Todd Bolen’s thoughts on Rachel’s Tomb

Todd Bolen of made an interesting comment in response to my post on Rachel’s Tomb, which wouldn’t show up in the comments box. Todd has an excellent knowledge of the Land of Israel and his comments are always worth reading. Here is his comment:

Thank you for your research on this challenging issue. Porter’s explanation is certainly a creative way of handling the problem. I’ve written up an explanation which is a bit more traditional in having support from numerous scholars in the last hundred years. I will post that later today at I want to suggest here a few potential weaknesses in this proposed solution:
The texts locate Migdal Eder in relation to Jerusalem, not to Bethlehem. As far as I can tell, in the Sheqalim text, Migdal Eder could be any direction from Jerusalem, not near Bethlehem as you write. Micah 4:8 clearly places it near Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. In that case, Rachel’s tomb cannot be at the traditional location, because Rachel was buried north of Migdal Eder.
There is no evidence that tribal borders moved. As you say, Kiriath-jearim was located on the Judah-Benjamin border. Jerusalem was also on the north side of the border. That the borders would have expanded significantly at Judah’s expense in the period *before Saul became king* seems unlikely given Benjamin’s weakness and major population decrease (Judg 20-21). In any case, the shift proposed here is 5 miles, an enormous alteration for which we would expect to see some other evidence. The only evidence for it is the location of Rachel’s tomb, and I think there’s a much easier solution to handle this piece of data.
The first map does not correctly reflect the border description of Benjamin which runs through the Hinnom Valley *north to Mei Nephtoah* and west to Kiriath-jearim. The Mei Nephtoah point is very inconvenient for Porter’s theory, but it should not be ignored.
Thanks again for this post and your insights. As always, I benefit from your wisdom and experience.

Todd explained his own position on the location of Rachel’s Tomb in his latest post.

As I mentioned in my post, certainty eludes us as to the location of Rachel’s Tomb, as there are too many unknowns. I only put up Porter’s ideas for curiosity’s sake, as I know the difficulty of the connection with Benjamin’s border in the account of Samuel.
I remember visiting Qubur Bani Isra’il a long time ago, but didn’t know then what to make of these massive stone monuments, one of which has a small chamber built into it. My initial impression was of that of tank barriers, but I soon realised that they may be archaeological structures. Some visitors in the 19th century even called them  megalithic monuments. They were apparently also known as Kabiir el Amalikeh, the Tombs of the Amalekites. It would be interesting to excavate them.

However, as you say in your post: “The best evidence for answering this question is the oldest evidence.” In this case, it is the record of Rachel’s delivery of Benjamin and her subsequent death and burial in Genesis 35, where Ephrath is mentioned twice (vs. 16 and 19) and connected with Bethlehem in vs.19. It is highly unlikely to say the least, that two place names, at the same time, both referred to the much lesser known sites of the same name, as you suggest, and not to the places which are of such major significance in the Bible record. Although Bethlehem is assigned firmly to Judah in passages such as Judges 17.8 and Ruth 1.2, one could not expect the same in the book of Genesis, before the tribal portions had been allocated.

So, despite the problems thrown up by poorly understood later passages, one would expect the tomb of Rachel to have been located close to the entrance to Bethlehem. Its exact location remains one of those unresolved questions of Biblical geography.

25 thoughts on “Todd Bolen’s thoughts on Rachel’s Tomb”

  1. This painting of the Tomb of Rachel dates from 1911 and is one of the illustrations in The Heart of the Bible by Elia Broadus (ed), published as part of Nelson’s Bible Series.

  2. Leen – thanks for the kind words and response. I agree that without further explanation, one naturally expects Bethlehem/Ephrata to be the same one as mentioned later in the biblical record. But it’s tough to fit that together with 1 Samuel 10:2. If you haven’t seen the comment by Benj Foreman on my post, I recommend that for further thought.

  3. Hello Leen. I have been a fan of your work for many years now. I am trying to find more information on the Migdal Eder. I read in an article that the remains of the base of the tower is “still visible” but I cannot find anything more as to it’s exact location or any photos. Can you help me? Thank you!

  4. Hi Deborah,
    I don’t believe that remains of the tower are still existing. The general location would the the Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem, but then there is a Greek Orthodox and a Catholic Shepherds’ Field! In other words, we don’t know the exact location.

  5. Thank you Leen, I thought that might be the situation. One more question, if I may? I have run across the idea that the Migdal Eder was actually one of the old watch towers from the anicent citadel of David near Bethlehem that even by the time of Jesus had fallen into ruin except for the one tower that was still being used as a watch tower by the shepherds who kept watch over the Temple flock. Do you suppose there is any credence to that?

  6. P.S. I notice no one posted the 1894 photograph of the traditional tomb of Rachel:

  7. Leen, I know I’m being a nuisance, but I wonder if you would take a look at a couple of very old photographs I have run across in my research that shows what appears to me to be the foundations of a very large ancient watchtower overlooking fields with the village of Bethlehem across the valley on the hill in the distance. The first photo is a very good view of the ruins. The second photo is another view with the same ruins on the far right of the photo. No dates are given for the photos but they must date to at least the early 1900’s if not late 1800’s. I cannot orient myself to determine where exactly these photos were taken from and where this ruin might be/have been located except that the second photograph is identified as a view of Bethlehem “from the east.” It seems to be much too large a foundation for just a simple vineyard watchtower like the ones so common throughout the land. They are usually smaller and not as formidable as this appears to be. I would greatly appreciate and value your expert opinion.

  8. Leen, I won’t go into all the history of all this, but it seems to me that this foundation was for a tower much larger than those used out in the vineyards during the vintage to keep watch and guard against thieves. Plus, those watchtowers were always freestanding. This one seems to be jutting out from a structure, as you can see from the second photo. Plus, they didn’t build watchtowers to watch over sheep. Sheep were migratory and the shepherds kept them on the move seeking pasturage and water, during the dry season traveling considerable distances. The reason there was a watchtower in Bethlehem for shepherds to watch over sheep is that the flocks kept there were not ordinary sheep, they are referred to in a couple of different Talmudic writings as the “Temple flock,” meaning they were sheep intended to be used for sacrifice in Jerusalem but were kept in Bethlehem until they could be inspected by the priests and then were bought up to the city for sacrifice. In that case, there would be flocks, and even herds, kept in these fields year-round, much like a stockyard. Indeed, in the days before the festivals there would be thousands of animals kept here in preparation for the offerings. But I may be way out on a limb here with these photos so I would appreciate your opinion.

  9. Deborah,
    I appreciate your thoughts and agree that the “Temple flock” was kept at Migdal Eder. The structure in the picture, however, is a water cistern or well. The lady in the picture is drawing water and her water jar is standing on the well head.

  10. Mystery solved! Goes to show that an amateur just doesn’t see things that are so obvious to one more learned. I guess that brings me back to either the Catholic or the Greek Orthodox sites in Beit Sahur. I tend to lean toward the Greek site which has the oldest ruins and was the site Queen Helena identified. I think she gets a bad rap but she seems to have been very diligent to locate the sites that the locals and tradition held sacred. But thank you for identifying that structure and satisfying my curiosity. I am very happy to have found this website, I have been a fan of your work ever since I first saw your Temple Mount reconstruction drawings in the November/December 1989 issue of BAR (which I still have in my library)! I was priviledged to conduct the virtual tours of Herod’s Temple Mount at the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Mobile, Alabama and my knowledge has been largely gleaned from studying your work. Thank you for all your efforts in helping us to envision the Temple and Herodian Jerusalem as it was at the time of Christ. You are a blessing!

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