From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Burial —In contrast to the Greek and the later Roman custom of cremation, the rites of burial were observed amongst the Jews with great reverence, and an account of their ordinary practice will help to illustrate several passages in the NT. Immediately after death the body was washed ( Acts 9:37), and wrapped in linen cloths in the folds of which spices and ointments were laid ( John 19:39-40). The face was bound about with a napkin, and the hands and feet with grave-bands ( John 11:44;  John 20:7). Meanwhile the house had been given over to the hired mourners ( Matthew 9:23 ||; cf.  2 Chronicles 35:25,  Jeremiah 9:17), who lamented for the dead in some such strains as are preserved in  Jeremiah 22:18, and skilfully improvised verses in praise of his virtues. The actual interment took place as quickly as possible, mainly on sanitary grounds; very frequently, indeed, on the same day as the death ( Acts 5:6;  Acts 5:10;  Acts 8:2), though it might be delayed for special reasons ( Acts 9:37 f.). In its passage to the grave the body was generally laid on a bier, or open bed of wicker work ( Luke 7:14; cf.  2 Samuel 3:31,  2 Kings 13:21)—hence at Jesus’ command the widow of Nain’s son was able to sit up at once ( Luke 7:15). The bier was, as a rule, borne to the tomb by the immediate friends of the deceased, though we have also traces of a company of public ‘buriers’ ( Acts 5:6;  Acts 5:10; cf.  Ezekiel 39:12-16). In front of the bier came the women, and in Judaea the hired mourners, and immediately after it the relatives and friends, and ‘much people of the city.’ Attendance at funerals was, indeed, regarded as a pious act, and was consequently not always wholly disinterested. Among modern Orientals it is called ‘attending the merit,’ an act that will secure a reward from God (G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs , p. 127).

The place of burial in NT times was always outside the city ( Luke 7:12,  John 11:30,  Matthew 27:52-53), and frequently consisted of a natural cave, or an opening made in imitation of one. These rock-sepulchres were often of considerable size, and sometimes permitted of the interment of as many as thirteen bodies. Eight, however, was the usual number, three on each side of the entrance and two opposite. The doorway to the tomb was an aperture about 2 ft. broad and 4 ft. high, and was closed either by a door, or by a great stone—the golel —that was rolled against it ( Matthew 27:66,  Mark 15:46,  John 11:38-39). It is sometimes thought that it was in some such rock-tomb that the demoniac of Gadara had taken up his abode; but more probably it was in one of the tombs ‘built above ground,’ which were ‘much more common in Galilee than has been supposed’ (Wilson, Recovery of Jerusalem , p. 369, ap. Swete, St. Mark , p. 88).

As a rule, sepulchres were whitened once a year, after the rains and before the Passover, that passers-by might be warned of their presence, and thus escape defilement ( Matthew 23:27; cf.  Numbers 19:16). And though it was not customary to erect anything in the nature of our gravestones, in NT times it was regarded as a religious duty to restore or rebuild the tombs of the prophets ( Matthew 23:29). In addition to family sepulchres of which we hear in the earliest Hebrew records ( Genesis 23:20,  Judges 8:32,  2 Samuel 2:32), and such private tombs as the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea ( Matthew 27:60), special provision was made for the interment of strangers ( Matthew 27:7-8; cf.  Jeremiah 26:23,  2 Maccabees 9:4). See art. Tomb.

It will have been observed how many of the foregoing particulars are illustrated in the Gospel narrative of the burial of Jesus; but it may be well to summarize briefly what then took place. No sooner had it been placed beyond doubt that Jesus was really dead, than Joseph of Arimathaea obtained permission to take possession of His body ( Matthew 27:57 ff.; cf. the merciful provision of the Jewish law,  Deuteronomy 21:23). Haste was required, as the Jews’ Preparation was close at hand, and the body, after being, perhaps, bathed (so Gospel of Peter , 6), was at once wrapped ‘in a clean linen cloth’ ( Matthew 27:59), the ‘roll of myrrh and aloes,’ of which Nicodemus had brought about a hundred pound weight ( John 19:39), being apparently crumbled between the folds of the linen (ὀθόνια). It was then borne to the ‘new tomb wherein was never man yet laid,’ and reverently laid on the rocky ledge prepared for the purpose, while the whole was secured by a ‘great stone’ placed across the entrance, which was afterwards at the desire of the Jews sealed and guarded ( Matthew 27:62 ff.; cf. Gospel of Peter , 8). There the body remained undisturbed over the Jewish Sabbath; but when on the morning of the first day of the week the women visited the tomb, bringing with them an additional supply of ‘spices and ointments’ to complete the anointing which want of time had previously prevented, it was only to find the tomb empty, and to receive the first assurance of their Lord’s resurrection ( Luke 24:1 ff.). In connexion with this visit, Edersheim has drawn attention to the interesting fact that the Law expressly allowed the opening of the grave on the third day to look after the dead ( Bible Educator , iv. p. 332). In entire harmony, too, with what has already been said of the general structure of Jewish tombs, is the account which St. John has preserved for us of his own and St. Peter’s visit to the tomb of Jesus ( John 20:1 ff.). He himself, when he reached the doorway, was at first content with stooping down (παρακύψας) and looking in, and thus got only a general view (βλέπει) of the linen cloths lying in their place. But St. Peter on his arrival entered into the tomb, and beheld—the word used (θεωρεῖ) points to a careful searching gaze, the eye passing from point to point—not only the linen cloths, but the napkin that was about Christ’s head ‘rolled up in a place by itself.’ These particulars have sometimes been used as evidence of the care and order with which the Risen Lord folded up and deposited in two separate places His grave-clothes before He left the tomb. But it has recently been shown with great cogency that what probably is meant is that the grave-clothes were found undisturbed on the very spot where Jesus had lain, the linen cloths on the lower ledge which had upheld the body, the napkin ‘by itself on the slightly raised part of the ledge which formed a kind of pillow for the head. The empty grave-clothes, out of which the Risen Lord had passed, became thus a sign not only that no violence had been offered to His body by human hands, but also a parable of the true meaning of His Resurrection: ‘all that was of Jesus of Nazareth has suffered its change and is gone. We—grave-clothes, and spices, and napkin—belong to the earth and remain’ (H. Latham, The Risen Master , p. 11: see the whole interesting discussion in chapters i.–iii.).

