on Genesis 50 :2
The physicians - רפאים ropheim, the healers, those whose business it was to heal or restore the body from sickness by the administration of proper medicines; and when death took place, to heal or preserve it from dissolution by embalming, and thus give it a sort of immortality or everlasting duration. The original word חנט chanat, which we translate to embalm, has undoubtedly the same meaning with the Arabic hanata, which also signifies to embalm, or to preserve from putrefaction by the application of spices, etc., and hence hantat, an embalmer. The word is used to express the reddening of leather; and probably the ideal meaning may be something analogous to our tanning, which consists in removing the moisture, and closing up the pores so as to render them impervious to wet. This probably is the grand principle in embalming; and whatever effects this, will preserve flesh as perfectly as skin. Who can doubt that a human muscle, undergoing the same process of tanning as the hide of an ox, would not become equally incorruptible? I have seen a part of the muscle of a human thigh, that, having come into contact with some tanning matter, either in the coffin or in the grave, was in a state of perfect soundness, when the rest of the body had been long reduced to earth; and it exhibited the appearance of a thick piece of well tanned leather.
In the art of embalming, the Egyptians excelled all nations in the world; with them it was a common practice. Instances of the perfection to which they carried this art may be seen in the numerous mummies, as they are called, which are found in different European cabinets, and which have been all brought from Egypt. This people not only embalmed men and women, and thus kept the bodies of their beloved relatives from the empire of corruption, but they embalmed useful animals also. I have seen the body of the Ibris thus preserved; and though the work had been done for some thousands of years, the very feathers were in complete preservation, and the color of the plumage discernible. The account of this curious process, the articles used, and the manner of applying them, I subjoin from Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, as also the manner of their mournings and funeral solemnities, which are highly illustrative of the subjects in this chapter.
"When any man of quality dies," says Herodotus, "all the women of that family besmear their heads and faces with dirt; then, leaving the body at home, they go lamenting up and down the city with all their relations; their apparel being girt about them, and their breasts left naked. On the other hand the men, having likewise their clothes girt about them, beat themselves. These things being done, they carry the dead body to be embalmed; for which there are certain persons appointed who profess this art. These, when the body is brought to them, show to those that bring it certain models of dead persons in wood, according to any of which the deceased may be painted. One of these they say is accurately made like to one whom, in such a matter, I do not think lawful to name; του ουκ ὁσιον ποιουμαι το ουνομα επι τοιουτῳ πρηγματι ονομαζειν; (probably Osiris, one of the principal gods of Egypt, is here intended); then they show a second inferior to it, and of an easier price; and next a third, cheaper than the former, and of a very small value; which being seen, they ask them after which model the deceased shall be represented. When they have agreed upon the price they depart; and those with whom the dead corpse is left proceed to embalm it after the following manner: First of all, they with a crooked iron draw the brain out of the head through the nostrils; next, with a sharp Ethiopic stone they cut up that part of the abdomen called the ilia, and that way draw out all the bowels, which, having cleansed and washed with palm wine, they again rinse and wash with wine perfumed with pounded odors: then filling up the belly with pure myrrh and cassia grossly powdered, and all other odors except frankincense, they sew it up again. Having so done, they salt it up close with nitre seventy days, for longer they may not salt it. After this number of days are over they wash the corpse again, and then roll it up with fine linen, all besmeared with a sort of gum, commonly used by the Egyptians instead of glue. Then is the body restored to its relations, who prepare a wooden coffin for it in the shape and likeness of a man, and then put the embalmed body into it, and thus enclosed, place it in a repository in the house, setting it upright against the wall. After this manner they, with great expense, preserve their dead; whereas those who to avoid too great a charge desire a mediocrity, thus embalm them: they neither cut the belly nor pluck out the entrails, but fill it with clysters of oil of cedar injected up the anus, and then salt it the aforesaid number of days. On the last of these they press out the cedar clyster by the same way they had injected it, which has such virtue and efficacy that it brings out along with it the bowels wasted, and the nitre consumes the flesh, leaving only the skin and bones: having thus done, they restore the dead body to the relations, doing nothing more. The third way of embalming is for those of yet meaner circumstances; they with lotions wash the belly, then dry it up with salt for seventy days, and afterwards deliver it to be carried away. Nevertheless, beautiful women and ladles of quality were not delivered to be embalmed till three or four days after they had been dead;" for which Herodotus assigns a sufficient reason, however degrading to human nature: Τουτο δε ποιεουσι οὑτω τουδε εἱνεκα, ἱνα μη σφι οἱ ταριχευται μισγωνται τῃσι γυναιξι· λαμφθηναι γαρ τινα φασι μισγομενον νεκρῳ προσφατῳ γυναικος· κατειπαι δε τον ὁμοτεχνον. [The original should not be put into a plainer language; the abomination to which it refers being too gross]. "But if any stranger or Egyptian was either killed by a crocodile or drowned in the river, the city where he was cast up was to embalm and bury him honorably in the sacred monuments, whom no one, no, not a relation or friend, but the priests of the Nile only, might touch; because they buried one who was something more than a dead man." - Herod. Euterpe, p. 120, ed. Gale.
