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Ch. XXIX.-CUSTOMS RELATIVE TO THE DEAD, AND
By the ceremonial law, it was considered that a dead body polluted for seven days, every thing that touched it, Numb. xix. 14–16. For this reason the priests who had to offer sacrifices every day were forbidden to assist at funerals. Even the bones of the dead were considered as having the same effect; we read that Josiah caused the bones of the idolatrous priests to be burned on the al. tars of their false gods. When a person was dead, his nearest relations closed
This was promised to Jacob when he was to go down to Egypt, Gen. xlvi. 4. The body was then washed, Acts ix. 37. and laid out, as it is still called.
It was usual to make great lamentations and mourning for the dead. Thus Abraham and his family mourned for Sarah, Gen. xxiii. 2. and the funeral of Jacob was a very solemn one ; see the account in Gen. l. Sir John Chardin relates that, in the year 1676, when he was at Ispahan, Persia, the mistress of the next house died; the moment she expired, all the family, about twenty-five or thirty persons, set up such a cry as quite startled him. He says these cries were repeated at intervals, for a long time together; they were continued during forty days. This custom led to the employment of hired mourners, who are referred to in several places in scripture; see Jer. ix. 17, 18. 2 Chron. xxxv. 25. Job iii. 8. Ecc. xii. 5. Amos y. 16. From Matt. ix. 23. we learn that music was sometimes used.
The manner in which persons cut themselves and tore their hair upon these occasions, is referred to Jer. xvi. 6. although it was forbidden in the law, Deut. xiv. 1.
Even in families where expensive preparations were not made, the people mourned greatly. In the beautiful and affecting account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we find several particulars related which show this. Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to lament with and to comfort them, John xi. 19. This was after the funeral, and they followed Mary to the grave, thinking she was going to weep there. Thus many persons were present to witness the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. The widow of Nain also was accompanied by many friends, Luke vii.
It is still customary among the eastern nations for re. latives, particularly females, to go to the graves of their deceased friends, and to make lamentations there. Fountain, a missionary in the East Indies, says, 66 One morning I heard a great noise, and found a number of women and girls assembled to lament over the grave of a lad who had been killed by a wild buffalo ten days be. fore. The mother sat on the earth at one end of the grave, leaning upon it and exclaiming, Oh, my child ! Oh, my child! At the other end of the grave sat anoth. er female, expressing her grief in a similar manner.” When Le Bruyn was at Ramah he saw a number of women visit the burial place and make a great lamenta. tion, which reminded him of Jer. xxxi. 15.
The bodies of great people were embalmed, or wrapped up with gums and spices very carefully, before they were put into the tomb. Jacob was embalmed, Gen. 1. 3. This was done by physicians, as already mentioned. Joseph of Arimathea brought a quantity of spices, and wrapped the body of Jesus in linen cloths. It is ex. pressly said, this was the manner of the Jews to bury, John xix. 40. Lazarus also was bound, so that it was
Mr. necessary to loose him, John xi. 44. We read that Asa was “ laid in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices, prepared by the apothecaries' art.” 2 Chron. xvi. 14.
Many dead bodies which have been wrapped up or embalmed, are still found in Egypt. They are called mummies, and several have been brought to this country. It fills us with solemn thoughts to look at one of the bo. dies thus preserved, so that even its features can be plain. ly distinguished; and to think it may perhaps be the body of one of those ancient Egyptians who lived when the Israelites were in Egypt, or the remains of one who was concerned in the invasions of Judea, or in trading with it, or in some other of the events recorded in the scriptures. It also shows us how foolish such care and anx. iety for the dead body is. After having been preserved, at a great expense, for many hundred, or even perhaps some thousand years, the body at last is brought to a dis. tant land, shown for some time as a curiosity, and then suffered to moulder away! Of how much greater conse. quence is it for every one to care for the soul !— Many of the Egyptians had heard of the true God, and yet con. tinued to worship idols ; nay, even cats and monkeys, or leeks and onions! But let us also beware how we neg. lect the great salvation which is offered to us!
