From the burial of Sarah in the cave of Machpelah, (Genesis 23:19) to the funeral rites prepared for Dorcas, (Acts 9:37) there is no mention of any sarcophagus, or even coffin, in any Jewish burial. Still less were the rites of the Jews like those of the Pelasgi or Etruscans. They were marked with the same simplicity that characterized all their religious observances. This simplicity of rite led to what may be called the distinguishing characteristic of Jewish sepulchres --the deep loculus --which, so far as is now known, is universal in all purely Jewish rock-cut tombs, but hardly known elsewhere. Its form will be understood by referring to the following diagram, representing the forms of Jewish sepulture. In the apartment marked A there are twelve such loculi about two feet in width by three feet high. On the ground floor these generally open on the level of the door; when in the upper story, as at C, on a ledge or platform, on which the body might be laid to be anointed, and on which the stones might rest which closed the outer end of each loculus. The shallow loculus is shown in chamber B, but was apparently only used when sarcophagi were employed, and therefore, so far as we know, only during the Graeco-Roman period, when foreign customs came to be adopted. The shallow loculus would have been singularly inappropriate and inconvenient where an unembalmed body was laid out to decay, as there would evidently be no means of shutting it off from the rest of the catacomb. The deep loculus, on the other hand, was strictly conformable with Jewish customs, and could easily be closed by a stone fitted to the end and luted into the groove which usually exists there. This fact is especially interesting as it affords a key to much that is otherwise hard to be understood in certain passages in the New Testament; Thus in (John 11:59) Jesus says, "Take away the stone," and (ver. 40) "they took away the stone" without difficulty, apparently. And in ch. (John 20:1) the same expression is used "the stone is taken away." There is one catacomb-- that known as the "tomb of the kings" --which is closed by a stone rolled across its entrance; but it is the only one, and the immense amount of contrivance and fitting which it has required is sufficient proof that such an arrangement was not applied to any other of the numerous rock tombs around Jerusalem nor could the traces of it have been obliterated had if anywhere existed. Although, therefore, the Jews were singularly free from the pomps and vanities of funereal magnificence, they were at all stages of their independent existence an eminently burying people. Tombs of the patriarchs . --One of the most striking events in the life of Abraham is the purchase of the field of Ephron the Hittite at Hebron, in which was the cave of Machpelah, in order that he might therein bury Sarah his wife, and that it might be a sepulchre for himself and his children. There he and his immediate descendants were laid 3700 years ago, and there they are believed to rest now, under the great mosque of Hebron; but no one in modern times has seen their remains, or been allowed to enter into the cave where they rest. From the time when Abraham established the burying-place of his family at Hebron till the time when David fixed that of his family in the city which bore his name, the Jewish rulers-had no fixed or favorite place of sepulture. Each was buried on his own property, or where he died, without much caring for either the sanctity or convenience chosen. Tomb of the kings. --Of the twenty-two kings of Judah who reigned at Jerusalem from 1048 to 590 B.C. eleven, or exactly one half, were buried in one hypogeum in the "city of David." Of all these it is merely said that they were buried in "the sepulchres of their fathers" or "of the kings" in the city of David, except of two-- Asa and Hezekiah. Two more of these kings--Jehoram and Joash --were buried also in the city of David "but not in the sepulchres of the kings." The passage in (Nehemiah 3:18) and in Ezek 43:7,9
Together with the reiterated assertion of the books of Kings and Chronicles that these sepulchres were situated in the city of David, leaves no doubt that they were on Zion, or the Eastern Hill, and in the immediate proximity of the temple. Up to the present time we have not been able to identify one single sepulchral excavation about Jerusalem can be said with certainty to belong to a period anterior to that of the Maccabees, or more correctly, to have been used for burial before the time of the Romans. The only important hypogeum which is wholly Jewish in its arrangement, and may consequently belong to an earlier or to any epoch, is that known as the tombs of the prophets, in the western flank of the Mount of Olives. It has every appearance of having originally been a natural cavern improved by art, and with an external gallery some 140 feet in extent, into which twenty-seven deep or Jewish loculi open. Graeco-Roman tombs . --Besides the tombs above enumerated, there are around Jerusalem, in the valleys of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat and on the plateau to the north, a number of remarkable rock-cut sepulchres, with more or less architectural decoration, sufficient to enable us to ascertain that they are all of nearly the same age, and to assert with very tolerable confidence that the epoch to which they belong must be between the introduction of Roman influence and the destruction of the city by Titus, A.D. 70. In the village of Siloam there is a monolithic cell of singularly Egyptian aspect which Deuteronomy Saulcy assumes to be a chapel of Solomon’s Egyptian wife. It is probably of very much more modern date, and is more Assyrian than Egyptian in character. The principal remaining architectural sepulchres may be divided into three groups: first, those existing in the valley of Jehoshaphat, and known popularly as the tombs of Zechariah of St. James and of Absalom. Second those known as the tombs of the Judges, and the so-called Jewish tomb about a mile north of the city. Third, that known as the tomb of the kings, about half a mile north of the Damascus Gate. Of the three first-named tombs the most southern is known as that of Zechariah a popular name which there is not even a shadow of tradition to justify. Tombs of the judges . --The hypogeum known as the tombs of the judges is one of the most remarkable of the catacombs around Jerusalem, containing about sixty deep loculi, arranged in three stories; the upper stories with ledges in front, to give convenient access, and to support the stones that close them; the lower flush with the ground; the whole, consequently, so essentially Jewish that it might be of any age if it were not for its distance from the town and its architectural character. Tombs of Herod . --The last of the great groups enumerated above is that known as the tomb of the kings --Kebur es Sulton --or the Royal Caverns, so called because of their magnificence and also because, that name is applied to them by Josephus. They are twice again mentioned under the title of the "monuments of Herod." There seems no reason for doubting that all the architectural tombs of Jerusalem belong to the age of the Romans. Tomb of Helena of Adiabene . --There was one other very famous tomb at Jerusalem, which cannot he passed over in silence, though not one vestige of it exists --the supposed tomb of Helena. We are told that "she with her brother was buried in the pyramids which she had ordered to be constructed at a distance of three stadia from Jerusalem." Joseph. Ant. xx. 4,3. This is confirmed by Pelusanias. viii. 16. The tomb was situated outside the third wall near a gate between the tower Psephinus and the Royal Caverns. B.J. v. 22 and v. 4,2. The people still cling to their ancient cemeteries in the valley of Jehoshaphat with a tenacity singularly characteristic of the east. [BURIAL]
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Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Tomb'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary".