The traditional Palestinian preference for prompt burial continued throughout the first century. In
As soon as death was certain, the deceased’s eyes were closed; the corpse was washed, and then wrapped and bound. According to the third-century C.E. Jewish tractate Semahot, men could only prepare the corpse of a man, but women could prepare both men and women. Literary depictions often suggest that perfumes or ointments were used for this washing. The body was wrapped and bound in strips of cloth.
Jewish funeral processions made their way from the family home to the family tomb. Members of the immediate family placed the body in the tomb while friends and relatives waited outside. Personal effects of the deceased might be placed in the tomb alongside the body: archaeologists have found an inkwell, jewelry, combs, and sandals.
Some tombs include an area that appears to have been the setting for lamenting and eulogizing the deceased. Made up of either a circle of benches or a row (or rows) of seats, these “mourning enclosures” are usually situated in front of and around the entrance to the tomb. Some literary sources describe a ceremony in which friends and neighbors arranged themselves in rows in order to offer condolences to the bereaved in a kind of receiving line (m. Ber. 3.2; m. Meg. 4:3; m. Sanh. 2.1; Sem. 10.9). The ceremony of primary burial seems to have often included spoken words in appreciation for the dead and in sympathy for the bereaved.
After primary burial, the procession returned to the family home, where expressions of condolence continued. Rituals of death continued for several days thereafter. Literary sources, including
After seven days, most aspects of ordinary life resumed. The death of a parent was an exception: children mourned their parents for a full year, until the time of secondary burial. At that time, in a private ceremony, family members returned to the tomb, took the bones of the deceased from their resting place on a shelf or a niche, and placed them in a niche, pit, or ossuary. The ossuary, which might be marked with the name of the deceased, was then placed either on the shelf, on the floor, or in a niche. When a loculus niche became filled with ossuaries—and some loculi have been found to contain as many as five or six—it could be sealed with a stone slab.
Archaeological evidence has been decisive in the interpretation of some New Testament texts about tombs, graves, death, and burial. In particular, the saying of Jesus in