Jewish burial practices (Luke 9)

Illustration: tomb of the Sanhedrin

In the New Testament era, the death of a relative required immediate attention, along with a period of mourning after burial. Because Jewish law prohibited dead bodies from remaining within the city walls of Jerusalem overnight, it was necessary to bury a corpse on the day of death. This tradition was practices throughout Judea. Corpses were immediately washed, anointed with perfumes or oils and wrapped in linen. The linen was typically in strips, though there is evidence that some bodies were wrapped in single garments.

The dead were carried to the place of burial on a bier (Luke 7:14), typically accompanied by a large procession. A eulogizer might have preceded the body, while dirge singers and pipers typically joined the mourners. Depending upon the degree of wealth of the deceased, the body was either laid in an earthen grave to be covered with dirt and stones or placed within a tomb hewn from rock. Such tombs were often, but not always, sealed with rocks or millstones. Interment often involved ossuaries, chests in which the bones of decayed corpses were collected and later reburied.

After burial, mourning continued for seven days (though it could last up to 30 days), as the family and community participated with dirge singing, weeping, the application of dust or ashes upon the head and/or fasting. Within the context of such burial customs, Jesus’ words were radical; He insisted that pursuing and joining the advancing kingdom of God takes precedence even over family loyalty and social convention.

Illustration: Ossuaries in Italy

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