The Hebrews, at the death of their friends and relations, made striking demonstrations of grief and mourning. They wept, tore their clothes, smote their breasts, threw dust upon their heads, Jos 7:6, and lay upon the ground, went barefooted, pulled their hair and beards, or cut them, Ezr 9:3; Isa 15:2, and made incisions on their breasts, or tore them with their nails, Le 19:28; 21:5; Jer 16:6; 48:37. The time of mourning was commonly seven days, 1Sa 31:11-13; but it was lengthened or shortened according to circumstances, Zec 12:10. That for Moses and Aaron was prolonged to thirty days, Nu 20:29; De 34:8; and that for Jacob to seventy days, Ge 50:3.
During the time of their mourning, the near relations of the deceased continued sitting in their houses, and fasted, 2Sa 12:16, or ate on the ground. The food they took was thought unclean, and even themselves were judged impure. "Their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners: all that eat thereof shall be polluted," Ho 9:4. Their faces were covered, and in all that time they could not apply themselves to any occupation, nor read the book of the law, nor offer their usual prayers. They did not dress themselves, nor make their beds, nor uncover their heads, nor shave themselves, nor cut their nails, nor go into the bath, nor salute any body. Nobody spoke to them unless they spoke first, Job 2:11-13. Their friends commonly went to visit and comfort them, Joh 11:19,39, bringing them food, 2Sa 3:35; Jer 16:7. They also went up to the roof, or upon the platform of their houses, to bewail their misfortune: "They shall gird themselves with sackcloth; on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly," Isa 15:3; Jer 48:38. The mourning dress among the Hebrews was not fixed either by law or custom. We only find in Scripture that they used to tear their garments, a custom still observed; but now they tear a small part merely, and for form's sake, 2Sa 13:19; 2Ch 34:27; Ezr 9:3; Job 2:12; Joe 2:13. Anciently in times of mourning, they clothed themselves in sackcloth, or haircloth, that is, in clothes of coarse brown or black stuff, 2Sa 3:31; 1Ki 21:27; Es 4:1; Ps 35:13; 69:11.
They hired women to weep and wail, and also persons to play on instruments, at the funerals of the rich or distinguished, Jer 9:17. In Mt 9:23, we observe a company of minstrels or players on the flute, at the funeral of a girl of twelve year of age. All that met a funeral procession were accustomed to join them for a time, to accompany them on their way, sometimes relieving the bearers of the bier, and mingling their tears with those of the mourners, Ro 12:15.
The custom of hiring women to weep and wail has come down to modern times. The following account of such a scene at Nablous, the ancient Shechem, is form Dr. Jowett. The governor of the city had died the very morning of Dr. Jowett's arrival. "On coming within sight of the gate, we perceived a numerous company of females, who were singing in a kind of recitative, far from melancholy, and beating time with their hands. If this be mourning, I thought, it is of a strange kind. It had indeed sometimes more the air of angry defiance. But on our reaching the gate, it was suddenly exchanged for most hideous plaints and shrieks, which, with the feeling that we were entering a city at no time celebrated for its hospitality, struck a very dismal impression upon my mind. They accompanied us a few paces; but it soon appeared that the gate was their station, to which having received nothing from us, they returned. We learned, in the course of the evening, that these were only a small detachment of a very numerous body of 'cunning women' with the design, as of old, to make the eyes of all the inhabitants 'run down with tears, and their eyelids gush out with water,' Jer 9:17-18. For this good service, they would, the next morning wait upon the government and principal persons, to receive some trifling fee."
Some of the Jewish forms of mourning are the appropriate and universal language of grief; others, to our modern and occidental taste, savor of extravagance. None of these were enjoined by their religion, which rather restricted than encouraged them, Le 10:6; 19:27; 21:1-11; Nu 6:7; De 14:1. They were the established customs of the times. Sorrow finds some relief in reversing all the usages of ordinary life. Christianity, however, moderates and assuages our grief; shows us a Father's hand holding the rod, and the dark valley itself penetrated by the heavenly light into which it emerges, 1Co 15:53-55; 1Th 4:14-18; Re 7:13-17; 14:13.
Noisy, violent, and demonstrative in the East as it is among the Irish, Highlanders, and Welsh; beating the breast or the thigh (Eze 21:12), cutting the flesh (Jer 16:6), weeping with a loud cry, wearing dark colored garments, hiring women as professional mourners (Ec 12:5; Mt 9:23; Am 5:16),"skillful in lamentation" (Jer 9:17), singing elegies, having funeral feasts and the cup of consolation (Jer 16:7-8). It was an occasion of studied publicity and ceremonial; so Abraham for Sarah (Ge 23:2), Jacob for Joseph (Ge 37:34-35), Joseph and the Egyptians for Jacob 70 days and a further period of seven (Ge 50:3-10), Israel for Aaron 80 days (Nu 20:29), and for Moses (De 34:8). Jabesh Gileadites for Saul fasted seven days (1Sa 31:13); David for Abner with fasting, rent clothes, and sackcloth, and with an elegy (2Sa 3:39).
