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Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

In the Bible, caves were often used as burial places. Abraham brought the cave of Machpelah as a tomb for Sarah ( Genesis 23:11-16 ,Genesis 23:11-16, 23:19 ). Lazarus was buried in a cave ( John 11:38 ). David used the cave of Adullam for refuge ( 1 Samuel 22:1 ), as did five Canaanite kings at Makkedah ( Joshua 10:16 ).

Prehistoric Occupation On the western slope of Mt. Carmel in the north, four caves carved out of the limestone have been excavated. Known as the Valley of the Caves, the site was occupied by prehistoric people. Faunal and geological remains have produced valuable information on Stone Age dating and climate. In addition, human skeletons, both Neanderthal and a type not far removed from homo sapiens, have contributed information about the development of early man. Other prehistoric cave sites on Mt. Carmel have been excavated.

Eight caves on the eastern slopes of the Judean hills southeast of Bethlehem show a long period of prehistoric occupation. The chronological structure established here, when compared with that fixed at the Carmel caves, provides a reliable list of dates for Palestinian prehistory. As at Carmel, skeletal, floral, and faunal remains, as well as tools and other instruments, were recovered and studied. The results of these studies have made it possible to date with reasonable accuracy the various cultures represented by these artifacts.

Later Occupation The hills of the Judean wilderness end abruptly at the western shore of the Dead Sea in a series of cliffs rent at intervals by wadies, or stream beds. Caves in these cliffs, from Qumran in the north to Masada approximately thirty miles south, have been investigated by archaeologists. Occupation in some cases extended irregularly from about 4000 B.C. to the Bar Kochba revolt (A.D. 132-135). A plastered pool plus a wide variety of foods and equipment found at the sites are evidence that Jewish insurgents, the followers of Bar Kochba, prepared these caves as eventual hideouts in the event of Roman siege.

In addition to artifacts from earlier periods, important finds include the personal and legal documents of a Jewish woman, Babata, which shed light on the culture of that day. Other administrative documents and letters pertaining to Bar Kochba's government, as well as a large hoard of copper utensils, are just a few of the valuable discoveries found in the caves south of En-gedi. Similar materials were recovered at Wadi Murabba'at. However, the manuscripts stored in the dry environment of the eleven caves at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls) are the most important discovery of this century. See [[Texts And Versions Bible]]; Dead Sea Scrolls .

Diane Cross

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [2]

The chalky limestone prevalent in Syria and Palestine abounds in caves, clefts, and fissures, which are so frequently alluded to in Scripture under a variety of names. From Hor , "a cavern," the Horites take their name, who originally occupied mount Seir, and were driven thence by the Edomites. Henc,e also comes the name Beth-horon, "the house of caverns," and Horonaim "the two caverns;" and Hauran "the land of caverns" ( Ezekiel 47:16;  Ezekiel 47:18). The caverns were the resort of the people in times of danger: ( Judges 6:2) when Midian oppressed them, ( 1 Samuel 13:6;  1 Samuel 14:11) when the Philistines oppressed them. Michmash, the scene of Jonathan's enterprise, implies the same. Still the shepherds dwell in caves during summer to be nearer their flocks and fields; at Gadara the dwellings are almost all caves.

For particular caves (See Engedi , (See Adullam , (See Machpelah , (See Makkedah . Lot dwelt in a cave such as are still to be seen near the Dead Sea, after Sodom's overthrow ( Genesis 19:30). Obadiah hid the Lord's prophets by fifties in a cave ( 1 Kings 18:4), Elijah at Horeb was in a cave when the Lord revealed Himself ( 1 Kings 19:9). The custom of fleeing to caves in time of earthquakes illustrates  Isaiah 2:10;  Isaiah 2:19;  Isaiah 2:21. They were also the resort of marauders (See Betharbel ) and the final refuges of the Jewish leaders in their war with the Romans. Josephus relates his own hiding in the caves of Jotapata.

Rock caverns abound along the shore of the sea of Tiberias, and were often used as tombs, the bodies being laid in excavated shelves at the sides. Here accordingly the demoniac had his dwelling continually ( Mark 5:3;  Mark 5:5). The cave of Machpelah, Abraham's burying place, Aaron's tomb on mount Hor, Joseph's, and Rachel's are with strong probability identified. The rock tombs near Jerusalem are assigned to kings and prophets with less certainty. Owing to the abundance of grottoes in the valley of Jehoshaphat, tradition assigns to them the sites of such unlikely events to occur in them as the birth of the Virgin, the annunciation, the salutation, the Baptist's and our Lord's birth, the agony, Peter's denial, the composition of the Apostles' Creed, and the transfiguration.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

or CAVERNS. The country of Judea, being mountainous and rocky, is in many parts full of caverns, to which allusions frequently occur in the Old Testament. At Engedi, in particular, there was a cave so large, that David, with six hundred men, hid themselves in the sides of it, and Saul entered the mouth of the cave without perceiving that any one was there, 1 Samuel 24. Josephus tells us of a numerous gang of banditti, who, having infested the country, and being pursued by Herod with his army, retired into certain caverns, almost inaccessible, near Arbela in Galilee, where they were with great difficulty subdued. "Beyond Damascus," says Strabo, "are two mountains, called Trachones, from which the country has the name of Trachonitis; and from hence, toward Arabia and Iturea, are certain rugged mountains, in which there are deep caverns; one of which will hold four thousand men." Tavernier, in his "Travels in Persia," speaks of a grotto between Aleppo and Bir, that would hold near three thousand horse. And Maundrell assures us, that "three hours distant from Sidon, about a mile from the sea, there runs along a high rocky mountain, in the sides of which are hewn a multitude of grottoes, all very little differing from each other. They have entrances about two foot square. There are of these subterraneous caverns two hundred in number. It may, with probability, at least, be concluded that these places were contrived for the use of the living, and not of the dead." These extracts may be useful in explaining such passages of Scripture as the following: "Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds,"  Judges 6:2 . To these they betook themselves for refuge in times of distress and hostile invasion:—

"When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, for the people were distressed, then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits,"  1 Samuel 13:6 . See also  Jeremiah 41:9 : "To enter into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth," became with the prophets a very proper and familiar image to express a state of terror and consternation. Thus  Isaiah 2:19 : "They shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth."

