properly מעָרָה, mearah´ (everywhere so rendered, except "den" in Isa 32:14; Jer 7:11; "Mearah" [q.v.], in Jos 13:4); σπήλαιον (" den," except in Joh 11:38); occasionally חוֹר, chor (literally a "hole," as generally rendered; hence a cavern, Job 30:6, etc.; whence the name HORITE, i.e. troglodyte; also HAINAN, i.e. cavernous; HORONAIM, i.e. twin caves; BETH-HORON, i.e. place in the hollow), or חוּר. Chur (also rendered "hole"); once מחַלָּה, mechillah´, Isa 2:19. Grottoes seem also to be indirectly denoted by the terms חֲגָוַים, chagavim´ (refuges in the rocks, "clefts," Song 2:4; Jer 49:16; Ob 1:3), and מַנהָרָה, minharah´ (a fissure through which a stream flows, "den," Jg 6:2); both of which are combined in the Greek term ὀπή (" cave," Heb 11:38; " place" of water, Jas 3:11). SEE DEN.
1. As natural Features. — 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 (Enc. Metropol. art. Geology, p. 692, 693). Many of these have also been artificially enlarged and adapted to various purposes both of shelter and defense (Page, Text-Book of Geology, p. 141; Kitto, Phys. Geogr. of Pal. p. 72). This circumstance has also given occasion to the use of so large a number of words as are employed in the Scriptures to denote caves, holes, and fissures, some of them giving names to the towns and places and their neighborhood (Ge 14:6; Ge 36:21; De 2:12; Job 30:6; comp. Strabo, 1:42; 16:775, 776; see Burckhardt, Syria, 410; Robin. son, 2:424; Stanley, Sinai and Palest. Append. § 6871). 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; these are noticed by Strabo, who speaks of a cavern near Damascus capable of holding 4000 men (16, p. 1096, edit. 1707). This cavern is shown to the present day. Modern travels abound with descriptions of the caves of Syria. The Crusade writers record the local traditions respecting them current in their times (William of Tyre; Quaresmius, Elucid. Ter. Sane.). Tavernier (Voyage de Perse, part 2, chap. 4) speaks of a grotto between Aleppo and Bir which would hold near 3000 horse. Maundrell has described a large cavern under a high rocky mountain, in the vicinity of Sidon, containing 200 smaller caverns (Travels, p. 158,159). Shaw mentions the numerous dens, holes, and caves in the mountains on the sea-coast, extending through a long range on each side of Joppa. An innumerable multitude of excavations are found in the rocks and valleys round Wady Musa, which were probably formed at first as sepulchres, but afterwards inhabited, like the tombs of Thebes (Robinson's Researches, 2:529). Other excavations occur at Deir Dubbân (2:353); others in the Wady leading to Santa Hanneh (2:395). " In the mountains of Kul'at Ibn Ma'an, the natural caverns have been united by passages cut in the rocks, in order to render them more commodious habitations. In the midst of these caverns several cisterns have been built; the whole would afford refuge for 600 men" (Burckhardt's Travels, p. 331). Almost all the habitations at Om-keis (Gadara) are caves (Burckhardt, p. 273). An extensive system of caves exists between Bethlehem and Hebron (Irby and Mangles, p. 103).
2. Scriptural Notices. —
(1.) 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 (Ge 19:30). It was some cavern in the mountains of Moab, but tradition has not fixed upon any of the numerous hollows in that region. SEE ZOAR.
(2.) The next is the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth (Ge 25:9-10). There Abraham buried Sarah, and was himself afterwards buried; there also Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob were buried (Ge 49:31; Ge 1; Ge 13). The cave of Machpelah is said to be under the Mohammedan mosque at Hebron, surrounded by a high wall called the Haram; but even the Moslems are not allowed to descend into the cavern (Benj. of Tudela, Early Trav. p. 86; Stanley, p. 149). The tradition that this is the burial-place of the patriarchs is supported by an immense array of evidence (Robinson, Researches, 2:433-440). SEE MACHPELAH.
