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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Embalm


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"Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father (Jacob). And 40 days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days." Joseph himself also at death was embalmed, "and was put in a coffin in Egypt" (Genesis 50:2-3; Genesis 50:25-26). The rest of Jacob's twelve sons were probably also embalmed, for their bodies "were carried over into Sychem and laid in the sepulchre" there (Acts 7:16). Herodotus (3:1,129) records that "every distinct distemper in Egypt had its own physician who confined himself to the study of it alone, so that all Egypt was crowded with physicians."

This accounts for Joseph having in his retinue a number of physicians. Embalmers were usually a distinct class; but Jacob not being an Egyptian, his body was not embalmed by the ordinary embalmers. Diodorus long subsequently mentions 30 days as the time of embalming, and the mourning for a king 72 days. This nearly agrees with the 40 and 70 of Genesis; but of course the processes would vary between the early age of Genesis and the later ages of Herodotus and Diodorus. Herodotus mentions the custom of "covering the body in natron (salt) 70 days." The dearest process (that used in Jacob's and Joseph's case) cost a silver talent (250 British pounds).

The brain and the intestines, with a probe and a sharp Etiopian black flint or agate to make an incision in the side, were extracted, and spices, myrrh, and cassia introduced; the body, washed and wrapped in fine linen was plastered in side with gum, was then laid in a mummy case shaped as a man, generally of sycamore, as is that of king Mycerinus found in the third pyramid of Memphis. A second process with oil of cedar, costing 60 pounds, and a third cheaper process with syrmoea, were used for the less wealthy. The dearest process was said by the Egyptian priests to belong to Osiris, the judge of the dead, who however was not to be named. The mummy was placed erect against the sepulchral wall. Chemical analysis has detected three modes.

1. With asphaltum, funeral gum.

2. With asphaltum and liquor from cedar.

3. With this mixture and resinous aromatics.

Asa was "laid in the bed filled with sweet odorous and divers spices prepared by the apothecaries' art" (2 Chronicles 16:14). The Lord's body was by Nicodemus wrapped in "a mixture of myrrh and aloes an hundred pounds weight, ... as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:39-40). But this is quite distinct from embalming. The Egyptian belief in the transmigration of souls tended to perpetuate the practice, the body being embalmed so as to be ready to receive the soul again when the appointed cycle of thousands of years should elapse. Their burying in the sand impregnated with salts and natron, which preserved the body, first suggested the process. Drugs and bitumen were not generally used before the 18th dynasty.


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Embalm'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/e/embalm.html. 1949.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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