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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(הָנִט, chanat', to spice; hence spoken of the ripening of fruit, on account of its aromatic juice, improperly rendered "putteth forth" in Song of Solomon 2:13), the process of preserving a corpse by means of aromatics (Genesis 1:1-31; Genesis 2:1-25; Genesis 3:1-24; Genesis 26:1-35; Sept. ἐνταφάζω ). This art was practiced among the Egyptians from the earliest times, and arrived at great perfection in that country, where, however, it has now become lost, the practice apparently having gradually fallen into disuse in consequence of the change of customs affected by the introduction of Christianity in that part of the Roman empire. It is in connection with that country that the above instances occur, and later examples (2 Chronicles 16:14; John 9:39-40) seem to have been in imitation of the Egyptian custom. The modern method of embalming is in essential points similar.

I. Egyptian.

1. The feeling which led the Egyptians to embalm the dead probably sprang from their, belief in the future reunion of the soul with the body. Such a reunion is distinctly spoken of in the Book of the Dead (Lepsius, Todtenbuch, chapter 89 and passing), and Herodotus expressly mentions the Egyptian belief in the transmigration of souls (2:123). This latter idea may have led to the embalming of lower animals also, especially those deemed sacred, as the ox, the ibis, and the cat, mummies of which are frequent. The actual process is said to have been derived from "their first merely burying in the sand, impregnated with natron and other salts, which dried and preserved the body" (Rawlinson, Herod. 2:122). Drugs and bitumen were of later introduction, the latter not being generally employed before the 18th dynasty. When the practice ceased entirely is uncertain.

2. Herodotus (2:86-89) describes three modes, varying in completeness and expense, and practiced by persons regularly trained to the profession, who were initiated into the mysteries of the art by their ancestors. The most costly mode, which is estimated by Diodorus Siculus (1:91) at a talent of silver (over $1000), was said by the Egyptian priests to belong to him whose name in such a matter it was not lawful to mention, viz. Osiris. The embalmers first removed part of the brain through the nostrils by means of a crooked iron, and destroyed the rest by injecting caustic drugs. An incision was then made along the flank with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and the whole of the intestines removed. The cavity was rinsed out with palm-wine, and afterwards scoured with pounded perfumes. It was then filled with pure myrrh pounded, cassia, and other aromatics, except frankincense. This done, the body was sewn up and steeped in natron for seventy days. When the seventy days were accomplished, the embalmers washed the corpse and swathed it in bandages of linen, cut in strips and smeared with gum. They then gave it up to the relatives of the deceased, who provided for it a wooden case, made in the shape of a man, in which the dead was placed, and deposited in an erect position against the wall of the sepulchral chamber. Diodorus Siculus gives some particulars of the process which are omitted by Herodotus. When the body was laid out on the ground for the purpose of embalming, one of the operators, called the scribe (γραμματεύς ), marked out the part of the left flank where the incision was to be made. The dissector (παρασχίστης ) then, with a sharp Ethiopian stone (black flint, or Ethiopian agate, Rawlinson, Herod. 2:121), hastily cut through as much flesh as the law enjoined, and fled, pursued by curses and volleys of stones from the spectators. When all the embalmers (ταριχευταί ) were assembled, one of them extracted the intestines, with the exception of the heart and kidneys; another cleansed them one by one, and rinsed them in palm-wine and perfumes. The body was then washed with oil of cedar, and other things worthy of notice, for more than thirty days (according to some MSS. forty), and afterwards sprinkled with myrrh, cinnamon, and other substances, which possess the property not only of preserving the body for a long period, but also of communicating to it an agreeable shell. This process was so effectual that the features of the dead could be recognized. It is remarkable that Diodorus omits all mention of the steeping in natron. Porphyry(De Abst. 4:10) supplies an omission of Herodotus, who neglects to mention what was done with the intestines after they were removed from the body. In the case of a person of respectable rank they were placed in a separate vessel and thrown into the river. This account is confirmed by Plutarch (Sept. Sap. Conv. c. 16).

The second mode of embalming cost about 20 minae. In this case no incision was made in the body, nor were the intestines removed, but cedar- oil was injected into the stomach by the rectum. The oil was prevented from escaping, and the body was then steeped in natron for the appointed number of days. On the last day the oil was withdrawn, and carried off with it the stomach and intestines in a state of solution, while the flesh was consumed by the natron, and nothing was left but the skin and bones. The body in this state was returned to the relatives of the deceased. The third mode, which was adopted by the poorer classes, and cost but little, consisted in rinsing out the intestines with syrmaea, an infusion of senna and cassia (Pettigrew, Hist. of Mummies, page 69), and steeping the body for the usual number of days in natron.

Although the three modes of embalming are so precisely described by Herodotus, it has been found impossible to classify the mummies which have been discovered and examined under one or other of these three heads. Pettigrew, from his own observations, confirms the truth of Herodotus's statement that the brain was removed through the nostrils. But in many instances, in which the body was carefully preserved and elaborately ornamented, the brain had not been removed at all, while in some mummies the cavity was found to be filled with resinous and bituminous matter. M. Rouyer, in his Notice sur los Embaumements d.s Anciens Egyptiens (Description de l'Egypte, page 471), endeavored to class the mummies which he examined under two principal divisions, which were again subdivided into others. These were,

I. Mummies with the ventral incision, preserved, 1, by balsamic matter, and, 2, by natron. The first of these are filled with a mixture of resin and aromatics, and are of an olive color the skin dry, flexible, and adhering to the bones. Others are filled with. bitumen or asphaltum, and are black, the skin hard and shining. Those prepared with natron are also filled with resinous substances and bitumen.

II. Mummies without the ventral incision. This class is again subdivided, according as the bodies were, 1, salted and filled with pisasphaltum, a compound of asphaltum and common pitch; or, 2, salted only. The former are supposed to have been immersed in the pitch when in a liquid state. The medicaments employed in embalming were various. From a chemical analysis of the substances found in mummies, M. Rouelle detected three modes of embalming: 1, with asphaltum, or Jew's pitch, called also funeral gum, or gum of mummies; 2, with a mixture of asphaltum and cedria, the liquor distilled from the cedar; 3, with this mixture, together with some resinous and aromatic ingredients. The powdered aromatics mentioned by Herodotus were not mixed with the bituminous matter, but sprinkled into the cavities of the body. Pettigrew supposes that after the spicing "the body must have been subjected to a very considerable degree of heat; for the resinous and aromatic substances have penetrated even into the innermost structure of the bones, an effect which could not have been produced without the aid of a high temperature, and which was absolutely necessary for the entire preservation of the body" (page 62). M. Rouyer is of the same opinion (page 471). The surface of the body was in one example covered with "a coating of the dust of woods and barks, nowhere less than one inch in thickness," which '"had the smell of cinnamon or cassia" (Pettigrew, pages 62, 63). At this same stage plates of gold were sometimes applied to portions of the body, or even its whole surface. Before enwrapping, the body was always placed at full length, with no variety save in the position of the arms.

The principal embalming material in the more costly mummies appears to have been asphalt, either alone or mixed with a vegetable liquor, or so mixed with the addition of resinous and aromatic ingredients. Pettigrew supposes resinous matters were used as a kind of varnish for the body, and that pounded aromatics were sprinkled in the cavities within. The natron, in a solution of which the mummies were placed in every method, appears to have been a fixed alkali. It might be obtained from the Natron Lakes and like places in, the Libyan desert. Wax has also been discovered (Pettigrew's History, page 75 sq.).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Embalm'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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