[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.
 
1.  Aprachah/Achsapa  
 
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.  
(Aleph-peh-resh-heth-he.)
 
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.
 
2.  Edor/Endor  
 
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.  
(Ayin-dalet-resh.)  
 
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. 
Lebanon.
 
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 
northern Canaan.  
 
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 
Jerusalem.  
 
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 
the Bible.  
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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