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What were the burial practices observed by the Early Church?

Did the early Christians bury their dead immediately as they did with Ananias and his wife?
ACTS 5:5-10 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

Acts 5:5 - 10

MODERNHEBREW - 5 וכשמע חנניה את הדברים האלה נפל ארצה ויגוע ותהי יראה גדולה על כל השמעים׃ 6 ויקומו הצעירים ויאספו אתו וישאהו החוצה ויקברהו׃

Clarify Share Report Asked June 20 2016 Mini Ken van Zyl

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David 2011 David Robinson Army 1SG, firefighter, consultant (CFPS) - retired from all!
There are no indications from scripture, from secular history or from archaeology that burial practices changed significantly in the early Christian community versus the longstanding practices of the Jewish people. Although no longer bound by the edicts of Jewish law, burial soon after death remained the normal process. It was customary to cleanse the body, wrap it with grave clothes, cover it with a shroud, anoint the corpse with spices and perfumes and place it in a grave or tomb. In some cases, the body was placed in the tomb first followed by the other procedures.

This is not to say that there were no variations in these customs. We know from scripture and historical documents that the bodies of some individuals, mainly criminals who were executed and indigents with no family or friends to bury them, were unceremoniously discarded onto the perpetually burning trash heap outside Jerusalem in the Valley of Gehenna (or Hinnom). As discussed below, a distinction may also be made between the practices of “burial” and “entombment.”

There were many caves in the hilly terrain of Palestine and the stony soil made digging a grave difficult, if not impossible, in some areas. Choosing entombment over burial was often a pragmatic matter of convenience rather than religious or philosophical preference. There are indications that the best caves in an area were sometimes purchased by the rich for their burial sites (Genesis 25:9-10, Mark 15:43-46, etc.). Even though there are obvious technical differences between burial and entombment, both methods were considered to be acceptable and respectful means of laying a human body to rest. As a matter of fact, the biblical authors often used the terms interchangeably. Jesus, as well as the patriarchal fathers and others were said to be buried, but the method of their burial was actually entombment. Christians (and others) in first century Rome were commonly buried (or entombed) in the catacombs beneath the city. So, while we can make a technical distinction between burial and entombment, it is a distinction without a significant difference.

Another practiced which became widely used (probably) in the 2nd or 3rd centuries involved the use of ossuaries. Sometimes plain and unlabeled and sometimes ornate and inscribed, these boxes were used to store the bones of the deceased after decomposition. Typically, at some point after the anniversary of the death of an entombed individual, the tomb would be opened and the bones would be placed in the ossuary. The tomb would be cleansed and prepared for the next occupant. This pragmatic practice allowed the limited number of available tombs to be used multiple times. Many such ossuaries from this time period have been discovered in the Palestine area.

So, like Christians today, the early church had choices in their methods of burial. Those choices were made based on availability, affordability, social or religious status and personal preference. The choices were sometimes made by the individuals themselves as in the case of Abraham (Genesis 25:9-10), and sometimes by others after their death as in the case of Jesus (John 19:38-41). The methods chosen by early Christians indicate that they had two primary concerns. First, to show honor and respect for the body which was created in and, in some way, still bore the image of God. Second, they were concerned that in their method of burial (like in their baptism) they would symbolically identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, their Lord. The attention given to the somewhat elaborate preparations of the body before burial was, as it is today, an acknowledgement of the future bodily resurrection and eternal union with Christ that awaits all believers.

June 21 2016 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

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