed, the fact that Jerusalem is never mentioned once in the entirety of
the Patriarchal narratives is a key clue that the text is so ancient that it was
composed before the Hebrews began to view Jerusalem as being a sacred city.
Now that’s an old text!
JEPD could not possibly have composed the Patriarchal narratives. But JEPD
did reinterpret/misinterpret the northern Canaan geographical locales in the
truly ancient text of the Patriarchal narratives. The good thing, though, is
that JEPD made almost no changes to the text of the Patriarchal narratives
itself, so we today can relatively easily determine what geographical areas were in
fact being referenced by the author of the truly ancient Patriarchal
narratives. The fact of the matter is that the Patriarchs are portrayed in Genesis as
spending a very considerable amount of time sojourning in northern Canaan,
the unremitting southern Hebrew bias of JEPD notwithstanding.
Why would we think that YHWH promised primarily southern Canaan to the
Hebrews, with the accent oddly being on the bleak Negev Desert and the uninhabitable
Sinai Desert? Does that make sense? Why shouldn’t the good land of northern
Canaan be an important part of the divine promise to the early Hebrews? It
is, if we look at the text of the Patriarchal narratives objectively, while
shedding the 2,500-year-old southern Hebrew bias of JEPD in the later books of
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