Tombs and Tombstones
TOMBS AND TOMBSTONES
Regular burial of the dead in tombs was customary even in prehistoric times as a manifestation of the beginnings of religious ritual, both among nomads and among settled peoples. In the Neolithic period, deceased tribal heads were regarded as family or tribal totems as attested by clay skulls, with human features, found at Jericho (Kenyon, in bibl.). In the Chalcolithic period it was customary to bury the bones in dry ossuaries after the flesh had disintegrated. There were various forms of ossuaries. Sometimes human features were engraved on the front of the ossuary. *Cemeteries of ossuaries were found mainly on the coastal strip of Ereẓ Israel. Death was viewed as a transition to a different world, where life was continued. The dead and their departed spirits were thought of as powerful, incomprehensible forces threatening the living with a limitless capacity for harm or for good. It was thus customary to place offerings of food and drink in special vessels, which were then buried in the tomb together with the corpse. For example, a platter with a lamb's head upon it has been found in a tomb at Afulah. Gifts given to the dead, either for their use or to propitiate them, were the items most highly prized by the person during his lifetime. Thus, during the Middle Canaanite period it was customary to "kill" the sword of the deceased after its owner's death by bending it and making it useless. During the Late Canaanite period, a man's war horse and chariot were symbolic of his noble status. It was therefore customary to bury a nobleman's weapons and horse with him. In a number of graves at Beth-Eglaim (Tell-ʿAjūl) horses are buried with their riders (Petrie, in bibl.). Burial customs were the most important aspect of the early Egyptian cultic practices. These customs accompanied the death of the king-gods, nobles, and upper classes. The monumental architecture of the Egyptian burial cities, the mummification of the kings, and the embalming of sacred animals, all developed around the Egyptian burial cult (Dawson, in bibl.). Such practices were employed in the great, powerful, and stable kingdoms and in Mesopotamia, though they were not found among the tribes who arrived in Palestine with the wave of ethnic wanderings, during the patriarchal period of the second millennium b.c.e. These wandering tribes did, however, continue the practice of burying various offerings together with their dead, as was customary from the Early Canaanite period on.
During the time of the Patriarchs, when there was a change from tribal wanderings to permanent settlement, a new element was added to the burial customs. A permanent grave site was purchased in the vicinity of the settlement which was a significant indication of permanent settlement. Herein lies the importance of Abraham's purchase of a family tomb (Gen. 23:4). Jacob's request that he be buried at this place rather than in Egypt may be understood against this background (Gen. 47:29). Joseph's burial in Shechem in the land of his ancestors (Josh. 24:32) must be seen as part of the process of Exodus from Egypt and the conquest and settlement of Palestine. This identification of the patriarchal tomb with the Promised Land may be discerned in Nehemiah's remark to the Persian king from whom he requested permission to go to Palestine to rebuild its ruins: "… the place of my father's sepulchers lies waste…" (Neh. 2:3). For a long period of time, from the Patriarchs until the establishment of the monarchy, it was customary to bury the dead in a family plot (Heb. bet ʾavotam) in an effort to maintain contact with the place (e.g., Judg. 2:9; i Sam. 25:1).
