In loving memory of my late beloved wife, Tenara, and my precious late daughter Nikki.
Acknowledgements There is no way I could ever acknowledge all the ones who have contributed to this work and to getting me to this point. However, I must acknowledge some of the ones who sacrificed of themselves in a great degree to make this work possible. First, I must thank Edna Kehrt, who made my work in Israel possible. If it were not for her generosity, I would have never joined with the research team in Israel. I must also thank Dr. Carl Baugh, who not only taught me most of what I know about archaeology and ancient sites, but has been a father figure to me. He is the most gracious man I have ever met and I count it an honor to be able to call him my friend. Without the generosity of Gregg and Lynn Leach this work would have never been possible. Not only did they respond to God’s moving in a timely manner, they acted quickly with eagerness to be part of God’s work. I can count the hours of the labor of Stu Myers. He has patiently worked with me in editing this book. We have spent many hours on the phone reviewing details and working to convey the message clearly. Stu is a vital part of our team and this work. He is truly a God- sent.
Table of Contents Preface.............................................................................. 8 Introduction...................................................................... 10 Chapter One ................................................................... 1 8 The History of Rachel’s Tomb......................................... 1 8 Rachel’s Life.................................................................... 1 8 Rachel’s Death............................................................ 3 8 Rachel’s Tomb in Western Classic Literature ............. 40 Early Writings Concerning Rachel’s Tomb.................. 41 Writings from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Centuries .................................................................................... 4 8 Writings from the Nineteenth Century to the Present .................................................................................... 52 Chapter Two ................................................................... 5 9 The Significance of Rachel’s Tomb .......................... 5 9 The Significance of Rachel’s Tomb to the Major Religions ..................................................................... 5 9 The Significance of the Modern (Traditional) Rachel’s Tomb to Women ........................................................ 72 Chapter Three................................................................. 75 The Finding of Rachel’s Tomb .................................. 75 The Excavation of the Area in 1946-1954 .................. 75 The Investigation of the Site in 1980.......................... 7 6
The Survey of the Site by the team in November 2005 ....................................................................................7 7 The Realization of the Find ......................................... 83 Chapter Four ...................................................................8 8 The Site of Rachel’s Tomb ........................................8 8 Chapter Five .................................................................. 101 The Location of Rachel’s Tomb .............................. 101 The Importance of Bethlehem Ephrata ....................1 22 Chapter Six ....................................................................12 7 The Date of Rachel’s Tomb .....................................12 7 Dating Methods ........................................................12 7 Chapter Seven...............................................................15 4 The Inscription at Rachel’s Tomb .............................15 4 The Theories of the Origin of Languages ..................15 5 History of the Hebrew Language ..............................1 60 A Comparison of the Oldest Inscriptions Extant.......16 7 Tel el-Armana Letters............................................16 7 Sanskrit..................................................................1 70 The Egyptian Hieroglyphics...................................1 71 The Significance of the Inscription in Rachel’s Tomb17 3 The Details of the Inscription....................................17 6
Objections to the Authenticity of the Rachel Inscription .................................................................................. 17 9 Conclusion to the Inscription at Rachel’s Tomb....... 18 4 Conclusion .................................................................... 18 6
Archaeology is an ever-changing field of study. Less than 100 years ago William Albright fathered the science of Biblical Archaeology. With the continual advancement of technology, our ability to discover, research, and understand deepens almost daily. We have brought this information to you as we had it when this book was written. We know that once the archaeologists begin to excavate, a vast amount of information will come forward. Some of this information will be beyond our imagination. We think there will be artifacts found that will enlighten An official excavation will have to be performed by an unbiased archaeologist. We have no idea what he will find. It is possible that he could find information that contradicts our position we hold now. We do not believe that he will. We have researched the topic, the location, surrounding sites, and the history of this area all that we could. We know what we have seen at this site. Our conclusion is that all of the evidence we currently have undoubtedly points to this as the real burial place of Rachel the matriarch of Israel. We fully expect more information and artifacts to be discovered which not only confirm our beliefs about the site, us about this sacred site and deepen our understanding of the Bible beyond our comprehension.
we believe they will lend to a greater understanding of the site and the Bible. As we continue to research and study Rachel’s burial place, we appreciate your patience and understanding of the process. We look forward to bringing you more history-changing news as it is discovered. We are just flawed humans. We struggle daily with the same issues most people do. Almost daily each one of us asks, “Why me?” “Why am I so privileged to be involved in this project?” We know that we are not worthy to be the ones who have the opportunity to bring this to the world. We don’t have an answer to this question. All we can say is God chose us. We have no idea why, but we are thankful for the blessing. Thank you for your interest in Rachel and for joining us in this adventure. Discovery is always exciting but unearthing some of the riches of history is an amazing journey that will change lives. It certainly has changed our lives in a mighty way and we hope it impacts yours tremendously as well.
