The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Cave of the Patriarchs

(Redirected from Cave of Machpelah)

The Cave of the Patriarchs is considered to be the spiritual center of the ancient city of Hebron in the Judean part of what is collectivelly known by the world as the West Bank. It is called in Hebrew Me-arat Hamachpelah: "The Cave of the 'double' caves or tombs", because (according to Jewish tradition) its hidden twin caves are considered to be the burial place of four "pairs" of important Biblical couples: (1) Adam and Eve; (2) Abraham and Sarah; (3) Isaac and Rebekah; (4) Jacob and Leah.


Book of Genesis

It is mentioned as having been purchased by the Hebrew patriarch Abraham as a burial plot for his family after his wife Sarah dies (Book of Genesis, 23 [1]): "He bought a plot of land near Hebron from Ephron the Hittite, the Cave of Mechpelah, for 400 shekels of silver. There he buried his wife Sarah." Later Abraham himself, Isaac and Rebekah, then Jacob and Leah were buried there. (Rachel was buried near Bethlehem). This site is now known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and is a shrine for both Jews and Muslims. \


Judaism considers the spot to be sacred, as well as the first material purchase of real estate by the Hebrew Abraham in the Land of Canaan (the "Promised Land"). According to Jewish tradition, four Biblical and primal patriarchal couples mentioned in the Book of Genesis are buried there:


It is known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque ("Abraham Mosque") as Abraham is a revered prophet of Islam. Today the city of Hebron is populated mostly by Palestinian Arab Muslims. A large structure built by Herod the Great is on the site, and after the Islamic conquest it became a mosque under the control of the Muslim Waqf, a traditional "trust" holding land for Islamic religious purposes. During the Crusades when Christians were in control of the site, it was a church.


Both Judaism and Islam agree that entombed within are the Biblical and Quranic patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) as well as three matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah). Their graves are made inaccessible by the cenotaphs that cover them.

The cave is the second holiest site in Judaism (after the Temple Mount) and holds considerable theological significance to Islam and Christianity as well.


When the city was under the control of the Ottoman Turks, Jews were forbidden to enter and were only permitted to pray outside a few steps up the entering stairway.

When Israel captured the area during the 1967 Six Day War, it is said that then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was given the keys and was supposedly shown the actual secret hidden passageways that lead to the below-ground tombs.

In 1994, militant Jewish fundamentalist Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian Muslims at prayer at the site. Jews in the city have also been subject to numerous attacks, the most prominent among them being the Riots in Palestine of 1929, in which Arab rioters killed 67 Jews throughout the city. The Wye River Accords provided a temporary status agreement for the site and Hebron itself.

Current situation

Since the eruption of the Intifada, the site has allegedly been the subject of many attacks, directed towards Jews in prayer. The Israel Defense Forces has surrounded the site with soldiers and forbidden Palestinians from entering the area.

External links

Last updated: 08-25-2005 19:03:03