Name of a field and cave bought by Abraham as a burying-place. The meaning of the name, which always occurs with the definite article, is not clear; according to the Targumim and the Septuagint it means "the double," while Gesenius ("Th."), with more reason, connects it with the Ethiopic for "the portion." It appears to have been situated near Mamre, or Hebron, and to have belonged to Epbron the Hittite. Abraham needed a burying-place for Sarah, and bought the field of the Machpelah, at the end of which was a cave, paying four hundred silver shekels. The cave became the family burying-place, Sarah being the first to be buried there; later, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob were placed there (Gen. xxiii. 9, 16-20; xxv. 9; xlix. 30-31; 1. 13). It is designated twice only as the "cave" of the Machpelah (Gen. xxiii. 9, xxv. 9); in the other instances it is called "the cave of the field of the Machpelah" or "the cave in the field of the Machpelah." No further reference is made to it or to the burying-place of the Patriarchs, though some scholars find an allusion to it in II Sam. xv. 7, 9.
Josephus speaks of the purchase of Ephron's field at Hebron by Abraham as a place of burial and of the tombs (Μνημεῖα) built there by Abraham and his descendants, without, however, mentioning the name "Machpelah" ("Ant." i. 14. 22). In the twelfth century the cave of the Machpelah began to attract visitors and pilgrims, and this aroused the curiosity and wonder of the natives. Benjamin of Tudela relates: "At Hebron there is a large place of worship called 'St. Abraham,' which was previously a Jewish synagogue. The natives erected there six sepulchers, which they tell foreigners are those of the Patriarchs and their wives, demanding money as a condition of seeing them. If a Jew gives an additional fee to the keeper of the cave, an iron door which dates from the time of our forefathers opens, and the visitor descends with a lighted candle. He crosses two empty caves, and in the third sees six tombs, on which the names of the three Patriarchs and their wives are inscribed inHebrew characters. The cave is filled with barrels containing bones of people, which are taken there as to a sacred place. At the end of the field of the Machpelah stands Abraham's house with a spring in front of it" ("Itinerary," ed. Asher, pp. 40-42, Hebr.). Samuel b. Samson visited the cave in 1210; he says that the visitor must descend by twenty-four steps in a passageway so narrow that the rock touches him on either hand ("Pal. Explor. Fund," Quarterly Statement, 1882, p. 212). Now the cave is concealed by a mosque; this was formerly a church, built by the Crusaders between 1167 and 1187 and restored by the Arabs (comp. Stanley, "Sinai and Palestine," p. 149). See Hebron.
The name of "Machpelah" (= "the doubled one") belongs, according to the Rabbis, to the cave alone, their reasons for the name being various: it was a double cave, with two stories (Rab); it contained pairs of tombs (Samuel); it had a double value in the eyes of people who saw it; any one buried there could expect a double reward in the future world; when God buried Adam there He had to fold him together (Abahu; 'Er. 53a; Gen. R. lviii. 10). Adam and Eve were the first pair buried there, and therefore Hebron, where the cave was situated, bore the additional name of "Kirjath-arba" (= "the city of four"; i.e., of the tombs of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah ('Er. 53a; Soṭah 13a; comp. Gen. R. lviii. 4).
According to Pirḳe R. El. xxxvi., the cave of Machpelah was at Jebus, and the reason that induced Abraham to buy it was the following: When Abraham went to fetch the calf for his guests (comp. Gen. xviii. 7) it escaped to the cave of Machpelah. Abraham ran after it, and when he entered the cave he saw Adam and Eve lying in their beds as though they were sleeping, while lighted candles were around them, exhaling a fragrant odor. Abraham, filled with a desire to possess the cave, determined to buy it at any price. The Jebusites, however, refused to sell it to him until he had sworn that when his descendants conquered the land of Canaan they would spare the city of Jebus (Jerusalem). Abraham accordingly took the oath, and the Jebusites inscribed it on brazen idols which they placed in the markets of the city. This was the reason why the children of Benjamin did not drive out the inhabitants of Jebus (Judges i. 21). Abraham secured his purchase of the cave of Machpelah by a formal deed signed by four witnesses: Amigal, son of Abishua the Hittite; Elihoreph, son of Ashunah the Hivite; 'Iddon, son of Ahira the Gardite; Aḳdul, son of 'Abudish the Zidonite ("Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Ḥayye Sarah," p. 37a, Leghorn, 1870).Title-Deeds.
After Isaac's death, Jacob, desirous of becoming sole owner of the cave of Machpelah, acquired Esau's part of it in exchange for all the riches left him by his father. This sale was also ratified by a document, which Jacob put in an earthen vessel to preserve it from decay (ib. section "Wayesheb," p. 77b). Nevertheless, at the burial of Jacob the cave was the subject of a violent dispute between Jacob's children and Esau. The latter opposed the burial of Jacob in the cave on the ground that there was room only for four pairs, and that Jacob, by burying Leah, had filled up his part. Naphtali returned to Egypt for the title-deed, but meanwhile Hushim, the son of Dan, struck Esau on the head with a stick so that the latter's eyes fell on Jacob's knees (Soṭah l.c.; comp. "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c. pp. 97a-98a, where it is said that Hushim cut off Esau's head, which was buried on the spot). There is another tradition, to the effect that Esau was slain by Judah in the cave of Machpelah at Isaac's burial (Midr. Teh. xviii.; Yalḳ., Gen. 162).