A meeting was set with the VIP’s of a selected group to address what we had discovered. The meeting was held during a national conference this group was hosting in mid-western America. The conference was well attended by eighteen hundred people and several thousand more were viewing the live online broadcast. Obviously Jim Staley, the leader of Passion for Truth Ministries, and the VIP’s were incredibly busy and probably had not slept much in preparation for the conference. As with most large conferences, the leadership and staff were stretched to the limits and needed several weeks rest afterward to recover from the event. Jim had invited me to attend and graciously allowed me to share our newest discovery with some of their select leaders. When I arrived at the conference on Friday evening, the first session had already begun and I was feeling my way around the venue. I mentioned at the registration table that Jim Staley had invited me. The kind lady said, “Well, he is right there behind you.”
Turning around I bumped into Jim meeting him in person for the first time. We briefly exchanged greetings and he hurriedly invited me to address the VIP’s of the staff at midnight in their private conference room. I thought, “ Midnight! Who starts a meeting at midnight? ” Clearly, I was not familiar with the extent of work required to conduct a conference. I arrived at the conference room shortly before midnight. The chosen leaders were filtering in until it was time to start. At 3 o’clock that same morning after I had spoken and the other leaders had left, Jim and I were still up talking, in spite of the fact we had to be up in just a few hours. The excitement and enthusiasm that filled the room kept some of the attendees up all night. When these scholars and godly leaders realized the magnitude of what they heard they realized history was in the making in that very room and one of the most exciting works of God had just begun. Afterward, Jim confessed to me that his wife begged him not to have that meeting with me that night. She knew her husband was in desperate need of rest. She had said to him, “Archaeology has nothing to do with what we are doing here.” Jim’s wife’s viewpoint is the perception that many have of archaeology. The common perception
is that archaeology is just a bunch of dusty old rocks and dry bones and has little to do with our lives today. That may be the case in some fields but certainly not in our experience. Another common view of archaeology is the “Indiana Jones” or the “Tomb Raider” version. The scholarship and excitement of “Indiana Jones” may be closer to the reality of archaeology than some other Hollywood versions, but true archaeological work is not tomb robbing, looting, or destroying ancient sites and artifacts. True archaeological work can be very rewarding and life changing; however, it takes much time, careful planning, team effort, and careful attention to the legal procedures of the authorities who carefully guard historical sites. the spiritual ramifications; the discoveries that change people’s lives and history. Often this aspect of archaeological work is overlooked. Without a personal application or benefit, ancient finds may be interesting but are truly just a bunch of dusty old rocks and dry bones. So what makes the discovery of the real Rachel’s tomb so important? It is not the fact that now believers can come to the authentic site and worship (although that is important). For centuries believers have gone to the modern Rachel’s Tomb site to worship and pray. This discovery does not The most exciting part of this type of work is
diminish their worship one bit nor nullify any of the prayers made there. Does this mean that Israel should abandon their interest in the traditional site? Certainly not! We believe that the recent discovery of Rachel’s tomb is prophetic and ordered by God for such a time as this. The details of the timing of the events leading up to the discovery are so coincidental and ironic that God is the only one who could have planned this. Experienced experts in the ancient Hebrew sites did not notice all of the signs and markers of Rachel’s tomb when they saw them. We did not interpret them correctly either when we first saw them. It was after four and one-half years that our eyes were opened and God revealed this site to us. The moment our eyes were opened we knew instantly what we had found. We keep asking ourselves, “Why us?” We are not well experienced or well known in the archaeology field. The truth is we are not archaeologists. The definition of a true Israeli archaeologist is one who holds or is pursuing a PhD degree in archaeology and is certified by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA). We do have IAA archaeologist that we consult but they are the archaeologists. We each have our specialties and our strengths. A good team is made up of many
individuals who recognize their strengths and weaknesses and respect the other team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Each of us has experience working with archaeological sites including grunt work and research. When we work together as a team to glorify God then He will allow the most amazing events to happen and maybe even allow us to have a small part in them. The work is God’s, the timing is God’s, and the glory is God’s. We know that if we ever start to think that this discovery happened because of any efforts of our own that God will take us out of the project. God moved two of the most unlikely people in the most unnatural ways for them to not only change their lives but to bring this discovery to the world. Our prayer is that God will change millions of lives with this work. So why is the find of Rachel’s tomb so important? Rachel is considered the matriarch of Israel. Her tomb is the only one of the patriarchal tombs not found until now. We believe the writings that are in the cave are the oldest Hebrew inscription, alphabetic inscription and cuneiform inscription found to date. Not only does this change the history of languages, it changes the history of the Jews. But the most important significance of the find may be the timing. Why has God allowed this
significant site to be preserved and unknown for almost 2,000 years then revealed at this time? We believe that the timing of this find is prophetic. We understand scripture to indicate that that the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel will be reunited before the second coming of the Messiah. How God will do that is solely up to Him. It appears to us that God might use the discovery of Rachel’s tomb to reunite the two kingdoms of Israel. The one element they both have in common and both hold in the highest regard is their mother. It is true that Rachel had only two children but one tribe settled in the southern kingdom and the other settled in the northern kingdom. It is as if their mother is calling them home. It could draw the entire house of Israel together and many unbelievers to God. Our desire is that God will use this to accomplish His work and glorify Himself. We believe this discovery will impact practically every field of human life. It will impact the religious field. Now an ancient holy site has been found and a new worship site will be opened for all believers in the Bible to worship. The continued research and excavations of this holy place will reveal new understandings of the Bible and theology. This discovery will change history. The history of languages and the development of the
Hebrew people will be re-written to reflect the early date of the inscription in conjunction with the cuneiform writing also found there. The history of Israel will change as more of Bethlehem Ephrata is discovered and understood. We believe Bethlehem Ephrata was the second holiest site in Israel, second only to the Temple. It certainly existed long before the Temple and became a very significant place in Israel. We believe further research will prove that Bethlehem Ephrata was a sacred and holy Levitical city that functioned as the support system for the Temple. We believe this discovery will impact the current land dispute between Israel and Palestine. In 2011 President Obama called for Israel and Palestine to return to the pre-‘67 war borders. Part of the land that is highly disputed is this land in the West Bank. This discovery not only proves that Israel once occupied this land centuries before the ones who are presently called Palestinians but also that this is Israel’s sacred and holy land. The economic impacts of this discovery are yet to be seen. Such a site in Israel will boost tourism greatly. As one Israeli leader said, “Every rabbi in the world will want to come here and touch this.” If the rest of the ancient city of Bethlehem Ephrata is uncovered in excavations then just imagine the number of Christians who will journey there to see the holy birth site of Jesus.