During the period of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, sepulchers for kings and nobles were established: "and they buried him [Uzziah] with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings" (ii Chron. 26:23). Special mention should be made of the discovery of an engraved tablet bearing the name of Uzziah king of Judah. The tablet cannot be the original one which marked the grave, since its script and its general form are of the Second Temple period. It appears that for various reasons the king's bones were transferred during this period. Noblemen and officers also merited lavish burial. The prophet, fighting the corrupt nobility, denigrates the elegant tombs, hewn out of the rocks (Isa. 22:16). The carving of tombs in elevated places is reminiscent of the grave sites above the Kidron Brook in Jerusalem (Avigad, in bibl.). A number of hewn graves dating to the period of the kings have been found at this location. The most striking of them is a hewn tomb, upon whose lintel appears a dedication to some person who held an administrative position: "…who was over the household." The name of this person ends with the syllable yhw. Conceivably, it may be the same Shebna (Shebaniahu) mentioned in Isaiah 22:16 . Another tomb from the same period is the one called "the grave of Pharaoh's daughter." This tomb is cut from rock into the shape of a cube. It has a small entrance and contains the remains of a striking structure, perhaps pyramidal, on its roof. During certain periods grave markers or tombstones were part of the grave itself (Gen. 35:20). The most luxurious graves from this period found, for example, at Achzib, are hewn according to Phoenician design. The burial cave has a vaulted ceiling, cut as much as 10 m. (33 ft.) deep into the rock. At its end is a catafalque hewn out of rock, upon which the corpse was placed. In order to elevate the head of the corpse, a stone was placed beneath it, or a projection shaped like a raised pillow was left on the catafalque. As a result of the custom of burying items of value from the deceased's lifetime along with him, there arose a class of grave robbers in the Ancient East. To prevent such incursions, complicated grave sealing techniques were developed, along with difficult entrance and exit passages from the interior of the tombs. In many instances it was customary to warn grave robbers against entering. The tomb of "… yhw who was over the household" (mentioned above) contains the inscription: "Cursed be he who opens this." This is similar to the inscriptions common in the Second Temple Period, which contained the name of the deceased and a warning not to open the grave.
Thousands of tombs have been unearthed and investigated during the years of archaeological activities in Israel. Several characteristic grave types have been found:
(1) A communal grave within a cave from the Middle Canaanite period, like one found at Jericho. Dozens of skeletons were found in the cave as well as the offerings buried there (Garstang, in bibl.). In this case, a household or family used a natural cave, which served it for several generations. This type of mausoleum, consisting of some land and a cave, was no doubt the kind acquired by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite near Hebron, when he came to settle permanently in Palestine. The patriarchal sepulcher remained traditional among the people even as late as Herod's time. Among his massive building projects throughout the land, he constructed a Roman-style monument over the patriarchal tomb in Hebron. This monument was intended as an architectural marker of the site and its sanctity.
(2) During the same Middle Canaanite period pit burials were common. For this purpose either natural caves were used or circular or rectangular pits were dug out of the earth to a depth of one to 2 m. (3–6 ft.). The walls of the pit contained the burial niches into which were placed the bodies and the offerings. Each niche would be sealed with a single large stone, and the central pit would be filled in up to ground level, thus preventing any approach to the graves themselves.
(3) In addition to family graves, individual tombs have been found. These too contain gifts to accompany the deceased to his new life. Generally, these gifts were eating and drinking utensils, jewelry, personal seals, etc. The finds from tombs are many and variegated, and by their nature are better preserved than finds from the usual, exposed ancient sites.
(4) Among the graves unearthed from the Late Canaanite period are pit tombs, of the style of the prior period, both of family as well as of individual types and simple inhumations. Graves from this period have been found at Tell Abu Hawām (Hamilton, in bibl.), Achzib, and elsewhere. Special attention was given to the manner in which the body was placed in the grave. Generally, the hands were folded and the legs stretched out. The custom of burying gifts with the dead continued into the Late Canaanite period. Offerings in these graves are either local or imported implements.
(5) At the end of this period another form of burial appears. The corpse is placed into two large ossuaries, or jugs, whose necks have been removed, so that the bodies of the jugs enclose the corpse from the feet up and from the head down. These graves, too, contain offerings and weapons that served the deceased during his lifetime.
(6) At the end of the second millennium b.c.e., with the advent of the Philistines in the land, sites with Philistine population, such as Beth-Shean, exhibit different burial methods. The corpse was provided with a clay coffin, longer than the body. The coffin had a cover near the head, decorated with human features. Such decoration was intended to symbolize the personality of the deceased. The engraved hats and diadems resemble the headdress of the Philistines portrayed on ancient Egyptian monuments (Dothan, in bibl.).
(7) A large quantity of graves, including pit tombs, burial caves, rock-hewn tombs, and individual grave sites, from the Israelite period, have been found at Megiddo, Hazor, Beth-Shean, and other sites. The offerings placed in these graves are usually pottery vessels, such as jars and flasks, some of them imported, as well as jewelry and seals.
