The Hebrews were at all times very careful in the burial of their dead, Ge 25:9; 35:29. To be deprived of burial was thought one of the greatest marks of dishonor, or cause of unhappiness, Ec 6:3; Jer 22:18-19; it being denied to none, not even to enemies. Good men made it a part of their piety to inter the dead. Indeed, how shocking must the sight of unburied corpses have been to the Jews, when their land was thought to be polluted if the dead were in any manner exposed to view, 2Sa 21:14; and when the very touch of a dead body, or of any thing that had touched a dead body, was esteemed a defilement, and required a ceremonial ablution, Nu 19.11-22.
Only two cases of burning the bodies of the dead occur in Scripture: the mangled remains of Saul and his sons, 1Sa 31:12, and the victims of some plague, Am 6:10. It was customary for the nearest relatives to close the eyes of the dying and give them the parting kiss, and then to commence the wailing for the dead, Jer 46:4; 50:1; in this wailing, which continued at intervals until after the burial, they were joined by other relatives and friends, Joh 11:19, whose loud and shrill lamentations are referred to in Mr 5:38. It is also a custom still prevailing in the East to hire wailing women, Jer 9:17; Am 5:16, who praised the deceased, Ac 9:39, and by doleful cries and frantic gestures, aided at times by melancholy tones of music, Mt 9:23, strove to express the deepest grief, Eze 24:17-18.
Immediately after death the body was washed, and laid out in a convenient room, Ac 9:39; it was wrapped in many folds of linen, with spices, and the head bound about with a napkin, Mt 27:59; Joh 11:44. Unless the body was to be embalmed, the burial took place very soon, both on account of the heat of the climate and the ceremonial uncleanness incurred. Rarely did twenty-four hours elapse between death and burial, Ac 5:6,10. The body being shrouded, was placed upon a bier-a board resting on a simple handbarrow, borne by men-to be conveyed to the tomb, 2Sa 3:31; Lu 7:14. Sometimes a more costly bier or bed was used, 2Ch 16:14: and the bodies of kings and some others may have been laid in coffins of wood, or stone sarcophagi. The relatives attended the bier to the tomb, which was usually without the city. A banquet sometimes followed the funeral, Jer 16:7-8; and during subsequent days the bereaved friends were wont to go to the grave from time to time, to weep and to adorn the place with fresh flowers, Joh 11:31, a custom observed even at this day. See EMBALMING, SEPULCHRE.
(3.) The first burial we have an account of is that of Sarah (Ge 23). The first commercial transaction recorded is that of the purchase of a burial-place, for which Abraham weighed to Ephron "four hundred shekels of silver current money with the merchants." Thus the patriarch became the owner of a part of the land of Canaan, the only part he ever possessed. When he himself died, "his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah," beside Sarah his wife (Ge 25:9).
(4.) Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, was buried under Allon-bachuth, "the oak of weeping" (Ge 35:8), near to Bethel. Rachel died, and was buried near Ephrath; "and Jacob set a pillar upon her grave" (Ge 25:16-20). Isaac was buried at Hebron, where he had died (Ge 25:27,29). Jacob, when charging his sons to bury him in the cave of Machpelah, said, "There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah" (Ge 49:31). In compliance with the oath which he made him swear unto him (Ge 47:29-31), Joseph, assisted by his brethren, buried Jacob in the cave of Machpelah (Ge 50:2,13). At the Exodus, Moses "took the bones of Joseph with him," and they were buried in the "parcel of ground" which Jacob had bought of the sons of Hamor (Jos 24:32), which became Joseph's inheritance (Ge 48:22; 1Ch 5:1; Joh 4:5). Two burials are mentioned as having taken place in the wilderness. That of Miriam (Nu 20:1), and that of Moses, "in the land of Moab" (De 34:5-6,8). There is no account of the actual burial of Aaron, which probably, however, took place on the summit of Mount Hor (Nu 20:28-29).
(5.) Joshua was buried "in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-serah" (Jos 24:30).
(6.) In Job we find a reference to burying-places, which were probably the Pyramids (Job 3:14-15). The Hebrew word for "waste places" here resembles in sound the Egyptian word for "pyramids."
(8.) In connection with the burial of Saul and his three sons we meet for the first time with the practice of burning the dead (1Sa 31:11-13). The same practice is again referred to by Amos (Am 6:10).
