Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Burial Mounds – A Non-Jewish Idea – Part II

Continued from the previous post, regarding the burial Mounds and the Hebrew/Jewish method of burial.
     According to John Chapman, an archaeologist, research professor in anthropology, and Director of the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the builders of the North American burial mounds were Jews, particularly the Lost Ten Tribes. These claimed ancestors of the Native American Mound Builders was the common belief during the 19th century, in which the publication of the Book of Mormon lent a certain degree of authenticity, especially by Chapman who conducted extensive excavations at burial mound sites in eastern Tennessee.
Typical of mounds found all over the eastern states in North America, from Wisconsin and Idaho to Tennessee and Mississippi. The vast majority of these mounds contained bodies buried in the ground and covered with dirt

Today, some LDS theorists have considered the Book of Mormon narrative a description of the mound-building cultures, while at least one revered, Landon West, claimed that the three-foot high Serpent effigy mound in Adams County, in southern Ohio, was built by God, or by man inspired by him, as a symbol of the story of the Garden of Eden. In the last century, certain sects affiliated with the Black nationalist Moorish Science philosophy theorized an association with the Mound Builders, arguing that they were an ancient advanced black civilization that developed the legendary continents of Atlantis and Mu as well as ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica. Over the past two centuries, both scholars and laymen have accepted some of these explanations and even furthered many others, including several hoaxes such as the “Newark Holy Stones,” the “Keystone Tablet,” the “Davenport Tablets,” the “Kinderhook Plates,” and the “Newark Decalogue Stone.”
    One of the first LDS leaders, Elder Charles Blancher Thompson, who joined the Church in 1835, then after Joseph Smith’s death, claimed to have received a revelation from God that he was the reincarnation of the Biblical Ephraim, and was to be known as Baneemy, patriarch of Zion. He drew sixty followers after him and instructed them in his School of Preparation.” He named his church the Congregation of Jehovah’s Presbytery of Zion, and his followers were often called Baneemyites because of Thompson's claim to the title. In 1841, while still a member, Thompson published a report that the Mound Builders were Nephites. This fostered the belief, over time, that the builders of the mounds could not possibly have been “Injuns,” and scholars with an ever increasing preponderance of archaeological and anthropological “evidences” pointed to rhw eastern woodland Indians as the true “Mound Builders.”
    The point is, no one knows, neither scholars, historians or theorists, who built the mounds or for what purpose other than as burial mounds for their dead—though there were effigy mounds, that is a raised pile of earth built in the shape of a stylized animal, symbol, human, or other figure and generally containing one or more human burials. Effigy mounds were primarily built during the Late Woodland Period (350-1300 A.D.) The famous Serpent Mound in Ohio dates to about 1120 A.D., evidently built by the Adena Culture, but more commonly referred to as the Effigy Moundbuilders. These animal-shaped mounds remain the symbol of the Effigy Mounds Culture and found along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa and across the river in southwest Wisconsin, two major animal mound shapes seem to prevail: the bear and the bird. Near Lakes Michigan and Winnebago, water spirit earthworks—historically called turtle and panther mounds—are more common.
    But who were the mound builders? Today, theorists like W. Vincent Coon, Rodney L. Meldrum, Joseph Warren Grammer and Wayne May, among others, claim the mound builders were the Nephites. If that is true, then Lehi, Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have been knowledgeable of such a burial activity and it would have been had among the Hebrews/Jews before them--which would not have been burial mounds, but cave or hewn rock sepulchers.
    First of all, the burial practices of the Hebrews/Jews was very distinct and dates back to at least the time of Abraham. To understand this, we need to consider that beneath the streets of Rome, dark labyrinths of underground catacombs are passageways to the past, to a time when the tunnels served as burial grounds for millions of people. Dating back to the first century A.D., these catacombs were among the first ever built, and were constructed as underground tombs, first by Jewish communities and then by Christian groups. There are six known Jewish catacombs and as many as forty Christian catacombs beneath the city, all hewn out of rock.
Jewish catacombs in Rome carved in the tufa stone beneath the city 