(3.) 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 (Jos 10:16,27). It is thought by many that the cave of Makkedah can hardly be the one to which tradition has assigned the name (Irby and Mangles, p. 93); for, though it is not necessary to suppose that the cave was close to the town of Makkedah, yet the situation of the great caverns both at Beit Jibrin and at Deir Dubban in neither case agrees with that of Makkedah as given by Eusebius, eight miles from Eleutheropolis (Reland, p. 885; Robinson, 2:352, 397; Stanley, p. 211). SEE MAKKEDAH.
(4.) The cave of Adullam, to which David retired to avoid the persecutions of Saul (1Sa 22:1-2). This, according to tradition, is an immense natural cavern at the Wady Khureitun, which passes below the Frank mountain. The site assigned by Eusebius to Adullanm, 10 m. E. of Eleutheropolis, agrees little with that of this cave, which in some respects agrees with the Scripture narrative better than the neighborhood of Deir Dubban, assigned to it by Mr. Stanley (see 1Sa 20:6, and particularly 22:3, 4; Josephus, Ant. 6:12, 3; Reland, p. 549; Irby and Mangles, p. 103; Robinson, 2:175; Stanley, p. 259). SEE ADULLAM.
(5.) The cave at Engedi, which afforded a retreat to David and his followers (1Sa 23:29; 1Sa 24:1), and in which he cut off the skirt of Saul's robe (1Sa 24:4), can be clearly identified. The place is now called 'Ain Jidy 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" (Robinson, 2:203; comp. Lynch, Narrative, p. 234; Stanley, p. 296). SEE EN-GEDI.
(6.) The cave in which Obadiah concealed the prophets (1Ki 18:4) cannot now be identified, but it was probably in the northern part of the country, in which abundant instances of caves fit for such a purpose might be pointed out. SEE OBADIAH.
(7.) The site of the cave of Elijah (1Ki 19:9), as well as that of the "cleft" of Moses on Mount Horeb (Ex 33:22), is also obviously indeterminate; for, though tradition has not only assigned a place for the former on Jebel Mûsa, and consecrated the spot by a chapel, there are caves on the competing summit of Serbal to one or another of which it might with equal probability be transferred (Stanley, p. 49; Robinson, 1:153; Burckhardt, p. 608). SEE HOREB. 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 (Robinson, 1:152). See also CARMEL.
(8.) In the New Test. are mentioned the rock sepulchres of Lazarus (Joh 11:38) and Christ (Mt 27:60); the former still shown with little probability by the monks at Bethany (see Robinson, 2:100), and the latter a disputed question. SEE CALVARY.
Besides these special caves there is frequent mention in O.T. of caves as places of refuge. Thus the Israelites are said to have taken refuge from the Philistines in "holes" (1Sa 14:11), to which the name of the scene of Jonathan's conflict, Mukhmâs (Michmash), sufficiently answers (Stanley, p. 204; Robinson, 2:112; Irby, p. 89). So, also, in the time of Gideon, they had taken refuge from the Midianites in dens, and caves, and strongholds, such as abound in the mountain region of Manasseh (Jg 6:2; see Stanley, p. 341).
3. Uses of Caves. —
(1.) Caves were used as dwelling places by the early inhabitants of Syria. The Horites, the ancient inhabitants of Idumaea Proper, were troglodytes, or dwellers in caves, as their name imports. Jerome records that in his time Idumsea, or the whole southern region from Eleutheropolis to Petra and Ailah, was full of habitations in caves, the inhabitants using subterranean dwellings on account of the great heat (Comm. on Obadiah 5:6). "The excavations at Deir Dubban and on the south side of the wady, leading to Santa Hanneh, are probably the dwellings of the ancient Horites" (Robinson, 2:353), and they are peculiarly numerous around Beit Jibrin (Eleutheropolis) (2:425). The Scriptures abound with references to habitations in rocks; among others, see Nu 24:21; Song 2:14; Jer 49:16; Ob 1:3. Even at the present time many persons live in caves. The inhabitants of Anab, a town on the east of the Jordan, all live in grottoes or caves hollowed out of the rock (Buckingham's Travels among the Arab Tribes, p. 61). In the neighborhood of Hebron peasants still live in caves, and especially during summer, to be near their flocks (Wilkinson's Travels, 1:313). Poor families live in caverns in the rocks which seem formerly to have been inhabited as a sort of village, near the ruins of El Burj; so also at Siloam, and in the neighborhood of Nazareth. For the rock-dwellings and temples of Idummea, SEE PETRA.
