SPECIAL TOPIC: BURIAL PRACTICES

I. Mesopotamia

A. Proper burial was very important to a happy afterlife, which was often viewed as an extension of this life (see Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?).

B. An example of a Mesopotamian curse is, "May the earth not receive your corpses."

II. Old Testament

A. Proper burial was very important (cf. Eccl. 6:3).

B. It was done very quickly (cf. Sarah in Genesis 23 and Rachel in Gen. 35:19 and notice Deut. 21:23).

C. Improper burial was a sign of rejection and sin.

1. Deuteronomy 28:26

2. Isaiah 14:20

3. Jeremiah 8:2; 22:19 

D. Burial was done, if possible, in family vaults in the home area (i.e., "slept with his fathers").

E. There was no embalming, as in Egypt. Mankind came from dust and must return to dust (e.g., Gen. 3:19; Ps. 103:14; 104:29).  Also note Special Topic: Cremation.

F. In rabbinical Judaism it was difficult to balance a proper respect and handling of the body with the concept of ceremonial defilement connected to dead bodies.

III. New Testament

A. Burial quickly followed death, usually within twenty-four hours. The Jews often watched the grave for three days, believing that the soul could return to the body within that timeframe (cf. John 11:39).

B. Burial involved cleaning and wrapping of the body with spices (cf. John 11:44; 19:39-40).

C. There were no distinctive Jewish or Christian burial procedures (or items placed in the grave) in first century Palestine.

 

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