In ancient Rome, it was not permitted for bodies to be buried within the city walls, leading to pagans cremating their dead; however, the Jews built catacombs, in which to continue the practice of burial they had known in Israel. When Christians began burying their dead in Rome, and not being able to legally practice their religion, they turned to the underground tombs of the Jews, where they were considered a Jewish sect, and greatly expanded the catacombs of the Jews.
    Typical of the Jewish catacombs was the arcosolium (an arched recess used for entombment), consisting of a curved niche, enclosed under a carved horizontal marble slab. Cubicula (burial rooms) containing loculi (shelves for remains) for a single family, and cryptae (underground room for rites) were also commonly found in catacomb passages.
    Jewish burials from earlier than Lehi’s time date even to Abraham, who purchased a cave at Machpelah as a family tomb (Genesis 23:9), after turning down local sepulchers of the Hittites in Hebron in the land of Canaan. Though he was given an entire field, including the cave, Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, within the cave (Genesis 23:19). In fact, Abraham, himself, as well as Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah and also Jacob (Genesis 49:30-31, 33) were buried in the cave. By “bury,” the word meant to “hide, conceal, cover, enshroud,” which matches Abraham’s comment to the Hittites about his wanting to bury his wife, ”Give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23:4, emphasis added), and again, “If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23:8, emphasis added), Abraham was not referring to placing Sarah’s body in the ground. Otherwise, anywhere in the large, beautiful field would have been sufficient. But in the cave, Abraham could hewn out a shelf on which to lay the body, under the Hebrew custom.
    There is no question that the Jews held burial in high esteem, though not in the ground, but in specific places such as caves, sepulchers and even catacombs. In fact, to give a stranger a decent burial was like giving bread to the hungry and garments o the naked. Tombs of the Israelite period in modern-day Israel show that considerable, though not lavish, care was given by those who could afford it, to the hewing out of tombs and the provision of grave goods.
    The one thing expressed most clearly by Israelite burial practices is the common human desire to maintain some contact with the community even after death, through burial in one's native land at least, and if possible with one's ancestors. "Bury me with my fathers," was Jacob's request (Genesis 49:29), and the wish of every ancient Israelite. Thus, the aged Barzillai did not wish to go with David, "that I may die in mine own city, [and be buried] by the grave of my father and of my mother" (II Samuel 19:38); and Jerusalem was beloved to Nehemiah, in exile, as "the city of my fathers' sepulchers" (Nehemiah 2:5).
Outside of Jerusalem are numerous sepulchers hewn out of solid rock of a hillside or mountain where Jews where anciently entombed

Most importantly, the tomb most typical of the Israelite period is a natural cave or a chamber cut into soft rock, near the city. Bodies would be laid on rock shelves provided on three sides of the chamber, and as generations of the same family used the tomb, skeletons and grave goods might be heaped up along the sides or put into a side chamber to make room for new burials. This practice of family burial, was common enough to give rise to the Hebrew expressions "to sleep with one's fathers" (I Kings 11:23) and "to be gathered to one's kin" (Genesis 25:8) as synonyms for "to die."
    Under this custom, bodies were interred clothed and carried to the tomb on a bier (II Samuel 3:31), but not in a coffin. Joseph's coffin was an Egyptian custom (Genesis 50:26). Thus, the burial of Christ is an example of Jewish burial in the mid-first century A.D. “Jesus' disciples took his body, bought a great quantity of myrrh and aloes, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:40). Luke (7:11–12) gives a vivid picture of the simple funeral of the poor; the body of a young man of Nain is borne out of the city on a pallet, clothed but without coffin, followed by the weeping mother and "much people of the city."
    As late as the second temple period (516 B.C. to 70 A.D.) and Talmudic times, Jewish burials took place in caves, hewn tombs, sarcophagi, and catacombs. This initial or primary interment was followed a year later by the long-standing Jewish tradition of a secondary burial, a re-interment (likkut azamot—לִקּוּט עֲצָמוֹת "gathering of the bones") of the remains that generally took place in ossuaries, where the remains were placed in niches of the burial caves. At this time, often on the anniversary of death, the family will gather with the priest and celebrate parastas (memorial service), after which the remains are disinterred, washed with wine, perfumed, and placed in a small box, called an ossuary of wood or metal, inscribed with the name of the departed, and placed in a room of the ossuary.
Stacked ossuary boxes in a vast Jewish cemetery on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley that faces west toward Jerusalem. Note, the boxes containing bones of the second re-interment are on the surface and not buried in the ground

Some of the limestone ossuaries that have been discovered, particularly around the Jerusalem area, include intricate geometrical patterns and inscriptions identifying the deceased. It was during this time that Jewish sages debated whether the occasion of the gathering of a parent's bones for a secondary burial was a day of sorrow or rejoicing; it was resolved that it was a day of fasting in the morning and feasting in the afternoon. The custom of secondary burial in ossuaries did not appear to exist among Jews outside the land of Israel after the second temple period, or after 70 A.D. Today, such ossuries, called cemeteries in Israel, can be found on hillsides outside the cities.
(See the next post, “Burial Mounds – A Non-Jewish Idea – Part III,” for an answer to this important question, for however the Jews of Lehi’s time buried their dead, it would have been how Lehi and his family would have continued the practice in the Land of Promise)


  1. This suggests a question: where are the Jewish/Israelite burial grounds/catacombs/caves/ossuaries in the new world?

  2. Wonder Boy: Following this four-part series on the Hebrew burials, is the answer to your question above in an two posts titled "Were There Ancient Hebrew Burials in Peru?"(Parts I and II) If these two articles appearing on May 18 and May 19 do not answer your questions, please let me know.