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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [1]

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,  Joshua 7:6 , and lay upon the ground, went barefooted, pulled their hair and beards, or cut them,  Ezra 9:3   Isaiah 15:2 , and made incisions on their breasts, or tore them with their nails,  Leviticus 19:28   21:5   Jeremiah 16:6   48:37 . The time of mourning was commonly seven days,  1 Samuel 31:11-13; but it was lengthened or shortened according to circumstances,  Zechariah 12:10 . That for Moses and Aaron was prolonged to thirty days,  Numbers 20:29   Deuteronomy 34:8; and that for Jacob to seventy days,  Genesis 50:3 .

During the time of their mourning, the near relations of the deceased continued sitting in their houses, and fasted,  2 Samuel 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,"  Hosea 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,  John 11:19,39 , bringing them food,  2 Samuel 3:35   Jeremiah 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,"  Isaiah 15:3   Jeremiah 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,  2 Samuel 13:19   2 Chronicles 34:27   Ezra 9:3   Job 2:12   Joel 2:13 . Anciently in times of mourning, they clothed themselves in sackcloth, or haircloth, that is, in clothes of coarse brown or black stuff,  2 Samuel 3:31   1 Kings 21:27   Esther 4:1   Psalm 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,  Jeremiah 9:17 . In  Matthew 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,  Romans 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,'  Jeremiah 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,  Leviticus 10:6   19:27   21:1-11   Numbers 6:7   Deuteronomy 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,  1 Corinthians 15:53-55   1 Thessalonians 4:14-18   Revelation 7:13-17   14:13 .

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Mourning. One marked feature of Oriental mourning is what may be called its studies publicity, and the careful observance of the prescribed ceremonies.  Genesis 23:2;  Job 1:20;  Job 2:12.

1. Among the particular forms observed the following may be mentioned:

(a) Rending the clothes.  Genesis 37:29;  Genesis 37:34;  Genesis 44:13; etc.

(b) Dressing in sackcloth.  Genesis 37:34;  2 Samuel 3:31;  2 Samuel 21:10; etc.

(c) Ashes, dust or earth sprinkled on the person.  2 Samuel 13:19;  2 Samuel 15:32; etc.

(d) Black or sad-colored garments.  2 Samuel 14:2;  Jeremiah 8:21; etc.

(e) Removal of ornaments or neglect of person.  Deuteronomy 21:12-13; etc.

(f) Shaving the head, plucking out the hair of the head or beard.  Leviticus 10:6;  2 Samuel 19:24; etc.

(g) Laying bare some part of the body.  Isaiah 20:2;  Isaiah 47:2; etc.

(h) Fasting or abstinence in meat and drink.  2 Samuel 1:12;  2 Samuel 3:35;  2 Samuel 12:16;  2 Samuel 12:22; etc.

(i) In the same direction may be mentioned diminution in offerings to God, and prohibition to partake of sacrificial food.  Leviticus 7:20;  Deuteronomy 26:14.

(k) Covering the "upper lip," that is, the lower part of the face, and sometimes the head, in token of silence.  Leviticus 13:45;  2 Samuel 15:30;  2 Samuel 19:4.

(l) Cutting the flesh;  Jeremiah 16:6-7;  Jeremiah 41:5; beating the body.  Ezekiel 21:12;  Jeremiah 31:19.

(m) Employment of persons hired for the purpose of mourning.  Ecclesiastes 12:5;  Jeremiah 9:17;  Amos 5:16;  Matthew 9:23.

(n) Akin to the foregoing usage; the custom for friends or passers-by to join in the lamentations, of bereaved or afflicted persons.  Genesis 50:3;  Judges 11:40;  Job 2:11;  Job 30:25; etc.

(o) The sitting or lying posture in silence indicative of grief.  Genesis 23:3;  Judges 20:26; etc.

(p) Mourning feast and cup of consolation.  Jeremiah 16:7-8.

The period of mourning varied. In the case of Jacob, it was seventy days,  Genesis 50:3, of Aaron,  Numbers 20:29, and Moses,  Deuteronomy 34:8, thirty days. A further period of seven days in Jacob's case.  Genesis 50:10. Seven days for Saul, which may have been an abridged period in the time of national danger.  1 Samuel 31:13.

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  Jeremiah 22:18 .

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.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [3]

Mourning is primarily the expression of sorrow for the dead; but the term is also applied to the grief over sin and to the distress over calamity.