(8) The Israelite ii and the Persian periods reveal tombs hewn into caves with ledges provided for the corpses, known mainly from the Shephelah and the coastal strip. Tombs of Phoenician style are especially to be found in the Athlit area (Hamilton, in bibl.). These are in the shape of a four-sided pit hewn into the hard rock, with ladderlike sockets for hands and feet, to be used in climbing down the pit. At the bottom of the pit there are one or more hewn openings to the burial niches themselves. These are sealed with large stones. The entrance pit itself is filled with earth and stones to block off the entrance to the graves.
(9) With the close of the Persian period and the beginning of the Hellenistic, the most common form of grave consisted of rock tombs, with raised shelves or ledges, or troughs resembling coffins, near the walls. The typical cave ceiling of this period is in the form of a large camel hump, as in the case of a grave found at Marissah. The walls and ceiling of this grave are decorated with drawings. A tomb of similar design has been found at Nazareth.
The first tombstone mentioned in the Bible is the maẓẓevah ("monument") which Jacob set up over the grave of Rachel (Gen. 35:20; see Tomb of *Rachel). The custom continued during the First Temple period as is clear from ii Kings 23:17, where King Josiah saw the ẓiyyun over the grave of the prophet who had prophesied that Josiah would undertake the religious reformation (cf. i Kings 13). Ezekiel (39:15) also uses ẓiyyun for a sign placed over the grave. The custom continued during the period of the Second Temple and the Talmud. i Maccabees 13:27–29 describes the ornate tombstone and monument which Simeon the Hasmonean erected over the grave of his father and brothers at Modi'in, of which Josephus (Ant. 13:211) also gives a detailed description. However, apart from a vague reference in the Talmud stating that one of the things which adversely affects one's study is "the reading of an inscription on a grave" (Hor. 13b), there is no evidence that these tombstones bore inscriptions either in the biblical or early Second Temple periods (but see below). In the later period their main purpose seems to have been to indicate the position of a grave in order to obviate the fear of a kohen becoming ritually unclean by being in its vicinity (cf. Tosef. Oholot 17:4). The custom of erecting these tombstones was widespread. R. Nathan ha-Bavli ruled that a surplus of the money provided for the burial of the dead was to be applied to erecting a memorial over the grave (Shek. 2:5), and the 15th of Adar was selected as the day of the year when graves were marked (Shek. 1:1) by daubing them with lime (Ma'as. Sh. 5:1). In addition to those ẓiyyunim which were apparently simple markers there were two kinds of more ornate tombstones (called nefesh, literally, "a soul"). One was a solid structure over the grave without any entrance (Er. 55b); the other had an entrance to which a dwelling chamber, probably for the watchman, was attached (Er. 5:1).
During the later Hasmonean period, under Greek and Roman influence, there developed the custom of erecting ornate monumental tombstones for the nobility, notable examples being the Yad Avshalom (Monument of Absalom), the sepulcher of Zechariah, and that of the Sons of Hezir in the Kidron Valley. The last bears the inscription "this is the grave and the nefesh ["soul"] of," giving the names of the members of the family buried there. For many years this was the only known inscription on a tombstone of the Second Temple period, but recent excavations have revealed a large number, including the Tomb of Jason in Reḥavyah in Jerusalem and that of Simeon the builder of the Sanctuary, among others (see *Epitaphs, and the reproductions in Sefer Yerushalayim, 1957, pp. 220–321 and 352–3). It has been suggested that it was this ostentation, so foreign to the spirit of Judaism, and the desire to abolish it which caused Rabbah Simeon b. Gamaliel to declare that "one does not erect nefashot to the righteous, for their words are their memorial" (Gen. R. 82:10; tj, Shek. 2:7, 47a).
