Boyd’s Bible Dictionary:


Concise Bible Dictionary:

Tombs in the Valley of Jehoshaphat
The principal words are
3. μνῆμα, μνημεῖον, from “to remember,” hence a memorial tomb or monument (Matt. 27:52-5352And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:52‑53), etc). It is often translated Sepulcher, as in John 20:1-111The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 9For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. 11But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, (John 20:1‑11); and TOMB, as in Matthew 8:2828And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. (Matthew 8:28).
The graves were of various descriptions: some were simply holes dug in the ground and at times covered over with one or more large stones, over which men might walk unawares (Luke 11:4444Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. (Luke 11:44)). Some were hewn in the rock, and a single stone placed or rolled against the mouth; the tomb of Lazarus and that of Joseph “in which the body of Jesus was laid” being of this description. Other sepulchers or tombs were said to be built; an ornamental structure being erected over the place where the body was laid, similar to those found in nearly all modern cemeteries (Matt. 23:2929Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, (Matthew 23:29)).
A tomb in Nazareth Village (an open-air museum in Nazareth, Israel).
In places, and especially near Jerusalem, there are long passages, with holes cut in the sides in which the bodies were placed; and by continuing these passages such tombs could be enlarged to any extent. We read in the Old Testament of the TOMBS OF THE KINGS. Those now bearing this name may be seen marked on maps to the north of Jerusalem; and others called the TOMBS OF THE PROPHETS are placed on the mount of Olives. These of course may not be those referred to in scripture.
Graves on the Mount of Olives
Natural caves were also used as graves, as the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 23:3-203And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, 4I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight. 5And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, 6Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead. 7And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. 8And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, 9That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you. 10And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead. 12And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. 13And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there. 14And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, 15My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead. 16And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. 17And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure 18Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. 19And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. 20And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth. (Genesis 23:3‑20)). In Luke 8:2727And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. (Luke 8:27) we read of a demoniac who lived in the “tombs”; these were doubtless natural caves.
The Lord compared the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees to whited sepulchers, the outward beauty of which stood in strong contrast to the dead men’s bones and uncleanness within. There is a tradition that the sepulchers were white-washed once every year, that they might be readily seen and avoided. The hour comes when all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and come forth, some to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-2928Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28‑29)).

“359. Grave Stones” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

This refers to the custom of marking the graves of the dead by some distinguishing sign. The word here rendered “title” is the same that in Ezekiel 39:1515And the passengers that pass through the land, when any seeth a man's bone, then shall he set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog. (Ezekiel 39:15), is rendered “sign.” It means a pillar set up to designate a grave, and served the twofold purpose of a tablet for an epitaph, and also as a sign to warn all passerby lest they should become ceremonially unclean by touching the grave. The absence of any such sign is what is referred to in Luke 11:4444Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. (Luke 11:44): “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”
Dr. Shaw says of the cemeteries in Barbary: “The graves are all distinct and separate; each of them having a stone, placed upright, both at the head and feet, inscribed with the name of the deceased (Travels, p. 219).

