The geological structure of Judea is highly favorable to the formation of caves; and the whole region abounds with subterranean caverns of various dimensions, often giving rise to small rivulets. These were used as dwellings, places of refuge, and tombs. It was in a cave that Lot resided after the destruction of Sodom, Ge 19:30. Petra, in Idumea, was a city of caves, Nu 24:21; Song 2:14; Jer 49:16; Ob 1:3. In the vicinity of Hebron, the poor still live in caves while pasturing their flocks. Natural cavities were sometimes enlarged, and artificial ones made for refuge and defense, Jg 6:2; 1Sa 13:6; Isa 2:19; Jer 41:9. The caves of Machpelah, of Adullam, of Engedi, of Carmel and of Arbela, still exist. See SEPULCHRE.
There are numerous natural caves among the limestone rocks of Syria, many of which have been artificially enlarged for various purposes.
The first notice of a cave occurs in the history of Lot (Ge 19:30).
The next we read of is the cave of Machpelah (q.v.), which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth (Ge 25:9-10). It was the burying-place of Sarah and of Abraham himself, also of Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob (Ge 49:31; 50:13).
The cave of Adullam (q.v.), an immense natural cavern, where David hid himself from Saul (1Sa 22:1-2).
The cave of Engedi (q.v.), now called 'Ain Jidy, i.e., the "Fountain of the Kid", where David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe (1Sa 24:4). Here he also found a shelter for himself and his followers to the number of 600 (1Sa 23:29-24:1). "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 cave in which Obadiah hid the prophets (1Ki 18:4) was probably in the north, but it cannot be identified.
In the time of Gideon the Israelites took refuge from the Midianites in dens and caves, such as abounded in the mountain regions of Manasseh (Jg 6:2).
Caves were frequently used as dwelling-places (Nu 24:21; Song 2:14; Jer 49:16; Ob 1:3). "The excavations at Deir Dubban, on the south side of the wady leading to Santa Hanneh, are probably the dwellings of the Horites," the ancient inhabitants of Idumea Proper. The pits or cavities in rocks were also sometimes used as prisons (Isa 24:22; 51:14; Zec 9:11). Those which had niches in their sides were occupied as burying-places (Eze 32:23; Joh 11:38).
The soft limestone hills of Palestine abound in caves, natural and artificial; and these must have attracted attention from a very early period. The aboriginal race of Horites were cave-dwellers, and the excavation at Gezer has revealed remains of a probably analogous race in W. Palestine. Lot (Ge 19:30) and David (1Sa 22:1 etc.) dwelt for a time in caves; and their use as places of hiding and refuge is illustrated by many passages, e.g., Jos 10:16; Jg 6:2; 1Ki 18:4 etc. Caves were also used, at all periods in the history of Palestine, for sepulture, as in the case of Machpelah (Ge 23). Probably the most remarkable series of caves yet discovered in Palestine are the great labyrinths tunnelled in the bills round Beit Jibrin; one of these, in Tell Sandahannah, contains sixty chambers, united by doors and passages, and groups containing fourteen or fifteen chambers are quite common in the same hill. Another artificial cave near Beit Jibrin contains a hall 80 ft. high and 400 ft. long; it has now fallen in. Other groups of caves, only less extensive, occur in various parts of Palestine on both sides of the Jordan. Little or nothing is known about the history of these great excavations; no definite information about their origin has yet been yielded by them, so far as they have been scientifically explored.
R. A. S. Macalister.
The most remarkable caves noticed in Scripture are, that in which Lot dwelt after the destruction of Sodom,
the cave of Machpelah,
cave of Makkedah,
cave of Adullam,
cave od Engedi,
Elijah's cave in Horeb,
the rock sepulchres of Lazarus and of our Lord.
Mt 27:60; Joh 11:38
Caves were used for temporary dwelling-places and for tombs.