(2.) Caves afforded excellent refuge in the time of war. Thus the Israelites (1Sa 13:6) are said to have hid themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits (see also Jer 41:9; Josephus, Ant. 12:11, 1). Hence, then, to "enter into the rock, to go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth" (Isa 2:19), would, to the Israelites, be a very proper and familiar way to express terror and consternation. Such were most of the caves noticed above, especially the strongholds of Adullam and Engedi.
(3.) Not only have the caves of Palestine afforded refuge from enemies, but during the earthquakes also, by which the country has been so often visited, the inhabitants have found in them a safe retreat. This was the case in the great convulsion of 1837, when Safet was destroyed; and to this mode of retreat the prophet Isaiah perhaps alludes (Isa 2:10,19,21; see Robinson; 3:321; Stanley, p. 151).
(4.) Caverns were also frequently fortified when occupied by soldiers. Thus Bacchides, the general of Demetrius, in his expedition against Judaea, encamped at Messaloth, near Arbela, and reduced to submission the occupants of the caves (1 Macc. 9:2; comp. Josephus, Ant. 12:11, 1). Messaloth is probably מסַלּוֹת steps or terraces (comp. 2Ch 9:11; see Gesenius, Thes. p. 957). The Messaloth of the book of Maccabees and the robber-caves of Arbela are thus probably identical, and are the same as the fortified cavern near Mejdel (Magdala), called Kalaat Ibn Maan, or Pigeon's Castle, mentioned by several travelers. They are said by Burckhardt to be capable of containing 600 men (Reland, p. 358, 575; Burckhardt, Syria, p. 331; Irby and Mangles, p. 91; Lightfoot, Cent. Chorogr. 2:231; Robinson, 3:279; Raumer, p. 108; comp. also Ho 10:14). SEE BETH-ARBEL. Josephus also speaks of the robber inhabitants of Trachonitis, who lived in large caverns, presenting no prominence above ground, but widely extended below (Ant. 15:10, 1). These banditti annoyed much the trade with Damascus, but were put down by Herod. Strabo alludes very distinctly to this in his description of Trachonitis, and describes one of the caverns as capable of holding 4000 men (Strabo, 16:756; Raumer, p. 68; Jolliffe, Travels in Pal. 1:197). Josephus (Ant. 14:15, 5) relates the manner in which one of these caves, occupied by robbers, or rather insurgents, was attacked by soldiers let down from above in chests and baskets, from which they dragged forth the inmates with hooks, and killed or thrust them down the precipices; or, setting fire to their stores of fuel, destroyed them by suffocation. These caves are said to have been in Galilee, not far from Sepphoris, and are probably the same as those which Josephus himself, in providing for the defense of Galilee, fortified near Gennesaret, which elsewhere he calls the caves of Arbela (War, 1:16, 2-4; 2:20, 6; Life, 37). SEE ARBELA. This description of caves of robbers reminds us of our Lord's words, in which he reproaches the Jews with having made the Temple a den of thieves, σπήλαιον λῃστῶν (Mt 21:13). A fortified cavern existed in the time of the Crusades. It is mentioned by William of Tyre (22:1521) as situate in the country beyond the Jordan, sixteen Roman miles from Tiberias. Lastly, it was the caves which lie beneath and around so many of the Jewish cities that formed the last hiding-places of the Jewish leaders in the war with the Romans. Josephus himself relates the story of his own concealment in the caves of Jotapata; and after the capture of Jerusalem, John of Gischala, Simon, and many other Jews, endeavored to conceal themselves in the caverns beneath the city; while in some of them great spoil and vast numbers of dead bodies were found of those who had perished during the siege by hunger or from wounds (Josephus, War, 3:8, 1; 6:9, 4).