Job for his calamities, with rent mantle, shaven head, sitting in ashes; so the three friends with dust upon their heads, etc., seven days and nights (Job 1:20-21; 2:8). In the open streets and upon the housetops (Isa 15:2-3); stripping off ornaments (Ex 33:4); stripping the foot and some other part of the body (Isa 20:2). Penitent mourning was often expressed by fasting, so that the words are interchanged as synonymous (Mt 9:15), and the day of atonement, when they "afflicted their souls," is called "the fast" (Ac 27:9; Le 23:27; Israel, 1Sa 7:6; Nineveh, Jon 3:5; the Jews when hereafter turning to Messiah, Zec 12:10-11). Exclusion from share in the sacrificial peace offerings (Le 7:20), Covering the upper lip and the head, in token of silence: Le 13:45, the leper; 2Sa 15:30, David. The high priest and Nazarites were not to go into mourning for even father or mother or children (Le 21:10-11; Nu 6:7).
So Aaron in the case of Nadab and Abihu (Le 10:2-6); Ezekiel for his wife (Eze 24:16-18); "the bread of men" is that usually brought to mourners by friends in sympathy. The lower priests only for nearest relatives (Le 21:1-4). Antitypically, the gospel work is to take precedence of all ties (Lu 9:59-60): "let me first go and bury my father" means, let me wait at home until he die and, I bury him. The food eaten in mourning was considered impure (De 26:14; Ho 9:4). The Jews still wail weekly, each Friday, at Jerusalem, in a spot below the temple wall, where its two courses of masonry (with blocks 30 ft. long) meet. (See JERUSALEM.) On the open flagged place, which they sweep with care as holy ground, taking off their shoes, they bewail the desolation of their holy places (Ps 102:14; 137:5-6; Isa 63:15-19). Mourning shall cease forever to God's people when Christ shall return (Re 7:17; 21:4; Isa 25:8; 35:10).
It was the habit of the Hebrews, as it still is in the East, to make a great demonstration of their mourning. They would beat their breasts, cover their heads, fast, put dust and ashes on their heads, neglect their hair, wear dull-coloured garments, rend their clothes, wear sackcloth, etc. For Asa and Zedekiah there was 'great burning' of odours at their death, which was most probably copied from the heathen. 2Ch 16:14; Jer 34:5. At a death professional mourners were hired, mostly women. "Call for the mourning women . . . . let them make haste, and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out with waters." Jer 9:17-18; cf. 2Sa 14:2; Am 5:16. Musicians also attended at deaths, who played mournful strains. Mt 9:23. God does not desire those who are bereaved to be without feeling: the Lord wept at the grave of Lazarus, but He would have reality in all things. He had to say to His people, "Rend your heart, and not your garments." Joe 2:13.
One marked feature of Oriental mourning is what may be called its studies publicity and the careful observance of the prescribed ceremonies.
1. Among the particular forms observed the following may be mentioned: (a) Rending the clothes.
etc. (b) Dressing in sackcloth.
etc. (c) Ashes, dust or earth sprinkled on the person.
etc. (d) Black or sad-colored garments.
etc. (e) Removal of ornaments or neglect of person.
etc. (f) Shaving the head, plucking out the hair of the head or beard.
etc. (g) Laying bare some part of the body.
etc. (h) Fasting or abstinence in meat and drink.
etc. (i) In the same direction may be mentioned diminution in offerings to God, and prohibition to partake of sacrificial food.
Le 7:20; De 26:14
(k) Covering the "upper lip," i.e. the lower part of the face, and sometimes the head, in token of silence.
(l) Cutting the flesh,
beating the body.
(m) Employment of persons hired for the purpose of mourning.
(n) Akin to the foregoing usage the custom for friends or passers-by to join in the lamentations of bereaved or afflicted persons.
etc. (o) The sitting or lying posture in silence indicative of grief.
etc. (p) Mourning feast and cup of consolation.
2. The period of mourning varied. In the case of Jacob it was seventy days,
and Moses, Deut 34:8 thirty. A further period of seven days in Jacob's case.
Seven days for Saul, which may have been an abridged period in the time of national danger.
With the practices above mentioned, Oriental and other customs, ancient and modern, in great measure agree. Arab men are silent in grief, but the women scream, tear their hair, hands and face, and throw earth or sand on their heads. Both Mohammedans and Christians in Egypt hire wailing-women, and wail at stated times. Burckhardt says the women of Atbara in Nubia shave their heads on the death of their nearest relatives --a custom prevalent also among several of the peasant tribes of upper Egypt. He also mentions wailing-women, and a man in distress besmearing his face with dirt and dust in token of grief. In the "Arabian Nights" are frequent allusions to similar practices. It also mentions ten days and forty days as periods of mourning. Lane, speaking of the modern Egyptians, says, "After death the women of the family raise cries of lamentation called welweleh or wilwal, uttering the most piercing shrieks, and calling upon the name of the deceased, 'Oh, my master! Oh, my resource! Oh, my misfortune! Oh, my glory!" See
The females of the neighborhood come to join with them in this conclamation: generally, also, the family send for two or more neddabehs or public wailing-women. Each brings a tambourine, and beating them they exclaim, 'Alas for him!' The female relatives, domestics and friends, with their hair dishevelled and sometimes with rent clothes, beating their faces, cry in like manner, 'Alas for him!' These make no alteration in dress, but women, in some cases, dye their shirts, head-veils and handkerchiefs of a dark-blue color. They visit the tombs at stated periods." --Mod. Eg. iii. 152,171,195.
MOURNING. See BURIAL and See DEAD.