26 Feb 2016 230 views
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photoblog image Nazareth village - a tomb
Nazareth village - a tomb|

Nazareth village - a tomb

Joshi, our guide at the Nazareth Village, points out something at the grave site on the premises.


For some reason, there are many caves in the hills and mountainsides in Israel. A good many of them are used as tombs. The first such tomb that we read about in the Bible is the Cave of Machpelah, bought by Abraham from a Hittite (Gen. 23:20). The practices and processes I will describe here, are what was generally followed.


There was never a hard and fast rule laid down, for burial. Bodies could even be cremated. That the men of Jabesh-Gilead burned the mutilated bodies of Saul and his sons is not spoken of as a desecration, but as part of their loyalty to their overlord (I Sam. 31:9–13; II Sam. 2:5). There is no command that people must be buried, but a curse will be "Thy carcasses shall be food unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth" (Deut. 28:26). So, good is to be buried and bad is not to be buried, while burning of dead soldiers after the battle, is a practice even in old Egypt as I have once read.


A cave like the one in the picture would suffice. Royalty and rich people would enlarge the tomb to take more family, maybe with some carving as basic decoration. Archaelogical finds have been made of surface tombs built for the purpose. The Silwan necropolis serves as an example.


The entrance of the tomb is fitted with a shallow gully, in which the round stone that covers the opening of the tomb is rolled, to open and close the entrance.


In general the body should be entombed the same day. No rule, but good practice given the general warm temperature in Israel. The body is fully clothed (not enbalmed) and treated with herbs and spices. Probably to keep the smell at bay, for as long as possible. The body is placed in the tomb and the 'door' will be closed. Someone will check regularly for three days, to make sure that the dead is dead. Then the body is left to nature and after a year the tomb will be opened. The remaining bones will be placed in a coffin. The coffin is cut from stone, with a stone lid. The length of the coffin is long enough, to accommodate a femur. More than one person's bones could be placed in the coffin. The coffin is placed in the tomb and it is closed, until the next customer arrives.


This year of waiting for rot to do its job, is in modern days translated into a mourning period. I have no source for this statement, but it could be.  In the BIble we read that a young man wanted to follow Jesus and was welcomed to do so. He then said that he still has to bury his parents - and was most likely referring to the secondary burial that still had to take place.


The Cave of Machpelah is now within the city limits of Hebron, which is a Palestinian dominated city. This ancient burial place, serves as another flashpoint between Israeli's and Palestinians. The reason is that Abraham is recognised as religious forefather by both the Jews and the Islam. Whoever is in control makes it difficult for the others to pay their respects.


comments (16)

Such an amazing lesson!
Louis: Oh well, I learnt a lot there at the tomb side.
  • Ray
  • United States
  • 26 Feb 2016, 04:32
It is quite elaborate, Louis.

I enjoyed your description of body disposal technology of a distant past...not so different, really, from what we are about in 21st century, is it?
Louis: Interesting thing is that according to old writing, it seems that people were afraid to be left outside to the elements, once they are dead. So what was required (as is today) is a proper burial of some kind. Just don't let nature get at the mortal remains. I tried to convince my family that once I am dead, they can roll me in a blanket and drop me into the nearest croc infested water - then my remains will serve a last purpose. Oh, no - never! Well then pay the money for a cremation and share my ashes with the plants - my remains will still serve a purpose. Oh, no - cremation is ok, but the ashes must go behind a plaque. Whether all this nonsense is some kind of superstition, I don't know. But it is true - whatever the thoughts were back then, seem to be still around.
  • Lisl
  • Bath, England
  • 26 Feb 2016, 06:16
This is very interesting, Louis. I like the check made every three days after death
Louis: I find it quite interesting that people back then, were aware that there were people who came back from some type of feigned death - whatever it is called.
What a description Louis!
It makes me think of some Malagasy tombs.
Louis: Heh, where there are no caves available to serve as tombs, they dig the hole and call it a grave. It seems that people have a strong urge to commit bodies to the earth.
Almost exactly as we had it pictured for us in our Sunday School days when we read about the burial of Jesus, Louis. Most fascinating, indeed. It all makes sense.
Louis: Only, the Jesus tomb used, was that of a more affluent man, Joseph of Arimathea, according to Matthew 27:57 and Mark 15:43. Meaning, it would be larger than the one in my picture. But the rest would be the same indeed.
  • Philine
  • Germany
  • 26 Feb 2016, 07:11
Oh, yes, those tombs are fascinating, in Jersusalem I saw the tomb where Jesus Christ lay.
Louis: Fascinating indeed. Like so many tourist driven claims in and around Jerusalem, there are doubts about His tomb. In fact, there are three sites in Jerusalem, claimed to be the tomb that held Jesus for a short time. I also visited one of them.
  • Chris
  • England
  • 26 Feb 2016, 07:18
Thank you Louis, you have taught me things I did not know before
Louis: From my side I believe I became aware how people's fears and how the fears were addressed, became rules for modern day living. Where those expounding these rules, don't have the faintest idea where and why and probably fail to understand that circumstances changed and the rule could be dropped. The visit to Israel has been an eye opener to me.
Some significant information in your report Louis, fascinating stuff.
Louis: Thank you gutteridge. I believe you folks in Greenland are less aware of these burial rites, seeing that you stuff the bodies into volcanoes. Bit messy when that volcano erupts the next time smile
Very interesting read, Louis. Have a good weekend.
Louis: Thank you Mary. You can now have your oysters on ice.
We keep on learning, what with this most interesting piece and Ray's recent presentation we are now well versed on the next step!
Louis: You can learn as much as you want, but by the time your next step arrives, you are absent smile Heh this posting made me a bit morbid.
Your narrative really adds to this post Louis, it also adds a more realistic description to the idea of what Jesus' tomb may have looked like as against that depicted in films etc.
Louis: Only, the Jesus tomb used, was that of a more affluent man, Joseph of Arimathea, according to Matthew 27:57 and Mark 15:43. Meaning, it would be larger than the one in my picture. But the rest would be the same indeed.
Great stuff Louis. Much ceremony,it seems, is born of necessity