Apart from these more special considerations, it is sufficient to notice that the very particularity of the description of the burial of Jesus is in itself of importance as emphasizing His true humanity and the reality of His death. From nothing in our lot, even the sad accompaniments of the grave, did He shrink. On the other hand, the empty grave on the morning of the third day has always been regarded as one of the most convincing proofs that ‘the Lord is risen indeed.’ Had it not been so, then His body must have been stolen either by friends or by foes. But if by the latter, why in the days that followed did they not produce it, and so silence the disciples’ claims? If by the former, then we have no escape from the conclusion that the Church of Christ was founded ‘not so much upon delusion as upon fraud—upon fraud springing from motives perfectly inexplicable, and leading to results totally different from any that could have been either intended or looked for’ (W. Milligan, The Resurrect ion of our Lord 4 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 73).

Literature.—See artt. ‘Burial’ and ‘Tombs’ in Kitto’s Cycl ., Smith’s D B [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , Encyc. Bibl .; ‘Beerdigung’ in Hamburger’s RE  ; ‘Begrabnis bei den Hebräern’ PR E [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life , p. 161 ff.; Thomson, Land and Book  ; Bender, ‘Beliefs, Rites, and Customs of the Jews connected with Death, Burial, and Mourning,’ in JQ R [Note: QR Jewish Quarterly Review.] , 1894 and 1895.

George milligan.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

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,"   2 Chronicles 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,"   Matthew 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:—

Οι δ ' επει εισαγαγον κλυτα δωματα , τον μεν επειτα Τρητοις εν λεχεεοσι θεσαν παρα δ ' εισαν αοιδους , Θρηνων εξαρχους . κ .τ .λ .

Il. lib. xxiv, 50. 720.

"A melancholy choir attend around,

With plaintive sighs and music's solemn sound; Alternately they sing, alternate flow

The obedient tears, melodious in their wo." POPE.

In Egypt, the lower class of people call in women who play on the tabor; and whose business it is, like the hired mourners in other countries, to sing elegiac airs to the sound of that instrument, which they accompany with the most frightful distortions of their limbs. These women attend the corpse to the grave, intermixed with the female relations and friends of the deceased, who commonly have their hair in the utmost disorder; their heads covered with dust; their faces daubed with indigo, or at least rubbed with mud; and howling like maniacs. Such were the minstrels whom our Lord found in the house of Jairus, making so great a noise round the bed on which the dead body of his daughter lay. The noise and tumult of these retained mourners, and the other attendants, appear to have begun immediately after the person expired. It is evident that this sort of mourning and lamentation was a kind of art among the Jews: "Wailing shall be in the streets; and they shall call such as are skilful of lamentation to wail,"  Amos 5:16 . Mourners are still hired at the obsequies of Hindoos and Mohammedans, as in former times. To the dreadful noise and tumult of the hired mourners, the following passage of Jeremiah indisputably refers; and shows the custom to be derived from a very remote antiquity: "Call for the mourning women that they may come; and send for cunning women, that they may come, and 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 .

The funeral processions of the Jews in Barbary are conducted nearly in the same manner as those in Syria. The corpse is borne by four to the place of burial: in the first rank march the priests, next to them the kindred of the deceased; after whom come those that are invited to the funeral; and all singing in a sort of plain song, the forty-ninth Psalm. Hence the Prophet,  Amos 8:3 , warns his people that public calamities were approaching, so numerous and severe, as should make them forget the usual rites of burial, and even to sing one of the songs of Zion over the dust of a departed relative. This appears to be confirmed by a prediction in the eighth chapter: "And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God; there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence;" they shall have none to lament and bewail; none to blow the funeral trump or touch the pipe and tabor; none to sing the plaintive dirge, or express their hope of a blessed resurrection, in the strains of inspiration. All shall be silent despair. See Sepulchres .

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

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" ( Genesis 3:19). Even enemies received burial ( 1 Kings 11:15). The law ordained the same treatment of the malefactor ( Deuteronomy 21:23). Nothing but extreme profanity on the part of the deceased during life was deemed a warrant for disturbing their remains ( 2 Kings 23:16-17;  Jeremiah 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 ( Genesis 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 ( Joshua 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.  2 Chronicles 26:23;  2 Chronicles 33:20; compare  1 Kings 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  Ruth 1:17). The greatest indignity was to be denied burial ( 2 Kings 9:10;  Isaiah 14:20;  Jeremiah 22:18-19;  2 Samuel 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 ( Genesis 23:6;  2 Chronicles 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  Isaiah 53:9 ( John 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 ( 1 Samuel 31:11-13). Also in a plague, to prevent contagion ( Amos 6:9-10).

Costly spices were wrapped up in the linen swathes round the corpse, and also were burnt at the funeral ( 2 Chronicles 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;  Numbers 19:11-14). Hired mourners with shrill pipes increased the sound of wailings for the dead ( Matthew 9:23;  Jeremiah 9:17;  2 Chronicles 35:25). The body without any coffin was carried to burial on a bier ( Luke 7:12). A napkin was bound round the head, and linen bandages wound round the body ( John 11:44;  John 19:40). The whole of the preparations are included in the Greek word Entafiasmos which Jesus uses ( Mark 14:8).

After burial the funeral feast followed ( Jeremiah 16:6-8).  Ezekiel 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 ( Leviticus 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  Deuteronomy 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 ( 2 Chronicles 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 ( 2 Kings 23:6); and on the graves of them that had sacrificed to the idols and groves Josiah strawed the dust of their idols ( 2 Chronicles 34:4): "the graves of the common people" outside the city ( Jeremiah 26:23). Tophet, the valley E. of the city, was once the haunt of Moloch worship, but was doomed to defilement by burials there ( Jeremiah 7:32;  Jeremiah 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?" ( Mark 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 ( Matthew 28:2;  John 20:11; compare  Isaiah 22:16;  Luke 23:53). Demoniacs and outcasts would haunt such tombs for shelter, when open ( Isaiah 60:4;  Mark 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" ( Matthew 23:27). To repair the prophets' tombs was regarded as an act of great piety ( Matthew 23:29).