(9.) Absalom was buried "in the wood" where he was slain (2Sa 18:17-18). The raising of the heap of stones over his grave was intended to mark abhorrence of the person buried (comp. Jos 7:26; 8:29). There was no fixed royal burying-place for the Hebrew kings. We find several royal burials taking place, however, "in the city of David" (1Ki 2:10; 11:43; 15:8; 2Ki 14:19-20; 15:38; 1Ki 14:31; 22:50; 2Ch 21:19-20; 24:25, etc.). Hezekiah was buried in the mount of the sepulchres of the sons of David; "and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honour at his death" (2Ch 32:33).
(12.) The grave of Lazarus was "a cave, and a stone lay on it" (Joh 11:38). Graves were frequently either natural caverns or artificial excavations formed in the sides of rocks (Ge 23:9; Mt 27:60); and coffins were seldom used, unless when the body was brought from a distance.
The Jews entombed, if possible, or else inferred, their dead; the rabbis alleging as a reason" Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Ge 3:19). Even enemies received burial (1Ki 11:15). The law ordained the same treatment of the malefactor (De 21:23). Nothing but extreme profanity on the part of the deceased during life was deemed a warrant for disturbing their remains (2Ki 23:16-17; Jer 8:1-2). A cave was the usual tomb, as Palestine abounds in caves. The funeral rites were much less elaborate than those of the Egyptians. Jacob and Joseph dying in Egypt were embalmed; the Egyptians, through lack of a better hope, endeavoring to avert or delay corruption. Kings and prophets alone were buried within the walls of towns. A strong family feeling led the Israelites to desire burial in the same tomb as their forefathers.
So Jacob (Ge 49:29-32). The burial place of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob, in the field of Machpelah (Genesis 23), bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite, and the field bought by Jacob from Shechem's father, Hamor, where Joseph's bones were buried (Jos 24:32), were the only fixed possessions the patriarchs had in Canaan, and the sole purchases they made there. They felt their bodies belonged to the Lord. To be excluded from the family burying place, as Uzziah and Manasseh were, was deemed an indignity. 2Ch 26:23; 33:20; compare 1Ki 13:22-31, which shows it was a mark of great respect to one not of one's family to desire burial with him (compare Ru 1:17). The greatest indignity was to be denied burial (2Ki 9:10; Isa 14:20; Jer 22:18-19; 2Sa 21:12-14).
David's magnanimity appears in his care to restore his enemy Saul's remains to the paternal tomb. To give a place in one's own sepulchre was a special honor; as the children of Heth offered Abraham, and as Jehoiada was buried among the kings (Ge 23:6; 2Ch 24:16). So Joseph of Arimathea could not have done a greater honor to our crucified Lord's body than giving it a place in his own new tomb, fulfilling the prophecy Isa 53:9 (Joh 19:31-42). A common tomb for all the kindred, with galleries, is not uncommon in the East. Burning was only practiced in peculiar circumstances, as in the case of Saul's and his sons' mutilated headless bodies, where regular burial was impossible and there was a possibility of the Philistines coming and mutilating them still more. However, the bones were not burned but buried (1Sa 31:11-13). Also in a plague, to prevent contagion (Am 6:9-10).
Costly spices were wrapped up in the linen swathes round the corpse, and also were burnt at the funeral (2Ch 16:14); so Nicodemus honored Jesus with 100 pounds weight of "myrrh and aloes." The rapidity of decomposition in the hot East, and the legal uncleanness of association with a dead body, caused immediate interment; as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5; Nu 19:11-14). Hired mourners with shrill pipes increased the sound of wailings for the dead (Mt 9:23; Jer 9:17; 2Ch 35:25). The body without any coffin was carried to burial on a bier (Lu 7:12). A napkin was bound round the head, and linen bandages wound round the body (Joh 11:44; 19:40). The whole of the preparations are included in the Greek word entafiasmos which Jesus uses (Mr 14:8).
