the First Week of Advent
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(קְבוּרָה, keburah', Ecclesiastes 6:3; Jeremiah 22:19; elsewhere
"grave;" ἐνταφιασμός, Mark 14:8; John 12:7). (See FUNERAL).
I. JEWISH. — Abraham, in his treaty for the cave of Machpelah, expressed his anxiety to obtain a secure place in which "to bury his dead out of his sight;" and almost every people has naturally regarded this as the most proper mode of disposing of the dead. Two instances, indeed, we meet with in sacred history of the barbarous practice of burning them to ashes: the one in the case of Saul and his sons, whose bodies were probably so much mangled as to preclude their receiving the royal honors of embalmment (1 Samuel 31:12); the other, mentioned by Amos (Amos 6:10), appears to refer to a season of prevailing pestilence, and the burning of those who died of plague was probably one of the sanatory measures adopted to prevent the spread of contagion. Among the ancient Romans this was the usual method of disposing of dead bodies. But throughout the whole of their national history the people of God observed the practice of burial. It was deemed not only an act of humanity, but a sacred duty of religion to pay the last honors to the departed; while to be deprived of these, as was frequently the fate of enemies at the hands of ruthless conquerors (2 Samuel 21:9-14; 2 Kings 11:11-16; Psalms 79:2; Ecclesiastes 6:3), was considered the greatest calamity and disgrace which a person could suffer.
By the ancient Greeks and Romans this was held to be essential even to the peace of the departed spirits (see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Funus). On the death of any member of a family, preparations were forthwith made for the burial, which, among the Jews, were in many respects similar to those which are common in the East at the present day, and were more or less expensive according to circumstances. After the solemn ceremony of the last kiss and closing the eyes, the corpse, which was perfumed by the nearest relative, having been laid out and the head covered by a napkin, was subjected to entire ablution in warm water (Acts 9:37), a precaution probably adopted to guard against premature interment. But, besides this first and indispensable attention, other cares of a more elaborate and costly description were among certain classes bestowed on the remains of deceased friends, the origin of which is to be traced to a fond and natural, though foolish anxiety to retard or defy the process of decomposition, and all of which may be included under the general head of embalming. Nowhere was this operation performed with so religious care and in so scientific a manner as in ancient Egypt, which could boast of a class of professional men trained to the business; and such adepts had these "physicians" become in the art of preserving dead bodies, that there are mummies still found which must have existed for many thousand years, and are probably the remains of subjects of the early Pharaohs.
The bodies of Jacob and Joseph underwent this eminently Egyptian preparation for burial, which on both occasions was doubtless executed in a style of the greatest magnificence (Genesis 1, 2, 26). Whether this expensive method of embalming was imitated by the earlier Hebrews, we have no distinct accounts; but we learn from their practice in later ages that they had some observance of the kind, only they substituted a simpler and more expeditious, though it must have been a less efficient process, which consisted in merely swathing the corpse round with numerous folds of linen, and sometimes a variety of stuffs, and anointing it with a mixture of aromatic substances, of which aloes and myrrh were the chief ingredients. A sparing use of spices on such occasions was reckoned a misplaced and discreditable economy; and few higher tokens of respect could be paid to the remains of a departed friend than a profuse application of costly perfumes. Thus we are told by the writers of the Talmud (Massecheth Semacoth, 8) that not less than eighty pounds weight of spices were used at the funeral of Rabbi Gamaliel, an elder; and by Josephus (Ant. 17, 8, 3) that, in the splendid funeral procession of Herod, 500 of his servants attended as spice-bearers.
Thus, too, after the crucifixion, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, two men of wealth, testified their regard for the sacred body of the Savior by "bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight" (John 19:39-40); while, unknown to them, the two Marys, together with their associates, were prepared to render the same office of friendship on the dawn of the first day of the week. Whatever cavils the Jewish doctors have made at their extravagance and unnecessary waste in lavishing such a quantity of costly perfumes on a person in the circumstances of Jesus, the liberality of those pious disciples in the performance of the rites of their country was unquestionably dictated by the profound veneration which they cherished for the memory of their Lord. Nor can we be certain but they intended to use the great abundance of perfumes they provided, not in the common way of anointing the corpse, but, as was done in the case of princes and very eminent personages, of preparing "a bed of spices," in which, after burning them, they might deposit the body (2 Chronicles 16:14; Jeremiah 34:5). For unpatriotic and wicked princes, however, the people made no such burnings, and hence the honor was denied to Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:19). (See EMBALMING).
These files are public domain.