The happy visit to Scythopolis (2 Macc 12:29-12:31)

“Setting out from Ephron, they hastened to Scythopolis, which is seventy-five miles from Jerusalem. However, the Jews who lived there bore witness to the goodwill that the people of Scythopolis had shown them. They had shown their kind treatment of them in times of misfortune. Thus the men of Judas Maccabeus thanked them. They exhorted them to be well disposed to their race in the future also.”

Scythopolis was about 75 miles northeast of Jerusalem on the Jordan River. There had been many battles fought here under the Hebrew name of Beth-Shan, where King Saul was defeated by the Philistines. By the 2nd century BCE it had the Greek name of Scythopolis. This time the Jews there said that the folks in this town treated them with good will. Since they had been treated kindly, they thanked them and moved on. There was no battle here.

The tomb of the patriarchs (Gen 23:1-23:20)

 “Sarah lived a hundred twenty-seven years.  This was the length of Sarah’s life.  Sarah died at Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron, in the land of Canaan.  Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.  Abraham rose up from beside his dead wife, and said to the Hittites,  ‘I am a stranger and an alien resident among you. Give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’  The Hittites answered Abraham,  ‘Hear us, my lord.  You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places.  None of us will withhold from you burial ground for burying your dead.’  Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land.  He said to them, ‘If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron son of Zohar, so that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns.  It is at the end of his field.  For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as a possession for a burying place.’  Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites.  Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, ‘No, my lord, hear me.  I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it.  In the presence of my people I give it to you.  Bury your dead.’  Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land.   He said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, ‘If you only will listen to me!  I will give the price of the field.  Accept it from me, so that I may bury my dead there.’  Ephron answered Abraham, ‘My lord, listen to me.  This piece of land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.’  Abraham agreed with Ephron.  Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.”

Sarah died at Kiriath-arba, which is Hebron, when she was 127 years old so that her son Isaac would be 37 when she died.  Abraham mourned for her and asked the Hittites for a burial place.  They told him to bury her where ever he pleased.  However, he wanted the cave and the land at Machpelah, east of Mamre, which belonged to Ephron, the son of Zohar. Ephron said take it, but Abraham offered 400 shekels of silver which Ephron took.  This was the first purchase of land that is recorded since the others seemed like gifts.  So Sarah and the descendants of Abraham had a burial place.

 “So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of who went in at the gate of his city.  After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre, that is, Hebron, in the land of Canaan.  The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.”

Were other patriarchs buried here?  Hebron will become an important place for the biblical writers.  The Hittites seem very friendly here but they will be one of the seven nations conquered in the invasion of Canaan by Joshua.  There is a city and a mountain named after Ephron.  This was an official transaction that took place at the gate to the town where all the legal actions took place.