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

Palestine is remarkable for its number of caves, some of which are of great extent. David and his followers were in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi, so extensive that they could hide themselves, though Saul came into the same cave.  1 Samuel 24:1-8 : cf.  Hebrews 11:38 . The Adullam cave and others also are of note in the O.T. The tomb of Lazarus was a cave.  John 11:38 .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [5]

The geological formation of Syria is highly favorable to the production of caves. It consists chiefly of limestone, in different degrees of density, and abounds with subterranean rivulets. The springs issuing from limestone generally contain carbonate of lime, and most of them yield a large quantity of free carbonic acid upon exposure to the air. To the erosive effect upon limestone rocks, of water charged with this acid, the formation of caves is chiefly to be ascribed. The subordinate strata of Syria, sandstone, chalk, basalt, natron, etc. favor the formation of caves. Consequently the whole region abounds with subterranean hollows of different dimensions. Some of them are of immense extent, such as those noticed by Strabo, who speaks of a cavern near Damascus capable of holding 4000 men. The first mention of a cave in Scripture relates to that into which Lot and his two daughters retired from Zoar, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (). The next is the Cavesof Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth (; ). There Abraham buried Sarah, and was himself afterwards buried; there also Isaac, Rebecca, Leah, and Jacob, were buried (; ). The cave of Machpelah is said to be under a Muhammadan mosque, surrounded by a high wall called the Haram; but even the Muslims are not allowed to descend into the cavern. The tradition that this is the burial-place of the patriarchs is supported by an immense array of evidence.

The situation of the Cave at Makkedah, into which the five kings of the Amorites retired upon their defeat by Joshua, and into which their carcasses were ultimately cast, is not known (; ). Some of the caves mentioned in the Scriptures were artificial, or consisted of natural fissures enlarged or modified for the purposes intended. It is recorded () that 'because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds.' Caves made by art are met with in various quarters. An innumerable multitude of excavations are found in the rocks and valleys round Wady Musa, which were probably formed at first as sepulchers, but afterwards inhabited, like the tombs of Thebes. Caves were used as dwelling-places by the early inhabitants of Syria. The Horites, the ancient inhabitants of Idumea Proper, were Troglodytes or dwellers in caves, as their name imports. Jerome records that in his time Idumea was full of habitations in caves, the inhabitants using subterranean dwellings on account of the great heat. The Scriptures abound with references to habitations in rocks; among others, see ; ; ; . Even at the present time many persons live in caves. Caves afford excellent refuge in the time of war. Thus the Israelites () are said to have hid themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. See also . Hence, then, to 'enter into the rock, to go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth' (), would, to the Israelites, be a very proper and familiar way to express terror and consternation. The pits spoken of seem to have consisted of large wells, in 'the sides' of which excavations were made, leading into various chambers. Such pits were sometimes used as prisons (; ; ); and with niches in the sides, for burying-places (). Many of these vaulted pits remain to this day. The strongholds of Engedi, which afforded a retreat to David and his followers (; ), can be clearly identified. They are now called Ain Tidy by the Arabs, which means the same as the Hebrew, namely, 'The Fountain of the Kid.' 'On all sides the country is full of caverns, which might serve as lurking-places for David and his men, as they do for outlaws at the present day. The whole scene is drawn to the life.' The Cave of Adullam, to which David retired to avoid the persecutions of Saul (), and in which he cut off the skirt of Saul's robe (), is an immense natural cavern at the Wady Khureitun, which passes below the Frank mountain. Such is the extent of the cavern, that it is quite conceivable how David and his men might 'remain in the sides of the cave,' and not be noticed by Saul (Travels, vol. ii. p. 41). Caverns were also frequently fortified and occupied by soldiers. Josephus relates also that Herod sent horsemen and footmen to destroy the robbers that dwelt in caves, and did much mischief in the country. They were very near to a village called Arbela (now called Kulat Ibn Ma'an). The occupants were not subdued without great difficulty. Herod then laid siege to certain other caverns containing robbers, but found operations against them very difficult. These were situated on the middle of abrupt and precipitous mountains, and could not be come at from any side, since they had only some winding pathways, very narrow, by which they got up to them. The rock that lay on their front overhung valleys of immense depth, and of an almost perpendicular declivity. To meet these difficulties Herod caused large boxes filled with armed men to be lowered from the top of the mountain. These men had long hooks in their hands with which they might pull out those who resisted them, and tumble them down the mountains. From these boxes they at length slipped into the caverns, destroyed the robbers, and set fire to their goods. Certain caves were afterwards fortified by Josephus himself during his command in Galilee under the Romans. A fortified cavern existed in the time of the Crusades. It is mentioned by William of Tyre, as situate in the country beyond the Jordan, sixteen Roman miles from Tiberias. The cave of Elijah is pretended to be shown, at the foot of Mount Sinai, in a chapel dedicated to him; and a hole near the altar is pointed out as the place where he lay.