The Cave of the Patriarchs, also called the Cave of Machpelah and known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham or the Ibrahimi Mosque is a series of subterranean chambers located in the heart of the Old City of Hebron (Al-Khalil) in the Hebron Hills. According to tradition the cave and adjoining field were purchased by Abraham as a burial plot.
Dating back over 2,000 years, the monumental Herodian compound is believed to be the oldest continuously used intact prayer structure in the world, and is the oldest major building in the world that still fulfills its original function. The Hebrew name of the complex reflects the very old tradition of the double tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, considered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, who are all believed to be buried there. The only Jewish matriarch missing is Rachel, who is believed to be buried at Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem.
According to the Book of Genesis 23:1–20, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, "died in Kiryat-arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan". Abraham the Hebrew (Avraham Ha-Ivri) was tending to business elsewhere when she died, at the age of 127 years, and he "came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2) After a while, he stood up and spoke to the "sons of Heth" and requested they give him a possession as a "burying place", and they offered him his "choice" of their sepulchres. And then in verse 7 he again "stood up" to speak to them. Abraham then requested that Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, give him the cave of Machpelah, in the end of his field, "for as much money as it is worth". (verse 9) After Ephron confirmed that he would give the cave, in verse 11, Abraham further requested that he give him the field for money, in verse 13. Ephron agreed and named a price.
Genesis 23:16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.
The burial of Sarah is the first account of a burial in the Bible, and this is the first commercial transaction mentioned. The next burial in the cave of Machpelah is that of Abraham, who lived "an hundred threescore and fifteen years" – 100 years unto the birth of Isaac, and threescore (60) more years unto the births of Esau and Jacob, with whom he spent his last 15 years. The title deed to the cave was part of the property of Abraham that passed to his son Isaac in Genesis 25:5–6.
Genesis 25:9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.
Isaac was 180 years old when he died, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. (Genesis 35:28–29) As noted above, Isaac was 60 when they were born, so they were 120 years old here, which is 10 years before Jacob, at the age of 130, stood before Pharaoh in Genesis 47:9. Jacob died later at the age of 147 years. (Genesis 47:28) There is no mention of how or when Isaac's wife Rebecca died, but she is included in the list of those that had been buried in Machpelah in Jacob's final words to the children of Israel:
Genesis 49:29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.
In the final chapter of Genesis, Joseph had his physicians embalm his father, before they removed him from Egypt to be buried in the cave of the field of Machpelah. (Genesis 50:1–14) When Joseph died in the last verse, he was also embalmed. He was buried much later in Shechem (Joshua 24:32) after the children of Israel came into the promised land.
The temple is split in two and the Muslims worship on one side and the Jews on the other side. Neither allow the other inside their side of the temple however Christians and tourists may enter either side when there is not formal prayer being held.
Link to google maps (Be sure to print maps if travelling to the site as the roads are not found on GPS): HERE
Click photo to see larger image and longer description:
CAVE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PATRIARCHS - HEBRON
This the Jewish side entrance.
The signage for the temple are directed to the Muslim Mosque however it's the same temple. It is the easiest way to find the temple.
Interior of the Jewish side of the temple.
Interior of the Jewish side of the temple.