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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Jan 11 09:01:36 EST 2008

On my view, Biblical “Edor”, or “Migdal-eder”, in chapter 35 of Genesis is 
historical “Endor”, a fortified town 35 miles southeast (mostly east) of both 
Bethlehem of Galilee and the only other fortified city in the area:  
Achsapa/Aprachah/“Ephrath”.  Biblical Edor is the place to which Jacob goes 
immediately after Rachel’s death.
1.  The word “migdal” literally means “tower”, but in the ancient world, 
when applied to a town, “migdal” generally meant that the town was a fortified 
town.  Thus “migdal” was shorthand for “the fortified town of”.
On that analysis, “Migdal-eder” means “the fortified town of Edor”.
2.  As to the spellings in Hebrew and English, “Edor” is ayin-dalet-resh.  
As is very often the case in Hebrew, no vowel-type sound is explicitly set 
forth for the second syllable.  So the traditional “Eder” in English could just 
as easily be “Edor”, or even “Edar”.
As to “Endor”, Endor is referenced as an important city in northern Canaan 
at Joshua 17: 11.  “Endor” is ayin-yod-nun -- dalet-vav-resh.  There, the 
second syllable has the vowel sound explicitly set forth, so the second syllable 
is “-dor” in English.  [Or it could be “-dar”, giving us “Edar”/“Endar”.  
The first portion of the name of the leader of Achsapa/Aprachah/“Ephrath” in 
the mid-14th century BCE was “Endar-uta”.  If “E-”, which is literally an 
ayin, as a prefix is comparable to “En-” as a prefix, where “En” is merely the 
formal, full spelling of “ayin”, as discussed below, then Jacob is neatly 
sojourning between “Endar” (the leader of Achsapa/Aprachah/“Ephrath”), and “
Endor” (the historical fortified town 35 miles southeast of there).  By having no 
explicit vowel in the second syllable of this town’s name in chapter 35 of 
Genesis, this town can be viewed as being either “Endor”, or “Endar”, or both.]
Note that for the name of the historical town of “Endor” in northern Canaan, 
it is quite clear that the first syllable is a prefix, so that this name 
could alternatively, and properly, be set forth in English as “En-dor”.  Many 
cities in Canaan started with “En-” as a prefix, with “En-“ meaning “fountain”.
3.  When one compares “Edor” to “Endor”, the key to the analysis is if the 
first syllable is, in each case, viewed as being a prefix.  If so, then we 
have “E-dor” and “En-dor”.  
The second syllable, being the main syllable, is spelled differently, but the 
pronunciation may have been identical.  “En-dor” explicitly records the 
vowel sound, being spelled dalet-vav-resh, whereas as noted above, “E-dor” simply 
leaves the vowel sound implicit, being spelled dalet-resh.  With the second 
syllables arguably being identical, except for slightly different spellings, 
all attention then shifts to the first syllable.
The “En” in “En-dor” is the formal, full spelling of “ayin”, whereas the E 
in “E-dor” is literally an ayin.  “En” as a prefix means a “fountain”, 
so-called because of its resemblance to an eye.  An ayin is an eye.  “E”/ayin as 
an archaic prefix could arguably have exactly the same meaning, as an ayin is 
an eye, and ayin means either “eye” or “fountain”.  If the first syllable 
is viewed as a prefix in each case, “E” in “E-dor” may be identical to “En” 
in “En-dor”.  The ayin in E-dor is short for ayin-yod-nun in “En-dor”, with 
each prefix in effect being an ayin and having the identical meaning:  
fountain (for its resemblance to an eye).
Thus linguistically, “E-dor” at Genesis 35: 21 may be virtually 
indistinguishable from “En-dor” at Joshua 17: 11, with the reference in both cases being 
to a well-known, fortified city in northern Canaan near the Jordan River. 
4.  The traditional explanation of Migdal-eder as meaning “shepherd’s 
watchtower” makes no sense.  Why would Jacob journey south of Bethlehem until he 
reached a shepherd’s watchtower?
Rather, the phrase “migdal Edor” (or “Migdal-eder”) almost certainly means 
that Edor was a fortified town, having a tower/migdal.  That is to say, Jacob 
is sojourning between, and just beyond, two fortified towns:  Achsapa/Aprachah/
“Ephrath” on the west, and Edor/Endor/“Migdal-eder” on the east.  Note how 
Genesis 35: 21, quoted below, makes perfect logical, natural sense if Jacob is 
sojourning between two fortified towns with names like this in northern 
There were in fact no such fortified towns at all between Bethlehem of Judea 
and Hebron.  That cardinal fact was certainly known by the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives, by each of J, E, P and D, and by all southern Hebrews in 
all time periods.  Endor, in northern Canaan, was probably a fortified town, 
based on the amount of debris found there by archaeologists.  Achsapa/Aprachah/“
Ephrath” was a fortified town, and the next fortified town to the southeast was 
Endor, some 35 miles southeast (mainly east) of Achsapa/Aprachah/“Ephrath”.  
