The Mountain of Judah
and the Shephelah

71. Ephratha

A broader assessment of the history of traditions leads to the conclusion that Ephrathah was originally a Judahite clan named after its matriarch which settled in and around Bethlehem, stretching N of Jerusalem to the Benjaminite border at Kiriath-jearim and S to Tekoa. The Davidic family of the clan came from the village of Bethlehem, a fact recalled by which translates Mic 5:1 with "Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah" (oikos tou Ephratha, Hebrew bet-ieprata). In other words, Bethlehem was a village locale within the greater expanse of the clan Ephrathah. As Israel's tribal structure gave way to the monarchy along with the rise of Ephrathah's most famous family as the dynasty, Ephrathah became more and more identified with Bethlehem, its royal village. Later glossators simply thought the two were synonymous (Gen 35:19; 48:7; Josh 15:59a [LXX]).

Lamontte M. Luker, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Ephratha" (extract)

Bethlehem of Judah (Judg 17:7-9; 19:1, 2, 18; Ruth 1:1-2; 1 Sam 17:12) is called Ephrathah (Mic 5:1 - English 5:2). This Ephrathah cannot be the Ephrathah of 1 Sam 10:2 (on the border of Ephraim and Benjamin) near Ramah (Jer 31:15, N of Jerusalem), which in a poetic text is set in parallel with Kiriath-Jearim (Ps 132:6; cf. Melamed 1961; Tsevat 1962; Vogt 1975, with reference to Eusebius; Briend 1983). In Gen 35:19 and 48:7 (both "Priestly" source), Bethlehem is related, not to Ephrathah, but to the "way to Ephrathah" or "coming to Ephrathah" (see also T. Reu. 3:13).
Such identifications are late (like the identification of Mamre with Hebron) and reveal that the postexilic author felt there was a problem with Mic 5:1. The meaning of Ephrathah is to be determined from 1 Sam 17:12. The father of David is said to be an ieprati, i.e., a man of Ephraim (Judg 12:5; 1 Kgs 11:26), just as the two sons of Elimelech and Naomi born in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:2), before Boaz and Jesse. This evidence strongly suggests that at the end of the 2d millennium B.C.E., a clan of Ephraim (Mic 5:1 speaks of an ielep; Judg 6:15; 1 Sam 10:19; cf. Neu 1986) was settled in Bethlehem. The Chronicler's genealogies, which are artificial but always have some foundation, treat Ephrathah both as a spouse of Caleb (1 Chr 2:19) and as a woman who became Caleb's wife after the death of Hezron his father; she was "grandmother" of Tekoa (1 Chr 2:24), a village located in the Judean Desert (cf. Myers Chronicles, Anchor Bible). The Chronicler admits an extension of the clan as far as Debir near Hebron, where Caleb lived (Judg 1:11-12; Josh 15:13).

Henri Cazelles, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Bethlehem" (extract)

P. O'Callaghan (Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, ad v. "Madaba", col. 671)
Ephratha. Lettres blanches, mais sans vignette, ce qui laisse voir que probablement le mosaïste n'a voulu que l'indiquer, comme le pays d'Ephrath dont Bethléem faisait partie. Les récits relatifs à la tombe de Rachel dans Gen. 35,19; 48,7 (si les mots "c'est Bethléem" ne sont pas une glose); le grec de Jos. 15,59a; Ruth 1,2; 2,4; 4,11 confirment les textes de I Chron. 2,51.54 et 4,4. Ainsi Eusèbe (Onom., p. 82, 10 sq.) Ephratha (Gen., 35: 16, 19) chora Bethleem phules Beniamin. Es pros "tes hodo" ethapsan ten Rachel, apo semeion d' tes Hierousalem deiknutai to mnema eis eti nunest corrigé par S. Jérôme (p. 83) qui dit: est autem in tribu Juda, licet plerique male sestimant in tribu Benjamin. Mais peut être la confusion d'Eusèbe est-elle due à l'influence de I Sam., 10,2, qui place le sépulcre de Rachel dans le territoire de Benjamin. Les Talmuds ont tenté de résoudre ce problème, mais avec un succès médiocre (A. Neubauer, op. cit., p. 133).

Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 59)
Reference is here to the famous tomb of Rachel (coord. 169-125), identified since the 4th century as lying near Bethlehem and mentioned by nearly all Christian pilgrims and Early Fathers, and in Jewish and Muslim sources as well.

