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Rachel’s Tomb

RACHEL’s TOMB. According to Genesis 35:19, 20 Jacob set up a pillar over Rachel’s grave, a landmark still existing at the time of Samuel (1 Sam 10:2). E. P. Eddrupp noted: “As Rachel is the first related instance of death in childbearing, so this pillar over her grave is the first recorded example of the setting-up of a sepulchral monument” (A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. by W. Smith, II [1863], 989).

Many scholars think that the Bible presents two divergent traditions with regard to the site of the grave. S. H. Hooke argued that (a) according to Genesis 35:16; 1 Samuel 10:2 and Jeremiah 31:15, Ephrath, the stated site (Gen 35:19), lay on the N border of Benjamin, c. ten m. N of Jerusalem; but (b) according to Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 it was near Bethlehem, presumably S of Jerusalem (HBDrev., 830). Moreover, the traditional site is one m. N of Bethlehem and four m. S of Jerusalem. S. V. Fawcett added that Matthew’s quotation of Jeremiah 31:15 with reference to the slaughter of the infants around Bethlehem (Matt 2:16-18) would indicate that he accepted the traditional view (IDB, IV, 5). Regarding the identification of Ephrath with Bethlehem as a late, erroneous gloss both of these men rejected the traditional site and preferred an unidentified Ephrah in the N of Benjamin.

Josephus and the Talmudists agree in placing her tomb near Bethlehem. Origen, Eusebius and Jerome accepted this site. Later the pilgrims described it as a pyramid formed of twelve stones. The Crusaders rebuilt it, erecting a building twenty-three ft. square formed by four columns bound by pointed arches twelve ft. wide and twenty-one ft. high, the whole crowned by a cupola. In 1788 the arches were walled up giving it the appearance of a weli. In 1841 Sir Moses Montefiore obtained for the Jews the key of Qubbet Rahil, and added a poor square vestibule with a mihrab for Moslems (E. Hoade, Guide to the Holy Land [reprinted 1969], 347).

Bibliography In addition to commentaries on Genesis and Samuel see E. Hoade, Guide to the Holy Land (reprinted 1969), 346, 347.

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Mr. Nathan Strauss, of New York City, has purchased the land surrounding Rachel’s grave for the purpose of erecting a Jewish university in the Holy Land.