I find it hard to understand how so many religions seen to worship the same god and yet have spent the last 2000 years trying to kill each other.
Louis: Thank you Bill. I agree that we have ceremonies today that have their roots in history and was borne of necessity. Some rules can be discarded now, as they don't contribute in any way.

"How could various religions worship the same god ..." In order to understand this, you must understand the various religions. The Bible, Quran is one thing and the people who want greatness out of it, is something else. So, a quick comparison of the most salient differences between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

First the Jews. They have the Torah, which is the same as the first 5 books of the Bible. It contains some early history, the 10 commandments and other rules handed down to them by God. To this they added the Talmud, a set of rules added to those of God. In other words they supplanted their God with their own rules, thought up by various rabbi's and other office bearers. One silly example is that God declared the 7th day a day of rest - rest of your daily work. The day was declared for the benefit of the people. What the Talmud says is that if the chair you sit on, on a Shabbat, leaves 2 sets of prints, you have travelled and were not resting. This is just to demonstrate how the human rules is a burden. God says that his people shouldn't consort with the heathen - explaining that they must stay away from their gods and sacrificing children on the heights, etc. The Jews made a rule that they shouldn't allow a heathen to touch them. An easy way to start a war. Just for completeness, the Jewish Bible consist of the same books as what makes up the Christian canon of the Old Testament and the Torah is part of that.

The Christians are supposed to live the example of Christ. Christ requires humility - to defy the natural human habit of promoting yourself first. His dictum in short is to love God, serve him and love and serve your fellow human being. You probably know very few Christians who live the example of Christ. Somebody like Mother Theresa. Yet we had the crusaders who pillaged (even other Christians) after selling lies about a holy grail, in the name of Christ. There are modern day crusaders as well. Those who believe you should conquer with the Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

The third group claiming the God of Abraham (Allah) are the Muslims. I discussed this stuff for hours with the son of the senior advisor of the king of Morocco. Most of the stuff spouted by Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Queda, etc is not based on the Quran. The prophet Mohammed provided additional rules to serve Allah. One such a rule is to convert the whole world to the Islamic belief. The part where the conversion should happen by use of the AK47 is invented. Converting the world was translated to ruling the world. Allah is supposed to be the all powerful, not his minions.

So in a nutshell. the religions are harmless. It is what the followers in search of power for themselves, make of it. The history is also full of examples of Jews going after Jews, Christians going after Christians and Muslims killing off other Muslims. Not to mention when the three groups stack up against each other. It is not the religion, it is the so-called followers hijacking the religion for their own gain.

Just look around you. People in their infinite wisdom are killing off the world, that they are dependent on for a living.
No doubt pillaged centuries ago!
Louis: These tombs contained only caskets of bones and the fresher bodies. There was no belief in this region that you had your worldly riches buried with you, to bribe the gods. The living kept everything, much like we do today.
  • Astrid
  • Netherlands
  • 27 Feb 2016, 12:04
Thank you for the education and it makes sens what they do wit the dead bodies...
I read your reply to Ray. I always say, put me in a carton box and put me with the next picking up of the garbage...
I will be cremated though and be shared with nature...
I like it that the man is in the picture to give scale.
it's a good find and well framed Louis... i enjoyed your description of the history behind the burial ritual rituals....petersmile
this is all very interesting, Louis. looks like there was a proper system in progress.

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