Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Burial and Sepulchers


Throughout the whole of their national history the Israelites observed the practice of burial. Among them, 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 9:28; 2 Kings 9:34; Psalms 79:2; Ecclesiastes 6:3), was considered the greatest calamity and disgrace which a person could suffer.

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 with 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 amongst certain classes bestowed on the remains of deceased friends, and all of which may be included under the general head of embalming. Nowhere was this operation performed with such 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. 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 50:2; Genesis 50:26). 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 (John 19:39-40).

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Burial and Sepulchers'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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