So it is logical for the text of chapter 35 of Genesis to tell us that having 
left the area of the fortified city of Achsapa/Arachah/“Ephrath” and its 
outlying “suburb” of Bethlehem of Galilee/Bethlehem Sur, Jacob slowly made his 
way a long way east to, and then a ways beyond, the next fortified city in the 
area:  Endor/Edor/Migdal-eder.
Jacob is not dallying between Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron at a shepherd’s 
watchtower, almost within eyesight of his ancestral home of Hebron where his 
elderly father Isaac is living, and where all the other Patriarchs and 
Matriarchs are or will be buried.  That makes no sense.  Rather, Jacob is sensibly 
sojourning in northern Canaan between two fortified cities, each of which has a 
migdal/tower, and the second of which is explicitly stated in the text to have a 
migdal/tower.  Jacob does not want to go to his ancestral homeland in 
southern Canaan until Jacob is certain there will be no reprisals against the Hebrews 
for the killing of the men of Shechem.  
5.  The phrasing of Genesis 35: 21 emphasizes that Jacob traveled a very 
considerable distance after leaving Bethlehem.  It is impossible that Jacob is 
operating between Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron, a mere 12 miles south of 
Bethlehem of Judea.  Here is the wording:
“And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond Migdal-eder.”  Genesis 35: 
The word translated there as “beyond”, namely he-lamed-aleph-he/haleah, has 
the connotation in Hebrew of being a significant distance:  “further”.
This activity simply cannot be happening between Bethlehem and Hebron.  There 
is not enough space (a mere 12 miles), there is no fortified town between 
Bethlehem and Hebron that could rate the description “migdal”/tower, and Jacob 
must be within eyesight of Hebron already.  Nothing makes sense, if “Bethlehem”
 in chapter 35 of Genesis is referring to Bethlehem of Judea, south of 
Jerusalem.  Just as surely, every aspect of this story makes complete sense, 
geographically and logically, if the “Bethlehem” where Rachel dies is Bethlehem of 
Galilee/Bethlehem Sur, in northern Canaan, just north of the Jezreel Valley.
One thing we would all agree upon, I believe, is that the authors of the 
Bible, whoever they might be and whenever they lived, knew their geography quite 
well, especially in their own backyard:  the area between Jerusalem and Hebron. 
 How on earth could chapter 35 of Genesis being envisioning a vast tract of 
space between Bethlehem and Hebron, which everyone knew did not exist?  And how 
could chapter 35 of Genesis be imagining a fortified city between Bethlehem 
and Hebron, a city with a migdal/tower, which everyone knew did not exist?  Is 
that a sensible reading of the text?
No, chapter 35 of Genesis makes geographical and logical sense if, and only 
if, Rachel died at Bethlehem of Galilee, in northern Canaan.  When everything 
fits that locale, and nothing at all fits the locale of Bethlehem of Judea, the 
answer should be clear.  The Patriarchal narratives portray Rachel as dying 
at Bethlehem of Galilee, far too far away for Jacob to have any thought of 
burying beloved Rachel at Hebron, 120 long miles to the south.
Why fight the text?  The text is perfect, as is.  The received text of the 
Patriarchal narratives makes perfect sense, in all ways, if we can just get the 
geography right.  
The Patriarchs sojourn in northern Canaan as well as in southern Canaan.  YHWH
’s grand promise to the Hebrews of the Promised Land, as portrayed in the 
Patriarchal narratives, is not limited to southern Canaan and the Negev Desert, 
but rather manifestly extends to northern Canaan as well.  It all makes perfect 
sense, if we can manage to overcome the unremitting southern Hebrew bias of 
the rest of the Bible.  The rest of the Bible reinterprets/misinterprets Rachel 
as having died near Jerusalem.  But that is not what the Patriarchal 
narratives say.  Rather, Rachel is portrayed in the Patriarchal narratives as dying at 
Bethlehem of Galilee/Bethlehem Sur, in northern Canaan, a part of the world 
that is an integral part of the Promised Land as portrayed in the truly ancient 
Patriarchal narratives.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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