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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Embalming

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The process of preserving bodies from decay. Embalming originated in Egypt and was seldom used by the Hebrews. The practice is rarely mentioned in the Bible, and the human remains unearthed in Palestinian tombs generally show no signs of having been embalmed. In Genesis 50:2-3 , it is recorded that Joseph ordered the embalming of Jacob's body and that “physicians” required forty days to perform the process. Genesis 50:26 says Joseph was embalmed and laid to rest in Egypt. The embalming of these two patriarchs testifies both to their importance in the community and to plans to remove their bodies for burial in Canaan ( Genesis 50:13; Exodus 13:19 ).

Related passages include 2 Chronicles 16:14 which describes the burial of Asa and the John 19:39-40 account of Jesus' burial. The use of spices mentioned in both of these passages did not constitute embalming but ceremonial purification.

The Egyptian art of mummification was an elaborate version of embalming which required seventy days for completion. The process required removal of the viscera and organs (except the heart), treatment of the body with a preserving agent, and wrapping with cloth. That the Hebrews did not perform embalming reflects not only rival conceptions of the afterlife between Israel and Egypt but also aversion toward Egyptian religious practice in general.

Joe Haag

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Embalming'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/e/embalming.html. 1991.

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