Mark 5 v 35 - 39

We should remind ourselves that this was an example of a pre-Christian death and funeral. The Jews generally did not view death as in any way a blessing and obviously especially not for a child on the cusp of womanhood. There was no opportunity for hope, Jewish mourning customs were designed to stress the desolation and separation of death. So we should put aside our understanding of English funerals and recognise that the home to which Jesus entered would have been full of people shrieking and wailing. If the chief mourner felt that they and the relatives could not generate enough noise, then professional mourners could be hired! A form of marriage service was part of the burial rites if someone had died before marriage.Even the poorest man who experienced a death in his home-and remember that there was much infant mortality then-would cease work for three days and was only permitted to read the Scripture books of lament- Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations. When the chief mourner attended the local village synagogue, he would be received by his neighbours with the words: ''Blessed is he that comforts the mourner''. We can learn from this that death was not treated in the same way as we treat it. It was sadly a very common occurrence in crowded first century Galilee. It was rare when all the children in a family survived to adulthood and the mother survived multiple childbirths, with the inevitable miscarriages. Men and women at 40 were considered elderly and largely riddled with disabilities and chronic illness. There was to some degree a greater acceptance of death than today, where often at funerals attendees are mystified that anyone might die before the age of ninety! However, underlying this was a deep despair. In the view of the ancient Israelites, as expressed in the Bible, death is good or at least acceptable (1) after a long life, (2) when a person dies in peace, (3) when there is continuity in the relation with the ancestors and the heirs, and (4) when one will be buried in one's own land. Death is experienced as bad when (1) it is premature, (2) violent, especially when it is shameful (e.g., when a man is killed by a woman), (3) when a person does not have an heir, and (4) when one does not receive a proper burial.


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