The Cave of the Patriarchs or the Cave of Machpelah (Hebrew: מערת המכפלה, Me’arat HaMachpela, Ma’arat HaMachpela Trans. “Cave of the Double Tombs”; Arabic: المغارة Al Magharah, “the Cave” ) is a series of subterranean caves located in a complex called by Muslims the Sanctuary of Abraham or Ibrahimi Mosque (Arabic: الحرم الإبراهيمي, Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi ). The name is either a reference to the layout of the burial chamber, or alternatively refers to the biblical couples, i.e.: cave of the tombs of couples.
The compound, located in the ancient city of Hebron, is the second holiest site for Jews, (after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and is also venerated by Christians and Muslims, both of whom have traditions which maintain that the site is the burial place of three Biblical couples: (1) Abraham and Sarah; (2) Isaac and Rebecca; (3) Jacob and Leah. According to the Midrash and other sources, the Cave of the Patriarchs also contains the head of Esau, and according to some Islamic sources it is also the tomb of Joseph. Though the Bible has Joseph buried in Shechem (the present-day Palestinian city of Nablus), Jewish aggadic tradition conserved the idea that he wished to be interred at Hebron, and the Islamic version may reflect this. The Jewish apocryphal book, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, also states that this is the burial place of Jacob’s twelve sons.
The Cave of Machpelah is the world’s most ancient Jewish site and the second holiest place for the Jewish people, after Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The cave and the adjoining field were purchased—at full market price—by Abraham some 3700 years ago. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are all later buried in the same Cave of Machpelah. These are considered the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. The only one who is missing is Rachel, who was buried near Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.
The double cave, a mystery of thousands of years, was uncovered several years ago beneath the massive building, revealing artifacts from the Early Israelite Period (some 30 centuries ago). The structure was built during the Second Temple Period (about two thousand years ago) by Herod, King of Judea, providing a place for gatherings and Jewish prayers at the graves of the Patriarchs.