The impact of such a discovery could exceed our expectations and possibly even our imaginations. Although we do not know the extent of God’s plans for this work, He knows exactly how He is going to use this and the impact it will have in this world. It is a little intimidating to be involved in such an amazing project, but we know that it is God’s work and not ours. We have simply been blessed by God to be allowed to participate.
The History of Rachel’s Tomb
Rachel’s Tomb is rich in history and has had significance to many people throughout the ages. Although its original location has been debated for a long time, the traditions connected with her burial place have been celebrated by believers for many centuries. The discovery of her original tomb is a great archaeological find but more significantly it is one of the most important holy sites in the world. To appreciate this further, let’s first look in detail at Rachel’s life and her burial. Our study will also require a close look at the story of Jacob and his brother Esau. Rachel’s name in Hebrew means ewe lamb. 1 The sheep fold is the central theme of her life and of the messianic line. Her husband Jacob was a shepherd as opposed to his brother who hunted wild venison. Jacob took a kid of the flocks and deceived his father with it. He told his blind father 1 William L. Holladay A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 337. Rachel’s Life
that it was meat he hunted as he pretended to be his brother Esau. In his deception he stole his brother’s blessing from his father. Jacob found refuge from his angry brother at his uncle Laban’s house in Syria. When Jacob arrived in Haran, he went to the well on the outskirts of the city. In ancient times wells were normally a focal point in the city. No city could exist without a water supply. In agrarian cities the well was of grave importance because it supplied water for the flocks as well as the residents. Jacob saw the men of the city gathered by the well. They were waiting for all of the herds to gather nearby before removing the large stone covering the mouth of the well. While Jacob was inquiring about his uncle, Laban’s younger daughter (Rachel) approached with her father’s sheep. Jacob was so enamored with her beauty that he kissed her upon meeting her by the well. The herds of goats and sheep were a vital part of Jacob’s first meeting with Rachel. Rachel was a shepherd. Normally this was a man’s work, but Rachel was a shepherd nevertheless. The narrative begins with Jacob earning his name “the deceiver”. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and deceived his father to receive his brother’s blessing. Some may call it just shrewd business, but Esau calls it stealing or “cruelly taking
advantage of him” 2 in Genesis 27:36. Jacob’s name literally means heel or footprint. In the verb form it means to “turn the heel against” which is a Hebrew euphemism for “to deceive”. Esau came in from an unsuccessful day of hunting extremely hungry and partially famished. He felt he was at the point of death. Jacob had just made a fresh pot of red savory soup which he did so well. Esau feeling faint asked Jacob for a bowl of the pottage, but Jacob asked Esau to sell him his birthright in return. Esau concluded that his birthright would be of no value to him if he were not alive to execute it; so he turned his back on his birthright for the food that Jacob gave him that day. In order for Jacob to secure this birthright he would have to deceive his father and secure the eldest son’s blessing also. When Isaac realized his health was failing and that he was probably close to the end of his life, he knew it was time to pass the blessing to his eldest son. He called Esau to go hunt some fresh venison and to prepare it the way his father liked it. Josephus, the Jewish historian, adds
2 Francis Brown, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon. (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Publishing Inc., 1979) p. 784.
that Isaac asked Esau to go hunting and catch as much venison as he could. 3 After Esau left, Rebekah (Jacob and Esau’s mother) chose to help Jacob deceive his father and secure the blessing from Isaac. Rebekah sent Jacob to the herds to take two young goats for her to dress and prepare for Isaac as though it were venison. Rebekah knew how her husband liked his food prepared and probably taught Esau how to prepare it for Isaac. Rebekah prepared the meat and gave it to Jacob to deceive his father into thinking it was venison prepared by Esau. Jacob realized he had another problem in this deceptive plan to fool his father. Esau was a rugged man with hairy hands and neck while Jacob was a simple man with no hair on his hands or neck. Since his father was nearly blind at this time the appearance would not be an issue but when Isaac felt Jacob’s hands and neck he would know it was not Esau. Rebekah took the hair from the goat and placed it on Jacob’s hands and the back of his neck so when his father felt his arms and neck he would believe it were Esau. Rebekah also put some of Esau’s clothes on Jacob so he would smell like the outdoors.
