« PreviousContinue »
No. IX.—APRIL, 1864.
THE SEPULCHRE IN SYCHEM. This is a matter which requires a little careful consideration, but presents no insurmountable difficulty. In Acts vii, 15, 16, we read, “So Jacob went down into Egypt and died, he and our fathers, and they were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of Emmor, the father of Sychem."
The first impression from these words is that St. Stephen meant to teach us that Jacob, as well as “our fathers," were carried over into Sychem. But that Jacob was not buried in Sychem, but at Hebron, was a matter of such notoriety, that we cannot suppose that St. Stephen could have been ignorant of the circumstance, and therefore we must suppose that he could not have intended to convey the impression that he was buried in Sychem. In Genesis xxv. 8-10, we read, “ Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 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.” In Genesis xlix. 29–31 we read, “And he (Jacob) 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 Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought
NEW SERIES. -VOL. V., NO. IX.
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 Rebecca his wife, and there I buried Leah." In Genesis 1. 12, 13 we also read of Jacob, “And his sons did unto him as he commanded them : for his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a burying place of Ephron the Hittite before Mamre.” The account of the purchase itself is related in Genesis xxiii. In Josephus (Ant., i., 14) we read, “Now Sarah died a little while after, having lived a hundred and twenty-seven years. They buried her in Hebron, the Canaanites publicly allowing them a burying place, which piece of ground Abraham bought for four hundred shekels of Ephron, an inhabitant of Hebron. And both Abraham and his descendants built themselves sepulchres in that place.” In chapter xvii. we read, "A little while after this Abraham died, and he was buried in Hebron with his wife Sarah, by their sons Isaac and Ishmael.” In chapter xxi. 3 we read, “And when he (Jacob) was gone thence, and was come over against Ephrata, he there buried Rachel, who died in childbed : she was the only one of Jacob's kindred that had not the honour of burial at Hebron.” In chap. xxii. I we read, “Isaac also died not long after the coming of his son, and was buried by his sons with his wife in Hebron, where they had a monument belonging to them from their forefathers." In book ii., viii., 1, we read, “But Joseph by the king's permission carried his father's dead body to Hebron, and there buried it at a great expense."
Further: Dean Stanley in his Sinai and Palestine, page 101, speaking of Hebron, says, “ High above us on the eastern height of the town, which is nestled, Italian-like, on the slope of a ravine, rose the two long black walls and two stately minarets of that illustrious mosque, one of the four sanctuaries of the Mahometan world, sacred in the eyes of all the world besides, which covers the cave of Machpelah, the last resting place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." I will now give extracts from a letter, dated Jerusalem, April 9th, 1862, describing the visit of the Prince of Wales to the Mosque of Hebron, printed in the Guardian, April 30th, 1862, page 421 :
“ Of all the great patriarchal family, Rachel alone is absent in the tomb selected for her by Jacob on the spot where she died on the way to Bethlehem. We are not left to conjecture the reverence that was paid to this spot when the descendants of Abraham dwelt in the country and occupied it as their own. Josephus expressly informs us that it was surrounded by them by vast walls, existing even to this day. That these walls are the massive enclosures, on the exterior of which so many eager
eyes have been fixed in our own times, can hardly be doubted. ... This building (the mosque) occupies (to speak roughly) about one-third of the platform. I proceed to describe its relation to the sepulchres of the patriarchs. It is the innermost of the outer porticoes which contains the two first. In the recess on the right is the alleged tonub of Abraham; on the left that of Sarah, each guarded by silver gates. . . . Within the area of the church or mosque were shewn in like manner the tombs of Isaac and Rebekah. . . . The tombs of Jacob and Leah were shewn in recesses corresponding to those of Abrabam and Sarah, but in a separate cloister opposite the entrance of the mosque. Thus far the monuments of the mosque adhere strictly to the Biblical account as given above. The variation which follows rests, as I am informed by Dr. Rosen, on the general tradition of the country (justified perhaps by an ambiguous expression in Josephus), that the body of Joseph, after having been deposited first at Shechem (Joshna xxiv. 32), was subsequently transported to Hebron. But the peculiar situation of the alleged tomb agrees with the exceptional character of the tradition. ... It will be seen that up to this point no mention has been made of the subject of the greatest interest to all of us,-namely, the sacred cave itself, in which one at least of the patriarchal family may still be believed to repose intact—the embalıned body of Jacob.”
With such a notoriety of Jacob having been buried at Hebron, preserved even unto this day, we cannot conceive that St. Stephen could have been ignorant of the circumstance; and therefore when he says in Acts vii. 16, “ They were carried over into Sychem,” we must not understand the words as applying to Jacob, but as applying only to “our fathers," in verse 15.
