Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Burial Mounds – A Non-Jewish Idea – Part III

Continued from the previous post, regarding the difference between ancient  Hebrew/Jewish burial practices and those of the rest of the world, including the so-called burial mounds, which had no place among Jewish practices in ancient Palestine or the Middle East.
Burial kokhim, a type of tomb complex characterized by a series of long narrow shafts, in which the deceased were placed for burial, radiating from a central chamber

In Lehi’s time, certain terms were known among the Jews regarding burial. Kokh (kokhim), כּוּךְ meaning “tomb,” was a repository for the remains of the dead. 
• It was a type of tomb complex characterized by a series of long narrow shafts radiating from a central chamber, in which the deceased were placed for burial. Many such burial chambers were found throughout the Judean foothills. It was generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes, generally a rectangular rock-cut sloping space, running inward, like tunnels into rock, sufficiently high and wide to permit the admission of a corpse. It was a complex characterized by a series of long narrow shafts, in which the deceased were placed for burial, radiating from a central chamber.
The Loculi, or burial shelves, cut into the stone, making up the burial recesses in the catacombs

These tomb complexes were generally carved into a rock face, and were usually closed with a stone slab and had channels cut into the center of the shaft to drain any water that seeped through the rock.
    • A burial vault was a stone or brick-lined underground space for multiple burials, originally vaulted, often privately owned for specific family groups; usually beneath a religious building such as a church.
    • Mausoleum (pyramid) was an external free-standing structure, above ground, acting as both monument and place of interment, usually for individuals or a family group.
    • A crypt was a stone chamber beneath the floor of a church or other building. It typically contained coffins, sarcophagi or religious relics, and was often a place for public interment.
    A burial method not found in the Middle East, and specifically not Jewish in any manner, was the Megalithic tomb (including Chamber tombs), which was an ancient (often prehistoric) place of interment, often for large communities, constructed of large stones and originally covered with an earthen mound. These above ground burial chambers, built of large stone slabs (megaliths) laid on edge and covered with earth or other, smaller stones, were a type of chamber tomb and found built across Atlantic Europe. They were also found in the northern and southern Mediterranean area, built by Neolithic farming communities.
    They differ from the contemporary long barrows through their structural use of stone and were found in Brittany, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, the Orkney Islands, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, and Spain.
They were generally covered by a stone cairn or earth barrow, and did not generally contain rooms, but were completely filled in and over with dirt.
    Prior to Lehi’s time, as an example, several generations of a single Jewish family were typically buried in a single cave, whether natural or artificial. Pastoral nomads also used caves that were entered through a vertical shaft. Multiple interments in caves continued over succeeding millennia. There is evidence of the use of long subterranean channels and spacious chambers by about 1500 B.C. By the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel and Judah, some burial caves were quite large and elaborate. 
    Common to the Jews were catacombs, which belonged to a very specific period in the history of Judaism, when the verse ‘For dust you are, and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19) was fulfilled not by burying the dead in the ground, but in the loculi shelves excavated in the stone,” according to Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome. This method of burial originated in the Middle East approximately 6,000 years ago, and after the Roman conquest of Palestine, many Jews settled in Rome and adapted their Middle East burial customs to their new environment. In contrast to the Roman practice of cremation, the Jews buried their dead in catacombs they created for this purpose.
Jewish ossuary boxes for the re-interment of human bones: Left: Plain, early box; Right: Elaborate, geometric inscriptions often identifying the deceased 

These earliest examples were often secondary burials where the bones of the dead were placed in ossuary containers, a chest or box, and re-interred for a “second burial.” One form of ancient catacombs is underground city of the dead consisting of galleries or passages with side recesses for tombs, which served as an ossuary.
    These underground galleries with side excavations for tombs, or in which human bones were stacked, was derived from "catacomba," a compound of the Greek and the Latin "comba" ("cumba"), and means "near the sepulchers." Originally it applied to a single area, but later applied to all subterranean burial-places in Italy as well as in other countries.
    In the Middle Ages only Christian catacombs were known; in modern times, however, Jewish burial-places have been discovered resembling the Christian ones, though built before them, and hence have been also called catacombs. Definitely of Jewish origin, catacombs tombs were used in Palestine even in early times. While in the East corpses were usually put into the earth, in the West they were cremated. Around Jerusalem there are so-called tombs of the Prophets—that, in their labyrinthine arrangement, resemble the catacombs. Tombs of the judges—i.e., tombs of the Sanhedrists—are also to be found throughout Palestine. 
    The architect Schick found at Jerusalem a catacomb begun by Jews and continued by Christians. These tombs, which are hewn out of the rock, differ from the Roman catacombs only in that they are difficult of access, while the latter are arranged with a view to the frequent visits of the living. In fact, wherever the Jews went in the course of their wanderings, they endeavored to preserve this custom of their fathers—and they did so at Rome, in lower Italy, Carthage, Cyrene, etc. 
    The Talmud gives a detailed description of this kind of tomb, the chief characteristic of which is that the bodies were placed in niches in the subterranean vaults. The Christian catacombs originated in imitation of this Jewish custom, although among Christians, Jesus' tomb in the rock must have been the model from the beginning. Over the years, Talmudic complexity was added to the burial until the Jews had a very specific, clear-cut method of interment that could not be violated out of the respect they had for their dead. 
    A traditional Jewish burial, known as Kever Yisrael, was always considered a highest priority, and the typical Jewish tombs of the late B.C. period involved a kind of cave or excavation cut into a rocky cliff. Sometimes larger families or groups of families would use these burial areas together. An opening in the side of a cliff might lead into a crypt of several rooms used by different families. There would be an outer and an inner chamber, or at least a front and back portion to the cave. In the outer chamber the body would be laid out on a kind of bench or shelf cut into the rock. After the final respects were paid, a large round stone was usually rolled into place along a groove to cover the tomb. 
    These large stones would often be whitewashed as a kind of warning to passersby that the area was in fact a gravesite. This was because Jews incurred ritual uncleanliness by coming in close contact with a dead body. Surely this could be endured as an act of charity for a dead relative, but one would not wish to incur it for a stranger. Thus the whitewashed tomb entrances served as a kind of warning to steer clear.
Under Jewish law and custom, the dead had a right to ceremonial care, and a Jewish funeral was distinguished by its simplicity, humility, and solemnity. Before the funeral could take place, however, the body of the deceased had to be prepared for burial in accordance with Jewish tradition, and its general format has not changed for over four thousand years. As soon as a person was dead, his eyes were to be closed, he was to be kissed with love, and his body was to be washed (Genesis 50:1; Acts 9:37) and dressed with dignity (called Taharah). In this washing, the body was anointed with perfumes. Nard (Spikenard), a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Narsostachys jataansi, a flowering plant, was the most usual of these, but myrrh and aloes were also used.
    The body was then “enwrapped” or “bound” in white linen or muslin burial shroud (kittel or later Tacvhricchim) that reflected simplicity and a limit of ostentation in th garment (Takhrikhin), and then laid to rest on a shelf or bench cut into the stone where it was expected to decompose for a year. At the end of that time, the family then re-entered the sepulcher, cleansed the bones, carefully placed them in an ossuary box and put the box in another section of the sepulcher for its final resting place.
(See the next post, “Burial Mounds – A Non-Jewish Idea – Part IV,” regarding the difference between ancient Hebrew/Jewish burial practices and those of the rest of the world, including the so-called burial mounds, which had no place among these ancient Jewish practices)

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