Preparation for Burial (§ 1).
Place (§ 2).
Varieties of Graves (§ 3).
Early Practice and Ceremonies (§ 1).
The Greek Church (§ 2).
The Medieval Church (§ 3).
The Reformation Burial Service (§ 4).
Modern Developments (§ 5).
The climate of Palestine necessitated the quickest possible disposition of the corpse; interment, therefore, took place on the day of death (Deut. xxi. 23). In the time of Christ the body was washed, anointed with fragrant spices, and more or less completely wrapped in linen (Acts. ix. 37; Mark xvi. 1; John xi. 44). The Old Testament makes no allusion to this custom. The belief that the dead in Sheol might be recognized by the habit implies that in early times the corpse was buried in the apparel of daily life. Later, royalty and officials were buried with costly spices, ornaments, gold, and silver (Josephus, Ant., XIII. viii. 4; XV. iii. 4). And if the account by Josephus of the plundering of David's tomb by Hyrcanus and Herod may be trusted, this custom reached back into antiquity. Embalming was a custom foreign to the Hebrews; cases of it are Jacob and Joseph (Gen. l. 2, 26) and Aristobulus (Josephus, Ant., XIV. vii. 4). The use of coffins was post-exilic.
The place of burial was determined by the belief that the ties of kinship lasted beyond death. The value of a family burying-place was in part due to the fact that burial therein involved union with kin in Sheol (Gen. xxv. 8, 17; II Sam. xxi. 14). Therefore, family tombs were in the earliest ages on the estate and near the house (I Sam. xxv. 1). Therein might be laid only members of the family. A public cemetery was provided for the very poor, for foreigners, and for criminals (Jer. xxvi. 23; Isa. liii. 9; Matt. xxvii. 7). The kings of Judah had tombs in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel charges them with the serious offense of laying their dead next to the precincts of the sanctuary. To miss burial with one's kin was dire misfortune or divine punishment. For practical reasons people began quite early to locate tombs outside the cities, and graves came to be regarded as ceremonially impure. In the time of Christ tombs were whitewashed in order that their character might be known at a distance and defilement avoided (Matt. xxiii. 27; Luke xi. 44).
The grave was simple in its appointments. Wherever in Jewish tombs rich ornamentation is found, foreign influence (generally Greek) is recognized. Apart from the general lack of artistic sense displayed by the Hebrews, a religious consideration comes in to explain this: the stern opposition of the Yahweh-cult to ancestor-worship discouraged adornment of burial-places, which thus differed widely from Egyptian and Phenician tombs. This and the lack of inscriptions make it difficult to determine the date of Jewish graves. For situation, rocky chambers, natural or artificial, were preferred.
Four kinds of graves are known: (1) recess-graves, oblong, rock-hewn, about six feet long by one and a half square, hewn lengthwise into the wall of the chamber, into which the body was placed from the end; (2) sunken-graves, like those used in the Occident, but covered with stone; (3) bench-graves, set bench-like in the walls of the chamber, twenty-two inches high, often arch-roofed and hewn sidewise into the chamber-wall; (4) trough-graves, a combination of (2) and (3) above. Of the chambers there are three varieties: (1) single chambers with a single sunken grave in the floor; (2) single chambers with several graves of one or more of the above-mentioned kinds; (3) larger burial-places with more than one chamber. All of the third variety so far found belong to a late date, as is proved by the architecture. The oldest and commonest are of the second type, single chambers with recess-graves, which are so typical that they may be named specifically Hebrew. Such allow the largest number of interments in a given chamber. Shaft-tombs of the Egyptian pattern have so far not been discovered in Palestine.
The Phenician custom of marking an excavated grave by a grave-stone other than the stone-heap piled on it was not adopted by the Hebrews. The tombs built above ground date from the Greek period, or later, and are of foreign origin.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: F. I. Grundt, Die Trauergebräuche der Hebräer, Leipsic, 1868; W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, New York, 1886; F. Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode nach den Vorstellungen des alten Israel und des Judentums, Giessen, 1892; Benzinger, Archäologie, pp. 136-137; Nowack, Archäologie, i. 187; H. B. Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands, London, 1894; A. P Bender, Beliefs, Rites and Custom of the Jews connected with Death, Burial and Mourning, in JQR 1894-95; G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs, London, 1895; KL, ii. 182-189; DB, i. 331-333.
