So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. – Genesis 35:19-20
Even atheists love Indiana Jones. That goes without saying, of course. Raiders and Last Crusade (let’s leave Temple out of this, shall we?) are rightly considered among the best action-adventure films ever made, and as a child of the 80s and 90s I grew up watching them on VHS tapes and internalizing every inflection in every line of cheesy, mysterious dialogue. The awed familiarity with which Sean Connery pronounces “Alexandretta” (“Ah-lex-shan-dret-ta, of coursh!”) is one example that has strongly stayed with me, and which encapsulates the movies’ themes of ancient knowledge, relic-hunting, and puzzle-solving.
It is in that Indiana Jones spirit that I eagerly consume National Geographic articles (as well as other media, fiction and non-fiction) on the subject of Biblical archaeology. You don’t have to believe in divine beings or miracles to appreciate the rich historical, textual, and material legacy of the ancient Hebrews, and I find it exciting when the Bible is used as a kind of treasure map to locate and identify artifacts from the time of the second and even the first Temple periods.
In this portion of Genesis we’re still in the murky past, but we’re seeing an increasing number of place names familiar to modern eyes. The above passage with its “there to this day” claim stood out to me. I suppose translators have been including the “there to this day” line for centuries or longer without regard to whether this is a reference to a known site. I’m not saying that it matters whether there is a known, physical pillar or pillar site that archaeologists think marks Rachel’s tomb, but I am curious to know whether such a site exists. If so, I wonder if it would be the earliest Biblically-connected construction that a pilgrim could visit and see today. Fedora and whip optional, of course.