3 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984) Antiquities of the Jews Book I chapter XVIII sec. 5.
When Jacob took the meat to Isaac he asked who it was that was bringing the food. Jacob answered that he was his firstborn son, Esau. Isaac discerned the voice as that of Jacob, but as he drew near he smelled his clothes and they had the smell of the outdoors. Isaac felt Jacob’s hands and the back of his neck and he thought them to be that of Esau’s because of the goat’s hair that Rebekah put on him. Even though Isaac recognized the voice as that of Jacob’s, he still concluded it was Esau considering all of the other evidence. Isaac asked how he found the venison so quickly and Jacob’s spontaneous response was “God brought it to me.” This biblical account does not seem consistent with the details Josephus contributes about catching all of the venison he could find. There is a fine line between lying and giving information that a person will infer incorrectly. Giving information with the intent to deceive seems dishonest to most. However, God blessed Jacob (maybe in spite of this act) and used him in a great way even though he was deceptive. No one knows for sure where this line is and each must decide for himself. As far as Jacob is concerned, only God can judge him. Isaac received the meat from Jacob and ate it believing it to be venison brought to him by Esau. After he finished he called Jacob to come close to him and blessed him with the paternal blessing
which his son would carry with him for the rest of his life. The blessing included: promises of God’s blessing with the dew of Heaven, the fatness of the earth, plenty of corn and wine, people serving him, nations bowing down to him, his brother bowing down to him, and cursing to those who curse him and blessing to those who bless him. These blessings are still upon Jacob’s family today. It is interesting to note that God has blessed America greatly. This may be due in large part because of its support of Israel. The Abrahamic covenant which Isaac passed to Jacob promises blessings to those who bless the line of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. The very few times America has made decisions against Israel, national catastrophes have come upon American soil. Isaac realized he had been deceived when, shortly after Jacob left, Esau came in. Certainly his timing was more appropriate and his voice was that which Isaac was familiar with. When Esau realized what had happened he cried that his brother had “supplanted” 4 him twice: once for his birthright and the second time for his blessing. The verb in the original Hebrew is the verb form of Jacob’s name. The Jews actually made Jacob’s name into a verb ( ) meaning “to grasp the heel” (referring to the
4 KJV, Genesis 27:36.
birth of the twins when Esau came out first, Jacob was holding his heel) or “to cheat.” 5 A more interesting lexical definition of the word can be “to overreach.” 6 Brown Driver Briggs Gesenius’ Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon does not give a lexical definition for this verb that inherently conveys the idea of dishonest motives and inferior morals 7 . The adjective form, however, he renders as “insidious” or “deceitful.” 8 It appears from the language that Esau felt cheated, but due solely to his own bad choices and Jacob’s cunning craftiness. Esau begged Isaac for just one blessing. He did not want to live the rest of his life without his father’s blessing. All children have a need of their father’s blessing. Gary Smalley and John Trent define a blessing as the gift of unconditional love and acceptance. 9 Certainly this father’s words were tokens of love and acceptance that his sons would carry with them the rest of their lives. Isaac’s words of blessing molded his son’s future. Isaac did manage to have a blessing for Esau which contained the promise of dwelling in the fatness of the earth and under the dew of heaven.
5 Holladay p.281. 6 BDB, p.784.
7 ibid. 8 ibid. 9 Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Blessing (New York: Pocket Books, 1982)
Esau would be a man that lived by the sword and who served his brother, but when he gained the dominion he would break the yoke off his neck and set himself free. 10 Few commentators even attempt to explain this passage. Keil and Delitsch reference this as: “Shaking off the yoke” as the time when Ahaz was king and the Edomites were freed from the control of the Jews. 11 The only problem with this interpretation is when was Jacob’s yoke broken? What was Jacob’s yoke that he had on Esau? Esau and his offspring were going to be slaves to Jacob and his offspring. According to the blessing of Isaac, this yoke would never be broken. Possibly this prophecy has an eschatological ramification. Esau was so angry over this situation of losing his blessing that he vowed after his father’s death he would kill Jacob. Rebekah overheard Esau’s plans and chose to step in and help Jacob. She complained to her husband that she did not want a daughter of Heth for a daughter-in-law; the implication being she did not care for Esau’s wives and wanted a wife for Jacob from her own people. She suggested that Jacob would do well to go to her brother Laban’s house to find a wife. Her real