A passage of similar construction also occurs in verse 4 of this remarkable speech of St. Stephen; and the misunderstanding of it has led myself into error. In this verse St. Stephen says, " Then came he (Abraham) out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Charran, and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land wherein ye now dwell.” The common interpretation of this passage is, that Abraham removed from Charran after his father's death, and with this interpretation the passage could not be reconciled with Genesis xi. 26, 32; xii. 4; in reference to the age of Terah at the birth of Abraham. It seemed also quite inconsistent with the wellknown obedience of Abraham, that he should have remained in Charran with his father until after his father's death, when the Lord had expressly said to him, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. xii. 1). It was the opinion of Philo,a that Abraham remained but a short time in Charran, and came out of it before the death of his father. That Abraham's stay in Charran was short, appears from the joint testimony of Genesis xii. 4, and Josephus (Ant., i. 7). According to Genesis he was seventy-five years old when he came out of Charran, and, according to Josephus, he was seventy-five years old when he came out of Chaldea. Thus, he must have come out of Charran the same year in which he came into it; and upon the whole I came to the conclusion that Acts vii. 4 could not be accurate. This appears in my work on Chronology (1858), and I have referred to it in my Reply to the Bishop of Natal. But my present position is, that Acts vii. 4 must be held to be strictly accurate, and that Philo is to be referred to as pointing to the sense in which it is to be understood, namely, that St. Stephen did not mean that Abraham came out of Charran after his father's death, but only that God removed him into Canaan after his father's death; that is, that the words, "when his father was dead," are to be referred, not to the previous words, “from thence," but only to the following words," he removed him into this land ;” and such is the view of this passage held by Augustine. In his De Civitate Dei (lib. xvi., chap. 15, sec. 1, tom. vii., p. 430), Augustine says: “After these words of God (Gen. xii. l), which were addressed to Abraham, the Scripture says, So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him, and Lot went with him, and Abram was seventy-five years old when he went out of Charran.' How could this be true, if he came out of Charran after the death of his father?” In sec. ii. Augustine also says, “The following statement of St. Stephen,
a De Migratione Abrahame, tom. i. 463: De eo quod a Deo mittantur somnia, p. 627-8: De Abrahamo, tom. ii., p. 11.
And from thence, after his father was dead, he placed him in this land, in which ye now dwell,' does not say that after his father was dead he came out of Charran, but that from thence he placed him here after his father was dead. ... But it says that his collocation in the land of Canaan, not his coming out of Charran, took place after his father was dead.”
Thus, this statement of St. Stephen, in which his words, “when his father was dead,” are to be referred only to Abraham's coming into Canaan, and not also to his coming out Charran, is exactly parallel to his statement in verse 16, in which his words, “were carried over into Sychem," are to be referred only to "our fathers" in verse 16, and not to Jacob also. Thus, these two passages mutually confirm each other. But if the age of Terah is rightly given by the Hebrew text (Gen. xi. 32), as two hundred and five years, the coming of Abraham into Canaan must have been sixty years after his departure from Chaldea : but this does not seem consistent with his well-known ready obedience; and on this ground I adopt the age of Terah, as given by the Hebrew Samaritan text, at a hundred and fortyfive years. With this supposition the coming of Abraham into Canaan might have been in the same year in which he came out of Chaldea and out of Charran, and his coming out of Charran might also have been before the death of his father. As to the Hebrew Samaritan text, Dr. Kennicott, in the account of the tenth year of his labours in collating the copies of the Hebrew text, says in his page 145 :—"And indeed the Samaritan Pentateuch should, in my opinion, be held very precious, because I apprehend that some places in the Hebrew Pentateuch will never be intelligible, nor others ever become defensible, till corrected agreeably to the Samaritan.”
But the difficulty which we have thus far noticed, is not the only one which occurs as to the sepulchre in Sychem.
According to St. Stephen, the sepulchre in Sychem was bought by Abraham, and the objection is, we read in Genesis xxxiii. 18, 19, “And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram, and pitched his tent before the city, and he bought a parcel of a field where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for a hundred pieces of money." We also read in Genesis xxiii. 16, 18, "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 merchants, 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 the city.” This purchase by Abraham is also mentioned in Genesis xxv. 9, 10; xlix. 29, 30; and 1. 13: but we find no mention in Holy Scripture, or in Josephus, of any purchase made by Abraham of any sepulchre in Sychem; and the inference drawn from this silence is, that St. Stephen has confounded the purchase by Abraham at Hebron, with the purchase by Jacob in Sychem. But the wide and well-known distinction between the two, and the acquaintance with the history of the Jews, which St. Stephen has shewn in his speech before the council, should forbid the suspicion that St. Stephen could have made any confusion in the matter; and the solution of the difficulty may be, that the sepulchre in Shechem was first purchased by Abraham, then retaken possession of by the sons of Emmor, and then repurchased by Jacob. That Jacob had an altercation with the Amorites, is stated in Genesis xlviii. 22, as Jacob said to Joseph, “ Moreover, I have given to thee one portion above