After burial the funeral feast followed (Jer 16:6-8). Eze 24:17, "Eat not the bread of men," i.e. the bread or viands, as well as "the cup of consolation," which men usually bring mourners in token of sympathy. The law (Le 19:28) forbade cuttings in the flesh for the dead, usual among the pagan. Families often reduced their means by lavish expenditure in gifts at funerals, to which there may be reference in De 26:14. By the law also nothing ought to be carried into a mourning house (as being unclean) of that which was sanctified, as for instance tithes. Samuel was buried in his own house at Ramah; and the sepulchers of Judah's kings were in the city of David (2Ch 16:14).
Fine ranges of tombs, said to be of the kings, judges, and prophets, still remain near Jerusalem; but these, many think, are the tomb of Helena, the widow of the king of Adiabene, who settled at Jerusalem and relieved poor Jews in the famine foretold by Agabus under Claudius Caesar. The "graves of the children of the people" were and are in the valley of Kedron or Jehoshaphat (2Ki 23:6); and on the graves of them that had sacrificed to the idols and groves Josiah strawed the dust of their idols (2Ch 34:4): "the graves of the common people" outside the city (Jer 26:23). Tophet, the valley E. of the city, was once the haunt of Moloch worship, but was doomed to defilement by burials there (Jer 7:32; 19:11).
The potters' field, with its holes dug out for clay, afforded graves ready made "to bury strangers in." Tombs were often cut out of the living rock. One of the kings' tombs near Jerusalem has a large circular stone set on its edge. A deep recess is cut in the solid rock at the left of the door, into which the stone might be rolled aside, when the tomb was opened; when closed, the stone would be rolled back to its proper place. The disk is large enough, not only to cover the entrance, but also to fit into another recess at the right of the door, and thus completely shut it in. There is an incline to its proper place, so that to roll it back is much harder than to roll it into it. The women going to Jesus' tomb might well say," Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" (Mr 16:3.)
Mary stooped to look in, because the door was low; the angel sat on the stone rolled aside into its recess, as the women drew near (Mt 28:2; Joh 20:11; compare Isa 22:16; Lu 23:53). Demoniacs and outcasts would haunt such tombs for shelter, when open (Isa 60:4; Mr 5:5). Sepulchers used to be whitened, after the rains, before the Passover, each year, to guard against any defiling himself by touching them. This explains Jesus' comparison of hypocrites to "whited sepulchers" (Mt 23:27). To repair the prophets' tombs was regarded as an act of great piety (Mt 23:29).
This was the universal custom among the Israelites for the disposal of their dead, and provision was made in the law for the burial of criminals. De 21:23. Those slain in battle were also interred. 1Ki 11:15. This was needful in so warm a country in order to avoid a pestilence, and the dead were always promptly buried, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. These were probably bound round with the clothes they were wearing and at once laid in the grave. In other cases linen cloths were wrapped round the body and round the head, as in the case of Lazarus, and as loving hands tended the body of the Lord. Spices were enclosed among the cloths: Nicodemus furnished 100 pound weight of 'myrrh and aloes' at the burial of the Lord, besides what the devout women had brought.
It does not appear that there was any 'service' or prayers offered at the burial of the dead. At the death of Lazarus 'Jews' were present, mourning with the family four days after the death; and in the case of the daughter of Jairus there was a 'tumult' with weeping and great wailing; these were probably hired mourners (as is the custom to this day), for 'musicians' were also present.
Among the judgements pronounced on the people of Jerusalem one was that they should not be buried: their bodies should be eaten by the fowls and the wild beasts. Jer 16:4. In the case of God's two future witnesses in Jerusalem the wicked will rejoice over their dead bodies and will not allow them to be buried; only to have their joy turned into terror when they see them stand upon their feet alive again, and behold them ascend to heaven. Re 11:9-12.