10 KJV Genesis 27:40. 11 C.F.Keil and F.Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985). Vol. 1, p. 279.
motive was to send Jacob to a safe place with the approval of his father. Josephus gives more information concerning Esau’s wives. He notes that he married at age forty. He married Adah, the daughter of Helon and Aholibamah, the daughter of Esebeon. Helon and Esebeon were rulers among the Canaanites. 12 Isaac disapproved of Esau’s marriages to the Canaanites so Esau married Ishmael’s daughter, Basemmath in order to please his father. 13 Laban was a Syrian. 14 More specifically he lived in Padanaram. Ancient Padanaram must have been somewhere in the ancient region of Ur and Haran because both of these places are mentioned in the story as well. Isaac sent Jacob to Laban’s house with his blessing. Jacob escaped the danger of Esau and journeyed from Hebron to Ancient Syria. On his journey he spent one night at Bethel where God appeared to him in a dream and confirmed the Abrahamic covenant which was passed down to him through Abraham and his father Isaac. As Jacob approached Haran he met some men who informed him of Laban’s well being and
12 Josephus Antiquities I, XVIII, 4. 13 Josephus Antiquities I, XVIII 8 14 KJV, Genesis 31:20
that his daughter would soon be coming to water her father’s sheep and goats. The Hebrew word translated sheep literally refers to small cattle. In the Middle East the sheep and goats are raised together. Now Jacob was confused by the custom of watering the flocks at mid-day because his family usually watered the sheep and goats at the end of the day. The men informed him that the well had a large stone covering it and when all of the flocks were there they would remove the large stone so the sheep and goats could be watered. Exactly who the antecedent is to “they” is unclear from the text. Probably it is a reference to the leaders of the city or possibly all of the shepherds combined? As Jacob saw Rachel approach with her father’s flocks he considered her to be a beautiful woman and well shaped. 15 He fell in love with her at once. In his passion, Jacob proceeded to move the stone himself which was normally a task for several people. Then he kissed her. Rachel must have been an incredibly beautiful woman. The Hebrew word for “kept” with reference to her keeping her father’s sheep is literally “graze” 16 . Rachel had been out all day doing the hot hard work of a shepherd. Being with sheep and goats all day and working in the sun would leave her smelling and 15 are Hebrew words with the idea of “very beautiful in form” Holladay p. 386. 16 Ibid p. 342.
looking less than her best. Obviously her attire was not made to be attractive either. For Jacob to take one look at her and fall in love in these conditions, she must have been a stunning woman. The Hebrew actually indicates that she was very beautiful to look upon and very well formed. Rachel ran back to her father and told him of Jacob’s arrival. Laban then went out to meet him, kissed him and greeted him as family. Josephus adds that Jacob brought a great deal of pleasure to Laban and his family by his unexpected visit. Laban was surprised that Jacob left his aged father and mother who desired him to take care of them. Upon inquiry of Jacob’s real reason for coming, he relayed to Laban the reason for his leaving home and coming to Haran to find a wife of his people. 17 Laban used his daughters to help with the work of the family. Since Rachel was the youngest she went to work first. We have no indications that her sister Leah worked outside the home, but certainly Rachel was used to doing difficult tasks (such as shepherding) to help her family. After having been with Laban one month, Laban offered wages to Jacob for working with his herds. Jacob of course requested that his pay be Rachel. He would work for Laban for seven years if
17 Josephus, Antiquities I, XIX,6
he would give him Rachel to be his wife. Jacob worked for Laban for the next seven years and at the end of that time Laban gave him his daughter to be his wife. He went in to her on the night of the consummation of their wedding. When Jacob woke up in the morning he was shocked to find out that his new bride was actually Leah, not Rachel. Upon confronting Laban, Jacob was informed that it was their custom that the oldest be married first. Laban agreed to give him Rachel at the end of the week if Jacob would finish out the wedding week with Leah and work another seven years for him. The deceiver had been deceived. Laban did not actually dishonor his word. He still gave Jacob Rachel for seven years work but he first had to take Leah. Was Laban more concerned that the custom be kept or was he more concerned that his older daughter would not get married? Leah did have an eye problem that made her less attractive than Rachel. This eye problem we might call sleepy eyes. Something about her eyes made her less attractive than Rachel. After Leah’s wedding week was over, Laban gave Rachel to Jacob to be his wife trusting him to work another seven years for him. Jacob did work another seven years for Rachel and even stayed six additional years to build his flocks and family.