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [4]

Burial was a matter of great importance in the Old Testament. The story of Abraham's negotiation to purchase a cave for Sarah's burial is told in detail ( Genesis 23 ). Graves were sometimes marked with pillars ( Genesis 35:20;  2 Kings 23:17 ), and places where famous Old Testament figures were buried were known for generations to come ( Acts 2:29 ) and were even adorned by them ( Matthew 23:29 ). The Old Testament writers routinely describe the burials of the major characters in the narrative (for a number of the judges little is recorded about them except where they were buried — cf.  Judges 10:1-2,3-5;  12:8-10,11-12,13-15 ); indeed, that the site of Moses' grave is unknown is so unusual as to require special comment ( Deuteronomy 34:6 ). On the other hand, not receiving a proper burial was a matter of great shame ( Isaiah 14:18-20;  Jeremiah 16:4 ).

The strong emphasis in the Old Testament on burial serves to bind the dead with their ancestors, and, hence, the Jews together as a people. Typical burial expressions include "he was gathered to his people" ( Genesis 35:29;  49:33 ) and "he rested with his fathers" ( 1 Kings 2:10;  11:43 ). Indeed, families were buried together ( Genesis 49:29-33 ), even if it meant traveling a great distance to do so ( Genesis 50:12-13 ). That burial resulted in the corruption of the body was understood ( Genesis 3:19;  Job 17:13-16;  Psalm 16:10;  Acts 13:36 ), but it was precisely against that common recognition of the fate of the dead that the hope of resurrection was born ( Isaiah 26:19;  Daniel 12:2 ).

The Jewish practice of burying the dead is carried forward into the New Testament period. John the Baptist's disciples buried his body ( Matthew 14:12 ), and Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus ( Matthew 27:57-60;  Mark 15:42-46;  Luke 23:50-53;  John 19:38-42; [accompanied by Nicodemus] ). With the money paid to Judas the chief priests purchased a field to use as a burial place for foreigners ( Matthew 27:5-7 ). The earliest Christians, being Jews, continued the practice, burying Ananias and Sapphira ( Acts 5:6-10 ) and Stephen ( Acts 8:2 ).

Jesus' burial is especially important, of course, because it is followed by his resurrection. In addition to all four Gospel writers recording the tomb being found empty ( Matthew 28:1-7;  Mark 16:1-7;  Luke 24:1-12;  John 20:1-12 ), Matthew notes the care to which the chief priests and the Pharisees went to make Jesus' tomb secure (27:6-66) and the subsequent rumor they spread when their efforts failed (28:11-15). Paul, in his recitation of the resurrection tradition that he had passed on to the Corinthians, notes that Christ "was buried" ( 1 Corinthians 15:4 ). The early Christians, therefore, came to understand Jesus' burial as a necessary (but temporary!) prelude to his resurrection.

Paul presses the connection between burial and resurrection one step further by applying it to baptism. In both Romans (6:4) and Colossians (2:12) he presents baptism as a symbol of being buried with Christ. Through faith Christians are then raised with Christ to live a new life. Thus, burial comes to be connected not just with the hope of a future resurrection secured by the resurrection of Jesus ( 1 Corinthians 15:20-23;  1 Thessalonians 4:14 ), but also with the reality of new life in Christ in the present.

The Bible contains other metaphorical uses of burial terminology. The corruption of the body in the grave provides a natural link to corrupt speech ( Psalm 5:9;  Romans 3:13 ) and to people who are corrupt within ( Matthew 23:27 ). Similarly, Jesus uses Isaiah's mention of the worm that does not die in its assault on a corpse as a picture of hell ( Mark 9:48 ). Jesus also speaks of burying the dead as a spiritual antithesis to following him ( Matthew 8:21-22;  Luke 9:59-60 ).

Joseph L. Trafton

See also Baptism Baptize

Bibliography . R. Hachili, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:785-94; S. Safrai, The Jewish People in the First Century, 2:773-87.

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]

 Deuteronomy 21:23 1 Kings 14:10-14 2 Kings 9:34-37 2 Samuel 21:10-14

Though the Bible nowhere systematically describes Hebrew mortuary practice, several features can be gleaned from individual passages. Joseph closed his father's eyelids soon after Jacob's death ( Genesis 46:4 ). Jesus' body was prepared for burial by anointing with aromatic oils and spices and wrapping in a linen cloth ( Mark 16:1;  Luke 24:1;  John 19:39 ). The arms and legs of Lazarus' body were bound with cloth, and the face covered by a napkin ( John 11:44 ). The body of Tabitha was washed in preparation for burial ( Acts 9:37 ).

The dead were buried in caves, rock-cut tombs, or in the ground. It was desirable to be buried in the family tomb, so Sarah ( Genesis 23:19 ), Abraham ( Genesis 25:9 ), Isaac, Rebekah, Leah ( Genesis 49:31 ) and Jacob ( Genesis 50:13 ) were all buried in the cave of Machpelah, east of Hebron. Burial sites were marked by trees ( Genesis 35:8 ), pillars ( Genesis 35:19-20 ), and piles of stones ( Joshua 7:26 ). The burials of the wealthy or politically powerful were sometimes accompanied by lavish accessories, including robes, jewelry, furniture, weapons, and pottery ( 1 Samuel 28:14;  Isaiah 14:11;  Ezekiel 32:27 ).

In contrast to its wide usage among the Greeks and Romans, cremation is not described as normal practice in the Bible. Bodies were cremated only in exceptional cases such as decay following mutilation ( 1 Samuel 31:12 ) or the threat of plague. Even in these instances, cremation was partial so that the bones remained. Embalming is mentioned only in the burial accounts of Jacob and Joseph ( Genesis 50:2-3 ,  Genesis 50:26 ) and there only because of the Egyptian setting and plans to move the bodies. Apparently, embalming was an Egyptian practice.

