Bones, Burials and Biblical History: The Results of Burial Excavation -- By: John J. Davis

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:3 (Summer 2002)
Article: Bones, Burials and Biblical History: The Results of Burial Excavation
Author: John J. Davis

Bones, Burials and Biblical History:
The Results of Burial Excavation

Third of Three Parts

John J. Davis

Dead men still tell tales and their stories are fascinating commentaries on their physical, social and religious lives.

The amount of information burial excavation provides for the student of Scripture is truly remarkable. Human skeletal remains, for example, whether articulated or disarticulated, can inform us as to the age at death, height, sex, illnesses, trauma suffered during lifetime, and diet.

Even the geographic location of a burial can be of social and religious significance. In the ancient world, the gods of the various cultures were inseparably associated with the actual soils of those lands. That is why Naaman the Syrian loaded up Israelite soil to take back to Damascus after his healing. He wanted to make sacrifices to the God of Israel and concluded that in order to do that, he needed actual soil of the land (2 Kgs 5:17).

Vertebrae with osteoarthric lipping. Tomb H-2 in Abila, Jordan.

This concept was very strong among the Egyptians. Not only did the Egyptians want a proper burial, but it had to be in the sands of their land where they would be under the protection of their gods. That is why Sinuhe, an official during the Middle Kingdom who went into voluntary exile in Asia, wanted to return home to die and be buried in Egypt. He wrote to the royal court requesting to return to Egypt and received the following reply:

Come back to Egypt! ...For today you have begun to age. You have lost a man’s strength. Think of the day of burial, the passing into reveredness. ...A night is made for you with ointments and wrappings from the hand of Tait. A funeral procession is made for you on the day of your burial; the mummy ease is of gold, its head of lapis lazuli. ...You shall not die abroad! Nor shall Asiatics inter you. You shall not be wrapped in the skin of a ram to serve as your coffin. Too long a moaning of the earth! Think of your corpse, come back! (Lichtheim 1973:229–30).

That Joseph did not want to be buried in Egypt, but in Canaan, is a proof that he had not adopted the Egyptian religion as some have asserted (Gn 50:25). After his death, his mummified body was taken from Egypt to Shechem for burial (Ex 13:19; Jos 24:32). Jacob made a similar request and he was buried near Mamre (Gn 50:13), land that Abraham had bought for Sarah’s bur...

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