The Hebrews were at all times very careful in the burial of their dead, Genesis 25:9 35:29. To be deprived of burial was thought one of the greatest marks of dishonor, or cause of unhappiness, Ecclesiastes 6:3 Jeremiah 22:18,19; it being denied to none, not even to enemies. Good men made it a part of their piety to inter the dead. Indeed, how shocking must the sight of unburied corpses have been to the Jews, when their land was thought to be polluted if the dead were in any manner exposed to view, 2 Samuel 21:14; and when the very touch of a dead body, or of any thing that had touched a dead body, was esteemed a defilement, and required a ceremonial ablution, Numbers 19.11-22.
Only two cases of burning the bodies of the dead occur in Scripture: the mangled remains of Saul and his sons, 1 Samuel 31:12, and the victims of some plague, Amos 6:10. It was customary for the nearest relatives to close the eyes of the dying and give them the parting kiss, and then to commence the wailing for the dead, Jeremiah 46:4 50:1; in this wailing, which continued at intervals until after the burial, they were joined by other relatives and friends, John 11:19, whose loud and shrill lamentations are referred to in Mark 5:38. It is also a custom still prevailing in the East to hire wailing women, Jeremiah 9:17 Amos 5:16, who praised the deceased, Acts 9:39, and by doleful cries and frantic gestures, aided at times by melancholy tones of music, Matthew 9:23, strove to express the deepest grief, Ezekiel 24:17,18.
Immediately after death the body was washed, and laid out in a convenient room, Acts 9:39; it was wrapped in many folds of linen, with spices, and the head bound about with a napkin, Matthew 27:59 John 11:44. Unless the body was to be embalmed, the burial took place very soon, both on account of the heat of the climate and the ceremonial uncleanness incurred. Rarely did twenty-four hours elapse between death and burial, Acts 5:6,10. The body being shrouded, was placed upon a bier-a board resting on a simple handbarrow, borne by men-to be conveyed to the tomb, 2 Samuel 3:31 Luke 7:14. Sometimes a more costly bier or bed was used, 2 Chronicles 16:14: and the bodies of kings and some others may have been laid in coffins of wood, or stone sarcophagi. The relatives attended the bier to the tomb, which was usually without the city. A banquet sometimes followed the funeral, Jeremiah 16:7,8; and during subsequent days the bereaved friends were wont to go to the grave from time to time, to weep and to adorn the place with fresh flowers, John 11:31, a custom observed even at this day. See EMBALMING, SEPULCHRE.