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machpelah Summary and Overview

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machpelah in Easton's Bible Dictionary

portion; double cave, the cave which Abraham bought, together with the field in which it stood, from Ephron the Hittite, for a family burying-place (Gen. 23). It is one of those Bible localities about the identification of which there can be no doubt. It was on the slope of a hill on the east of Hebron, "before Mamre." Here were laid the bodies of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah (Gen. 23:19; 25:9; 49:31; 50:13). Over the cave an ancient Christian church was erected, probably in the time of Justinian, the Roman emperor. This church has been converted into a Mohammedan mosque. The whole is surrounded by the el-Haram i.e., "the sacred enclosure," about 200 feet long, 115 broad, and of an average height of about 50. This building, from the immense size of some of its stones, and the manner in which they are fitted together, is supposed by some to have been erected in the days of David or of Solomon, while others ascribe it to the time of Herod. It is looked upon as the most ancient and finest relic of Jewish architecture. On the floor of the mosque are erected six large cenotaphs as monuments to the dead who are buried in the cave beneath. Between the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah there is a circular opening in the floor into the cavern below, the cave of Machpelah. Here it may be that the body of Jacob, which was embalmed in Egypt, is still preserved (much older embalmed bodies have recently been found in the cave of Deir el-Bahari in Egypt, see PHARAOH T0002923), though those of the others there buried may have long ago mouldered into dust. The interior of the mosque was visited by the Prince of Wales in 1862 by a special favour of the Mohammedan authorities. An interesting account of this visit is given in Dean Stanley's Lectures on the Jewish Church. It was also visited in 1866 by the Marquis of Bute, and in 1869 by the late Emperor (Frederick) of Germany, then the Crown Prince of Prussia. In 1881 it was visited by the two sons of the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Sir C. Wilson and others. (See Israel Quarterly Statement, October 1882).

machpelah in Smith's Bible Dictionary

(double, or a portion). [HEBRON]

machpelah in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

MACHPE'LAH (double cave), a field in Hebron containing the cave which Abraham bought of Ephron the Hittite as a burial-place for his family. A full account of the negotiations, carried on after the Oriental forms still prevalent, is given in Gen 23. That cave became the burial-place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. Gen 23:19; Gen 25:9; Gen 49:29-32; Gen 50:12-13. The name does not occur except in the book of Genesis. The cave Machpelah is one of the Bible sites which are positively known. It was situated on the western slope of a hill in Hebron, the town lying for the most part to the south and west. Present Appearance. -- A large structure called El Haram, "The Sacred Enclosure," surrounds the ancient cave. It stands high up the slope on the eastern side of the valley, conspicuous at a distance for its size. The outer wall, which contains not a single window, is 194 feet long, 109 feet wide, and from 48 to 58 feet high. The stones are of immense size (one of them 38 feet long and 4 wide), dressed and fitted with great care, and resemble those of the substructure of the temple at Jerusalem. Opinions differ as to the age of this building. Some ascribe it to David or Solomon, others to the period after the Captivity, still others to the time of Herod, who rebuilt the temple; but there seems to be no good reason for disputing the view of Robinson, who regarded the external structure of the Haram as the work of Jewish hands, erected long before the destruction of the nation. Tristram and Stanley also accept the identification of Machpelah as certain, and hold it beyond doubt that the main stone enclosure was built by the kings of Judah, and most probably by Solomon or David. Within the enclosure is a mosque, which was probably erected in the time of Justinian as a Christian church. Visitors are rigidly excluded; but by a special firman of the sultan the Prince of Wales was admitted in 1862. He was accompanied by Dean Stanley, and a full account of the visit is found in Stanley's Jewish Church (first series, appendix ii.). In separate apartments they were shown tombs or cenotaphs purporting to be those of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. These tombs were of stone and overhung with cloth embroidered with gold and silver. Joseph's tomb is shown in a structure joining the Haram on the west side. Between the tombs of Isaac and Mosque at Hebron, covering the Cave at Machpelah. Rebekah was a circular opening into a cavern below, which is supposed to be the real cave of Machpelah. Of the cave itself there is no detailed and trustworthy account. Captain Warren was told that it had not been entered for 600 years. The Moslems have a superstition that whoever attempts to enter it will be struck dead, and their fanaticism causes them to prohibit any one from making the attempt. It is thought to be possible that the embalmed body of Jacob may still be preserved in the cave, as Egyptian mummies have been found of as early a date. Since the visit of the Prince of Wales, the marquis of Bute (1866) and the Crown-Prince of Prussia (1869) have been admitted to the mosque. See Hebron. It is to be hoped that the political changes going on in the East may open the way for explorers to solve the ancient mystery respecting the cave of Machpelah, and perhaps bring to light the embalmed body of Jacob. MAD is the translation of various Hebrew and Greek words, sometimes denoting actual insanity, 1 Sam 21:13-15; 1 Cor 14:23, but generally signifying an uncontrollable excitement only, caused either by fierce wrath, Deut 28:28, Num 32:34; 2 Kgs 9:11; Luke 6:11; Acts 26:11, or the frenzy of idolatrous worship, 1 Kgs 18:26, 1 Kgs 18:28, or real inspiration, 1 Sam 19:21-24; comp. 2 Kgs 9:11; Jer 29:26; Acts 2:13. Only once in Scripture is madness connected with demoniacal possession. John 10:20. Among the Orientals, as among all semi-civilized people, madness was generally looked upon partly with pity, because God's hand was laid heavily on the madman, partly with reverence, because the mad mind, being shut up against all ordinary impressions, was considered open to supernatural or spiritualistic influences. Thus it became possible for David to effect his escape from the court of Achish by feigning madness. 1 Sam 21:13-15.

machpelah in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

The tract containing the field and cave in the end of Ephron's field, which Abraham bought as his burying ground from Ephron and the sons of Heth (Genesis 23:9); his only possession in the land of promise. All ancient versions translated Machpelah "the double cave," from kaphal, "to divide or double". Either there were two entrances or two receptacles for bodies. Gesenius derives it from a root, "portion." A mosque now covers it. The sacred precinct (harem) is enclosed by a wall, the oldest in Israel. The masonry is more antique than the S.W. wall of the haram at Jerusalem; one stone is 38 ft. long, 3 1/4 ft. deep. The beveling is shallow, and at latest belongs to the age of Solomon; Jewish ancient tradition ascribes it to David. It lay near Hebron. (See HEBRON.) The sepulchers of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah are shown on the mosque floor; but the real sepulchers are in the cave below the floor; the cave opens to the S., and the bodies were laid with their heads to the N.