In Arabic, the platform created by an enclosure wall is called a haram.


Except Rachel. Rachel, Jacob’s best-loved wife, the mother of Joseph, the best-loved son, died in childbirth on a journey from Bethel and was buried “on the road to Ephrath—now Bethlehem” (Genesis 35:19).


An ashlar is a hewn stone, often used for facing a wall.


An ell is about 45 inches.


A cenotaph is a tomb or monument erected in honor of a person whose body is elsewhere.


Pseudepigrapha means literally books with false titles, and refers to extra-canonical writings, many of Jewish origin.


Note the conflict about the place of Joshua’s burial between the Book of Joshua, on the one hand, and the apocryphal Testament of Joseph, on the other. This may suggest that the author of the apocryphal testament did not have an authoritative, canonized text of Joshua that in turn would dictate where Joshua was buried. This suggests that the text of Joshua as we know it was probably not fixed and canonized before the second century B.C. In any event, we see how early the traditions concerning additional burials at Machpelah arose.


However, in the opinion of one prominent Israeli archaeologist who is an expert on Ma‘arat ha-Machpelah these steps are almost surely Herodian—to a “95%” certainty.

Then why were the monks lowered by a rope if they could have walked down the stairs? This remains a puzzle, according to the Israeli archaeologist. Apparently the area was filled with dirt that took the monks four days to clean. With the dirt in place, the opening appeared much like a slanted shaft.

Why does the archaeologist think the steps are Herodian? Because they lead to another corridor at the top of the stairs. This upper corridor leads outside the enclosure. The upper corridor is blocked today after a mere half-meter. But enough could be seen to establish that it is of the same Herodian construction as the lower corridor. Therefore, the steps serving as part of this corridor system must also have been Herodian. The upper corridor probably led to an ancient Herodian—or even earlier—entrance to the caves from outside the enclosure.

But how can he know about the upper corridor and its Herodian characteristics? No comment. Apparently, at least one other Israeli, in addition to a 12-year-old named Michal whose entry during the Dayan exploration is described later in this article, has been down in the cave system.

But how did he get inside? As is recounted in the sidebar, even a thin soldier could not get through the shaft. That is why 12-year-old Michal was chosen by Moshe Dayan for the entry. Is there another, unknown opening? Or did someone briefly remove the floor slabs surrounding entry-shaft “B,” thereby exposing a shaft two feet in diameter in contrast to the 11 or 12-inch hole in the floor slab?—Ed.


Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura who visited the site in 1488 relates that the Moslems who “prostrate themselves there would make a monetary donation which would be let down into the caves. When they wished to go down to collect the money, they would lower a young boy down by a rope and he would recover the money and come up.”



Moshe Dayan, “The Cave of Machpelah—The Cave Beneath the Mosque,” Qadmoniot Vol IX, No. 4, p. 129 (1976).


Ben Zion Luria believes that had Herod been the sponsor of the Haram, Josephus would undoubtedly have described the edifice—as he had described construction of other important Herodian projects. But Josephus is notably silent with respect to the Hebron Haram. (See “The Edifice Of Maarat Machpelah and Its Date,” Sefer Hevron, pp. 273ff (in Hebrew).)


As David M. Jacobson has noted, “The excavations conducted by Professor Mazar near the Temple Mount have at last provided satisfactory archaeological proof that the drafted masonry there [in the Temple Mount enclosure] is Herodian.” “The Plan of the Ancient Haram el-Khalil in Hebron,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) 113 (July–December 1981), p. 73. See Benjamin Mazar, The Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem Near the Temple Mount: Preliminary Report of the Second and Third Seasons, 1969–1970 (Jerusalem, 1971).


See Jacobson, “The Plan of the Ancient Haram.”


Rev. Canon Dalton, “Note on the Hebron Haram” (PEQ) (London: 1897), p. 54.


Jacobson, “The Plan of the Ancient Haram.”


Jacobson, “The Plan of the Ancient Haram.”


Jacobson, “The Plan of the Ancient Haram.”


Jacobson, “The Plan of the Ancient Haram.” See also Claude R. Conder, “Report on the Visit of Their Royal Highnesses Prince Albert Victor and George of Wales to the Hebron Haram, on 5th April 1882,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (PEFQS) (London, 1882), p. 198.


Guy LeStrange, Palestine Under the Moslems (New York: AMS Press, reprint of 1893 edition), p. 315.


LeStrange, Palestine Under the Moslems, p. 325. LeStrange quotes at length an English translation of Mujir ad-Din al-Ulaymi.


Dalton, “Note on the Hebron Haram,” pp. 54–56.


Itinera Hierosolymitana et Descriptones Terrae Sanctae, ed. Titus Tobier and Augustus Molinier (Otto Zeller: Ohsbrueck, 1966), p. 108.


Louis-Hugues Vincent and E. H. J. Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl (Paris: Editions Ernest Leroux, 1923), pp. 83ff.


LeStrange, Palestine Under the Moslems, pp. 309–310; 314–315.


Conder, “Report on the Visit of Their Royal Highnesses,” pp. 230ff.


Thomas Chaplin, “The Visit of David the Reubenite to Hebron and Jerusalem in A.D. 1523,” (PEQ) (London: 1897), pp. 47ff.


Vincent and Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl, pp. 58ff.


Vincent and Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl, p. 167.


Vincent and Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl, pp. 168ff.


Vincent and Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl, p. 167; Comte Riant, “Invention de la Sépulture des Patriarches,” Archives de l’Orient, Vol 2 (Ernest Leroux: Paris, 1884), p. 418.


Marcus N. Adler, “Jewish Pilgrims to Palestine” (PEFQS) (London: 1894) pp. 296–297. A similar description is given by another Jewish traveler who visited the cave in 1220.


LeStrange, Palestine Under the Moslems, pp. 317ff.


LeStrange, Palestine Under the Moslems, pp. 319ff.


Vincent and Mackay, Hébron—Le Haram el-Khalíl, p. 198ff. Vincent also notes that the description Conder gives of the shaft leading to this chamber as being “covered by a stone like those at the mouths of the wells in Palestine, rising above the church floor” (Conder, “Report on the Visit of Their Royal Highnesses,” p. 200), indicates a rounded opening.