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Genesis 23:17–20 says:

So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site. (NIV)

Acts 7:15–16 says:

Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money. (NIV)

You may say that Jacob was simply buried in a different burial site. However, Genesis 50:12–14 clearly states otherwise:

So Jacob’s sons did as their father commanded. They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried it in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. Abraham had bought this cave and field from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place. After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and everyone who had gone with him to bury his father. (NCV)

It seems that both the location and the seller is off between the books. How can these passages be reconciled?

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The account in Genesis seems pretty clear that the cave of Abraham is in Hebron. Modern commentators seem to agree that Stephen was "telescoping" multiple Genesis accounts of patriarchal burials into one shorter narrative. I. Howard Marshall's commentary says, for example:

The relation of the story of the burial to the Old Testament traditions is complicated. According to Acts they were all buried at Shechem in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor. (1) According to Genesis 49: 29-32; 50:13 Jacob was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron which Abraham had bought from Ephron the Hittite (Gn. 23). (2) Joseph was buried at Shechem (Jos. 24:32) in land which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor (Gn. 33:18-20). (3) Josephus states that Jacob's other sons (and, by implication, Jacob himself) were buried at Hebron (Jos., Ant. 2:199), and this tradition is also found in Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. (4) There was a local tradition at Shechem that the twelve sons of Jacob were buried there. It thus appears that Stephen differs from the Old Testament accound in that he locates the tomb which Abraham bought at Shechem, not Hebron, and in that he adds the detail about the brothers of Joseph being buried there also. [F.F.] Bruce (Book, p. 149 n.39) suggests that, just as Stephen has telescoped the two calls of Abraham at Ur and Haran in verse 2 and the two divine messages in verse 7, so here he has telescoped the two accounts of purchases of land in Canaan. It seems probable that Stephen has followed a tradition, according to which not only Joseph (he, rather than Jacob, is perhaps meant be he died, himself in verse 15b) but also his brothers were buried at Shechem, and that he has attributed the purchase of the grave there to Abraham by including an allusion to the story in Genesis 23. The interest in Shechem and the emphasis upon it is remarkable in a speech addressed to Jews in Jerusalem, but they certainly could not contest the fact of Joseph's burial in the hated Samaritan territory. There is nothing sacrosanct about Judea as a place of burial; is there perhaps also a subtle preparation of Luke's readers for the story of the evangelism of Samaria (8:5-25)?

Does that make Luke a bad historian? If he was accurately reflecting Stephen's words, it makes him a good historian. Does it make Stephen a sloppy speaker? Not necessarily. This article by an apologist (Timothy W. Dunkin) defends Stephen from that charge. He claims that such telescoping was a perfectly acceptable practice for the time:

What we see in this passage is simply that either Stephen in his sermon, or Luke in his recounting of the sermon, is telescoping the events of Abraham and Jacob together, as they are essentially similar subject matter, and are related chronologically and historically. Again, let us remember who Stephen's audience were - Hellenistic Jews who would to a certain degree have been Hellenised. As such, they would have been more receptive (and perhaps would subconsciously expect) a presentation in a Hellenistic style of rhetoric. It is doubtful that Stephen's audience would have even thought twice about Stephen's supposed error - they would have recognised the oratory device, and filled in the unspoken details themselves from their tacit knowledge of the stories and texts in question. This is made all the more likely because of the fact that most ancient cultures utilised high-context communication. Whereas we, in our low context society, feel the need to explicitly spell out exactly what we mean and leave little to the tacit knowledge of our audience, the ancients left much of the context of their words unspoken. The hearers or readers were expected to fill in the details from what they already knew, as Stephen would likely have expected his audience to do in this situation.

