Genesis 23

The Burial of Sarah


Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan (Genesis 23:2).

Up to this point, Abraham has more commonly been associated with the nearby site of Mamre. The proximity of the two sites is noted repeatedly in Genesis (e.g., Gen 13:18; Gen 35:27). This photo was taken from the hill on which the ancient city of Hebron was built, now known as Tel Rumeida. The modern city now fills the gap between the two and covers a considerable around them. This American Colony photograph was taken between 1898 and 1914.

Bronze Age Tombs

He said, “I am stranger and a sojourner among you; give me property for a burial place” (Genesis 23:4).

Thousands of shaft graves from the Intermediate Bronze Age (also known as Early Bronze IV or Middle Bronze I) were found at Ein Samiya, which is located about 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Bethel. This is approximately the time of the biblical patriarchs. The opening of the shaft tomb visible in the lower center of this photo is now filled with soil.

An Official Transaction

Let him sell it to me in your presence as a burial place, at the full price (Genesis 23:9).

A transaction of the sort suggested by Abraham might be expected to be accompanied by a written document like the one shown here. This tablet likely dates to the Middle Bronze Age, although it could date to the Late Bronze Age. It is an economic text that lists sheep and goats, possibly as sacrificial offerings. This tablet was photographed at the Israel Museum.

The City's Gates

He answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hethites and all who went in at the gate of his city (Genesis 23:10).

The city gate of Bronze Age Hebron has not yet been discovered, but a stretch of Bronze Age city wall has been excavated on the southern side of the city. This aerial view shows the area of the ancient city (Tel Rumeida), including some of the recent excavations.

Trees in Hebron

The field, and the cave that was in it, and all the trees that were in the field . . . (Genesis 23:18)

The specific reference to trees in the negotiations between Abraham and Ephron is interesting. The plot of land apparently had a number of mature trees that were considered valuable. One of the tree species that grows well in this area, and produces a valuable crop each year, is the olive tree. The olive fruit can be consumed but can also be processed to produce olive oil, which was a valuable commodity from very ancient times.

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