Burial, I (in the Bible)

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In the Bible there is no complete account of burial customs. They are set out here on the basis of data gathered from isolated Biblical passages and from archeological finds. The limitations of this material must be kept in mind; much valuable information has been gathered from the several thousand graves and tombs that have been found and excavated, but only a small fraction of the millions of bodies buried in Bible lands have been brought to light.

Inhumation, Not Cremation. In Syria and Palestine during the Biblical period the common manner of disposal of dead bodies was inhumation, not cremation. Passages that speak of burning refer to ceremonial offerings of aromatic spices (2 Chr 16.14; 21.19; Jer 34.5) or to criminals or enemies (Gn 38.24; Jos 7.25; Lv 20.14;21.9), whose remains could also be interred (Dt 21.23; Jos 8.29; 10.27). Bodies were deposited in their tombs garbed in the clothes used in life (1 Sm 28.14; Ez 32.27); the use of special burial clothes is late (Jn 11.44; Mk 15.46 and parallels). The corpse was either drawn together, knees to chin, and laid on one side, usually the left, or stretched out on its back; it was surrounded by deposits of articles used in life: dishes, bowls, pitchers, lamps, pieces of furniture, weapons, amulets, and articles of adornment.

Location of Burial Places. The place of burial was outside the inhabited area (as in the necropolises at jeri cho, Megiddo, Gibeon, and Lachish), without a preconceived plan in the layout of the graves, whether on even terrain or in tombs excavated in rocky hillsides. However, graves of individuals have been found in cities and villages and such burials are mentioned in the Bible; e.g., Samuel was buried in his house at Ramah (1 Sm 25.1), and Manasseh in Jerusalem (2 Chr 33.20). Individual graves outside the inhabited area are exceptional (Gn 35.8; 1 Sm 31.13); the more common practice was the reuse of family tombs for new burials, in some cases over hundreds of years.

Historical Sequence of Grave Forms. From the Neolithic Period to the transition from Middle Bronze to Late Bronze, the most common forms of tombs are single or connected natural caves, sometimes reshaped to better suit their use for burials. The access was direct, from above, and could be blocked by a stone and refill.

Typical of Middle Bronze and continuing into Late Bronze is the shaft grave; here the access to the sepulchral chamber is a small opening at the bottom of a perpendicular or stepped, circular or square shaft. After burial the cave was closed off by a stone and the shaft filled with excavation rubble.

The transition from Late Bronze to the Iron Age is marked by the development of burial ledges in the sepulchral caves; on reuse, the defleshed bones were gathered and deposited in an ossuary pit or in a specially prepared bone cavern.

The last development in burial chambers comes in the Greco-Roman period; a vestibule gives access to a series of burial chambers provided with niches, dug at waist height or lower, perpendicularly into the rock. These niches could be closed off by plain or inscribed coverings. When the niche was to be reused, the defleshed remains were gathered into bone boxes known as ossuaries. Some graves have longitudinal, arched niches in which the bodies could be placed.

The use of sarcophagi of stone, wood, clay, or lead throughout the Biblical period was an exception made in favor of especially prominent persons, no doubt because of the great cost of preparing such containers. The six socalled sarcophagi of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah beneath the haram in Hebron are cenotaphs erected many centuries after the burials of these people. Monuments above ground calling attention to the presence of buried bodies are late, like the Maccabean mausoleum at Modin (1 Mc 13.2730). In earlier centuries the effort seems rather to have been to conceal the place of burial.

Interpretation of Burial Customs. The deposit of articles of daily life and, at least in the earliest period, of food and drink may indicate that, in the belief of non-Israelites, the dead were thought to live in the tombs and to have need of and use for these goods. There is nothing to show that Israelites shared this view. In their burial customs they followed the practices they found in vogue as part of the ritual of decent burial and respect for the dead, allowing themselves to be guided in their beliefs by the affirmations of their religion (see afterlife, 2). The late custom of collecting the defleshed bones from the niches in which they had lain and depositing them in individual ossuaries, often inscribed with the name of the dead person, may reflect the belief in bodily resurrection that arose in the 2d pre-Christian century.

Bibliography: j. van dodewaard, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 2:117. h. schmid, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:961962. r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life, and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 5661. k. galling, Biblisches Reallexicon (Tübingen 1937). f. nÖtscher, Biblische Altertumskunde (Bonn 1940) 97104. a. g. barrois, Manuel d'archéologie biblique (Paris 1939) 2:274323. g. e. wright, Biblical Archaeology (rev. ed. Philadelphia 1963) 289, index s.v. Burial of Dead. k. m. kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (New York 1960) 321, index s.v. Burial Customs; Digging up Jericho (New York 1958) 272, index s.v. Tombs. j. b. pritchard, The Bronze Age Cemetery at Gibeon (Philadelphia 1963); Gibeon, Where the Sun Stood Still (Princeton 1962). l. y. rahmani, "A Jewish Tomb on Shahin Hill, Jerusalem," Israel Exploration Journal 8 (1958) 101105. r. de vaux, "Fouille au Khirbet Qumrân," Revue biblique 60 (1953) 83106.

[m. a. hofer]