When preparations for burial were completed, the body was usually placed on a bier and carried to the burial site in a procession of relatives, friends, and servants ( Amos 6:10 ). The procession carried out the mourning ritual, which could include (1) baldness and cutting of beard, (2) rending garments and wearing sackcloth, (3) loud and agonized weeping, and (4) putting dust on the head and sitting in ashes ( 2 Samuel 1:11-12;  2 Samuel 13:31;  2 Samuel 14:2;  Isaiah 3:24 ,  Isaiah 22:12;  Jeremiah 7:29;  Ezekiel 7:18;  Joel 1:8 ). The Canaanite practices of laceration and mutilation are forbidden in the Torah ( Leviticus 19:27-28;  Leviticus 21:5;  Deuteronomy 14:1 ).

The period of mourning varied in response to circumstances. Mourning for Jacob lasted seventy days ( Genesis 50:3 ), while for Aaron and Moses it lasted thirty days ( Numbers 20:29;  Deuteronomy 34:5-8 ). Women captured in war were allowed to mourn the deaths of their parents one month before having to marry their captors ( Deuteronomy 21:11-13 ).

The deaths of the famous prompted poetic laments. David mourned for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan ( 2 Samuel 1:17-27 ), and Jeremiah lamented the death of Josiah ( 2 Chronicles 35:25 ).

Professional mourners are referred to in  Jeremiah 9:17-18 and   Amos 5:16 as “such as are skilled in lamentation,” and in   Matthew 9:23 as “minstrels.” In the latter account Jesus seemed to dismiss them as He healed the ruler's daughter. It is interesting to note that Jesus' own response to Lazarus' death was comparatively simple; He wept quietly at the tomb (  John 11:35-36 ).

Israel's mourning rites reflect in part the belief that death is something evil. All contact with death—whether it happened by touching a corpse, the bones of a corpse, a grave, or a house which contained a dead body—made the Israelite unclean and in need of purification. In addition to personal sorrow, the mourning rites reflected at least to a degree the mourner's humiliation because of his necessarily close contact with the body of the deceased.

Joe Haag

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [6]

We find the greatest attention paid by the Hebrews, from the earliest ages, to the depositing of the remains of their friends in sepulchres. Perhaps, in all the compass of language, and in all the refinements of courts, there is nothing to be found in history equal to the manners and address of the patriarch Abraham, when standing up before his people to ask a place for the burial of his beloved Sarah from the children of Heth.

Would men wish to behold a portrait of the most unaffected dignity with politeness, they must look for it in the twenty-third chapter of Genesis, where, I venture to say, is discovered every thing that can be truly called elegant, dignified, and venerable in the character of the great Father of the faithful. Surely, the patriarch here appears the most accomplished and finished gentleman the world ever beheld. In proof, I hope that I shall be pardoned if I recite a few words from that interesting chapter.

"And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba, the same is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, "Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead. None of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mightest bury thy dead. And Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth."

What a very interesting view doth this afford of the conduct of Abraham on this occasion. And when in the after conversation, the children of Heth proposed giving the spot of ground the patriarch fixed on for a sepulchre for his beloved Sarah, with what grace and dignity did he decline it as a gift; but requested that he might have it by purchase. And during the transaction of this business, we are told, that Abraham again bowed down himself before the people of the land.

Last offices to the dead were among the first in the concern of the living. Probably, though it was reserved for the gospel dispensation to bring life and immortality to light, yet among those who, like of Christ afar off, they were not wholly untaught concerning the doctrine of the resurrection in Jesus. But be this as it may, certain it is, that the greatest regard was had in the burial of the dead among the early followers of our Lord; and to be without a burial place, was considered among the severest calamities. Hence Jacob, when a-dying, charged his children to bury him with his fathers. "There" (said he), "they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah." ( Genesis 49:29) And hence, Joseph also gave commandment "concerning his bones?" ( Genesis 1:25) And it is spoken of in Scripture, by the Lord himself, as the marked punishment of Ithoiakim, that he should have no burial place, but be cast forth as an ass without the gates of Jerusalem. ( Jeremiah 22:18-19) And what is it now? Believers in Jesus still feel some degree of concern, that the ashes of their friends may be deposited with decent solemnity in the grave. And when we consider what the blessed Scriptures have said, that the bodies of Christ's people are the temples of the Holy Ghost, there seems to be a manifest propriety, though void of all idle parade and ostentation, to commit the remains of those who die in the Lord to the bowels of the earth, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in him, and through him, and by him, who is himself the resurrection and the life. How blessedly the apostle Paul speaks on this subject, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, in his epistle to the church. "I would not (saith he) have you to he ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe, that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also, which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13, etc.)

Easton's Bible Dictionary [7]

 Genesis 23 Genesis 25:9

Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, was buried under Allon-bachuth, "the oak of weeping" ( Genesis 35:8 ), near to Bethel. Rachel died, and was buried near Ephrath; "and Jacob set a pillar upon her grave" (16-20). Isaac was buried at Hebron, where he had died (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" (49:31). In compliance with the oath which he made him swear unto him (47:29-31), Joseph, assisted by his brethren, buried Jacob in the cave of Machpelah (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 ( Joshua 24:32 ), which became Joseph's inheritance ( Genesis 48:22;  1 Chronicles 5:1;  John 4:5 ). Two burials are mentioned as having taken place in the wilderness. That of Miriam ( Numbers 20:1 ), and that of Moses, "in the land of Moab" ( Deuteronomy 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 ( Numbers 20:28,29 ).

Joshua was buried "in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-serah" ( Joshua 24 ::  30 ).

In Job we find a reference to burying-places, which were probably the Pyramids (3:14,15). The Hebrew word for "waste places" here resembles in sound the Egyptian word for "pyramids."

Samuel, like Moses, was honoured with a national burial ( 1 Samuel 25:1 ). Joab ( 1 Kings 2:34 ) "was buried in his own house in the wilderness."

In connection with the burial of Saul and his three sons we meet for the first time with the practice of burning the dead ( 1 Samuel 31:11-13 ). The same practice is again referred to by ( Amos 6:10 ).