Diodorus Siculus relates the funeral ceremonies of the Egyptians more distinctly and clearly, and with some very remarkable additional circumstances. "When any one among the Egyptians dies," says he, "all his relations and friends, putting dirt upon their heads, go lamenting about the city, till such time as the body shall be buried: in the meantime, they abstain from baths and wine, and all kinds of delicate meats; neither do they, during that time, wear any costly apparel. The manner of their burials is threefold: one very costly, a second sort less chargeable, and a third very mean. In the first, they say, there is spent a talent of silver; in the second, twenty minae; but in the last there is very little expense. 'Those who have the care of ordering the body are such as have been taught that art by their ancestors. These, showing each kind of burial, ask them after what manner they will have the body prepared. When they have agreed upon the manner, they deliver the body to such as are usually appointed for this office. First, he who has the name of scribe, laying it upon the ground, marks about the flank on the left side how much is to be cut away; then he who is called παρασχιστης, paraschistes, the cutter or dissector, with an Ethiopic stone, cuts away as much of the flesh as the law commands, and presently runs away as fast as he can; those who are present, pursuing him, cast stones at him, and curse him, hereby turning all the execrations which they imagine due to his office upon him. For whosoever offers violence, wounds, or does any kind of injury to a body of the same nature with himself, they think him worthy of hatred: but those who are ταριχευται, taricheutae, the embalmers, they esteem worthy of honor and respect; for they are familiar with their priests, and go into the temples as holy men, without any prohibition. As soon as they come to embalm the dissected body, one of them thrusts his hand through the wound into the abdomen, and draws forth all the bowels but the heart and kidneys, which another washes and cleanses with wine made of palms and aromatic odors. Lastly, having washed the body, they anoint it with oil of cedar and other things for about thirty days, and afterwards with myrrh, cinnamon, and other such like matters, which have not only a power to preserve it a long time, but also give it a sweet smell; after which they deliver it to the kindred in such manner that every member remains whole and entire, and no part of it changed, but the beauty and shape of the face seem just as they were before; and the person may be known, even the eyebrows and eyelids remaining as they were at first. By this means many of the Egyptians, keeping the dead bodies of their ancestors in magnificent houses, so perfectly see the true visage and countenance of those that died many ages before they themselves were born, that in viewing the proportions of every one of them, and the lineaments of their faces, they take as much delight as if they were still living among them. Moreover, the friends and nearest relations of the deceased, for the greater pomp of the solemnity, acquaint the judges and the rest of their friends with the time prefixed for the funeral or day of sepulture, declaring that such a one (calling the dead by his name) is such a day to pass the lake; at which time above forty judges appear, and sit together in a semicircle, in a place prepared on the hither side of the lake, where a ship, provided beforehand by such as have the care of the business, is haled up to the shore, and steered by a pilot whom the Egyptians in their language called Charon. Hence they say Orpheus, upon seeing this ceremony while he was in Egypt, invented the fable of hell, partly imitating therein the people of Egypt, and partly adding somewhat of his own. The ship being thus brought to the lake side, before the coffin is put on board every one is at liberty by the law to accuse the dead of what he thinks him guilty. If any one proves he was a bad man, the judges give sentence that the body shall be deprived of sepulture; but in case the informer be convicted of false accusation, then he is severely punished. If no accuser appear, or the information prove false, then all the kindred of the deceased leave off mourning, and begin to set forth his praises, yet say nothing of his birth, (as the custom is among the Greeks), because the Egyptians all think themselves equally noble; but they recount how the deceased was educated from his youth and brought up to man's estate, exalting his piety towards the gods, and justice towards men, his chastity, and other virtues wherein he excelled; and lastly pray and call upon the infernal deities (τους κατω θεους, the gods below) to receive him into the societies of the just. The common people take this from the others, and consequently all is said in his praise by a loud shout, setting forth likewise his virtues in the highest strains of commendation, as one that is to live for ever with the infernal gods. Then those that have tombs of their own inter the corpse in places appointed for that purpose; and they that have none rear up the body in its coffin against some strong wall of their house. But such as are denied sepulture on account of some crime or debt, are laid up at home without coffins; yet when it shall afterwards happen that any of their posterity grows rich, he commonly pays off the deceased person's debts, and gets his crimes absolved, and so buries him honorably; for the Egyptians are wont to boast of their parents and ancestors that were honorably buried. It is a custom likewise among them to pawn the dead bodies of their parents to their creditors; but then those that do not redeem them fall under the greatest disgrace imaginable, and are denied burial themselves at their deaths." - Diod. Sic. Biblioth., lib. i., cap. 91-93, edit. Bipont. See also the Necrokedia, or Art of Embalming, by Greenhill, 4th., p. 241, who endeavored in vain to recommend and restore the art But he could not give his countrymen Egyptian manners; for a dead carcass is to the British an object of horror, and scarcely any, except a surgeon or an undertaker, cares to touch it.
on Genesis 50 :2
on Genesis 50 :2
50:2 He ordered the body to be embalmed, not only because he died in Egypt, and that was the manner of the Egyptians, but because he was to be carried to Canaan, which would be a work of time.