1 . A list of mourning customs among the Hebrews will be found in the article‘Mourning’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) . Among them are weeping and wailing of an intentionally demonstrative and unrestrained kind, the rending of garments, the wearing of sackcloth, the sprinkling of dust and ashes on the head, the striking of breast and head, fasting, ejaculations of woe, the recital of elegies for the departed. Reference is made to several of these customs in the description given in Revelation 18 of the mourning over the destruction of Babylon. The worldly kings, the merchants and mariners, act as mourners: they weep and wail, cast dust upon their heads, utter exclamations of woe, and in turn dirgefully declare the past glories of the fallen ( Revelation 18:10 f.). The term κοπετόν (used in  Acts 8:2 to indicate the lamentation of the devout men over Stephen; cf. κόψονται [ Revelation 1:7;  Revelation 18:9]; derivation, κόπτειν, ‘to strike’) indicates the association of the beating of head and breast with mourning. In  Acts 9:36 f. the widows gather round the body of Dorcas, weep and recount her good deeds. In  James 5:1 the rich are bidden to weep and howl, i.e. as wailing mourners.

2 . The Pauline version of the eucharist introduces the words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν), and the rite is regarded as a proclamation of the Lord’s death till He come ( 1 Corinthians 11:24-26). This language suggests a comparison with the customs of commemorative mourning for the dead (cf. the annual lamentation for Jephthah’s daughter [ Judges 11:40]; see article‘Jahrzeit’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ). If the Pauline version of the eucharist has been influenced by the mysteries, the mourning customs for Attis and Adonis (‘weeping for Tammuz,’ see J. G. Frazer’s Adonis, Attis, Osiris 3, 1914) may not be without significance for the study of this feature of the Lord’s Supper.

3 . The gravity with which sin was regarded is suggested by the application of terms of mourning to the grief over transgression. Sinners are bidden, as a sign of humble penitence, to be afflicted, mourn, and weep. Laughter is to be turned to mourning ( James 4:9; cf.  1 Kings 1:27). Among the welcome indications of a repentant Corinthian church is its mourning (ὀδυρμός [ 2 Corinthians 7:7]). The idea in the writer’s mind in  Revelation 1:7 (‘Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him’) was probably the mourning of guilt, regret, and shame-there was no need to mourn a living Christ returning in glory. Possibly, however, the words indicate that now all nations recognized that the ignominiously crucified One was worthy of a world’s mourning.

4 . National calamity is presented under the figure of a bereavement (cf. the mourning for Israel [ Joel 1:8;  Joel 1:13]). Babylon in her strength boasts, ‘No widow am I, and shall in no wise see mourning’ ( Revelation 18:7). In a day she knows the widowhood of retributive disaster ( Revelation 18:8). The representation changes-widowed Babylon is herself mourned for by others ( Revelation 18:8-19); see 1.

5 . The emphasis placed by the early Church on the overthrow of death as an elemental power by the resurrection of Jesus, on the certainty of a future life, the conception of a fuller, richer existence beyond the grave-a ‘clothing upon’ rather than a stripping of personality-all tended to rob death of its sting and the grave of its victory. The believer had no need to sorrow as did the rest that had no hope. On the other hand, it is significant that the parting of St. Paul from his children in the faith at Miletus, who expected to see him no more, was with loud lamentation ( Acts 20:36), and the Apostle felt that the severance from the brethren at Caesarea was breaking his heart ( Acts 21:13). Faith lights up the tomb, but does not make the human heart unnatural. Human grief ‘will have way’ until, as in the Apocalyptist’s vision, God shall wipe away all tears from men’s eyes, and death and mourning shall be no more ( Revelation 21:4).

H. Bulcock.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

Noisy, violent, and demonstrative in the East as it is among the Irish, Highlanders, and Welsh; beating the breast or the thigh ( Ezekiel 21:12), cutting the flesh ( Jeremiah 16:6), weeping with a loud cry, wearing dark colored garments, hiring women as professional mourners ( Ecclesiastes 12:5;  Matthew 9:23;  Amos 5:16),"skillful in lamentation" ( Jeremiah 9:17), singing elegies, having funeral feasts and the cup of consolation ( Jeremiah 16:7-8). It was an occasion of studied publicity and ceremonial; so Abraham for Sarah ( Genesis 23:2), Jacob for Joseph ( Genesis 37:34-35), Joseph and the Egyptians for Jacob 70 days and a further period of seven ( Genesis 50:3-10), Israel for Aaron 80 days ( Numbers 20:29), and for Moses ( Deuteronomy 34:8). Jabesh Gileadites for Saul fasted seven days ( 1 Samuel 31:13); David for Abner with fasting, rent clothes, and sackcloth, and with an elegy ( 2 Samuel 3:81-89).