Absalom was buried "in the wood" where he was slain ( 2 Samuel 18:17,18 ). The raising of the heap of stones over his grave was intended to mark abhorrence of the person buried (Compare  Joshua 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" ( 1 Kings 2:10;  11:43;  15:8;  2 Kings 14:19,20;  15:38;  1 Kings 14:31;  22:50;  2 Chronicles 21:19,20;  2 Chronicles 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" ( 2 Chronicles 32:33 ).

Little is said regarding the burial of the kings of Israel. Some of them were buried in Samaria, the capital of their kingdom ( 2 Kings 10:35;  13:9;  14:16 ).

Our Lord was buried in a new tomb, hewn out of the rock, which Joseph of Arimathea had prepared for himself ( Matthew 27:57-60;  Mark 15:46;  John 19:41,42 ).

The grave of Lazarus was "a cave, and a stone lay on it" ( John 11:38 ). Graves were frequently either natural caverns or artificial excavations formed in the sides of rocks ( Genesis 23:9;  Matthew 27:60 ); and coffins were seldom used, unless when the body was brought from a distance.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Burial. The Hebrews did not burn, but buried their dead, usually in caves and artificial tombs.  Genesis 25:9;  Genesis 35:29. To be deprived of burial was thought one of the greatest marks of dishonor.  Ecclesiastes 6:3;  Jeremiah 22:18-19. It was denied to none, seldom even to enemies.  Deuteronomy 21:23;  1 Kings 11:15. Good men made it a part of their piety to inter the dead. Unburied corpses polluted their land if the dead were exposed to view.  2 Samuel 21:14. The touch of a dead body, or of anything that had touched a dead body, was esteemed a defilement, and required a ceremonial cleansing.  Numbers 19:11-22. Only three cases of burning the bodies of the dead occur in Scripture: the family of Achan, after they were stoned.  Joshua 7:24-25, the mangled remains of Saul and his sons,  1 Samuel 31:12, and perhaps the victims of some plague,  Amos 6:10. The nearest relatives usually closed the eyes of the dying, gave them the parting kiss, and then began the wailing for the dead.  Genesis 46:4;  Genesis 50:1. The loud and shrill lamentations referred to in  Mark 5:38,  John 11:19, were by hired mourners, see also  Jeremiah 9:17-18;  Amos 5:16, who praised the deceased,  Acts 9:39, and by doleful cries and frantic gestures, aided at times by melancholy tones of music,  Matthew 9:23, strove to express the deepest grief,  Ezekiel 24:17-18. Immediately after death the body was washed, and laid out in a convenient room,  Acts 9:37-39, and sometimes anointed,  Matthew 26:12. It was wrapped in many folds of linen, with spices, and the head bound about with a napkin, as the body of Jesus was,  Matthew 27:59; sometimes each limb and finger wrapped separately,  John 11:44, as the mummies of Egypt are found to have been. But among the Jews the body was not embalmed, and the burial took place very soon, on account both of the heat of the climate and of the ceremonial uncleanness incurred. Rarely did 24 hours elapse between death and burial,  Acts 5:6;  Acts 5:10 : and in Jerusalem now burial, as a general rule, is not delayed more than three or four hours. The body was wrapped in the garments worn when living, or linen cloths thrown over it, and it was placed upon a bier—a board borne by men—to be conveyed to the tomb.  2 Samuel 3:31;  Luke 7:14. Sometimes a more costly bier or bed was used,  2 Chronicles 16:14; and the bodies of kings and some others may have been laid in stone sarcophagi  Genesis 50:26;  2 Kings 13:21. The tomb was usually without the city, and spices and aromatic woods were often burned at the burial.  2 Chronicles 16:14 A banquet sometimes followed the funeral,  Jeremiah 16:7-8; and the bereaved friends were wont to go to the grave from time to time, to weep,  John 11:31; a custom observed even at this day.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [9]

The Hebrews were at all times very careful in the burial of their dead,  Genesis 25:9   35:29 . To be deprived of burial was thought one of the greatest marks of dishonor, or cause of unhappiness,  Ecclesiastes 6:3   Jeremiah 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,  2 Samuel 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,  Numbers 19.11-22 .

Only two cases of burning the bodies of the dead occur in Scripture: the mangled remains of Saul and his sons,  1 Samuel 31:12 , and the victims of some plague,  Amos 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,  Jeremiah 46:4   50:1; in this wailing, which continued at intervals until after the burial, they were joined by other relatives and friends,  John 11:19 , whose loud and shrill lamentations are referred to in  Mark 5:38 . It is also a custom still prevailing in the East to hire wailing women,  Jeremiah 9:17   Amos 5:16 , who praised the deceased,  Acts 9:39 , and by doleful cries and frantic gestures, aided at times by melancholy tones of music,  Matthew 9:23 , strove to express the deepest grief,  Ezekiel 24:17,18 .

Immediately after death the body was washed, and laid out in a convenient room,  Acts 9:39; it was wrapped in many folds of linen, with spices, and the head bound about with a napkin,  Matthew 27:59   John 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,  Acts 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,  2 Samuel 3:31   Luke 7:14 . Sometimes a more costly bier or bed was used,  2 Chronicles 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,  Jeremiah 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,  John 11:31 , a custom observed even at this day. See Embalming , Sepulchre .

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [10]

The interment of a deceased person. The rites of burial have been looked upon in all countries as a debt so sacred, that such as neglected to discharge them were thought accursed. Among the Jews, the privilege of burial was denied only to self-murderers, who were thrown out to putrefy upon the ground. In the Christian church, though good men always desired the privilege of interment, yet they were not, like the heathens, so concerned for their bodies, as to think it any detriment to them if either the barbarity of an enemy, or some other accident, deprived them of this privilege. The primitive church denied the more solemn rites of burial only to unbaptized persons, self-murderers, and excommunicated persons, who continued obstinate and impenitent in a manifest contempt of the church's censures. The place of burial among the Jews was never particularly determined. We find they had graves in the town and country, upon the highway or gardens, and upon mountains.

