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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
ASHES.—Used twice in the Gospels, referring to an ancient and widespread Eastern mourning custom. The mourner, or the penitent, would throw dust, or dust mixed with ashes (σποδός), into the air, as an expression of intense humiliation, due to penitence for sin, or grief because of affliction (Matthew 11:21; for this idea in the OT cf. Micah 1:10, Job 42:6). Such symbolic use of dust and ashes was not unnatural, since grief seems to call for a prostration of the body. These, being beneath the feet, suggest humiliation, and when thrown into the air they were allowed to fall upon the person of the mourner, that he might carry the evidences of his grief with him. Sometimes ashes is associated with σάκκος, sackcloth; the penitent or mourner sitting upon the ash-heap, his face begrimed with the dust. To this custom Christ referred when He said of Tyre and Sidon, ‘They would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes’ (Luke 10:13; cf. use of אפֶר in Job 2:8, Jonah 3:6).
E. B. Pollard.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ashes (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/a/ashes-2.html. 1906-1918.