(5.) Natural cavities in the rock were and are frequently used for other purposes more or less akin with the above, such as stalls for horses and for granaries (Irby and Mangles, p. 146). Again, the "pits" spoken of in some of the foregoing Scripture references seem to have consisted of large wells, in "the sides" of which excavations were made leading into various chambers. SEE CISTERN. Such pits were sometimes used as prisons (Isa 24:22; Isa 2:14; Zec 9:11). SEE PRISON. Those with niches in the sides were even occupied for burying-places (Eze 32:23). Many of these vaulted pits remain to this day. The cave in which Lazarus was buried was possibly something of this kind. No use, indeed, of rock caverns more strikingly connects the modern usages of Palestine and the adjacent regions with their ancient history than the employment of them as tombs or vaults (compare the early Christian CATACOMBS). The rocky soil of so large a portion of the Holy Land almost forbids interment, excepting in cavities either natural or hewn from the rock. The dwelling of the daemoniac among the tombs is thus explained by the rock caverns abounding near the sea of Galilee (Jolliffe, 1:36). Accordingly, numerous sites are shown in Palestine and adjoining lands of (so-called) sepulchres of saints and heroes of the Old and New Testaments, venerated both by Christians and Mohammedans (Early Trav. p. 36; Stanley, p. 148). Among these may be mentioned the cave of Machpelah, the tomb of Aaron on Mount Her, of Joseph, and of Rachel, as those for which every probability of identity, in site at least, may be claimed (Irby and Mangles, p. 134; Robinson, 1:321, 322; 3:95-97). More questionable are the sites of the tombs of Elisha, Obadiah, and John the Baptist at Samaria; of Habakkuk at Jebatha (Gabatha), Micah near Keila, and of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, at Bethel (Stanley, p. 143, 149; Reland, p. 772, 698, 981; Robinson, in, 140). The questions so much debated relating to the tombs in and near Jerusalem and Bethany will be found treated under those heads. But, whatever value may belong to the connection of the name of judges, kings, or prophets with the very remarkable rock-tombs near Jerusalem, there can be no doubt that the caves bearing these names are sepulchral caverns enlarged and embellished by art. The sides of the valley of Jehoshaphat are studded with caves, many of which are inhabited by Arab families (Sandys, p. 188; Maundrell, p. 446; Robinson, 1:355, 516, 539; Bartlett, Walks about Jerusalem, p. 117). It is no doubt the vast number of caves throughout the country, together with, perhaps, as Maundrell remarks, the taste for hermit life which prevailed in the fifth and sixth centuries of the Christian aera, which has placed the sites of so many important events in caves and grottoes; e.g. the birth of the Virgin, the Annunciation, the Salutation, the birth of the Baptist and of our Lord, the scene of the Agony, of Peter's denial, the composition of the Apostles' Creed, the Transfiguration (Shaw, pt. 2, 100:1; Maundrell, Early Travels, p. 479); and the like causes have created a traditionary cave-site for the altar of Elijah on Mount Carmel (1Ki 18:19; comp. Am 4:8), and peopled its sides, as well as those of Mount Tabor, with hermit inhabitants (see Irby and Mangles, p. 60; Reland, p. 329; Sir J. Maundeville, Travels, p. 31; Sandys, p. 203; Maundrell, Early Trav. p. 478; Jahn, Bibl. Arch. p. 9; Stanley, p. 353; Kitto, Phys. Geogr. p. 30, 31; Van Egmont, Travels, 2:5-7). SEE SEPULCHRE.