Among the Greeks, the temples were made repositories for the dead, in the primitive ages; yet, in the latter ages, the Greeks as well as the Romans buried the dead without the cities, and chiefly by the highways. Among the primitive Christians, burying in cities was not allowed for the first three hundred years, nor in churches for many ages after; the dead bodies being first deposited in the atrium or church-yard, and porches and porticos of the church: hereditary burying-places were forbidden till the twelfth century.

See Funeral Rites As to burying in churches, we find a difference of opinion: some have thought it improper that dead bodies should be interred in the church. Sir Matthew Hale used to say, that churches were for the living, and church-yards for the dead. In the famous Bishop Hall's will we find this passage: after desiring a private funeral, he says, "I do not hold God's house a meet repository for the dead bodies of the greatest saints." Mr. Hervey, on the contrary, defends it, and supposes that it tends to render our assembles more awful; and that, as the bodies of the saints are the Lord's property, they should be reposed in his house.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [11]

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.  Deuteronomy 21:23 . Those slain in battle were also interred.  1 Kings 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.  Jeremiah 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.  Revelation 11:9-12 .

King James Dictionary [12]

BURIAl, n. ber'rial. See Bury. The act of burying a deceased person sepulture interment the act of depositing a dead body in the earth, in a tomb or vault, or in the water.

1. The act of placing any thing under earth or water as, to bury see in the earth. 2. The church service for funerals.

Webster's Dictionary [13]

(1): (n.) A grave; a tomb; a place of sepulture.

(2): (n.) The act of burying; depositing a dead body in the earth, in a tomb or vault, or in the water, usually with attendant ceremonies; sepulture; interment.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [14]

BURIAL . See Mourning Customs, Tomb.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [15]

See Funeral .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [16]

Copyright StatementThese files are public domain. Bibliography InformationMcClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Burial'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/burial.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

ber´i - al ( קבוּרה , ḳebhūrāh  ; compare New Testament τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι , tó entaphiásai ):

I. Immediate Burial Considered Urgent

1. Reasons for This

2. The Burial of Jesus

3. The Usual Time

4. Duties of Next of Kin

II. Preparations for Burial

1. Often Informal and Hasty

2. Usually with More Ceremony

3. Contrasts between Jewish Customs and Other Peoples'

(1) Cremation

(2) Embalming

III. On the Way to the Grave

1. Coffins Unknown

2. Professional Mourners

IV. At the Grave

1. Graves Dug in the Earth

2. Family Tombs. Later Customs

3. Sealed Stones

4. Stated Times of Mourning

5. Excessive Mourning

6. Dirge-Songs

V. Failure to Receive Burial Counted A C alamity or Judgment

VI. Places of Burial: How Marked


It is well to recall at the outset that there are points of likeness and of marked contrast between oriental and occidental burial customs in general, as well as between the burial customs of ancient Israel and those of other ancient peoples. These will be brought out, or suggested later in this article.

I. Immediate Burial Considered Urgent

1. Reasons for This

The burial of the dead in the East in general was and is often effected in such a way as to suggest to the westerner indecent haste. Dr. Post says that burial among the people of Syria today seldom takes place later than ten hours after death, often earlier; but, he adds, "the rapidity of decomposition, the excessive violence of grief, the reluctance of Orientals to allow the dead to remain long in the houses of the living, explain what seems to us the indecency of haste." This still requires the survivors, as in the case of Abraham on the death of Sarah, to bury their dead out of their sight ( Genesis 23:1-4 ); and it in part explains the quickness with which the bodies of Nadab and Abihu were Carried out of the camp ( Leviticus 10:4 ), and those of Ananias and Sapphira were hastened off to burial ( Acts 5:1-11 ). Then, of course, the defilement to which contact with a dead body gave occasion, and the judgment that might come upon a house for harboring the body of one dying under a Divine judgment, further explain such urgency and haste.

2. The Burial of Jesus

It was in strict accordance with such customs and the provision of the Mosaic law ( Deuteronomy 21:23; compare  Galatians 3:13 ), as well as in compliance with the impulses of true humanity, that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus for burial on the very day of the crucifixion ( Matthew 27:39 ).

3. The Usual Time

The dead are often in their graves, according to present custom, within two or three hours after death. Among oriental Jews burial takes place, if possible, within twenty-four hours after death, and frequently on the day of death. Likewise Mohammedans bury their dead on the day of death, if death takes place in the morning; but if in the afternoon or at night, not until the following day.

4. Duties of Next of Kin

As soon as the breath is gone the oldest son, or failing him, the nearest of kin present, closes the eyes of the dead (compare  Genesis 46:4 , "and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes"). The mouth, too, is closed and the jaws are bound up (compare  John 11:44 , "and his face was bound about with a napkin"). The death is announced, as it was of old, by a tumult of lamentation preceded by a shrill cry, and the weeping and wailing of professional mourners (compare  Mark 5:38 ). See Mourning .

II. Preparations for Burial

1. Often Informal and Hasty

These are often informal and hasty. Under the tyranny of such customs as those noted, it is often impossible to make them elaborate. Canon Tristram says: "As interments take place at latest on the evening of the day of death, and frequently at night, there can be no elaborate preparations. The corpse, dressed in such clothes as were worn in life, is stretched on a bier with a cloth thrown over it, until carried forth for burial" ( Eastern Customs , 94). In  Acts 5:6 we read of Ananias, "The young men ... wrapped him round, and they carried him out and buried him." "What they did," as Dr. Nicol says, "was likely this: they unfastened his girdle, and then taking the loose under-garment and the wide cloak which was worn above it, used them as a winding-sheet to cover the corpse from head to foot." In other words, there was little ceremony and much haste.