Jacob loved Rachel earnestly while Leah felt left out. God saw Leah’s plight and was moved with her predicament. He opened her womb while Rachel’s remained closed. Leah gave Jacob his first son, Reuben. Reuben was the same who found the mandrakes in the field and brought them to Leah. Mandrakes were known for making women fertile and desired by men. When Rachel learned that Reuben had found some mandrakes she wanted them so she could be a mother also. She traded with Leah a night with her husband for them. Reuben was also the son who spared Joseph’s life. When Joseph was still young (seventeen), his father, Jacob, sent him to check on his brothers who were shepherding the herds in Shechem. When the brothers saw Joseph coming across the hills to see them, they plotted to kill him. Reuben persuaded them not to harm him. Instead, the brothers took him and stripped him of his coat of many colors which their father, Jacob, had made for him. There was a dry pit there (an empty well) so they cast him in it until they could decide what to do with him. Soon a traveling band of Midianites came by on their way to Egypt. Josephus includes that they were sons of Ishmael, Arabians selling spices and Syrian wares to the Egyptians. 18 The brothers concluded that they would never see him again once
18 Josephus II, III, 3.
they sold him to this traveling band who would probably sell him as a slave in Egypt. Rueben had left his brother’s company. Josephus indicates that Rueben left to find more suitable pasture for the flocks 19 . When Reuben came back and saw Joseph was not in the pit, he cried out in sorrow. Reuben was truly a big brother to Joseph and God used him to spare Joseph’s life and move him down to Egypt. Rachel still continued to be barren, but Leah conceived again and gave Jacob a second son: Simeon. Simeon and Levi were the two brothers of Jacob’s family who stood up for their only sister, Dinah. Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land, the Canaanites, when a Hivite named Shechem raped her. Neither Jacob nor any of Dinah’s brothers dared to revenge this wrong done to her except for Simeon and Levi. The text does not seem to indicate God’s approval or disapproval of the brother’s actions. Leah then conceived again and gave Jacob a third son named Levi. She said, “Now this time my husband will attach himself to me.” 20 Leah used her ability to have children to merit Jacob’s favor since her natural beauty was not enough and she
19 Ibid, 2. 20 This is a literal translation from the Hebrew of Genesis 29:34.
was not the wife he truly loved. She knew that she had obtained her hold in the marriage by bearing children. Then she conceived again and gave Jacob a fourth son, Judah. After Judah was born Leah “left bearing”, or in other words she was finished having children. Josephus credits Judah with the plan to sell Joseph to the traveling Midianites. 21 Now Rachel was really beginning to feel derelict and pressured to have children because of Leah. She demanded that Jacob give her children or else she would die. Jacob became upset with Rachel (the only time recorded in the Bible that Jacob had any feelings toward Rachel other than pure love) and replied, “Am I in the place of God that I can give children?” Jacob was correct that the ability to have children is a gift from God. 22 Rachel devised a plan by which to have children since she was barren. She gave Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah, and said that she could bear her a son upon her knees. This is the plan they followed and Bilhah had a son whom Rachel named Dan which means “judge” in the Hebrew. Rachel said, “God has seen my plight, has judged my situation, and has given me a son.”
21 Josephus, II, III, 3. 22 Psalm 127:3.
Then Bilhah conceived again and birthed a second son, Naphtali. Now Leah joined in on the competition and gave her handmaid, Zilpah, to Jacob by whom to have a son. She did conceive and had a son, Gad. Then she conceived again and had Asher. Rueben came in from the fields one day with some mandrakes he had found. Mandrakes were known for making women fertile and for making their husbands want to make passionate love with them. Mandrakes are a flowering and leafed plant whose roots have been used for centuries in spells. People, including Rachel, believed it would bring special powers. Rachel traded Leah the night with her husband for those mandrakes. When Jacob slept with Leah that night she conceived again, even though she said she was finished having children, and gave Jacob a sixth son, Issachar. Leah then conceived again and birthed Zebulun. Then she conceived again and had the only daughter to Jacob, Dinah. Finally, after all of these children were born to Jacob (ten sons, eleven total), God remembered Rachel and opened her womb. She gave birth to the most favored son of Jacob. The son who would change the world, rule over his brothers, and become the most loved of his father.
After Joseph was born, Jacob decided to leave Laban and return to the country of his fathers, the land promised to Abraham. He requested Laban to let his family and him go with his blessing. Laban acknowledged that God had blessed him because of Jacob’s presence there. His flocks had increased much more rapidly than before he was there. Laban offered Jacob more wages to stay and shepherd his flocks, but Jacob did not want any wages. He did however, ask Laban to give him all of his brown colored sheep and the speckled and spotted among the herds and the brown sheep. These were usually considered the less desirable of the herds. After they reached an agreement, Laban took all of the speckled, spotted, and stripped cattle from the flock as well as the brown sheep and moved them three miles away. This would prevent breeding with his herds and would create a disadvantage for Jacob. Jacob took rods of Hazel tree, Chestnut tree, and green Poplar, cut the bark into strips and peeled the bark back so that the rods were stripped. He then put them in the cattle’s water so the cattle would look at the rods as they drank. Somehow (by some knowledge Jacob had or by sovereign intervention we do not know) this made the cattle produce and they produced spotted, speckled, and striped offspring. Jacob did take all of the speckled and spotted of the cattle (small cattle like goats and
sheep) and the brown sheep. He built his herds with the cattle no one really cared for. When Laban saw his success he changed his attitude toward Jacob. When Jacob realized that his time at Laban’s house had come to a close, he called Rachel and Leah to him in the field. He discussed their father’s attitude toward him and the probability of leaving. Jacob had already wanted to go back home to Hebron, but he needed his family’s support to make such a large move. God appeared to Jacob telling him to move back home to the country which He had given to his family. When Laban went out to shear the sheep, Jacob, Rachel and Leah packed all of their possessions and left for the Promised Land. Rachel stole her father’s idols before departing. They probably had intrinsic value to him but more likely they were made of precious metal and were very valuable. Josephus adds that although Jacob taught his wives to despise idols, she took them to bargain for their release if Laban refused to let them go free. 23 Three days after Jacob left Laban heard that they were gone. He pursued them and before he caught Jacob and his daughters, God appeared to him and told him not to hurt Jacob. When Laban