In view of the extensive discovery of such inscriptions, the suggestion can no longer be upheld that it was only outside Ereẓ Israel that the Jews adopted the custom from the Greeks and Romans of adding inscriptions to tombstones in addition to Jewish symbols (see below on tombstone art), and the custom is to be regarded as common from at least the second century b.c.e. Jacob Moellin (the Maharil) states that in Mainz he discovered a fragment of a tombstone over a thousand years old (i.e., of the fourth century) bearing the Hebrew inscription "a designated bondmaid" (cf. Lev. 19:20; Likkutei Maharil at the end of his book of that name). The earliest known tombstones bearing the inscription shalom al Yisrael ("Peace upon Israel"), dated 668, was found at Narbonne, one at Brindisi dates from 832, and one at Lyons from 1101. Maimonides (Yad, Avel 4:4) adopts the abovementioned view of Simeon b. Gamaliel that tombstones are not erected over the graves of the righteous. Solomon b. Abraham Adret, however (Resp. 375), regards the tombstone as a mark of honor for the dead, while Isaac Luria (Sha'ar ha-Mitzvot, Va-Yeḥi) even regards it as contributing to the tikkun ha-nefesh ("the perfecting of the soul") of the deceased. It is forbidden to derive material benefit from a tombstone (Sh. Ar. yd 364:1). At the present day it is the universal custom to erect tombstones, and a special order of service for the consecration of the tombstone has been drawn up. In Israel its main content is the reading of those portions of the alphabetical 119th Psalm which constitute the name of the deceased and the letters of the word neshamah ("soul"); in Western countries it consists of a selection of appropriate Psalms and biblical passages; and in both cases it concludes with a memorial prayer and *Kaddish by the mourners. In the Diaspora it is the custom to erect and consecrate the tombstone during the 12th month after death; in Israel on the 30th day. Ashkenazi tombstones are usually vertical; among the Sephardim they lie flat (for inscriptions on tombstones see *Epitaphs; see also *Burial; *Catacombs; *Cemetery).
The tombstones of many ancient communities have been published.
A desire for originality allied to an emphasis on tradition is characteristic of the tombstones in Jewish cemeteries. Here the anonymous Jewish craftsman succeeded perhaps better than in most other fields of art in establishing an individual style. There are few branches of Jewish art which are distinguished by such richness of decoration, and by such a variety of symbolism, as tombstone art. Thus a study of Jewish tombstones is a rich source of material for the study of Jewish art from ancient times to the present. The artistic and traditional development of the tombstone and of its individual style is based on two factors: (a) the desire for perpetuation; (b) artistic expression and the participation of the various branches of the plastic arts in its creation. Hence the great value of the tombstone not only lies in the study of epitaphs, but also in its ornamentation.
tombstone art in the ancient world
The oldest graveyards are found in Ereẓ Israel. Here the original form of the cemetery, consisting of rock vaults intended for a group of graves, has been preserved. The so-called Tombs of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, dating from the first and second centuries c.e., are outstanding for the ornamentation at the lintel to the graves. Similar ornamentation exists at the entry to the burial chamber of the royal line of Adiabene in Jerusalem, traditionally known as the "Tomb of the Kings." At the same period, under the influence of Egyptian and Greek art, individual monuments were erected to mark graves. Examples are the monuments known as "Absalom's Tomb," "The Tomb of Zechariah," and others, all in the Valley of Kidron in Jerusalem. In Galilee, the *Bet She'arim necropolis has a wealth of ornamentation, both Jewish and mythological. In the Roman catacombs of the classical period the Jewish tomb was recognizable by symbols such as the *shofar or the menorah. A very few Roman sarcophagi have been preserved which combine this Jewish symbolism with classical motifs – e.g., the menorah supported by putti in pure pagan style, found in the Catacomb of Vigna Randanini. The early tombstones erected over graves in the western world after the classical period were on the whole severely plain, sometimes merely embodying (in Spain and Italy) a crudely engraved menorah whether as a symbol of Jewish allegiance or of eternal light. In the Middle Ages, even this slight ornamentation disappeared, and the decorative element was entirely provided by the engraved Hebrew characters. In most cases, however, the inscriptions were crudely carved by inexpert hands. There now developed a tendency for the tombstones in Germany and the lands of Ashkenazi civilization to be upright, those in Spain and the Sephardi world to be sometimes horizontal, sometimes built up in the form of altar-tombs.
