Thoughts on Rock and Burial Customs

Rocks are commonly used in the U.K. to produce headstones in graveyards. They stand in memory of a loved one and a record of the hope of the resurrection for that individual.

The Bible supplies few details about the actual (burial) ceremony. In one case only is there a fairly detailed description: “They buried him in the own tomb which he had hewn out for himself in the city of David… They made a very great fire in his honour.” (2 Chron.16:14 RSV).

A marked change in burial customs among Jewish families in Jerusalem and Judea occurred sometime during the late Hasmonean period, around the year 40 B.C., when the bench burial caves were replaced with loculi—long, narrow depressions in the walls. A family sepulchre usually consisted of several chambers.

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. Matthew 27:57-60

Archaeological evidence on the whole bears out the biblical testimony. The most common type of interment was a communal, apparently family, burial in a cave hewn out of rock. This often consisted of more than one chamber, each chamber encompassed with elevated rock benches upon which the deceased were temporarily placed. When this space was needed for fresh burials, the bones were collected and placed in a heap on the floor of the chamber or in a special pit or small chamber set aside for this purpose.

The Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Wigoder