Biblical Archaeology Review 11:3, May/June 1985

Patriarchal Burial Site Explored for First Time in 700 Years

Twelve-year-old girl lowered into Cave of Machpelah

By Nancy Miller

Ma‘arat Ha-Machpelah, the cave of Machpelah, where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried, is one of the best-known but least-explored sites in the entire Holy Land. For centuries Jewish, Moslem and Christian pilgrims have wended their way to Hebron, but few have plumbed the cave’s subterranean mysteries.

Above ground, the only complete Herodian edifice still standing marks the site—a magnificent structure, called in Arabic Harama el Khalil, the Enclosure of Abraham (the friend of God). Inside the enclosure is a raised courtyard, a mosque and a network of passages and rooms built over the centuries by numerous conquerors, each wishing to leave his imprint on the patriarchal burial ground.

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