In Death and After Death
The abodes of the dead were usually 6 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 10 feet high. There were niches for eight bodies, with the larger tombs holding 13 bodies. The entrance to them was guarded by a large stone or a very heavy door. There is more detail given about the tombs in Part 2 of this chapter.
The details given about the tombs will explain some of the particulars that were connected with the burial of Jesus, how the women came early to the grave and were astonished to find the “very great stone” rolled away from the door of the sepulchre. Then when they entered the outer cave, they were afraid to see “a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment”.
It also explains the events in John 20: 1 – 12 how Mary Magdalene had come to the sepulchre while it was still dark and groped to find the opening and found that the stone was rolled away. She then fled to tell the disciples that the door was open and someone had taken Jesus out of the tomb.
If she knew of the sealing of that stone and of the Roman guard, she must have felt as if their hatred of Jesus compelled them to steal the body. Even though she knew the body was gone, though, there must have been a glimmer of hope in her because Jesus had said that He would rise again on the third day. Even though her fleshly senses said that he had been stolen, her spiritual senses must have treasured hopes that He was alive. Jesus granted her deepest longing when He met her on the road and told her to tell everybody that He was alive.
It must have been a very long night while the followers of Jesus were waiting for daybreak to come on the third morning. Peter and John ran to the site of the tomb as soon as they could see. They saw the linen clothes lying about and went inside the tomb. The empty tomb was not a place to look into, but to go into and believe. That morning was one that must have been talked about over and over by the believers of Jesus.
Tradition had it that there was a special gate by which mourners entered, so that all who met them could discharge the proper duty of love. It was the custom of the day that mourners were not to be tormented by talk, but that everybody around them would be silent until they were spoken to. The Jews had regular formulas that they used for a person in mourning. These were to be followed to the letter so that a person was treated properly who was in mourning.
The Rabbis distinguished between the Onen and the Avel – the sorrowing or suffering one, and the bowed down, fading one, or mourner. The Onen applied only to the day of the funeral, while the Avel applied to the period which followed. It was held that the law of God only prescribed mourning for the first day, which was that of death and burial. The other period was a longer one.
So long as the dead body was actually in the house, it was forbidden to eat meat or drink wine, to put on the phylacteries, or to engage in study. All necessary food had to be prepared outside the house and, if possible, was not to be eaten in the presence of the dead. That’s why a distinction had to be made as to the type of mourning a person was in. They had to set a time limit so their daily lives could go on.
The first thing they were to do was to rend (tear apart) the inner clothes of the person into a strip that was about a hand-breadth in length. In the case of a parent, it was never closed up again; but in any others it was mended after the thirtieth day.
Immediately after the body was carried out of the house all chairs and couches were reversed toward the wall, and the mourners would sit on the ground or on a low stool, except on the Sabbath. There was a three-fold distinction that was made for mourning:
Deep mourning was to last for 7 days, of which the first three were those of “weeping”. During these seven days it was forbidden to wash, to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to study, or to engage in any business, to name a few things.
After that a lighter mourning followed of 30 days.
Children were to mourn for their parents a whole year, with the anniversary of the day of death to be observed.
Any person who had departed from the Jewish faith was not to be mourned. In fact it was to be just the opposite: white dress was to be worn on the occasion of the person’s death, and other demonstrations of joy were to be made. It is told in the Bible under what circumstances priests and the high-priest were allowed to mourn for the dead.
On the return from the burial, friends and neighbors prepared a meal for the mourners that consisted of bread, hard-boiled eggs, and lentils. This was called round and course fare – round like life, which is rolling on unto death. This course was brought in and served up in earthenware. On the other hand, the mourners’ friends partook of a funeral meal, at which no more than ten cups were to be emptied – two before the meal, five at it, and three afterwards.
In modern times the religious duty of attending to the dying, dead, and mourners, is performed by a special “holy brotherhood”, which many of the most religious Jews join for the sake of the pious work in which it engages them.
Another item of interest, was that it was expressly allowed on Sabbaths and Feast Days to walk beyond the Sabbath limits, and do anything that was needful for the dead. This throws light on the account of what was done to the body of Jesus on the eve of the Passover. In one of the earliest Hebrew non-Biblical records, it mentions a number of other days on which mourning was prohibited – the anniversaries of joyous occasions. The Mishnah also contains a number of regulations and limitations of mourning observances at some of the feasts, and also the loss of slaves was not to be mourned.
The Rabbis seem to have believed in a multitude of heavens, with most of them holding to 7. They also believed there were 7 departments in paradise, and 7 in hell. They also believed that Paradise and Hell were contiguous, or that they were connected or neighboring and were only separated by a handbreadth. That could be why the story of the rich man and Lazarus is portrayed in that certain light.
There had come to be inconsistencies among the Rabbis by this time concerning sin and salvation and how one entered into Paradise. They thought that the departed saints were in Scripture called “living”. It was also held among them that “in the world to come there is neither eating nor drinking, neither fruitfulness nor increase, neither trade nor business, neither envy, hatred, nor strife; but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads, and feast themselves on the splendor of the Shechinah”. In essence, they thought that when they got to Paradise they would just sit and feast at the Table of God.
This marks the end of the In Death and After Death series.