In the "chapter of three deaths" (Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac), there is this brief and enigmatic verse: "But Deborah, Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth." (Gen 35:8) This raises a host of questions. How did Deborah get there? Why would the death of Rebekah's nurse be mentioned, and not Rebekah herself? Why bury her under a terebinth (KJV has "oak"), and why is it called the "Tree of Weeping"?

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    When I first saw the title, I thought this was talking about Judge Deborah. I had forgotten there was a nurse with the same name. Jan 7, 2022 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


There is no clear answer to any of these puzzling questions; we are left to speculate.

First, how did Deborah get there? There are two possibilities. One is that she accompanied Jacob all the way from Beer-sheba to Haran, and then back to Canaan—and this is not an implausible idea, as Rebekah might have sent her back to her homeland to help her son. Another is that Deborah connected with the returned prodigal. It seems highly unlikely that Jacob would spend ten years in Canaan without seeing his aged father and his clan; thus he might have been back in touch with Deborah, and her services as nurse might have been again employed by the family.

Now, it might look like a disgrace that the death of the beautiful Rebekah, mother of Israel, is not mentioned, while that of her nurse is mentioned. But perhaps it is not; it depends on the explanation, and there are a few possible explanations.

(1) Rebekah died at some time before Jacob’s return. She was, after all, rather old herself. In that case, the death of Jacob’s beloved mother might have been so painful that the death of her nurse goes proxy for it. This might seem less likely, considering that the deaths of Sarah and Rachel are reported; but the deaths of Leah and many other important women are not reported, though both Rebekah and Leah are said to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah (see Gen 49:31) so perhaps it is not an indication of disgrace after all.

But this does leave open the question why a minor servant like Deborah (mentioned only once before, in passing and without being named, at Gen 24:59) is so honored in a way her deeply important mistress is not. This problem seems to be handled by the fact that the story is told from Jacob’s point of view, and he did not witness his mother’s death.

(2) The other possibility is that the Lord, and Moses, have deliberately omitted the burial of this mother who, whatever her merits, suborned lying in a most holy and important matter. That could explain why Rebekah appears to be disgraced by being passed over in silence. As sad as this would be, it strikes me as a plausible explanation. It also helps explain why Deborah’s death is mentioned: though only a nurse, she is not in disgrace and thus honored above her mistress. This is, however, highly speculative, and as a reading it is certainly not forced by the text.

We can take a further clue from the fact that Deborah was buried beneath the "Tree of Weeping." Why? This would perhaps be a merely colorful detail if not for that fact that Jacob also buried the “strange gods” and earrings under an “oak” (more likely a terebinth tree) just four verses prior. Is this a meaningless coincidence? Probably not, considering that all three items—the strange gods, the earrings, and the nurse—all or mostly originated in Haran. Probably, all partook of a pagan culture which was being symbolically buried beneath a tree with some religious significance, before the Lord gave one of his most extensive blessings, at Beth-el. I do not mean to say that Deborah was in disgrace: the terebinth at which she was laid to rest was called the “Tree of Weeping,” after all. She must have been a beloved servant, and in weeping for her, Jacob might also have been weeping for his mother.

Nevertheless, Deborah represented Haran, which Jacob was led by the Lord to put firmly and permanently behind him. And that probably explains why her death was mentioned: the things of Haran, however much they were valued, are to be buried before the Lord reiterates his promise to give Jacob the land of Canaan (35:9-13).

Thus in view of more relevant evidence, it does seem that (1) is the better explanation: Rebekah, buried in the family tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, passed on before Jacob arrived home, and that is why her burial is not mentioned here.

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    Good answer. Another possible contributing fact was her apparent great age - at least 160 years old! This was much older than Rebekah.
    – Dottard
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:54
  • OK! I still haven’t bothered to look up/calculate her age but figured she would be quite old. Jan 7, 2022 at 14:14

The Book of Jubilees has Rebekah dying at 155 years old...5 years before Isaac. Deborah at that point would have had to be at least 180 years old, the same as Isaac or older!


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