Of course, this telescoping device was not solely limited to Hellenistic venues. Hints of it also seem to appear in the Hebrew scriptures. We see it somewhat in Joshua's sermon in Joshua 24, such as where Joshua appears to get his chronology backwards in vv. 11-13. The creation account in Genesis 1, where the events of the sixth day, especially the creation of Adam and Eve, are telescoped together and the much greater detail appearing in Genesis 2 is left out. Despite (though not necessarily contradictory to) all the emphasis that has been laid out about the Hellenism of Stephen's audience, we can see that Stephen's sermon delivery is firmly in the Hebrew tradition. Sermonry through the recounting of historical details and progression, especially as they apply to God's dealings with the nation of Israel, are a programmatic Hebrew method of exhortation. This methodology is used extensively by Moses (e.g. Deut. chs. 4, 29, 32), is the basis of Joshua's sermon in Joshua 24, forms the basis of Psalm 78, and is found elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures. This same sort of Hebraism appears elsewhere in the New Testament, such as in Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 11.

Thus, Stephen's sermon was fully in line with both the Hebraic and Hellenistic traditions of his audience, and his meaning would have been easily recognised by the members of his audience. While this telescoping appears to modern, low-context observers as wrong, it is incorrect to say that this is a "contradiction" or "error" given what has been said above. This only appears to be a contradiction because our modern minds are not conditioned to recognise and expect Hellenistic modes of speech.

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Anglican scholar John Wenham, in his book Christ and the Bible (88–90), addresses this issue, and is apparently not satisfied with the common "telescoping" argument. He first argues that Stephen in Acts 7 refers to the tombs of Joseph and his brothers, not Jacob, thus addressing the apparent conflict with Genesis 50. As for who bought the tomb in Shechem, Abraham or Jacob, he presents four possible explanations for Stephen saying Abraham despite the Genesis account saying Jacob. The first three he treats briefly:

  • That Stephen simply made a "crass mistake." This is not necessarily problematic, since many inerrantists accept that even apostles could err in their recorded speech. But Wenham considers it unlikely that such an error would not be corrected by a community very familiar with the OT between the time that Stephen spoke the words and Luke wrote them.
  • That Abraham was an early interpolation into Acts
  • That Abraham appears as a result of a misread abbreviation, like "A(braam)" instead of "Ia(kobos)."

He considers his fourth explanation most likely: that a tradition existed at that time that regarded Jacob's purchase of land in Shechem to be "re-staking a claim to land previously bought by his grandfather."

According to this approach, Abraham's time in Shechem in Genesis 12:6–7 did not simply involve the building of an altar but also the purchase of a small amount of land. Jacob's return to Shechem thus involved a retracing of his grandfather's steps – first buying land and building an altar in Shechem (Gen. 33:18–20), then going to Bethel (Gen. 35:1–6; cf. 12:8) and then Hebron (Gen. 35:27).

"In light of the continuing importance of Shechem in the Old Testament," he concludes

that Abraham not only received his first vision there and a confirmation of the gift of the Promised Land to his descendants, but that he also staked out his claim in faith by buying for himself a token piece of land. On the whole this seems the most likely explanation of Stephen's form of words.

According to this approach there's no conflict with the Genesis 23 and Genesis 50 cave near Mamre. Stephen refers to Joseph and his brothers, not Jacob, who were buried in Shechem.

3

Where were the patriarchs buried ? How many burial places did Abraham buy? Is there any contradiction involved ? There are three relevant Bible passages that give us some information that can help us come to a fair conclusion and resolution of issues:

The first reference is regarding the burial place of Jacob as recorded in Genesis 50:12,13: "Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place."(ESV)

The second passage is also about Jacob's burial place from the speech of Stephen in Acts 7:15,16: And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.(ESV)

The third relevant verse is regarding the burial place of Joseph as recorded in Joshua 24:32: "As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph."(ESV)

A little background information could be useful here. Jewish law, though it said little about burial, forbade shifting of burial places. But in Bible times, burial places outside a town or city were shifted as the town or city expanded, to be always located outside the town or city limits.(Prophets and kings were however buried within the city.) Further, dead bodies could be shifted from original grave to graves of parents or close relatives. Also, collecting of bones and putting them away in ossuaries was common then. So shifting of burial places were not taboo or strictly prohibited in those times. In fact one could argue that it is more out of place or uncommon to shift burial places or remove bones nowadays than it was in Bible times.