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;  Job 2:8). In the open streets and upon the housetops ( Isaiah 15:2-3); stripping off ornaments ( Exodus 33:4); stripping the foot and some other part of the body ( Isaiah 20:2). Penitent mourning was often expressed by fasting, so that the words are interchanged as synonymous ( Matthew 9:15), and the day of atonement, when they "afflicted their souls," is called "the fast" ( Acts 27:9;  Leviticus 23:27; Israel,  1 Samuel 7:6; Nineveh,  Jonah 3:5; the Jews when hereafter turning to Messiah,  Zechariah 12:10-11). Exclusion from share in the sacrificial peace offerings ( Leviticus 7:20), Covering the upper lip and the head, in token of silence:  Leviticus 13:45, the leper;  2 Samuel 15:30, David. The high priest and Nazarites were not to go into mourning for even father or mother or children ( Leviticus 21:10-11;  Numbers 6:7).

So Aaron in the case of Nadab and Abihu ( Leviticus 10:2-6); Ezekiel for his wife ( Ezekiel 24:16-18); "the bread of men" is that usually brought to mourners by friends in sympathy. The lower priests only for nearest relatives ( Leviticus 21:1-4). Antitypically, the gospel work is to take precedence of all ties ( Luke 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 ( Deuteronomy 26:14;  Hosea 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 ( Psalms 102:14;  Psalms 137:5-6;  Isaiah 63:15-19). Mourning shall cease forever to God's people when Christ shall return ( Revelation 7:17;  Revelation 21:4;  Isaiah 25:8;  Isaiah 35:10).

People's Dictionary of the Bible [5]

Mourning. Oriental mourning is public and careful of prescribed ceremonies.  Genesis 23:2;  Job 1:20;  Job 2:12. Among the forms observed the following may be mentioned: Rending the clothes,  Genesis 37:29;  Genesis 37:34;  Genesis 44:13, etc.; dressing in sackcloth,  Genesis 37:34;  2 Samuel 3:31;  2 Samuel 21:10, etc.; ashes, dust or earth sprinkled on the person,  2 Samuel 13:19;  2 Samuel 15:32, etc.; black or sad-colored garments,  2 Samuel 14:2;  Jeremiah 8:21, etc.; removal of ornaments or neglect of person,  Deuteronomy 21:12-13, etc.; shaving the head, plucking out the hair of the head or beard,  Leviticus 10:6;  2 Samuel 19:24, etc.; laying bare some part of the body,  Isaiah 20:2;  Isaiah 47:2, etc.; fasting or abstinence in meat and drink,  2 Samuel 1:12;  2 Samuel 3:35;  2 Samuel 12:16;  2 Samuel 12:22, etc. In later times for the employment of persons hired for the purpose of mourning,  Ecclesiastes 12:5;  Jeremiah 9:17;  Amos 5:16;  Matthew 9:23, friends or passers-by to join in the lamentations of bereaved or afflicted persons,  Genesis 50:3;  Judges 11:40;  Job 2:11;  Job 30:25, etc.; and in ancient times the sitting or lying posture in silence indicative of grief,  Genesis 23:3;  Judges 20:26, etc. The period of mourning varied. In the case of Jacob it was seventy days,  Genesis 50:3; of Aaron,  Numbers 20:29, and Moses,  Deuteronomy 34:8, thirty. A further period of seven days in Jacob's case.  Genesis 50:10. Seven days for Saul, which may have been an abridged period in the time of national danger.  1 Samuel 31:13.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

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.  2 Chronicles 16:14;  Jeremiah 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."  Jeremiah 9:17,18; cf.  2 Samuel 14:2;  Amos 5:16 . Musicians also attended at deaths, who played mournful strains.  Matthew 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."  Joel 2:13 .

Webster's Dictionary [7]

(1): ( p. pr. & vb. n.) of Mourn

(2): ( n.) The act of sorrowing or expressing grief; lamentation; sorrow.

(3): ( a.) Grieving; sorrowing; lamenting.

(4): ( a.) Employed to express sorrow or grief; worn or used as appropriate to the condition of one bereaved or sorrowing; as, mourning garments; a mourning ring; a mourning pin, and the like.

(5): ( n.) Garb, drapery, or emblems indicative of grief, esp. clothing or a badge of somber black.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [8]

We find in the early ages of the church, great lamentation observed at the death of their friends. The funeral of Sarah is set forth in this view. And still more, in that of the patriarch Jacob, Seven days the funeral halted at the threshing-floor of Atad. And the astonishment of the inhabitants of the land was so great, that they gave a name to it, and called it Abel-mizraim; that is, the mourning of the Egyptians, ( Genesis 1:7-11. We find that the Israelites themselves called all places of their mourning by one name, Bochim, that is weepers. (See  Judges 2:1-5.)

King James Dictionary [9]

MOURNING, ppr. Grieving lamenting sorrowing wearing the appearance of sorrow.

MOURNING, n. The act of sorrowing or expressing grief lamentation sorrow.

1. The dress or customary habit worn by mourners.

And ev'n the pavements were with mourning hid.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [10]

See Burial and See Dead .

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [11]

Sorrow, grief.


Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [12]