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Secondary Burial

Around two thousand years ago, during the time that Jesus Christ lived, ancient Jewish burial customs thus far which included the internment of the deceased in a tomb, a practice referred to as primary burial rituals, shifted to include what is referred to as a secondary burial in ossuaries. This burial practice involved collecting the deceasedís bones after the flesh had been left to decompose and desiccate, and placing them inside an ossuary. The ossuary was then placed into a loculus Ė a type of satchel. Several theories have been put forward in order to explain this change in burial practices (see note, below, for details).

Historians believe that the most plausible theory put forth to explain the shift in Jewish burial practices is the Jewish belief that that sin was destroyed through the disintegration of the individualís flesh (Romans 7:24). According to historians, this theory is further validated when placed into context: in 6 A.D., the Jewish people lost independence of ancient Israel with the successful conquest of the Romans in the area, which led to the creation of the Province of Judea. This conquest led to a sense of misfortune and guilt among the Jewish people of the area, which was reflected in the shift in burial practices.

This secondary burial ritual was common among the Jewish populations of Judea until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. After this date, secondary burials continued to be practiced until around the first half of the second century A.D. However, the custom of secondary burial lacked the centrality it had held in earlier times.

Note: One such theory is that bones were placed in ossuaries in order to conserve space, a theory that has been refuted by some scholars due to the fact that coffins have a greater holding capacity than ossuaries.

A second theory to explain this shift in burial practices was the Jewish belief that placing the bones in ossuaries would aid the resurrection of the individualís soul; this theory too has had its validity questioned due to the fact that while placing the deceasedís bones in ossuaries, the bones could become scattered or lost.


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