See this article on Disinterment and this on Death.

Coming back to the issues in question, on the face of it, there is indeed a direct contradiction of facts about the burial place of Jacob as recorded in Gen.50:12,13 ( as being in Machpelah near Hebron) and as spoken by Stephen (as being in Shechem) in Acts 7:15,16. But this problem is resolved quite easily.

Note that both the Genesis and Acts passages say that it was Abraham that bought both the burial places in Hebron and Shechem respectively (likely at different points in time). The distance between Hebron, close to which place was the cave of Machpelah, and Shechem is over about 140 kilometers. It is absurd to think it was a mixup of places or names between the Genesis and Acts passages. The passages therefore contain deliberately emphasised similarities and differences that needs reconciliation that does not discredit the veracity of both references. Following this principle, one can conclude that Abraham bought not just one but two pieces of land - the cave of Machpelah and the other one at Shechem from the sons of Hamor. Now, where then was Jacob buried ? At Machpelah as the Genesis account says or at Shechem as Stephen says in Acts 7 ? Note, we need to take both the passages as true historical records. Here is a simple attempt at reconciliation. Jacob could indeed have been buried in Machpelah near Hebron first, and then his bones shifted to Shechem (unrecorded in Biblical accounts, but nevertheless plausible, given the prevailing/antecedent practices)and buried there along with his sons (See Acts 7:15,16). In this case, there need be no contradiction and both the Genesis 50:13 and Acts 7:15,16 passages are reconciled.Stephen, in his Acts speech, probably ignored the first burial place of Jacob and only mentioned his subsequent burial place at Shechem, which was probably common knowledge in his time.

There is another conflict of recorded facts in Acts 7:15,16 and Josh. 24:32 (which passage refers to the burial place of Joseph).The Josh.24:32 passage says that Jacob bought a parcel of land from the sons of Hamor which was used to bury Joseph whereas Acts 5:15,16 states that it was Abraham who bought a piece of land from the sons of Hamor wherein Jacob was supposedly buried. The problem here is not the place, Shechem, but rather a question of who bought the plot ( or plots)- Abraham or Jacob. Here is an attempt at reconciliation of both references taking both those passages as true records : Jacob could indeed have bought an additional plot in Shechem from the sons of Hamor ( even adjoining/abutting the one Abraham bought earlier on from the sons of Hamor ) wherein Joseph could have been buried later as recorded in Joshua 24:32. The conflict is thus resolved.

To conclude, there need be no contradiction of facts regarding the burial places of the patriarchs as recorded in Gen. 50:12,13 and Acts 7: 15,16 if one is willing to accept that, unrecorded in the Bible, Jacob's body (or bones) could have been shifted from Machpelah to Shechem.Stephen was probably referring to the final known resting place of Jacob's remains. There need be no conflict as to the burial plot at Shechem, as recorded in Acts 7:15,16 and Josh.24:32 if one is willing to accept that both Abraham and Jacob bought adjoining plots at Shechem from the sons of Hamor at different points in time respectively to form one big plot ( unrecorded explicitly in the Bible, but nevertheless very plausible), which was the last Biblically recorded resting place of the remains of Jacob, Joseph, his descendents, and his brothers.In fact, this is in perfect agreement with the known practice of burying close relatives ( in this case it was Jacob's remains that was moved closer to his sons.)

2

The answer to this question is really quite interesting. The truth is, we don't know for sure. There is evidence for either location. Without a doubt however, Jewish and Islamic traditions put the tomb of the twelve patriarchs in Hebron. A mosque was erected during Saladin's time on top of the tombs where they are believed to be.