later sephardi tombstones
A more elaborate form of tombstone began to emerge in the Renaissance period. While in North Africa and the Orient the utmost simplicity continued to prevail, in some of the Sephardi communities of Northern Europe (especially Amsterdam, though not London) and of the West Indies (especially Curaçao) an elaborate Jewish funerary art developed. In these places the recumbent tombstones were often decorated with scenes in relief depicting events connected with the biblical character whose name was borne by the deceased (the sacrifice of Isaac or the call of Samuel), and in Curaçao sometimes even with the actual deathbed scene. In Italy, the vertical tombstone was often surmounted by the family badge, and in the case of families of Marrano descent with the knightly helm or with armorial bearings.
The Ashkenazim, on the other hand, used symbols which illustrated the deceased's religious status, his virtues or his trade. These then were special symbols to denote a rabbi, a kohen, a levite; an alms-box would be shown on the tombstone of a philanthropist; and a pair of scissors on that of a tailor. The depiction of the human figure is unknown on Ashkenazi tombstones, and allegorical figures are very rarely found. As in medieval Spain, Ashkenazi Jewry in Bohemia and in parts of Poland sometimes used vertical and horizontal stones together to form a sarcophagus. This sarcophagus monument was usually intended for important personages. Another type of tombstone intended for an important person, a *ẓaddik or an *admor, is to be found in Polish cemeteries, and in neighboring Ashkenazi countries. This was in the form of an ohel ("tent" or "tabernacle"). These tabernacles generally had no artistic or architectural distinction; they were built in the form of a small stone or wooden house, or of a simple hut standing on four posts, inside which the tombstone itself was placed. Sometimes the tabernacle was encircled by a wrought iron fence. But the most common form of tombstone among Ashkenazi Jewry is the vertical, rectangular stone. A few cast-iron tombstones are known, and in small, poor communities, particularly in Eastern Europe, there are wooden tombstones. The tombstones in Prague, Worms (Germany) and Lublin (Poland), dating from the mid-15th and early 16th centuries, have no special ornamentation. Most of them are in the form of square stone tablets, and were seldom topped with a semicircular or triangular decoration. From the mid-16th century onward, tombstones have more elaborate decoration, particularly in the ornamentation of the frame for the epitaph. The most common designs resemble those of the ark curtains in the synagogue, with two columns flanking the tombstone and enclosing the text. It is in this period that flora and fauna make their first appearance, mostly around the frame, while the epitaph is engraved on the main part of the stone, below the two-columned portico. Nevertheless, with its beautiful lettering the epitaph constitutes the main decoration of the tombstone. From the early 17th century, the tombstone of Eastern European Jewry developed a definite style of ornamentation. There is a clear post-Renaissance influence in the form of the tombstone and the ornamentation. In the design of this ornamentation, and the manner in which it is placed on the tombstone, there are the beginnings of the rich Jewish decoration, baroque in essence, which is characteristic of the century in Eastern Europe, and particularly in Poland. This decoration is reminiscent in both subject matter and execution of the wall-paintings of the wooden synagogues, which in fact were first built during this same period. This similarity is particularly apparent after the 1648–49 massacres in Poland. The number of Jewish motifs on tombstones was increased and more honorific descriptions of the deceased taken from the Holy Scriptures or the Talmud were added to the epitaph. Other new decorations included anagrams at the beginning and end of the text The late 17th and early 18th century tombstones, though still outstanding for their floral decoration – full-blown roses, and baskets or bowls filled with ripe fruit – have lost their Jewishness and are lacking in originality. Some of the common symbols used on the Jewish tombstone continued to appear in most Jewish communities. These were the hands of the priest in an attitude of blessing. This marked the grave of a kohen, while an ewer and basin or a musical instrument