It was the custom to wrap the body in yard and yards of linen cloth, often saturated with aloes and spices.
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16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. "
(ber'-i-al) (qebhurah; compare New Testament to entaphidsai):
For the outline to this article, see Burial
It is well to recall at the outset that there are points of likeness and of marked contrast between oriental and occidental burial customs in general, as well as between the burial customs of ancient Israel and those of other ancient peoples. These will be brought out, or suggested later in this article.
I. Immediate Burial Considered Urgent. - The burial of the dead in the East in general was and is often effected in such a way as to suggest to the westerner indecent haste.
1. Reasons: Dr. Post says that burial among the people of Syria today seldom takes place later than ten hours after death, often earlier; but, he adds, "the rapidity of decomposition, the excessive violence of grief, the reluctance of Orientals to allow the dead to remain long in the houses of the living, explain what seems to us the indecency of haste." This still requires the survivors, as in the case of Abraham on the death of Sarah, to bury their dead out of their sight (Genesis 23:1-4); and it in part explains the quickness with which the bodies of Nadab and Abihu were Carried out of the camp (Leviticus 10:4), and those of Ananias and Sapphira were hastened off to burial (Acts 5:1-11). Then, of course, the defilement to which contact with a dead body gave occasion, and the judgment that might come upon a house for harboring the body of one dying under a Divine judgment, further explain such urgency and haste.
2. The Burial of Jesus:
It was in strict accordance with such customs and the provision of the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 21:23; compare Galatians 3:13), as well as in compliance with the impulses of true humanity, that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus for burial on the very day of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:39 ff).
3. The Usual Time: The dead are often in their graves, according to present custom, within two or three hours after death. Among oriental Jews burial takes place, if possible, within twenty-four hours after death, and frequently on the day of death. Likewise Mohammedans bury their dead on the day of death, if death takes place in the morning; but if in the afternoon or at night, not until the following day.
4. Duties of Next of Kin: As soon as the breath is gone the oldest son, or failing him, the nearest of kin present, closes the eyes of the dead (compare Genesis 46:4, "and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes"). The mouth, too, is closed and the jaws are bound up (compare John 11:44, "and his face was bound about with a napkin"). The death is announced, as it was of old, by a tumult of lamentation preceded by a shrill cry, and the weeping and wailing of professional mourners (compare Mark 5:38 ff). See MOURNING.
II. Preparations for Burial. - These are often informal and hasty. Under the tyranny of such customs as those noted, it is often impossible to make them elaborate.
1. Often Informal and Hasty: Canon Tristram says: "As interments take place at latest on the evening of the day of death, and frequently at night, there can be no elaborate preparations. The corpse, dressed in such clothes as were worn in life, is stretched on a bier with a cloth thrown over it, until carried forth for burial" (Eastern Customs, 94). In Acts 5:6 we read of Ananias, "The young men .... wrapped him round, and they carried him out and buried him." "What they did," as Dr. Nicol says, "was likely this: they unfastened his girdle, and then taking the loose under-garment and the wide cloak which was worn above it, used them as a winding-sheet to cover the corpse from head to foot." In other words, there was little ceremony and much haste.
2. Usually with More Ceremony: Usually, however, there was more ceremony and more time taken. Missionaries and natives of Syria tell us that it is still customary to wash the body (compare Acts 9:37), anoint it with aromatic ointments (compare John 12:7; 19:39; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1), swathe hands and feet in grave-bands, usually of linen (John 11:44 a), and cover the face or bind it about with a napkin or handkerchief (John 11:44 b). It is still common to place in the wrappings of the body aromatic spices and other preparations to retard decomposition. Thus the friends at Bethany prepared the body of Lazarus, and he came forth wrapped in grave-bands and with a napkin bound about his face. And, we are further told that after the burial of Jesus, Nicodemus brought "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds," and that they "took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury," and that Mary Magdalene and two other women brought spices for the same purpose (John 19:39-40; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1).
That this was a very old custom is witnessed by such passages as 2 Chronicles 16:14, where it is said that Asa, the king, was laid "in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices prepared by the perfumers' art" (compare John 12:3,7; Sir 38:16). From Acts 5:6; 8:2 it appears that there was in later times a confraternity of young men whose business it was to attend to these proprieties and preparations on behalf of the dead; but it was probably only in exceptional cases that they were called upon to act. Certainly such ministries ordinarily devolved, as they do now, upon loving relatives and friends, and mostly women, among the Jews as well as among the Greeks. The practice among the Greeks, both by similarity and contrast, affords an interesting illustration. The following instance is aptly cited in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible (article "Burial"): Electra believing Orestes to be dead and his ashes placed in the sepulchral urn (Soph. Electra 1136-52), addresses him thus: "Woe is me! These loving hands have not washed or decked thy corpse, nor taken, as was meet, their sad burden from the flaming pyre. At the hands of strangers, hapless one, thou hast had those rites, and so art come to us, a little dust in a narrow urn."
(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)