“At Home in Death”: An Archaeological Exposition of Psalm 49:11 -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:3 (Summer 2002)
Article: “At Home in Death”: An Archaeological Exposition of Psalm 49:11
Author: Gordon Franz


“At Home in Death”:
An Archaeological Exposition of Psalm 49:11

Gordon Franz

Death is a subject that intrigues and frightens. Death is discussed, debated, covered-up, and ignored. I remember visiting the Egyptian wing of the Brooklyn Museum several years ago. In one of the far back rooms a mummy was on display. While I was looking at other objects in the room, a group of senior citizens entered. The elderly guide never talked about, nor did the people in the group look at, the mummy. They were deathly afraid of that object (no pun intended). After they left, a group of elementary school children came in on a class outing. What was the first, and only, thing they wanted to look at? You guessed it, the mummy. The mummy intrigued them.

The Psalmist, one of the sons of Korah, writing at the end of the eighth century BC, describes the thoughts of wealthy fools who put their trust in material possessions for their redemption. He wrote.

Their inner thought is that their house will last forever, their dwelling place to all generations; they call their lands after their own name (49:11) (All Scripture quotations in this article are from the New King James Version).

This article will examine the background to this statement by the Psalmist. The common interpretation will be discussed, but then archaeological material will be brought to bear to shed light on this passage. It is my contention that the architectural patterns of the burial caves of the Iron Age (Judean Monarchy) reflect the architectural patterns of the typical Iron Age “four-room house.” Iron Age burial caves from Jerusalem, mainly St. Etienne and Ketef Hinnom, will be examined to demonstrate this proposition.

The Common Interpretation

In the Psalmist’s statement, “Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever,” what are the “houses’” that are referred to? Most commentators assume that “house” means the “dynasty” of the wealthy person. One commentator puts it this way:

If they do face the fact that they must die, they console themselves with the thought that the dynasties they have built will last forever (Phillips 1986:74).

This is done on the basis of the double meaning for the word “house” given in the Davidic covenant, (Goulder 1982:189).

And your house (dynasty) and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam 7:16).

Based on the word use, the dynastic interpretation is possible. However, the context of Psalm 49:11 suggests a m...

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