2. Usually with More Ceremony

Usually, however, there was more ceremony and more time taken. Missionaries and natives of Syria tell us that it is still customary to wash the body (compare  Acts 9:37 ), anoint it with aromatic ointments (compare  John 12:7;  John 19:39;  Mark 16:1;  Luke 24:1 ), swathe hands and feet in grave-bands, usually of linen (  John 11:44 ), and cover the face or bind it about with a napkin or handkerchief (  John 11:44 ). It is still common to place in the wrappings of the body aromatic spices and other preparations to retard decomposition. Thus the friends at Bethany prepared the body of Lazarus, and he came forth wrapped in grave-bands and with a napkin bound about his face. And, we are further told that after the burial of Jesus, Nicodemus brought "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds," and that they "took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury," and that Mary Magdalene and two other women brought spices for the same purpose ( John 19:39 ,  John 19:40;  Mark 16:1;  Luke 24:1 ). That this was a very old custom is witnessed by such passages as  2 Chronicles 16:14 , where it is said that Asa, the king, was laid "in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices prepared by the perfumers' art" (compare  John 12:3 ,  John 12:7; Sirach 38:16). From  Acts 5:6;  Acts 8:2 it appears that there was in later times a confraternity of young men whose business it was to attend to these proprieties and preparations on behalf of the dead; but it was probably only in exceptional cases that they were called upon to act. Certainly such ministries ordinarily devolved, as they do now, upon loving relatives and friends, and mostly women, among the Jews as well as among the Greeks. The practice among the Greeks, both by similarity and contrast, affords an interesting illustration. The following instance is aptly cited in DB (art. "Burial"): Electra believing Orestes to be dead and his ashes placed in the sepulchral urn (Soph. Electra 1136-52), addresses him Thus: "Woe is me! These loving hands have not washed or decked thy corpse, nor taken, as was meet, their sad burden from the flaming pyre. At the hands of strangers, hapless one, thou hast had those rites, and so art come to us, a little dust in a narrow urn."

3. Contrasts Between Jewish Customs and Other Peoples'

This brings us to note two marked contrasts between customs in Israel and among other peoples.

(1) Cremation

With the Greeks it was customary to cremate the dead (see Cremation ); but there was nothing in Jewish practice exactly corresponding to this. Tacitus ( Hist . v.5) expressly says, in noting the contrast with Roman custom, that it was a matter of piety with the Jews "to bury rather than to burn dead bodies." The burning of the bodies of Saul and his sons by the men of Jabesh-Gilead ( 1 Samuel 31:11-13 ) seems to have been rather a case of emergency, than of conformity to any such custom, as the charred bones were buried by the same men under the tamarisk at Jabesh, and later, by David's order, removed and laid to rest in the sepulcher of Kish ( 2 Samuel 21:12-14 ). According to the Mosaic law burning was reserved, either for the living who had been found guilty of unnatural sins ( Leviticus 20:4;  Leviticus 21:9 ), or for those who died under a curse, as in the case of Achan and his family, who after they had been stoned to death were, with all their belongings, burned with fire ( Joshua 7:25 ).

(2) Embalming

As the burning practiced by the Greeks found no place in Jewish law and custom, so embalming, as practiced by the Egyptians, was unknown in Israel, the cases of Jacob and Joseph being clearly special, and in conformity to Egyptian custom under justifying circumstances. When Jacob died it was Joseph, the Egyptian official, who "commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father" ( Genesis 50:2 ), and it was conventionally the fit thing that when Joseph himself died his body was embalmed and "put in a coffin (sarcophagus) in Egypt" ( Genesis 50:26 ).

III. On the Way to the Grave

When the preparations were made and the time came, the corpse was carried to the grave on a bier, or litter (מטה , miṭṭāh ).

1. Coffins Unknown

Coffins were unknown in ancient Israel, as they are among the Jews of the East to this day. The only one mentioned in the Bible is the sarcophagus in which the embalmed body of Joseph was preserved, unless Asa's bed ( 2 Chronicles 16:14 ) be another, as some think. Moslems, like eastern Jews, never use coffins. The bier sometimes has a pole at each corner by means of which it is carried on the shoulders to the tomb. See Bier .

2. Professional Mourners

The procession of mourners is made up largely, of course, of relatives and friends of the deceased, but is led by professional mourning women, who make the air resound with their shrieks and lamentations (compare  Ecclesiastes 12:5;  Jeremiah 9:17;  Amos 5:16 ). See Mourning .  Amos 5:16 alludes to this custom in describing the mourning that shall be over the desolations of Israel: "Wailing shall be in all the broad ways; and they shall say in all the streets, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skillful in lamentation to wailing." Jer (  Jeremiah 9:17 ,  Jeremiah 9:18 ) breaks out: "Call for the mourning women, that they may come;... and 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." Dr. Fred. Bliss tells of a mourning delegation at the mahal , or mourning house, of a great man. "No matter how gaily they may be chatting they approach, when they reach the house they rush forward, handkerchiefs to face, sobbing, weeping, with utmost demonstrations of grief, going through them time after time as occasion requires." Amelia B. Edwards gives a vivid account of her first experience with such mourning: "It rose like the far-off wavering sound of many owls. It shrilled, swelled, wavered, dropped, and then died away, like the moaning of the wind at sea. We never heard anything so wild and plaintive." Among some Jews of today, it is said, the funeral procession moves swiftly, because there are supposed to be innumerable evil spirits ( shēdhı̄m ) hovering about, desirous to attack the soul, which is thought to be in the body until interment takes place and the corpse is actually covered (see DB , article "Burial").

IV. At the Grave

When the grave, or place of entombment, is reached ceremonies more or less characteristic and peculiar to the Orient take place.

1. Graves Dug in the Earth

When the body is let down into the ground, the bier, of course, is set aside, and at first a heap of stones only is piled over the shallow grave - to preserve the dead from the dreaded depredations of hyenas, jackals or thieves. Beyond question graves among ancient Jews were often simply dug in the earth, as they are with us, and as they are with Jews at Jerusalem and elsewhere in the East today.

