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Ancient tombs dating to the time of Abraham found near Bethlehem

The site of Abraham's tomb in Hebron. Photo Ooman/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

The traditional site of Abraham’s tomb in Hebron. Photo Ooman/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Livescience is reporting that archaeologists working near the city of Bethlehem have discovered an old burial site or necropolis with nearly 100 tombs — some estimated to be 4000 years old, dating to the time of Abraham.

The tombs were dug into the side of a hill and consisted of large caves some with multiple chambers. It appears that the workers creating this necropolis used pre-existing caves.

They believe this burial site, called Khalet al-Jam’a, was for a yet to be discovered larger town located nearby. Because of the variety of artifacts inside, it is believed the town was a major trading center.

Tombs in the site range from 2200 BC — the time of Abraham, to about 650 BC when they abruptly ended. This coincides with Israel’s invasion by Babylon and Assyria, when many of the Israelis were taken off into captivity.

Entrance to the ancient tombs found near Bethlehem. Photo: ROSAPAJ - Sapienza University Rome

Entrance to the ancient tombs found near Bethlehem. Photo: ROSAPAJ – Sapienza University Rome

Though the tombs were ransacked over the centuries, they still include a family — a man, wife and child dating to about 3,500 BC and another tomb containing an earlier single man who may have lived during Abraham’s day.

The story is interesting because the purchase of a tomb for Abraham’s wife Sarah takes up a whole chapter in the book of Genesis (Genesis 23:1-20). It was the Bible’s first mention of a financial transaction.

Why would they spend so much time on this event? When Sarah died, Abraham needed a tomb and approached the Hittites, about buying a cave and a nearby field from one of their men.

Though the man offered to give the land to Abraham, the Patriarch ended up paying full price. Since several men and the elders of the city witnessed the transaction (v 18), the Bible clearly showed the official status of this sale. The NASV says the land was “deeded” to Abraham (v 17).

Though it was just a plot of ground to bury his family, it was the only land Abraham ever owned in the Promised Land. Because of this, it served as a guarantor of the promise that was to come — that one day Abraham’s heirs would own it all.

But there was more to this tomb that just that. It would eventually become the burial-place for Sarah, who was the first person mentioned buried in the Bible (Genesis 23:19), Abraham (Genesis 25:9-10); their son Isaac and wife Rebekah (Genesis 49:29-32), Isaac’s son Jacob and his wife Leah (Genesis 50:12-13; Genesis 49:31).

Missing from the tomb was Abraham’s son Ishmael, Isaac’s wayward son Esau and Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel who they buried near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19), putting her burial near the tombs just discovered.

Since the line of King David came through Jacob’s least favorite wife, Leah, this tomb only contained the bodies of those through whom the promised Messiah — Jesus — would eventually come. This tomb essentially served as guarantor for two great promises.

The traditional site of Abraham’s tomb is Machpelah at the city of Hebron (Genesis 23:19) . There is an ancient building in Hebron, first built during the time of King Herod, marking the site. In recent years, they have discovered two caves beneath this building that may have been the Patriarch’s tomb.

For several centuries, Hebron was under the control of the Muslims. During that time they turned the building into a Mosque including adding minarets. They also prevented access to the site by non-Muslims.

Under an agreement worked out in 1967 after the six-day war, people are now allowed to visit the tomb. Today, Muslims control 80% of the building and Jews 20%. Each group (Jew and Muslim) are only allowed complete access to the building for just ten days a year.


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