Khalid Nashef ("Tradition and Reality of Holy Tombs in the Madaba Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, jerusalem 1999, 234-235)
Rachel's Tomb is yet another shrine, to which the Madaba map seems to refer. However the tomb is not mentioned directly, since there is only an inscription with the toponym Ephratha without an accompanying structure. The association of Rachel with Ephratha goes back to the Old Testament (Gen 35:19-20; cf Gen 48:7), where it is said that "Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephratha, which is Bethlehem. Jacob set a pillar upon her grave. That is the pillar Rachel's grave unto this day". Popular religion is evident here. Somewhere near Bethlehem there was a tombstone of some sort, which has been explained at an earlier stage as Rachel's tomb. It is mute question to search for an actual tomb of Rachel north of Jerusalem in the tribal area of Benjamin depending on Old Testament passages (1 Sam 10:2-5, Jer 31:15) where there is an association to Rama. Lombardi (?) refers to those five stone monuments north of Hizma(t), that is, Qubur Beni Isra'in "The tombs of the descendants of Israel". The largest so-called tomb of the group, the function of which is obscure, has the name Qabr Umm beni Isra'in, that is, "The tomb of the mother of the descendants of Isra'in". Also in this instance popular religion is involved. There is no way of connecting the large structure north of Hizma(t) or the tomb near Bethlehem with any historical Rachel, apart from the strong possibility of an aetiology in both cases.
The northern Rachel's Tomb tradition should be sought not far from Rama (modern er-Ram), which is mentioned in the map, and Gibea (= Tell el-Ful). A good candidate would be en-Nabi Ya'qub, that is, Prophet Jacob, a hill just between er-Ram and Tell el-Ful. I am not aware of a connection with a mosque of the same name located within the former Jordanian military camp.
Rachel's Tomb is domed like any other maqam in the country of a weli or shaykh, and as such is first reported by al-Idrisi (?) in the 12th century and later by Mujir al-Din (?). Just as Joseph was buried near an ancient sacred spot, the Ta'amra tribe used to bury their dead near Rachel's shrine.
The Madaba map, however, adds after Ephratha the sentence "A voice was heard in Rama". Assuming here a New Testament tradition, the phrase would be a quotation from the Book of Matthew (2:18) after Jeremiah (31:15), where it represents a reference, already alluded to before, of Rachel lamenting in her tomb. The Piacenza Pilgrim about 570 A. D. has the following; "On the way to Bethlehem, ... lies the body of Rachel, on the edge of the area called Ramah" . Regardless of the connection to a place or area called Rama near Bethlehem, the Onomasticon associated Bethlehem with the passage from Matthew. Perhaps Rachel, who has been already related to Bethlehem, stands symbolically for the women of Bethlehem, the next site shown southward on the map. As has been observed before, this brings an association to Mary. There are remains of a church where Rama has been localized by the map. The place is called in Arabic Khirbet Salih or Khirbet Abu Brek, and has to be kept apart from the artificial Ramat Rahel. The church first mentioned by the middle of the 5th century commemorates Mary's rest on her way to Bethlehem. However Palestinian tradition locates the place where Mary sat and rested in the monastery of Mar Elyas, where there is a cistern called Bir Qadisma, the latter being an exact correspondence to the Greek cathisma. Remains of a Byzantine church were uncovered during a salvage excavation conducted in 1992 (and resumed in 1997) at a spot 300 m north of the Monastery. Palestinian tradition knows of another spot where Mary was supposed to have rested, that is, in 'Ain Karim southwest of Jerusalem.

Editors' note: The widening of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem road in 1992 has brought about the discovery of the true location of the Kathisma church, a few hundreds meters north of the monastery of Mar Elias, in the very place where a tradition located the well called Bir Kadismu. A very large octagonal church with several important annexes was discovered. It has two different levels of mosaic pavement. In the center of the octagon, a portion of natural rock crops out on the surface and was left uncovered by the mosaic floor. It was probably the venerated rock on which Mary had reposed. The excavation has recently been completed and the discovery has not yet been published.
In any case, the Madaba map puts clearly Rama somewhere west of Betlehem and not certainly on the road which comes from Jerusalem, where the modern Ramat Rahel and the Kathisma church are.

Map Section 6 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:39:58
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000