The Judeo-Christian view of proper burial is well recorded in the Bible, and the importance both religions have placed on proper burial is clearly seen throughout the Bible's Old and New Testaments. From Genesis to Revelation, death is a recurring and resounding theme -- one which has a strong connection to Jewish and Christian faith in the afterlife.
Precedent for Burial
The Bible character Abraham is the first person mentioned in the Bible specifically in connection with a burial. Abraham paid a generous sum of silver in order to purchase a cave-like tomb that eventually housed the dead bodies of his wife, himself and some of his sons and daughters-in-law. Doing this, Abraham, the greatly respected forefather of Judaism, appears to have set a precedent by means of his example, so that Jews after him viewed burial -- either in the earth or in a tomb -- as the proper and important way to put their deceased relatives and friends to rest.
The Greater Meaning
The Jewish burial custom continued with the early Christians, who also preferred to bury their dead. Both the Jews and the Christians believed in a future resurrection for dead persons who died faithfully. It was said of certain faithful persons -- such as Abraham, Moses and David -- whose lives are noted in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), that when they died they "laid down with their forefathers." This was another way of saying that they went to Sheol, the common "grave" of humankind. Even more important, this was another way of saying that God will remember these persons when the time comes to resurrect the dead.
Those Not Deserving Burial
In general, when someone did not receive a proper burial by being interred either in the earth or in a tomb, it represented divine disapproval. For instance, in the early 1st Century AD, when Jesus Christ walked the earth, certain criminals were not buried after death but instead were pitched into the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, Gehinnom) outside Jerusalem's city walls. This was basically the city garbage dump, where dead bodies were left to rot or burn along with the city's refuse. Jesus used this location in an illustration, as recorded in the book of Matthew, that described what future awaits those who disobey God -- namely eternal death with no hope of a resurrection.
Cremation vs. Burial
Although burial was proper and preferred among ancient Jews and early Christians, this does not necessarily mean that cremation, from a biblical perspective, somehow dishonors a deceased person. In the books of First and Second Samuel, for example, David praised the men who cremated the dead bodies of certain Israelite warriors, including the faithful man Jonathan. Therefore, a Christian or Jew in modern times, if using the Bible as a guide, should not feel obligated to avoid cremation in order to properly honor a deceased loved one. The most important factor is respecting the dead without violating biblical principles.
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