“501. Rock Sepulchers” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

Isaiah 22:1616What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock? (Isaiah 22:16). What hast thou here, and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulcher here, as he that heweth him out a sepulcher on high, and that graveth a habitation for himself in a rock.
Sepulchers in the East were often hewn out of the solid rock, sometimes below the level of the ground, and frequently above ground and on the sides of mountains. Chambers were excavated in the rock, and on either side of these chambers were narrow cells in which the bodies of the dead were placed, each in its own receptacle. Sometimes the long side of the cell was cut at a right angle to the passage, so that the body of the dead was inserted lengthwise; at other times it was cut parallel to the passage, so that the body was inserted sidewise. In this latter mode our Lord seems to have been buried, since when Mary looked into the sepulcher she saw “two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:1212And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. (John 20:12)). Sometimes these rooms were without cells, and then the bodies rested on the floor. In the larger sepulchers were passage-ways leading to other chambers.
Many of these ancient sepulchers are still to be seen. The rock-tombs of Petra are among the most celebrated. A picture of the famous “Corinthian Tomb” is appended. Such sepulchers are also to be found in different parts of Palestine, but especially in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. The rocks south of the valley of Hinnom are full of them, and the valley of the Kidron contains a large number. The most celebrated of these sepulchers are those known by the names of “the Tombs of the Judges,” at the head of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, containing sixty niches for bodies; “the Tombs of the Prophets, or Apostles,” on the western declivity of the Mount of Olives, in which thirty cells have been discovered, though doubtless more are concealed by rubbish; and “the Tombs of the Kings,” a half-mile north of the Damascus gate. There is no evidence that these tombs are rightly named, but they have all been at some time burial-places of great importance.
The last—named is especially rich in the ornamentation of its entrance, which is adorned with sculptures of fruit and flowers; and as an account of its internal arrangements will convey some idea of the plan of the best style of these rock-tombs, we give an abstract of Dr. Barclay’s description of the so-called “Tombs of the Kings.” They are situated “on the west side of a sunken court, about ninety feet square and upward of twenty feet deep. These finely-constructed catacombs are entered through a splendid, but now much decayed and defaced, portico, or portal and hall, on its western side, thirteen and a half feet high and twenty-eight and a half wide. Near its southwestern corner is a door beneath the level of the floor, two and a half feet broad and less than three feet high, opening into an anteroom about nineteen feet square. In the western side of this room is a door leading into another room, thirteen and a half feet square, having in it about a dozen receptacles for the dead. and a passage leading by a stairway into a room ten feet by twelve, situated a story lower. There are two rooms entered from the south side of the anteroom or hall, each having half a dozen loculi, and from the north side of the westernmost one is a flight of steps conducting to another room in the lower story, ten feet square” (City of the Great King, p. 191).
When Maundrell visited these tombs in 1697 he found that “in every one of these rooms, except the first, were coffins of stone placed in niches in the sides of the chambers. They had been at first covered with handsome lids, and carved with garlands; but now most of them were broke to pieces by sacrilegious hands” (Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, under date of March 28). None of these sarcophagi are now remaining, though there are still richly carved fragments strewn about the rooms and the court. Fragments of elegantly paneled stone doors also lie scattered around. One of these was still hanging in its place at the time of Maundrell’s visit. It was a slab of stone six inches in thickness, and in length and breadth about the size of an ordinary door. It turned on two hinges or pivots of stone, which were let into sockets cut out of the rock. These doors were for the interior rooms. The outer doorway was closed by a circular stone, for account of which, see note on Matthew 27:6060And 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 27:60) (#734).

“702. Whitewashed Tombs” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The tombs were whitened with lime, so that they could be easily distinguished, and thus prevent the Jews from being ceremonially defiled by approaching them. See Numbers 19:1818And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: (Numbers 19:18). This whitewash became soiled and washed off by the rains, and it was therefore necessary to renew it at intervals. This was usually done in the middle of the month Adar, when the streets and sewers were mended.
It is still customary in Palestine to whitewash the tombs. Mohammedans, as well as Jews, are very particular about this. See engraving on the opposite page.

“703. Decorated Tombs” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The Jews not only whitewashed the tombs, but, in common with other peoples, they ornamented them in various ways. This is still customary in the East. The graves of the most eminent Mohammedan saints are each covered with a Wile or brick edifice called welee. It has a dome or cupola aver it, varying in height from eight to ten feet, where lamps are often hung, and the grave proper is covered with carpet and strings of beads. Sometimes more costly ornamentation is used.

“734. The "Door" of the Sepulcher” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

2. Dr. Barclay, in his account of the “Tombs of the Kings,” represents the outer door as consisting of a large stone disc like a millstone, and suggests that this may have been the case with Joseph’s tomb, into which the Saviour was put, though he admits that there are other methods by which “a great stone” might be “rolled to the door of the sepulcher.” He says: “Immediately in front of the doorway (the top of which is more than a foot below the floor of the porch) is a deep trench, commencing a foot or two west of the door, and extending three or four yards along the wall eastward. The bottom of this trench is a short distance below the sill of the door, and is probably an inclined plane. Along this channel a large thick stone disc traverses, fitting very accurately against its western end, which is made concave, so as to be exactly conformed to the convexity of this large millstone-like disc when rolled to that end—thus closing the doorway most effectually” (City of the Great King, p. 192). Porter has a statement similar to that of Barclay, though he does not give the shape or the slab which is rolled into the groove. See Giant Cities of Basilan, p. 139. Of course no one can say that this was the precise arrangement in Joseph’s sepulcher, though we see no improbability in it.

“735. Sealing the Sepulcher” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

It is thought by some that this refers to the custom of fastening the stone at the entrance of the tomb with cement, a custom which has been noticed by modern travelers. The context, however, shows that this was an official sealing, which was intended to be so arranged that the seal could not be broken without detection. Thus the lion’s den was sealed into which Daniel was put. See Daniel 6:1717And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. (Daniel 6:17). A cord stretched across the stone, with a lump of stamped clay fastening it at each end, would prevent any entrance without detection. Clay was often impressed with the stamp of seals for various purposes. See note on Job 38:1414It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment. (Job 38:14) (#420).

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