Home > History, Judaism, Study of Judaism > Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period

Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period

  • Series: Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism
  • Author: Rachel Hachlili
  • Publisher: B~ (2005)
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 637
  • ISBN-10: 9004123733
  • ISBN-13: 9789004123731
  • Format: PDF

Research of burials constitutes one of the main reliable sources of information related to various aspects of funerary practices and rituals, and offers a perception of ancient social life and community organization. The material remains of mortuary rituals is effective in reconstructing the history of a society, its religious beliefs and its social outlook. Tombs offer ample data on the artistic taste evinced by funerary architecture and the ornamentation of receptacles and objects. Changes in Jewish funerary practices did not alter the plan and architecture of the tombs. Though the funerary rites changed from inhumation in coffins and loculi to secondary burial by collecting bones in ossuaries the artifacts associated with these graves did not modify much and indicate that these were culturally and socially identical people. The study outlines the material preserved in the ancient Jewish cemeteries of the Second Temple period (first century BCE to first century CE) at Jerusalem, Jericho, ‘En Gedi, Qumran and some other tomb sites. This volume is intended to provide a comprehensive and instructive study of Jewish funerary customs, practices, and rituals relating to death, burial and mourning, as well as addressing the meaning of Jewish funerary art and tradition.

This volume is intended to provide a comprehensive and instructive study of Jewish funerary customs, practices, and rituals in the Second Temple period, attitudes towards the dead, and the implications and significance of the beliefs are illuminated. The book is a collection of studies devoted to Jewish customs relating to death, burial and mourning, addressing the meaning of Jewish funerary art and tradition.

This survey is a compilation of the material excavated in the past few decades, especially the latest results, together with previous materials and studies.

The study outlines the material preserved in the ancient Jewish cemeteries of the Hellenistic and Roman periods at Jerusalem, Jericho, ‘En Gedi, and Qumran, although it should be noted that many tombs were systematically robbed. This volume also explores the relationship with literary texts, and offers an interpretation of death and burial rituals.

The latent contribution of archaeology to the study of Jewish burial is vast, and is investigated here. As a result of many excavations in recent decades a large body of new material has come to light which now permits comprehensive treatment of ancient Jewish burial rites, art, and beliefs. The archaeology is dealt with in detail, with emphasis on various aspects of practices relating to death, particularly the manifestation of the burial rites.

The discussion takes the form of a general comparison, divided according to topics with specific themes and issues surveyed, reexamined, and redefined. Such topics are a description of the cemeteries, funerary architecture, inscriptions, interment receptacles and their ornamentation, assorted aspects of family tombs, the status of women in funerary relations, and more. Together, these subjects create what I hope is a conclusive case for the existence of distinctive Jewish burial customs and rites in Second Temple period. A comprehensive and illuminating interpretation of burial customs and rites is presented, and an overview of funerary art and insights into the social life of the Jews in the Second Temple period. An understanding of the heritage bequeathed to us by our ancestors can help penetrate the mists of time separating us from those periods.

Death is connected with mysterious perceptions; burial and graves express faith, belief, and ideas in different periods and diverse societies.

The research and analysis of the tomb’s form, the status and situation of the interred, the grave goods, the inscriptions, and significantly the burial customs, furnish us with evidence about the assumptions and notions regarding death in the given society.

Essential proof on the connection between the living and the dead is revealed by burial data. The mortuary rites and ceremonies, such as memorial architecture, inscribed texts, and effects belonging to the deceased placed in and around the burial place, evince a belief in a connection of the living with the world of the dead and provide enough elements to recreate past social organizations. The commemorationof ancestors appears regularly as a significant part of the present.

The deceased’s relation to the grave goods preserved in tombs provide data on mourning customs and burial practices such as offerings, personal possessions, expression of grief, type of receptacle and fittings, the inhumation process, the individual’s status in the community, family relations and burial status, monument construction, and the material culture of a given period.

The tombs offer ample data on the artistic taste evinced by funerary architecture and the ornamentation of receptacles and objects. Material culture is an important part of human contact and substance, articulating ideas and practices.

The skeletal remains preserved in tombs are almost the only source for anthropological data and research, providing information on the interred’s ethnic origin, life expectancy, sex, gender, and age, medical condition, and cause of death.

Research into burial practices and the material remains of mortuary rituals is effective in reconstructing the history of a society, its religious beliefs and its social outlook. Burial customs might indicate the social status of the deceased, revealing social position as expressed in family tombs, their size, location, and the grave goods. Changes in Jewish funerary practices did not alter the plan and architecture of the tombs. Though the funerary rites changed from inhumation in coffins and loculi to secondary burial by collection of bones in ossuaries the artifacts associated with these graves did not alter much and indicate that these were culturally and socially identical people. Most of the grave goods assemblages are shared by both sexes, with certain types found in graves that show gender association and trends, but not strict gender roles.

This study sets forth research based on material remains intended to reveal Jewish burial traditions, practices, and rituals, as well as the role the dead played in the life of the living.

The data gathered in this book include most of the published archaeological and epigraphic material, mainly from excavated tombs and graves. Architecture and decoration are discussed, as well as the finds, rites, and customs. The amount of data available from excavations is unfortunately limited to a restricted number of sites, especially Jerusalem. Enough evidence exists, however, to draw a picture of the Jewish funerary customs in the Second Temple period (first century bce to first century ce).

The conclusions reached in this book are based on an analysis of excavation reports, the finds, and the research work of many scholars. Several significant issues are raised in these pages: the particular Jewish customs identified by the material culture; family tombs, kin and ancestor relations; the interaction with earlier burial practices and with the neighboring cultures.

Chapter I describes the cemeteries, their location, and finds. Chapter II discusses the architectural and decorative features of the tombs; monumental tombs, tombs with ornamented façade, loculi tombs (tombs with a burial recess hewn in the tomb walls), acrosolia (tombs with arched niches) and other tombs, examining the characteristic features of tomb architecture. Chapter III is devoted to the portrayal of the burial receptacles: coffins, ossuaries, and sarcophagi; attention is paid to their manufacture and ornamentation. Chapter IV examines funerary art: compositions and styles are analyzed and the meaning and interpretations are discussed. Chapter V deals with selected funerary inscriptions on tombs, sarcophagi, and ossuaries, which are described and evaluated. Chapter VI records Jerusalem family tombs, priestly and high priestly tombs, Jericho family tombs; family relations are appraised. Chapter VII examines the status of women and their family relations. Chapter VIII discusses the nefesh as a funerary commemoration monument. Chapter IX focuses on the craftsmen and workshops that built the tombs and produced the ossuaries.

Chapter X records the grave goods recovered in the tombs such as pottery, glass, iron, personal items, and coins, and considers their significance and meaning. Chapter XI describes and analyzes burial types, funerary customs and rites, protective measures, and ‘magic’ practices; it deals with the evolution of burial customs and the connection with the pagan world. Chapter XII places the material discussed in the book within a chronological framework and summarizes the evidence presented in this volume and draws conclusions about Jewish burial rites and customs.

The Second Temple period in general extends from the return from Babylon (mid 6th century bce) until the destruction of Jerusalem and Masada (70 and 73 ce) or possibly until the Second War against the Romans, the Bar Kokhba war (132–135 ce). However, this book reports on the end of this period, the second century bce to the end of the first century ce.

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