2. Family Tombs. Later Customs

But originally, it would seem to have been customary for each family to have a family tomb: either a natural cave, prepared with stone shelves to receive the bodies, or else hewn out of rock in the hillside, each tomb, or sepulcher, having many niches or loculi , in each one of which a body could be placed (see  Genesis 25:10;  Genesis 49:31;  Genesis 50:13;  Genesis 35:19;  Joshua 24:32 ). As Dr. Nicol says, "All among the Israelites who possessed any land, or who could afford it, had their family tombs, hewn out of the rock, each sepulchre containing many niches. Many generations of a family could Thus be placed in the ancestral tomb." Countless numbers of such tombs are to be found all over Palestine, but Machpelah, of course, is the chief example (Gen 23). Compare the cases of Joshua buried in his inheritance at Timnath-serah ( Joshua 24:30 ), Samuel in his house at Ramah ( 1 Samuel 25:1 ), Joab in his house in the wilderness ( 1 Kings 2:34 ), Manasseh in the garden of his house ( 2 Kings 21:18 ), Josiah in the same tomb, it would seem, as his fath er and grandfather ( 2 Kings 23:30 ), and Asa, singled out for special mention ( 2 Chronicles 16:14 ). According to custom, too, the Jew was not to sell his burying-place, if it was possible for him to hold it. Today in the Orient it is quite different - burying-places of Moslem, Jewish and Christian peoples, while distinct from each other, are community rather than family burying-places.

3. Sealed Stones

When the tomb was a cave, or was dug out from some rock, the entrance was often closed with a large circular stone set up on its edge or rim and rolled in its groove to the front of the mouth of the tomb, so as to close it securely. This stone was then often further secured by a strap, or by sealing. In such case it could easily be seen or known if the tomb had been disturbed. Pilate, it will be recalled, directed that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, in which the body of Jesus was laid, should be carefully sealed and made as secure as the officials could make it. "So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, the guard being with them" ( Matthew 27:66 ).

4. Stated Times of Mourning

In Syria, as elsewhere in the East, it is customary to have stated times after the burial for mourning at the tomb - for example on the third, seventh, and fortieth days, and again on the anniversary of the burial. The relatives or friends then go to the tomb without ornaments, often with hair disheveled; sometimes with head covered and faces blackened with soot, or ashes, or earth, in their oldest and poorest clothing, which is sometimes violently rent, and, sitting or moving in a circle around or near to the tomb, they break out in spells into weird, dirge-like singing or wailing.

5. Excessive Mourning

The violence of grief at times leads to lacerations of the body and the shedding of blood. Morier ( Second Journey through Persia ), describing a celebration which takes place annually to commemorate the death of the grandson of Mohammed, says: "I have seen the most violent of them, as they vociferated Ya Hosein̄ walk the streets with their bodies streaming with blood by the voluntary cuts they had given themselves". Such cutting of the flesh in mourning for the dead was specifically forbidden by the Mosaic law ( Leviticus 19:28;  Leviticus 21:5;  Deuteronomy 14:1 ). But excessive mourning for the dead is often alluded to in Scripture (see  2 Samuel 1:11 ,  2 Samuel 1:12;  Psalm 6:6;  Psalm 119:136;  Lamentations 1:16;  Lamentations 3:48;  Jeremiah 9:1 ).

6. Dirge-Songs

The custom of dirge-songs seems to be alluded to ( Matthew 9:23;  Mark 5:38 ) in the narrative of the healing of the ruler's daughter: "Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd making a tumult." A characteristic oriental funeral procession and burial are vividly pictured in the narrative of the burial of Jacob ( Genesis 50:6-13 ).

V. Failure to Receive Burial Counted a Calamity or a Judgment

Any lack of proper burial is still regarded in the East, as it was in ancient times, as a great indignity or a judgment from God. It is esteemed the greatest calamity that can befall a person. It gives men still untold distress to think they shall not receive suitable burial, according to the customs of their respective race, or family, or religion - a fact or sentiment that is often alluded or appealed to by way of illustration in the Scriptures. For a corpse to remain unburied and become food for beasts of prey was the climax of indignity or judgment ( 2 Samuel 21:10 ,  2 Samuel 21:11;  1 Kings 13:22;  1 Kings 14:11;  1 Kings 16:4;  1 Kings 21:24;  2 Kings 9:37;  Jeremiah 7:33;  Jeremiah 8:1;  Ezekiel 29:5;  Psalm 79:3;  Revelation 11:9 ), and uncovered blood cried for vengeance ( Ezekiel 24:6 f;   Ezekiel 39:11-16 ), the idea being the same as among other oriental peoples, that the unburied dead would not only inflict trouble upon his family, but bring defilement also and a curse upon the whole land. It was, therefore, an obligation resting upon all to bury even the dead found by the way (Tobit 1:18; 2:8). Even malefactors were to be allowed burial ( Deuteronomy 21:22 ,  Deuteronomy 21:23 ), and the exceptional denial of it to the sons of Rizpah gave occasion for the touching story of her self-denying care of the dead found in  2 Samuel 21:10 ,  2 Samuel 21:11 .

VI. Places of Burial: How Marked

Ordinary graves were marked by the heaping of crude stones, but hewn stones and sometimes costly pillars were set up as memorials of the dead ( Ezekiel 39:15;  2 Kings 23:17 the Revised Version (British and American), "What monument is that which I see?" the reference being to a sepulchral pillar). Jacob set up a pillar over Rachel's grave (  Genesis 35:20 ), and her tomb is marked by a monument to this day. Absalom's grave in the wood of Ephraim had a heap of stones raised over it ( 2 Samuel 18:17 ), but in this case, as in the case of Achan, it was not for honor but for dishonor. In New Testament times the place of burial was uniformly outside the cities and villages (see  Luke 7:12;  John 11:30 ). There was public provision made for the burial of strangers ( Matthew 27:7 ), as in the closing days of the monarchy there was a public burying-ground at Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 26:23 ), probably where it is to this day between the city wall and the Kidron Valley. Thousands of Jewish graves on the sloping sides of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where the Jews have come from all lands to be buried, bear witness today to the belief that associates the coming of Messiah with a blessed resurrection. Many Jews hold that Messiah, when He comes, will descend upon the Mount of Olives, and will pass through these resting-places of the dead as He enters the Holy City in glory.


HDB , article "Burial"; Keil, Biblical Arch. , II, 199 f; Nowack, Heb Arch. , I, 187ff; "Buria l" and "Tombs" in Kitto, Cycl .; Thomson, LB (see "Funerals" in Index); Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands  ; Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs .