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Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth
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Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth


Pontifical Biblical Institute 1971

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The question of the meaning and origin of Jewish ossuaries has long held the attention of the scholarly world. Since the vast majority of Jewish ossuaries come from the latter part of the Second Temple period they constitute one of the most important bodies of evidence for the recovery of the Judaism of that period. Their style, their inscriptions, the burial procedures they require, all are matters that now must be taken into account. This study takes a relatively new approach to the problem of ossuaries labored under the false hope that all questions regarding Jewish ossuaries could be answered within the context of Hellenistic-Roman society in Palestine and abroad. However, noted Israeli scholar L. Y. Rahmani broadens the scope of the study of Jewish ossuaries to include the bone-collecting practices of the First Temple period (Iron II). The present work follows his lead in this respect.

Because Jewish ossuaries for quite some time were not studied in a broader context, the practice of secondary burial which underlies the phenomenon of Jewish ossuaries was thought to be unrelated. So little noticed was the long-standing custom of gathering bones after decomposition that the most expert commentators have remarked: “It is not clear from whom the Jews took this strange custom, which is indeed alien to the spirit of the Semitic peoples to whom disturbing the deceased was prohibited”; or “no proper indication has been given on the religious-historical plan of this burial-custom which is alien to the Jewish tradition.” It would be strange indeed for Jews to adopt a mode of burial which had no prehistory in Palestine, especially in light of halachic prohibitions against contact with the dead or remains of the dead. To find secondary burials in wide usage before Hellenistic-Roman times, therefore, is an important clue to unraveling the history of Jewish ossuaries, which do not emerge in a vacuum or begin as a result of outside borrowing.

Product Details

  • Title: Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth
  • Author: Eric M. Meyers
  • Publisher: Pontifical
  • Publication Date: 1971
  • Pages: 119

About Eric M. Meyers

Eric M. Meyers is a biblical scholar and archaeologist from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Eric serves as the president of the prestigious American Schools of Oriental Research.

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