23 Josephus Antiquities I XIX, 9.
caught up with the band the next day he confronted Jacob and asked him why he left without notice and why he stole his idols. Jacob responded that he left without notice because he was afraid of Laban, but he had no idea what he was talking about concerning the idols. Jacob told Laban that he knew nothing about the idols and whoever had the idols would be killed. Jacob had no idea that it was his true love who stole the idols. Rachel had become a deceiver like Jacob and Laban. Laban searched the tents and all of the possessions that Jacob had but could not find them. Rachel had hid them in her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. When her father came to her she excused herself from rising because she said she was in her time of month and could not get up. Laban left Jacob and returned home unhappy and without his idols. Jacob and Laban had come to terms and set up a stone for a pillar that day. This pillar would always speak of Jacob and Laban’s relationship. A pillar, , is a stone that is set up as a marker. How much time did Jacob (or his servants) put into this stonework? A pillar could have been something as simple as a stone placed for a marker, like that of a border marker. The twelve standing stones at the foot of Mt. Karkom are good examples of pillars. Moses placed
twelve pillars by the altar he built at the foot of Mt. Sinai. 24 The modern site named Mt. Karkom has an altar at the base of the mountain which has twelve standing stones beside it. The description Jacob’s pillar conveys is that it must have been a large stone or an elongated stone which he stood on end. Jacob had set up the stone which he used for a pillow as a marker and reminder of his dream of the ladder and of how God spoke to him that night at Luz. Jacob renamed this place Bethel, which means “house of God.” This became a very special place to Jacob because he heard God speak there twice. Jacob later set up another pillar at Bethel when he was returning to Hebron. God spoke to him there again and changed his name from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (prince of God). God also reconfirmed the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob at that time. Pillars seem to be a recurring theme in Jacob’s life. The Genesis account indicates four times that Jacob set up a pillar. Each time was a significant milestone in his life. He erected these pillars to mark a special place where a special event happened in his life. Later we will revisit the concept of using a pillar in conjunction with Rachel’s burial.
24 Exodus 24:4.
Rachel was the only one of the patriarchs not buried in Hebron. Some claim that it was due to expedience. Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem and thus was buried there. To travel to Hebron with the large family and caravan of herds which Jacob had would have certainly been a huge feat. This place was close and convenient. Some say Jacob was so traumatized by Rachel’s death that he was not thinking clearly to take her to Hebron or even to have her moved there later. Neither one of these theories make much sense in light of the details of the Genesis account. Jacob was incredibly wealthy and had unlimited resources at his fingertips. Simple arrangements could have been made to allow Jacob and his family to travel to Hebron while his servants stayed with the herds. He could have easily transported Rachel’s body anywhere in the Canaan area that he desired. When Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem, it was only natural to bury her amongst the herds of sheep and goats. Jacob and Rachel were both shepherds and they met while Rachel was shepherding her father’s flock. As previously mentioned, her name even means ewe lamb.
Bethlehem had been a shepherding community years before Jacob and Rachel found their way there. The terraced areas on these hill sides and in the valley are known as the shepherd’s field of Bethlehem. The terraces made it easier for the sheep to graze since the ground was level in these sections separated by stone walls. A tower was built to watch over the entire valley so the chief shepherd could warn all of the shepherds in the fields of impending danger. This tower was known as the Tower of the Flock or the Migdal Edar ( Hebrew for tower of the flock). Although Rachel died near the north entrance of the shepherd’s field, according to Genesis Jacob carried her body to the top of the hill and buried her near the Tower of the Flock. The cave in which Jacob chose to bury Rachel was not just a convenient place to bury her but it was the most appropriate place and most honorable place he could have chosen. Bethlehem was a vital and busy city in the life of this territory and in the history of the Israelites. All who would visit Bethlehem would see Rachel’s tomb with the pillar on top marking its location and know of Rachel’s life story. Although Rachel was the biological mother of only two of Jacob’s twelve sons, she is still considered the mother of the Jews. There are other women in the matriarchal line such as Sarah,
Rebekah, and Leah, but Rachel is the most remembered of all. Jeremiah’s prophecy has given millions of people hope by seeking Rachel’s passion to intercede on their behalf to God. We will now switch gears to review some of what has been written over the years about Rachel’s tomb. Rachel’s Tomb in Western Classic Literature The tomb and the traditions of it have impacted history to the extent that they have been referred to in Western classic literature on several occasions. Herman Melville in his novel Moby Dick names the large ship Rachel. He refers to her as being “wept with spray” and “without comfort.” Then to clear up any misconceptions about what he meant he says, “She is Rachel, weeping for her children, because they are not.” 25 Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale refers to Rachel. The reference to Rachel implies the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning Rachel weeping for her children. The list of Classics continues from T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land and Charles Dickens Hard Times, to William Thackeray’s Henry Esmond . 26 Throughout Christianity Rachel has been revered for her faithfulness and passion for God’s children. 25 Herman Melville. Moby Dick. (New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003. First edition 1851), p.466-469. 26 Fred Strickert. Rachel Weeping (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2007) p. 46.
