Tomb of the Patriarchs

Why was Abraham so insistent that Sarah be buried in this specific cave?

By Nosson Shulman, Licensed Tour Guide

“And Ephron’s Field….And the cave within and all the trees in the field…was confirmed as Abraham’s as a purchase in the view of the Children of Heth…Afterwards Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah…which is in Hebron, in the Law of Canaan (Genesis 23: 17-19)”

An entire chapter in the Bible is dedicated to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, showing the site’s importance in scripture. Today we will visit this holy site, which unfortunately is not on many tour itineraries, but should be!

According to the Biblical account, Abraham learned of Sarah’s death after the Binding of Isaac. During the return trip to his home in Beersheba (going south on today’s Route 60), he passed through the city of Hebron and that was where he heard of his beloved wife’s demise.

Heartbroken, Abraham wanted to bury Sarah in the best plot of land, the Cave of the Patriarchs, owned by Ephron the Hittite.

Abraham asked the local Canaanites who revered him, to intercede on his behalf with Ephron to sell his field and cave. Ephron agreed, but at the outrageous price of 400 shekels in the currency “most accepted by merchants”. Despite its high price, Abraham accepted and paid him.


The burial of Sarah by Gustave Dore (Wikimedia Commons)

Why was Abraham so insistent that Sarah be buried in this cave?

According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was once herding his cattle when a bullock went into the cave. Abraham went to catch him and immediately smelled the aroma of the Garden of Eden. He also discovered that this was the burial spot of Adam and Eve, and knew that this was where he wanted his family to be ultimately buried.

Another question arises: Why did Abraham have to buy property? G-d had already promised Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit Israel as an eternal possession?

Jewish sources reveal three places in Israel where leaders bought their own “inherited” land, so that no one should later claim that they were stolen (as many in the UN and Islamic world claim today):

1. The Temple Mount (located at Mount Moriah) purchased by King David (Samuel II 24: 18-25)

2. Joseph’s Tomb which was bought by Jacob in Shechem (Genesis 33: 18-19)

3. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (Genesis, ch. 23)

Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are all buried here.

This grand building you see today was built on top of the cave by the infamous King Herod more than 2,000 years ago.

Indeed, as you enter the building, you are walking on flooring more than 2 millennia old!


Inside the Cave of the Patriarchs building with its ancient floors. (Nosson Shulman)

The cave itself, which is under the building, has been inaccessible for the last 700 years, when a fanatical Islamic empire called the Mamelukes took control and sealed the cave to all. They banned Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims from even entering the building.

In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel liberated Hebron. Chief Rabbi Goren of the Israeli Defense Forces was so excited for the return of Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the Second Temple era, that he drove himself to the cave building and hoisted the Israeli flag atop the building several hours before the IDF arrived.

Rabbi Shlomo Goren

Rabbi Goren atop the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1967. (Jewish Community of Hebron via Nosson Shulman)

Immediately, non-Muslims were permitted by Israel to enter the building for the first time in centuries. In a failed, unreciprocated gesture of peace, Israel allowed the Palestinians to take control of the majority of the building in the late 1990’s with Israel retaining a smaller section that allowed Jews, Christians and people of faith from all over the world to experience its majesty (see blue on the below map).

On your next trip to Israel, I highly recommend you put a visit to Hebron into your itinerary!

Nosson Shulman is a journalist and Licensed Tour Guide in Israel specializing in Biblical tours. To allow tourists to experience Israel during the Corona era, he created the new hit Israel tour video series, which brings Israel to the home of viewers by simulating actual tours. To check out his free sneak preview tour videos, click here. To view sample tour itineraries or to inquire about private tour opportunities with a personalized itinerary on your next trip to Israel, click here.