on Matthew 9 :23
Saw the minstrels and the people making a noise - Αυλητας, pipers; Anglo-Saxon the whistlers; Gothic, haurngans haurngandans, the horn-blowers blowing with their horns. Nearly the same as the pipublasara, pipe-blowers of the Islandic: for among all those nations funeral lamentations accompanied with such rude instruments, were made at the death of relatives. That pipes were in use among the Jews, in times of calamity or death, is evident from Jeremiah 48:36. And among the Greeks, and Romans, as well as among the Jews, persons were hired on purpose to follow the funeral processions with lamentations. See Jeremiah 9:17-21; Amos 5:16. Even the poorest among the Jews were required to have two pipers, and one mourning woman. At these funeral solemnities it was usual with them to drink considerably; even ten cups of wine each, where it could be got. See Lightfoot. This custom is observed among the native Irish to this day, in what is called their Caoinan. The body of the deceased, dressed in grave-clothes and ornamented with flowers, is placed in some eminent place; the relations and caoiners range themselves in two divisions, one at the head and the other at the feet of the corpse. Anciently, where the deceased was a great personage, the bards and croteries prepared the caoinan. The chief bard of the head chorus began by singing the first stanza in a low doleful tone; which was softly accompanied by the harp. At the conclusion, the foot semichorus began the lamentation, or Ullaloo, from the final note of the preceding stanza, in which they were answered by the head semichorus; then both united in one general chorus.
The chorus of the first stanza being ended, the chief bard of the foot semichorus sung the second stanza, the strain of which was taken from the concluding note of the preceding chorus, which ended, the head semichorus began the Gol, or lamentation, in which they were answered by that of the foot, and then, as before, both united in the general full chorus. Thus alternately were the song and choruses performed during the night. I have seen a number of women, sometimes fourteen, twenty-four, or more, accompany the deceased from his late house to the grave-yard, divided into two parties on each side the corpse, singing the Ullaloo, alternately, all the way. That drinking, in what is called the wake, or watching with the body of the deceased, is practised, and often carried to a shameful excess, needs little proof. This kind of intemperance proceeded to such great lengths among the Jews that the Sanhedrin were obliged to make a decree, to restrain the drinking to ten cups each. I mention these things more particularly, because I have often observed that the customs of the aboriginal Irish bear, a very striking resemblance to those of the ancient Jews, and other Asiatic nations. The application of these observations I leave to others.
It was a custom with the Greeks to make a great noise with brazen vessels; and the Romans made a general outcry, called conclamatio, hoping either to stop the soul which was now taking its flight, or to awaken the person, if only in a state of torpor. This they did for eight days together, calling the person incessantly by his name; at the expiration of which term the phrase, Conclamatum est - all is over - there is no hope - was used. See the words used in this sense by Terence, Eun. l. 347. In all probability this was the θορυβουμενον, the making a violent outcry, mentioned here by the evangelist. How often, on the death of relatives, do men incumber and perplex themselves with vain, worldly, and tumultuous ceremonies, instead of making profitable reflections on death!
on Matthew 9 :23
And widen Jesus came into the ruler's house ... - Jesus permitted only three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and the father and mother of the damsel, to go in with him where the corpse lay, Mark 5:37-40
It was important that there should be "witnesses" of the miracle, and he chose a sufficient number. "Five" witnesses were enough to establish the fact. The witnesses were impartial. The fact that she was dead was established beyond a doubt. Of this the mourners, the parents, the messengers, the people, were satisfied. If she was presented to the people "alive," the proof of the miracle was complete. The presence of more than the "five" witnesses would have made the scene tumultuous, and have been less satisfactory evidence of the fact of the restoration of the child. Five sober witnesses are always better than the confused voices of a rabble. These were the same disciples that were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33; 2 Peter 1:17-18.
And saw the minstrels and the people making a noise - Minstrels" are persons who play on instruments of music. The people of the East used to bewail the dead by cutting the flesh, tearing the hair, and crying bitterly. See Jeremiah 9:17; Jeremiah 16:6-7; Ezekiel 24:17. The expressions of grief at the death of a friend, in Eastern countries, are extreme. As soon as a person dies, all the females in the family set up a loud and doleful cry. They continue it as long as they can without taking breath, and the shriek of wailing dies away in a low sob. Nor do the relatives satisfy themselves with these expressions of violent grief. They hire persons of both sexes, whose employment it is to mourn for the dead in the like frantic manner. See Amos 5:16; Jeremiah 9:20. They sing the virtues of the deceased, recount his acts, dwell on his beauty, strength, or learning; on the comforts of his family and home, and in doleful strains ask him why he left his family and friends.
To all this they add soft and melancholy music. They employ "minstrels" to aid their grief, and to increase the expressions of their sorrow. This violent grief continues, commonly, eight days. In the case of a king, or other very distinguished personage, it is prolonged through an entire month. This grief does not cease at the house; it is exhibited in the procession to the grave, and the air is split with the wailings of real and of hired mourners. Professor Hackett ("Illustrations of Scripture," pp. 121, 122) says: "During my stay at Jerusalem I frequently heard a singular cry issuing from the houses in the neighborhood of the place where I lodged, or from those on the streets through which I passed. It was to be heard at all hours - in the morning, at noonday, at evening, or in the deep silence of night. For some time I was at a loss to understand the cause of this strange interruption of the stillness which, for the most part, hangs so oppressively over the lonely city. Had it not been so irregular in its occurrence, I might have supposed it to indicate some festive occasion; for the tones of voice (yet hardly tones so much as shrieks) used for the expression of different feelings sound so much alike to the unpracticed ear, that it is not easy always to distinguish the mournful and the joyous from each other.
I ascertained, at length, that this special cry was, no doubt, in most instances, the signal of the death of some person in the house from which it was heard. It is customary, when a member of the family is about to die, for the friends to assemble around him and watch the ebbing away of life, so as to remark the precise moment when he breathes his last, upon which they set up instantly a united outcry, attended with weeping, and often with beating upon the breast, and tearing out the hair of the head. This lamentation they repeat at other times, especially at the funeral, both during the procession to the grave and after the arrival there, as they commit the remains to their last resting-place."
The Jews were forbidden to tear their hair and cut their flesh. See Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1. They showed their grief by howling, by music, by concealing the chin with their garment, by rending the outer garment, by refusing to wash or anoint themselves, or to converse with people, by scattering ashes or dust in the air, or by lying down in them, Job 1:20; Job 2:12; 2 Samuel 1:2-4; 2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Samuel 15:30; Mark 14:63. The expressions of grief, therefore, mentioned on this occasion, though excessive and foolish, were yet strictly in accordance with Eastern customs.
on Matthew 9 :23
9:23 The minstrels - The musicians. The original word means flute players. Musical instruments were used by the Jews as well as the heathens, in their lamentations for the dead, to soothe the melancholy of surviving friends, by soft and solemn notes. And there were persons who made it their business to perform this, while others sung to their music. Flutes were used especially on the death of children; louder instruments on the death of grown persons.