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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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Burying was (as generally, Cicero, Leg. 2:22; Pliny, 7:55) the oldest, as in all antiquity the customary, and among the Israelites the only mode of disposing of corpses (Genesis 23:19; Genesis 25:25; Genesis 35:8; Judges 2:9; Judges 8:32; 1 Samuel 25:1, etc.; John 11:17; Matthew 27:60, etc.). So likewise among the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians (Lucian, Suet. 21; Curtius, 3:12, 11 and 13), of which people ruins of necropolises and tombs still remain. Of burning, (which among the Greeks was a well-known custom although in no age altogether prevalent, see Becker, Charicles, 2:181 sq.), the first trace occurs in 1 Samuel 31:12, and even there as an extraordinary case (1 Samuel 31:10). The practice has also been inferred from Amos 6:10, where the term מְס רְפוֹ, mesarepho', "he that burneth him" (i.e., the nearest relative, who kindled the pyre; compare Genesis 25:9; Genesis 35:29; Judges 16:31), occurs; but De Rossi, with several MSS., reads (so Hitzig, ad loc., although Rosenmuller, ad be., otherwise explains) מְשָׂרְפוֹ, alluding to the different custom of burning not the body itself, but sweet spices at the funeral, as in Chronicles 16:14; 21:19; Jeremiah 34:5 (comp. Deuteronomy 12:31), as confirmed by Josephus (War, 1:33, 9; see Geier, De luctu, 6:2 sq.; Kiirchmann, De funerib. page 248 sq.; Dougtaei Analect. 1:196 sq.). After the exile the burning of dead bodies was still less an Israelitish custom, and the Talmud classes it with heathenish practices; hence even Tacitus (Hist. 5:5, 4) mentions burial as an altogether Jewish usage. The same conclusion is confirmed by the fact that combustion of the person is affixed by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9) as a special penalty for certain crimes (see Michaelis [who, however, reaches a false result], De combustione et humatione mortuoruom ap. Hebraeos, in his Syntagma comm. 1:225 sq.). (See GRAVE).

To leave the dead unburied was to the Hebrews a most dreadful thought (1 Kings 13:22; 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4; 1 Kings 21:24; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 9:22; Jeremiah 14:16; Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 25:33; Ezekiel 29:5; Psalms 79:3), and was regarded by the ancients universally as one of the grossest insults (Sophocles, Ajax. 1156; Herodian, 8:5, 24; 3:12, 25; Plutarch, Virt. mul. page 226, ed. Tauchn.; Isocr. Panath. page 638; see Musgrave, in Soph. Antiq. 25); hence to inter the remains of the departed was a special work of affection (Tobit 1:21; Tobit 2:8), and was an imperative duty of sons toward their parents (Genesis 25:9; Genesis 35:29; 1 Maccabees 2:70; Tobit 6:15; Matthew 8:21; compare Demosth. Aristog. page 496; Vas. Max. 5:4, ext. 3; see Kype, Obsess. 1:46), and next devolved upon relatives and friends (Tobit 14:16). If the corpse remained uninhumed, it became a prey to the roving, hungry dogs and ravenous birds (1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4; 1 Kings 21:24; Jeremiah 7:33; 2 Samuel 21:10 [2 Kings 9:35 sq.]; compare Homer, Il. 22:41 sq.; Eurip. Heracl. 1050). Nevertheless, that was not often the fate of the dead among the Issraelites, except in consequence of the atrocities of war, since Deuteronomy 21:23 (Josephus, War, 6:72) was held to entitle even criminals to interment (Josephus, War, 4:5, 2; comp. Matthew 27:58; yet it was otherwise in Egypt, Genesis 40:19). According to the Talmud (Lightfoot, Hosea Heb. page 499) there were two especial burial-places at Jerusalem for executed persons. (See TOMB).

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

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