marked the grave of a levite. In Bohemia and Poland they still used occupational symbols such as chains on the grave of a goldsmith, a parchment with a goosefeather on the grave of a Torah scribe, an open book or a row of books with engraved titles on the grave of a learned rabbi or author. Apart from this, there were also animal, bird or fish motifs representing the name of the deceased, such as a lion on the grave of a man named Leib, a deer on the grave of a man named Hirsch, a bird in memory of Jonah (dove), and a fish on the tombstone of Fischel. The engraver occasionally emphasized the decorative and sculptural aspect by the addition of colors. The anonymous tombstone artists who worked in Jewish communities were excellent craftsmen, sometimes inheriting their craft from their fathers. Their work has a primitive charm and occasionally even a certain degree of professionalism. Some were gifted sculptors, whose work showed sensitivity and a poetic quality. All the religious and philosophical ideas connected with death, the phenomenon of death itself, man's mortality, his ways on earth and his relationship with God and eternity, were given artistic expression in stone. Sometimes death was depicted as a flickering flame, as a shipwrecked vessel, an overturned and extinguished lamp, or a flock without a shepherd. The fear of death was sometimes symbolized by fledglings nestling under their mother's wing. Heraldic designs were also used on tombstones, particularly in Eastern Europe. They took the form of a pair of lions, deer or even sea-horses holding the crowns of the Torah. Other animals also appeared occasionally, such as bears, hares, squirrels and ravens – the raven being the harbinger of disaster. One particular tombstone is of such exceptional beauty that it merits special mention. It is that of Dov Baer Shmulovicz, the son of Samuel Zbitkower, the founder of the Bergsohn family in Warsaw. The tombstone was made by the Jewish artist, David Friedlaender. The main decoration is two bas-reliefs, one on each side of the stone. One depicts a landscape with a river and cargo boats signifying the trade of the deceased and a walled city with towers, houses, including a synagogue, *bet midrash and windmill, while on the horizon is a palace, which the ancestors of the deceased received as a gift from the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus. The other bas-relief shows the tower (of Babylon) and a grove of trees, on whose branches are hung musical instruments, recalling the passage from Psalm 137, "By the waters of Babylon…."
In recent years there has been a tendency, at least among the orthodox, for tombstones to be increasingly simple, notwithstanding an occasional exuberance of architectural forms. In Eastern Europe they are without exception severely plain.
W.R. Dawson, in: jea, 13 (1927), pl. 18, 40–49; W.M.F. Petrie, Beth Pelet i (1930), passim; A. Rowe, The Topography and History of Beth Shan (1930), pl. 37, 39; R.W. Hamilton, Excavation at Tell Abu Hawām (1935); M. Werbrouck, Les pleureuses dans l'Egypte ancienne (1938); J. Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past (1946), 353–98; J. Garstang, The Story of Jericho (1948); A.G. Barrois, Manuel d'archéologie biblique, 2 (1953), 274–323; N. Avigad, Maẓẓevot Kedumot be – Naḥal Kidron (1954), 9ff.; K. Kenyon, Digging up Jericho (1957), 95–102, 194–209, 233–55, 665; T. Dothan, The Philistines and their Material Culture (1967); D. Ussishkin, in: Qadmoniot, 2 (1970), 25–27. second temple and talmud periods: N. Avigad, in: SeferYerushalayim, 1 (1956), 320–48. in art: N. Avigad, Maẓẓevot Kedumot be-Naḥal Kidron (1954); I. Pinkerfeld, Bi-Shevilei Ommanut Yehudit (1957); M. Gruenwald, Portugiesengraeber auf deutscher Erde (1902); D. Henrique de Castro, Keur van Grafsteenen… Ouderkerk aan den Amstel (Dutch and Ger. 1883); A. Grotte, Alte schlesische Judenfriedhoefe (1927); M. Balaban, Die Judenstadt von Lublin (1919); A. Levy, Juedische Grabmalkunst in Osteuropa (n.d.); O. Muneles and M. Vitimkôvá, Starý židovský hřbitov v Praze (1955); M. Levy, Der alte israelitische Friedhof zu Worms am Rhein (1913); M. Diamant, Juedische Volkskunst (1937); L.A. Mayer, Bibliography of Jewish Art (1967), index; I.S. Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curaçao (1957); Cantera y Burgos et al., Las Inscripciones Hebraicas de España (1955); E.R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols … (13 vols, 1953–68); Roth, Art, index.