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linen cloths

GRAVECLOTHES (Gk. keiria, "winding sheet").

From early times the body was washed (Acts 9:37), then wrapped in a linen cloth (Mt 27:59), or the limbs separately wound with strips of linen (Jn 11:44).


In Jesus' day, the dead of wealthy families were typically laid to rest in family burial places in use for generations, either caves or tombs cut into soft rock.

Although criminals were usually buried in the trench graves where the poor were laid to rest, Jesus did not receive a criminal's burial. Since his own family would not have owned a burial spot near Jerusalem, a follower named Joseph of Arimathea arranged to bury Jesus in his own unused tomb in a garden near Golgotha.

Such tombs usually had one or more irregular chambers with ledges where the bodies were placed and were accessible only by a short, low-ceilinged, ramplike shaft.

No coffin was used.

As suggested in the Gospels, a rough boulder or a specially cut closing stone blocked the entrance, basically to protect the corpse from jackals.

The dead were usually buried promptly, as Jesus was, because the Jews did not embalm their deceased and bodies decomposing rapidly in the Middle Eastern heat created a health hazard.

Normally, the corpse was immediately washed and anointed with spices, including aloes and myrrh, then wrapped in linen graveclothes , with special care taken to bind the chin to keep it from lowering. In funeral processions, which were arranged by the nearest of kin, the bereaved cried aloud or sang ritual lamentations and beat their breasts, sometimes wearing sackcloth or rolling in the dust, while hired musicians and professional mourners added to the public demonstration of grief.