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Genesis 48 records the death of Rachel:

But as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). -Genesis 48:7 (NKJV)

Since Rachel was Jacob's favorite wife it seems strange to me that she was just buried beside the road and not placed in a tomb.

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    @JamesShewey Ossuaries are late second temple practice influenced by Greek culture. Pre-exilic practice was family burial mounds for the poor and family burial vaults hewn in the bedrock for the wealthy. The family aspect is paramount as seen from David's re-burial of Saul and Jonathan in their family vaults, even though they had already been properly buried by the elders of Yabesh Jil'ad in the Gil'ad. Even w/o the edit, the OP is answerable from internal OT sources. Ref. faculty.biu.ac.il/~testsm/qburamis.html, lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=14254
    – user17080
    Apr 24, 2017 at 6:01
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    I suggest "Why was Rachel buried along the road and not in the family tomb in the Cave of Machpelah?" as an edited version of the question, because the family tomb at the Cave of Machpelah is also in Canaan (it was just 20 miles to the south). Jan 16, 2022 at 4:25

6 Answers 6

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The word used is buried (qbr), but we should not assume that refers to only modern-style graves and not tombs. For example, in Genesis 23, Abraham offers to buy land to gbr Sarah (23:4). The people he is haggling with use the words sepulcher and bury together (23:6). He then entombs her in a cave on the field (23:19). Abraham was also entombed there upon his death (25:9, 10) using the same word in question.

I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. (Genesis 23:4)

Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead. (Genesis 23:6)

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 23:19)

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. (Genesis 25:9, 10)

The word does also mean to simply bury without a tomb, as seen in Genesis 35:8 when Rebekah's nurse dies.

But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth. (Genesis 35:8)

The word allows for entombed, and Jacob's raising of a pillar (35:20) there shows that even if it is a below-ground grave, he marked the place where his beloved lay.

KJV used. Emphasis added to all verses above. Bold shows the use of qbr. Italics show qbr being used in reference to an above-ground tomb or sepulchre.

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Rachel died after giving birth to Benjamin:

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.” 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni;a but his father called him Benjamin.b 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
-Genesis 35:16-20 (NKJV)


a Literally Son of My Sorrow
b Literally Son of the Right Hand

and the circumstances, whatever they were, apparently did not allow for Jacob to carry her body to the cave where he later buried Leah:

29 Then he [Jacob] charged them [his sons] and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 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 as a possession for a burial place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.” 33 And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
-Genesis 49:29-33 (NKJV)

John Gill supposes that since Jacob “had his flocks and herds with him, which could move but slowly;” that this played a part in not allowing him to bring her to Machpelah.

However, note that Rachel's tomb was significant enough to serve as a marker centuries later when Samuel tells Saul to look for two men by her tomb:

1 Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his [Saul's] head, and kissed him and said: “Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance? 2 When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah....”
-1 Samuel 10:1-2 (NKJV)

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Rachel was a type all that is worldly and therefore was buried by the wayside Leah was outwardly unattractive but inwardly she was more righteous than Rachel and therefore was interred in the cave at macpelah.

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  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site operates. An interesting claim, but do you have some references to support it? Unsupported claims don't make convincing arguments.
    – enegue
    Jul 17, 2017 at 0:23
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To answer this question, let us first ask: how far away was Machpelah? Some 20 miles farther down the road to the south. With so many pack animals, it would not have been terribly inconvenient to take her body there. We are not told why Jacob did not do so.

There are various possibilities. Perhaps his father and grandfather had simply not told him of the family burial plot, and however unlikely this might seem, that was surely possible and cannot be ruled out. Rachel’s recent death would surely have been a topic of conversation when the clan met with the dying Isaac (Gen 35:27); at that point, Isaac would have reminded Jacob of the field and cave of Machpelah (23:9, 17, 19). This strikes me as being not very likely, because Jacob was around 15 when Abraham died, and he would probably have been on hand, at the Cave of Machpelah itself, for the interring of his grandfather.

Perhaps Jacob thought that only one wife per patriarch should be buried there. If so, why might he think so? Well, perhaps because more than one would be disrespectful to the memory of Sarah and Rebekah, or perhaps because Jacob had come to believe that monogamy was the Lord’s plan. In that case, Jacob might have opted to bury the surviving, more fertile wife. This strikes me as being a strong possibility.

Finally, we must not neglect the sad but real possibility is that Rachel was in some disgrace, because she had stolen Laban’s idols—which implicated her, at least potentially both in idolatry and certainly in a theft that had put the whole family at risk. It is possible indeed that Jacob was struck by the impression that the Lord had in the end punished Rachel for the theft and/or idolatry that had been hidden for so long. Support for the latter hypothesis comes from the fact that Jacob had already buried other items that were “of Haran”: his clan’s idols, earrings, and Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah. In the present chapter, therefore, we might well ask whether Rachel, too, was buried as being among those things that were “of Haran.”

But a strong argument against this last theory is that in the very next verse, Jacob "set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day." (35:20) The presence of a memorial stone that survives over 400 years suggests that Rachel was not buried in any disgrace.

All this said, I do not think the text supports any of these hypotheses very strongly. Sometimes, "I do not know" or "it is unclear" is the best conclusion.

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According to the sources I check it was under 14 miles from Bethlehem to Machphelah. Even if your mileage is correct (20) then walking at a slow speed of 2 miles an hour and given short rest periods they could have arrived within 12 hours.A body will start to decompose between 24 to 72 hours after death depending or what the body exposure. Jacob was head that way anyway.I would agree, if he had traveled with all of his people and livestock it would have taken to long and by then Rachel's body would have too far gone. If he had taken a few men, put her on a wagon and went ahead he could have gotten there in time to prepare her body and layed in the tomb. It is inconceivable to me that Jacob wouldn't have made every attempt to bury her at Machphelah unless he received instruction otherwise. What Jacob did with Rachel was prophetic for it was to typifie that her sons Joseph (Ephraim & Manasseh) Benjamin would be separated from the other sons of Jacob. Joseph was when, he was sold and Benjamin was separated fro

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    Mar 6, 2023 at 0:53
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Unless there was words of the deceased, otherwise the Scripture usually described the deaths were buried in where they died.

Genesis 35:8 - Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth

Numbers 20:1 - In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Deuteronomy 10:6 - The Israelites traveled from the wells of Bene Jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died and was buried, and Eleazar his son succeeded him as priest.

Ruth 1:17 - Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. (NIV)

It may have required to bury the death before the sunset.

Deuteronomy 21:23 - you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. (NIV)

Regarding to the situation of Rachel; her death was written in Genesis 35:16-19

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty.

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). (NIV)

It appeared that Rachel died near Bethel than Bethlehem, and it was still a long distance to arrive Hebron before the sunset. So Jacob buried her in where she died, as a tradition.

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