Among the Jews and some other eastern nations it was customary to bury the dead bodies. We find it re. corded in the book of Genesis, that Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants, were buried; a particular account is given of Abraham's purchasing a burial-place for his family, chap. xxiii. It was also the custom in the days of our Lord, as we find from the account of Lazarus. The graves were sometimes dug in the earth, but were in general caves, or places cut in the rocks, as the tomb where our Lord was laid, Matt. xxvii. 60. Such tombs are now found in Judea, Persia, and elsewhere. See the sketch of tombs at Persepolis, p. 171. There are many in the rocks near Jerusalem.
Coffins, or boxes to hold the dead bodies, were not usual among the Jews. The body was wrapped in a cloth, and carried upon a bier to the tomb, as is described respecting the widow's son at Nain, so that he immedi. ately set up, Luke vii. 14. In those climates when the body was not embalmed, it was buried very soon after death. See the account of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts v. 6—10. The embalmed bodies in Egypt were usually put in a box of sycamore wood.
In the accounts of the funerals of the kings, we sometimes read of burnings, and in several other nations it was customary to burn the dead bodies, but this was not the usual practice among the Jews. In the burnings just mentioned, the clothes, armour, and other things belong. ing to the deceased were burned, as well as some parts of the inside of the bodies, which were removed to make room for the spices. We are told, that at the death of Jehoram, 2 Chron. xxi. 19. the people made no burning for him. He was a wicked king, and probably was accounted unworthy of such an honor.
We read that the bodies of Saul and his sons were burn. ed; this probably was because they were so mangled, or in such a state that they could not be embalmed. Amos, vi. 10. also mentions the burning of dead bodies, and that appears to have been in a time of pestilence, when it was impossible to attend to the usual rites of interment.
To be deprived of burial was thought to be a great dishonor and calamity; see Ecc. vi. 3. The casting forth of Jehoiakim's body, Jer. xxii. 19. was spoken of in this manner; and, in Psalm lxxix. the dead bodies of the Israelites having been left unburied, is mentioned as increasing the calamities of the nation.
The ancients did not follow the unwholesome custom of burying their dead in the midst of towns and cities : they buried in gardens, as the tomb where our Lord was laid, John xix. 41. in fields, or in coves, mostly in unfre. quented places. Many of the tombs were large and con. tained several recesses or small rooms, which often af. forded shelter to the weary traveller, or became lurking places for robbers. The demoniac at Gadara, Mark v. 2. dwelt among the tombs.
These buildings often covered a large space of ground.
On page 171 is the view of a burying-place near Assouan in Egypt.
Some of these sepulchres were buildings upon which much expense was bestowed. To ihese our Lord alludes when he speaks of the Pharisees as whited-sepulchres, Matt. xxiii. 27. They were usually whitened every year, to warn passengers not to approach so as to be de. filed. Sometimes titles or inscriptions were placed upon them; see 2 Kings xxiii. 17. while the graves
poorer people were without distinction; so that, as our Lord said, “men that walk over them are not aware of them," Luke xi. 44. We also find from Luke xi. 48. that the Jews sometimes erected sumptuous monuments for those whom they had despised or neglected when alive, which is too often the case amongst us.
In Egypt the tombs of the kings were very magnifi. cent and beautiful. Belzoni, a few years since, by dig. ging away some rubbish at the side of a hill, discovered à most remarkable tomb, containing a number of rooms and passages. The walls were sculptured and painted with beautiful figures. Among them were some which evidently represent Jews. From some hieroglyphic in. scriptions and other circumstances, Belzoni had no doubt but that it was the tomb of Psammis, a king of Egypt, the son of Necho, 2 Chron. xxxv. 20. or that it was erected by Psammis for the remains of his father Necho, who conquered Judea, in battle with whom Josiah was slain. The sarcophagus or coffin was brought to Eng. land, and is now in the British Museum. The entrance is represented at page 172.
Ai Rome, Naples, Thebes, and some other places, there are vast excavations under ground where dead bodies were interred. These are called catacombs, and the spaces and passages are so numerous and intricate, that strangers would be lost in them without guides. After the burial there was usually a feast ;
this proba. bly is alluded to 2 Sam. iii. 35. Jer. xvi. 7, 8. and Hosea ix. 4. It is the custom among many nations now, even among the Greenlanders, where the property left for a poor widow is often consumed in this manner. The