From the beginning the Christians regarded the final disposal of the dead as a congregational matter, and, when possible, they had burial-places, in which only those who were their members might be buried and which were called cmeteria ("resting-places"), in allusion to the resurrection (see CEMETERIES). In deference to the body as the organ of the spirit and in the expectation of the resurrection, they were careful that the funeral should take place in a proper manner. The corpse was carried to the grave by bearers whom the Christian congregation had appointed, and the fact that the funeral took place, if possible, in day-time, was designed to express joy and hope that the departed had been set free and had entered into eternal life. The pagan lamentation for the dead, as well as the crowning of the corpse, was not approved, but torches were carried in front, as befitting the victorious combatant, and hymns and psalms were sung, in praise of God. A memorial address was doubtless made on special occasions, but a funeral sermon in the modern sense seems to have been unknown. Prayers were
The Greek Church preserves a remnant of the idea that the death of a Christian invites to praise, and on this account uses the Hallelujah in the celebration at the church. The requiem-mass is unknown, but additional prayers are offered for the dead. The ceremony at the grave is very brief, the priest throwing earth upon the corpse with the spade and sprinkling it with oil from the holy lamp or ashes from the censer.
The Western Church of the Middle Ages also knew only of burial as a means of disposal of the dead. Charlemagne forbade the conquered Saxons to cremate corpses on pain of death. The place in which a Christian was buried was considered holy ground, but patrons or spiritual dignitaries were entombed in churches in token of distinction. Every Christian was to be buried in consecrated ground, but if special emergencies, like war or shipwreck, necessitated a burial in unconsecrated ground, the grave had to be provided with a cross. The dead was washed, dressed in linen or penitential robes, or, in case of one in holy orders, in official dress. On the day of the funeral he was carried by his peers, the layman by laymen, and the clergy by clergy, first to the church, where mass was celebrated, and afterward to the grave, in which he was laid, with his face turned toward the East. Various ceremonies had their meaning; the holy water sprinkled on the body protected it from demons; charcoal indicated that there was a grave there and thus kept it from profanation; incense kept away the odor of decay, and was a symbol of prayer for the dead, as implying that he was a sacrifice well pleasing to God; ivy and laurel symbolized the imperishable life of those who die in Christ. The custom of throwing three shovelfuls of earth upon the body was known in the Middle Ages, although the present Roman ritual does not mention it. The modern Roman Catholic Church has retained the old Christian view that the death of little children who have been baptized is a joyful event and that their burial should have the character of joy.
The Reformation made a clean sweep of the existing burial rites, in so far as they presupposed the doctrines of purgatory, mass, and the mediation of the Church, but it adhered to the view that the dead body is not a worthless thing but is to rise again, no matter how it has decayed. On this account it should have a Christian burial, and the burial-places must have a fitting appearance. The burial was a matter of the church, and the congregation should take part in it, if possible, and should also attend the funerals of the poor. Accordingly, the bells called the congregation together. The church was represented by the minister and the school-children, or at least by the sexton and grave-digger. As the procession was passing to the cemetery, the children or the mourners sang Christian funeral hymns, and at the grave such Biblical passages as I Thess. iv. 13-18 or John xi. were read and prayer was offered, while basins were also placed to receive alms for the poor. The burial service of the Reformed was similar. In some countries the congregation recited the creed after the closing prayer.
The desire to instruct the congregation on every occasion was expressed in the burial service by the reading of Scripture and the singing of hymns. A short discourse on death and the resurrection was read in the home, in the church, or at the grave, although a special sermon might be requested of the minister if he was specially paid for it, and in such eases he referred particularly to the life and death of the subject of his address. Thus arose the funeral sermon, which was originally designed to instruct the congregation in eschatology, and to honor the memory of the departed.
In modern times the burial rites were extended by carrying the cross before the procession, by casting earth upon the body thrice, and by pronouncing the benediction. The first two ceremonies were known even among the Protestants in former centuries and were occasionally used, although they were generally regarded with distrust, and were even directly prohibited. The blessing is connected with the prayer for the dead. The Reformed rejected prayers for the dead unconditionally, while Luther and the Augsburg Confession permitted it, and Johann Gerhard endeavored to prove its validity by dogmatics. From this developed the blessing of the dead, which, despite vehement opposition since the middle of the nineteenth century, has spread more and more. That the dead is addressed by "thou," may perhaps be explained on the ground that, according to the ancient Christian view, the congregation regards the departed as still belonging to it. The meaning of the solemn declaration: "I bless thee," however, is very uncertain, and the blessing should take the form of a wish.
It should be noted that the Church of Rome prohibits cremation, whereas the Protestant Churches have not yet reached a uniform conclusion.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: On the general question consult C. Martčne, De antiquis ecclesi ritibus, Antwerp, 1736-37; F. X. Kraus, Realencyklopädie der christlichen Alterthümer, articles Tod, Totenbestattung, Freiburg, 1880-96; T. Kliefoth, Liturgische Abhandlungen, vol. i., part 2, Vom Begräbniss. Halle, 1869; Bingham, Origines, book xxiii. On the antiquarian and legal aides of English custom consult: J. Stutt, A Compleat View of the Manners, Custom . . . of the Inhabitants of England, 3 vols., London, 1775-1776; C. A. Cripps, Law of Church and Clergy, ib. 1886; T. Baker, Law of Burials, 6th ed., by E. L. Thomas, ib. 1898; Encyclopdia Britannica, xxvi. 466-468.
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