Early Writings Concerning Rachel’s Tomb For more than 2,000 years there has been confusion about the location of Rachel’s Tomb. The Genesis account details Rachel’s burial place in Bethlehem Ephrata just off the road from Jerusalem to Hebron which goes through Bethlehem. 1 Samuel locates Rachel’s sepulcher near Zelzah and Jeremiah locates it near Ramah. There are two modern cities which are north of Jerusalem bearing these names. Strickert makes a case for the northern site as the location of Rachel’s tomb. The city of Farah lies two miles east of er-Ram. In the wadi ras al- Fara Lombardi notes five large stone structures which were researched by H. Vincent in the late 1800’s. Vincent concludes that these were the burial caves of a nomadic people originating during the Bronze Age “prior to the conquest of Israel.” 27 The residents of the area referred to these tombs as the Tombs of the Sons of Israel. The largest of the tombs they called the Tomb of the Mothers of the Sons of Israel. Strickert believed that this could possibly be Rachel’s Tomb. 28 The contradiction of the two sites in the biblical text is confusing. This issue will be dealt with later in this book. Let it suffice for now to say
27 Strickert, p.69. 28 Ibid.
that since the authentic original location of Rachel’s tomb has been found, the northern tradition must have another explanation. We do not know for sure why Samuel would mention a site north of Jerusalem as the site of Rachel’s tomb, but the Genesis account is very clear concerning the original burial place of Rachel. No site north of Jerusalem has been positively identified as Rachel’s tomb, but the two biblical references of I Samuel and Jeremiah seem to indicate that there was a site north of Jerusalem if the modern cities of Zelzah and Ramah are the same as those mentioned in the Bible. The Midrash is a Jewish extra biblical account of some of the biblical narratives which, based on Jewish traditions, fills in some of the blanks of the stories. The Midrash account of Joseph’s journey to Egypt relays his experience at his mother’s tomb. It conveys: When Joseph learned that the Ishmaelites were carrying him to Egypt, he began to weep bitterly at the thought of being removed so far from Canaan and from his father. One of the Ishmaelites noticed Joseph’s weeping and crying, and thinking that he found riding uncomfortable, he lifted him from the back of the camel and permitted him to walk on foot. But Joseph
continued to weep and sob, crying incessantly, “O father, father!” Another one in the caravan, tired of his lamentations, beat him, causing tears and wails. The journey continued until they came to Ephrath, the place of Rachel’s Sepulcher. Joseph hastened to his mother’s grave, and throwing himself across it, he groaned and cried, saying: “O mother, mother, that didst bear me, arise, come forth and see how thy son hath been sold into slavery, with none to take pity upon him. Arise, see thy son, and weep with me over my misfortune, and observe the heartlessness of my brethren. Awake, O mother, rouse thyself from thy sleep, rise up and prepare for the conflict with my brethren, who stripped me even of my shirt, and sold me as a slave to merchantmen, who in turn sold me to others, and without mercy they tore me away from my father.” Joseph wept and cried upon the grave of his mother, until, weary from grief, he lay immovable as a stone. Then he heard a voice heavy with tears speak to him from the depths, saying: “My son Joseph, my son, I heard thy complaints and thy groans, I saw thy tears, and I knew thy misery, my son. I am grieved for thy sake, and thy affliction is
added to the burden of my affliction. But, my son Joseph, put thy trust in God, and wait upon Him. Fear not, for the Lord is with thee, and he will deliver from all evil. Go down into Egypt with thy masters, my son; fear naught, for the Lord is with thee, O my son.” This and much more like unto it did the voice utter. 29 Such an account is consistent with the prayers of the pilgrims visiting the holy site for intercession in times of crisis. Tradition holds that not only did Joseph pass by his mother’s tomb on his way to captivity in Egypt, the Jews also passed by her tomb on their way to captivity in Babylon. They all sought Rachel for help in their plight and both stories resulted in relief from their oppression. Rachel is attributed with aiding her son in Egypt through his long oppression. His faithfulness resulted in great exhalation to the position of second ruler in Egypt, the most powerful nation on the earth at that time. Jewish tradition holds that Jacob buried Rachel here because he knew his son would pass by on his way to captivity and the Jews would pass by on their way to captivity approximately 1,300 years later. If Jacob was privy to such information it was 29 Midrash Yashir V’yashev p. 82-84. Taken from Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg, Jewish Publication Society, copyright 1948, Philadelphia, vol 2 pp. 19-23.