Cave of the Patriarchs

However Stephen clearly states in his defense in front of the Sanhedrin that the cave is in Shechem; in addition to Stephen's account, as well as some Jewish historians, Saint Jerome stated:

“The twelve patriarchs were buried not in Arbes [Hebron—AB/KB], but in Shechem” (as quoted in Barnes, p. 124)

There are several possible explanations. The most intriguing one being that during Stephen's time, Shechem was in Samaria. We all know what kind of opinion the Jews had of the Samaritans. It is possible that the proud Jews may have falsified history, rather than admit their ancestors were buried in their enemies' territory.

Another explanation for the discrepancy—a translation issue—has been given by J.W. McGarvey:

"As the two clauses stand in our version, “he died, himself, and our fathers; and they were carried over into Shecham,” there can be no doubt that “himself ” and “fathers” are common subjects of one verb “died,” and that the pronoun “they” before “were carried” refers to both alike. But it is not so in the original. The construction is different. The verb rendered died is in the singular number, eteleutasen, and it agrees only with autos, himself. The plural substantive “fathers” is not the subject of that verb, but of the plural eteleutasan understood. The construction having been changed with the introduction of the plural subject, it follows that the plural verb metetéthasan, “were carried,” belongs to fathers, and not to Jacob. The two clauses, properly punctuated, and with the ellipsis supplied, read thus: “and he died; and our fathers died, and were carried over into Shechem.” With this rendering and punctuation, which are certainly admissible, the contradiction totally disappears; and if the passage had been thus rendered at first into English, a contradiction would not have been thought of (1892, p. 121, emp. added, italics in orig.).

A far more detailed answer is given here: Who is Right--Stephen or Moses?

Certain traditions have certain answers, but the reality appears to be that collectively we don't know for sure.

  • Would you consider that Luke got his names and geography a bit messed up? That would be the simplest explanation. – gideon marx Jan 17 '15 at 20:58
  • That's not the kind of thing to mess up, it'd be like Muhammed mixing up where Mecca is. Stephen meant to say what he said. Read the article I have linked, it's possible it was meant as a sting to the Sanhedrin. – ShemSeger Jan 17 '15 at 21:03
  • That argument is too complicated. I firmly hold that the simplest argument holds true until there is irrefutable proof to the contrary. The simplest solution is that Luke made a mistake. – gideon marx Jan 18 '15 at 18:56
  • @gideonmarx–That is classically the weakest argument in existence... You go ahead and hold to whatever belief you like. – ShemSeger Jan 18 '15 at 19:53
  • The Samaria argument might be plausible if the Samaritan Pentateuch supported Stephen's claim, but it doesn't. – Mr. Bultitude Jan 19 '15 at 16:57
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The cave that Abraham purchased for a burial site for Sarah is in Hebron. He, Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah and Leah are all also buried there. (Genesis 23:19-20, 25:8-10, 49:31, 50:13)

Reading Acts chapter 7, we are confronted with many historical discrepancies when we compare what is revealed in Genesis. Verses 2, 4, 16, 23, 25, and 30 all contain information that is not found in Genesis or Exodus.

"..The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you. Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell." (Acts 7:2-4 NKJV)

The first video below shows geographically and chronologically the events in Genesis for comparing to what Stephen says in Acts 7. We'll see that God did not call Abraham out of Ur, but Haran, and that Terah was still alive when Abraham left, and even lived another 60 years.

[Abraham video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxFuXTOgIvs

The teaching that Moses was forty years old also does not originate from the written revealed Word.

23 “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. (Acts 7:23-25 NKJV)

Verse 24 is history from the Old Testament, but verse 25 is not.

So where is Stephen getting this information from, and why is he saying it? Remember, he has been dragged before the council and was being accused of blaspheming (1) the Temple and (2) the Torah.

“This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us. And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran,” (Acts 6:13 - 7:2 NKJV)

"Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us"

Jesus taught openly against the Oral Torah, and Stephen is using both the Written Torah (Old Testament) and the Oral Torah as he answers the high priest and the council to the charge of blaspheming the Temple and Torah.

The video below is a look at the Oral Torah as it pertains to understanding the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Acts 7.

[Oral Torah video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=484KyvYbdjw

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