BURIAL, the interment of a deceased person; an office held so sacred, that they who neglected it have in all nations been held in abhorrence. As soon as the last breath had fled, the nearest relation, or the dearest friend, gave the lifeless body the parting kiss, the last farewell and sign of affection to the departed relative. This was a custom of immemorial antiquity; for the patriarch Jacob had no sooner yielded up his spirit, than his beloved Joseph, claiming for once the right of the first-born, "fell upon his face and kissed him." It is probable he first closed his eyes, as God had promised he should do: "Joseph shall put his hands upon thine eyes." The parting kiss being given, the company rent their clothes, which was a custom of great antiquity, and the highest expression of grief in the primitive ages. This ceremony was never omitted by the Hebrews when any mournful, event happened, and was performed in the following manner: they took a knife, and holding the blade downward, gave the upper garment a cut in the right side, and rent it a hand's breadth. For very near relations, all the garments are rent on the right side. After closing the eyes, the next care was to bind up the face, which it was no more lawful to behold. The next care of surviving friends was to wash the body, probably, that the ointments and perfumes with which it was to be wrapped up, might enter more easily into the pores, when opened by warm water. This ablution, which was always esteemed an act of great charity and devotion, was performed by women. Thus the body of Dorcas was washed, and laid in an upper room, till the arrival of the Apostle Peter, in the hope that his prayers might restore her to life. After the body was washed, it was shrouded, and swathed with a linen cloth, although in most places, they only put on a pair of drawers and a white tunic; and the head was bound about with a napkin. Such were the napkin and grave clothes in which the Saviour was buried.
2. The body was sometimes embalmed, which was performed by the Egyptians after the following method: the brain was removed with a bent iron, and the vacuity filled up with medicaments; the bowels were also drawn out, and the trunk being stuffed with myrrh, cassia, and other spices, except frankincense, which were proper to exsiccate the humours, it was pickled in nitre, in which it lay for seventy days. After this period, it was wrapped in bandages of fine linen and gums, to make it adhere; and was then delivered to the relations of the deceased entire; all its features, and the very hairs of the eyelids, being preserved. In this manner were the kings of Judah embalmed for many ages. But when the funeral obsequies were not long delayed, they used another kind of embalming. They wrapped up the body with sweet spices and odours, without extracting the brain, or removing the bowels. This is the way in which it was proposed to embalm the lifeless body of our Saviour; which was prevented by his resurrection. The meaner sort of people seem to have been interred in their grave clothes, without a coffin. In this manner was the sacred body of our Lord committed to the tomb. The body was sometimes placed upon a bier, which bore some resemblance to a coffin or bed, in order to be carried out to burial. Upon one of these was carried forth the widow's son of Nain, whom our compassionate Lord raised to life, and restored to his mother. We are informed in the history of the kings of Judah, that, Asa being dead, they laid him in the bed, or bier, which was filled with sweet odours. Josephus, the Jewish historian, describing the funeral of Herod the Great, says, His bed was adorned with precious stones; his body rested under a purple covering; he had a diadem and a crown of gold upon his head, a sceptre in his hand; and all his house followed the bed. The bier used by the Turks at Aleppo is a kind of coffin, much in the form of ours, only the lid rises with a ledge in the middle.
3. The Israelites committed the dead to their native dust; and from the Egyptians, probably, borrowed the practice of burning many spices at their funerals. "They buried Asa in his own sepulchres, which he made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours, and divers kinds of spices, prepared by the apothecaries' art; and they made a very great burning for him," 2Ch 16:14. Thus the Old Testament historian entirely justifies the account which the Evangelist gives, of the quantity of spices with which the sacred body of Christ was swathed. The Jews object to the quantity used on that occasion, as unnecessarily profuse, and even incredible; but it appears from their own writings, that spices were used at such times in great abundance. In the Talmud it is said, that no less than eighty pounds of spices were consumed at the funeral of rabbi Gamaliel the elder. And at the funeral of Herod, if we may believe the account of their most celebrated historian, the procession was followed by five hundred of his domestics carrying spices. Why then should it be reckoned incredible, that Nicodemus brought of myrrh and aloes about a hundred pounds' weight, to embalm the body of Jesus?
4. The funeral procession was attended by professional mourners, eminently skilled in the art of lamentation, whom the friends and relations of the deceased hired, to assist them in expressing their sorrow. They began the ceremony with the stridulous voices of old women, who strove, by their doleful modulations, to extort grief from those that were present. The children in the streets through which they passed, often suspended their sports, to imitate the sounds, and joined with equal sincerity in the lamentations. "But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have mourned you and ye have not lamented," Mt 9:17. Music was afterward introduced to aid the voices of the mourners: the trumpet was used at the funerals of the great, and the small pipe or flute for those of meaner condition. Hired mourners were in use among the Greeks as early as the Trojan war, and probably in ages long before; for in Homer, a choir of mourners were planted around the couch on which the body of Hector was laid out, who sung his funeral dirge with many sighs and tears: