Throughout history, the m.o. of burial rituals has been all over the board. In ancient times there were a number of ways to prepare a body for burial. Egyptians embalmed, and sometimes mummified their dead. The commoner, however, was buried in a family’s tomb and if they had enough money a doll, or some other trinket would be buried alongside the deceased.
After BC 1100 the elite in Greece were cremated, but the vast majority were buried underground or in mass graves. By and large, funerals in ancient Greeceresembled what we see today in Western societies with mourners in attendance, complete with ceremonies, or celebrations to honor the deceased loved one. Trinkets were often placed in coffins and tombs, and elaborate rituals of dressing the deceased in their finest clothing have been found at archaeological sites.
India has had a long history of cremation, although in Buddha’s day for the commoner, it was recorded that ‘…exposure of the corpse to birds of prey was the usual mode of departure…’. How awful a scene that must’ve been – yikes! The most consistent in burial rituals is seen in the lives of the Hebrews.
The customs of all these societies point to one thing. Christianity has the only God who’s proved Himself worthy of worship by fulfilling scripture and His resurrection.
Hebrew Burial Rituals
After laying the body out, they washed it with warm water (Acts 9:37), which is known as ‘Purification of the dead’. Nails and hair would then be trimmed, and the body was anointed with ointment (cf. Mt. 26:12; Lk. 23:56; Jn. 19:39).
The entire body, except for the head, was then wrapped in strips of linen stuffed with dried funeral spices made of myrrh. The Bible tells us in John 19:38-39 that Joseph of Arimathea used 100 lbs. of spice to prepare the Lord’s body for burial. After the entire body was prepared for burial, the head was then wrapped with a linen napkin – John 20:7.
Hebrews laid the bodies of their deceased in caves. A year to the day after the burial, the oldest male member of the family would enter the cave, collect the bones and place them in an ossuary (bone box) owned by the family. An interesting passage in the Bible provides insight on the importance of this.
In Luke 9:59–60, a man told Jesus he’d follow Him wherever He went, but he needed to go back home first to tell the family. Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead, and it’s strongly believed the man may have wanted to be near the father’s tomb to collect his prized inheritance.
Joseph of Arimathea
Why was this man’s story so important to the resurrection?
The reason why this secret disciple of Jesus was so important is because it would prove Jesus had really died, and His body hadn’t been stolen as many rumors would surely be tossed around.
Both Nicodemus and Joseph took Jesus’ body to the unused tomb where the women would prepare the Lord’s body for burial – Luke 23:50-56. Both men were well respected members of the Jewish community and held in high regard, so their testimonies were considered vitally important to the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
The women’s eyewitness accounts of where He was buried also played an important role – Mark 15:47. The two women were Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother, Mary. The women were trusted by Jesus’ disciples and their knowledge of where He was laid proved they knew His exact location. Remember, none of His disciples hung around when He was carted off to trial.
Two other unwitting witnesses to Jesus’ burial, and resurrection were the centurions positioned to stand guard over the tomb – Matthew 27:62-66. They checked inside of the tomb to ensure no other bodies were inside, including live ones who could help Jesus escape, or steal the body.
When looking at all the events surrounding this one man’s death, we can be even more assured Jesus was the Messiah, and God truly raised Him from the dead! There are simply too many detailed events concerning His life, and death to deem it anything but miraculous!