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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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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, Osiris3, 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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mourning'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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