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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The descriptions of the eastern sepulchres, by travellers, serve to explain several passages of Scripture. Shaw says, "If we except a few persons who are buried within the precincts of some sanctuary, the rest are carried out at a small distance from their cities and villages, where a great extent of ground is allotted for that purpose. Each family has a particular portion of it, walled in like a garden, where the bones of their ancestors have remained undisturbed for many generations: for in these inclosures the graves are all distinct and separate, having each of them a stone placed upright, both at the head and feet, inscribed with the name of the person who lieth there interred, while the intermediate space is either planted with flowers, bordered round with stone, or paved all over with tiles. The graves of the principal citizens are farther distinguished by some square chambers or cupolas that are built over them, Mark 5:3 . Now, as all these different sorts of tombs and sepulchres, with the very walls likewise of the inclosures, are constantly kept clean, white-washed, and beautified, they continue to this day to be an excellent comment upon that expression of our Saviour, where he mentions the garnishing of the sepulchres, Matthew 23:29 ; and again, Matthew 23:27 , where he compares the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites to whited sepulchres." With respect to the demoniacs who are said by St. Matthew to come out of the tombs, Light observes, "I trod the ground celebrated for the miracle of the unclean spirit, driven by our Saviour among the swine. The tombs still exist in the form of caverns, on the sides of the hills that rise from the shore of the lake; and from their wild appearance may well be considered the habitation of men exceeding fierce, possessed by a devil; they extend at a distance for more than a mile from the present town." In the account we have of the resurrection of Lazarus, when Mary went suddenly out to meet Jesus, the Jews supposed that she was gone to the grave, "to weep there." The following extract from Buckingham illustrates this: "Not far from the spot at which we halted to enjoy this enchanting view, was an extensive cemetery, at which we noticed the custom so prevalent among eastern nations of visiting the tombs of their deceased friends. These were formed with great care, and finished with extraordinary neatness: and at the foot of each grave was enclosed a small earthen vessel, in which was planted a sprig of myrtle, regularly watered everyday by the mourning friend who visited it. Throughout the whole of this extensive place of burial we did not observe a single grave to which this token of respect and sorrow was not attached; and, scattered among the tombs, in different quarters of the cemetery, we saw from twenty to thirty parties of females, sitting near the honoured remains of some recently lost and deeply regretted relative or friend, and either watering their myrtle plants, or strewing flowers over the green turf that closed upon their heads." See BURIAL .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Sepulchres'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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