Was Jacob buried at Machpelah near Mamre, or at Shechem?

Posted on Sep.05, 2009. Filed in Genesis, Acts. Average rating: 3.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Jacob was buried in a tomb bought by Abraham, but the Bible is unclear concerning where this tomb was.

In Genesis, before Jacob dies he gives instructions to his sons that he is to be buried in a cave in Machpelah near Mamre:

Then he [Jacob] charged them, saying to them, ‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.’ When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. [Genesis 49:29-33, NRSV]

When Jacob died, it took forty days to embalm his body, and the Egyptians then mourned him for seventy days [Genesis 50:3]. Then, Joseph buried Jacob according to his wishes:

So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. Both chariots and charioteers went p with him. It was a very great company… Thus his sons did for him as he had instructed them. They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham bought as a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. [Genesis 50:7-9, 12-13]

In Acts, however, Stephen includes Jacob among those who were buried in a tomb at Shechem:

‘Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relative to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.’ [Acts 7:14-16, NRSV]

Machpelah was near Mamre, just north of Hebron, but about 50 miles south of Shechem; they are not the same place.

So was Jacob buried at Machpelah near Mamre, or at Shechem?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Ah Stephen again. We’ve had problems with his memory before, haven’t we? :)

  2. 2

    Stephen may actually be right this time though, if he was referring to where Joseph, not Jacob, was buried. But given his past record…

  3. 3

    To be honest, I’m starting to worry about most of the reported speech in Acts. It seems that there’s usually some detail that’s problematic.

  4. 4

    You may have some cases in mind that you haven’t considered here, Errancy. But, if we are just looking at the cases you’ve brought forward so far, your concern about all reported speech in Acts strikes me as hasty.

    In his one speech in Scripture, Stephen made a few flubs about some incidentals in the lives of Abraham and Jacob. Clearly Stephen did not know this cluster of facts thoroughly.

    Apart from that, you’ve mentioned two of Paul’s reports about his conversion where Paul’s misspeaking is a possibility. But in those cases, there are other plausible explanations for the alleged error.

    Even without assuming that the Apostles received divine guidance that render the NT inerrant, I tend to prefer an account that does not assume that Paul misspoke in those two cases. He’s recounting an event that occurred in his own life. Indeed, he’s recounting the pivotal event in his life. He is not relating some piece of trivia about events 1200 years in the past. It’s unlikely he got those details wrong.

    Were there other examples of reported speech that contain errors that we are missing?

  5. 5

    You’re quite right, WL; much too hasty. I’m satisfied with alternative explanations in several other cases too.

  6. 6

    … but there are other cases to consider too (e.g. Theudas came after Judas / Theudas came after Gamaliel).

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