Jewish Burial
Compiled By Rev. Jack Barr

Jewish Burial

The New Testament is very clear that the burial of Christ followed the customs of the Jews.

In preparing a body for burial, the Jews would place it on a stone table in the burial chamber. The body would first be washed with warm water.

It was the custom, as verified in the New Testament, to prepare the corpse (after cleansing) with various types of aromatic spices.

In the case of Christ's burial, 75 pounds of spices were used. One might regard this as substantial, but it was no great amount for a leader. For example, Gamaliel, grandson of the distinguished Jewish scholar Hillel, also was a contemporary of Jesus. Saul of Tarsus studied under him. When Gamaliel died, 86 pounds of spices were used in his burial. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records that when Herod died, it required 500 servants to carry the spices for his body, So the 75 pounds for Jesus was not at all unusual.

After all the members of the body were straightened, the corpse was clothed in grave vestments made out of white linen. There could not be the slightest ornamentation or stain on the cloth. The grave linens were sewn together by women. No knots were permitted. For some this was to indicate that the mind of the dead was "disentangled of the cares of this life". To others, it indicated the continuity of the soul through eternity. No individual could be buried in fewer than three separate garments.

At this point, the aromatic spices, composed of a fragrant wood powdered into a dust known as aloes, were mixed with a gummy substance known as myrrh. Starting at the feet, they would wrap to the armpits, put the arms down, then wrap to the neck. A separate piece was wrapped around the head. I would estimate an encasement weighing a total of between 92 and 95 pounds.

John Chrysostom, in the fourth century A.D., commented that "the myrrh used was a drug which adheres so closely to the body that the graveclothes could not easily be removed."

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