Tag Archives: death

Wrapped in Linen

First century Palestinians made clothes from linen and cotton in addition to using animal hides and fleece.  Both linen and cotton were made from plants, with linen the more valuable material.  Linen was used almost exclusively for wrapping bodies of dead individuals. Israelites didn’t cremate their dead. Rather, they interned them in a cave or crypt.

According to Mosaic Law, a dead body had to be buried or entombed the day the individual died or was killed, so the land wasn’t defiled (Deuteronomy 21.23). At the same time, two other Mosaic laws were applicable: First, a man couldn’t work on the Sabbath. Preparing a body for burial was work. Second, an individual who touched a dead body was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 19.11). Devout Jews internalized these law; thus, Joseph of Arimathea asked Governor Pilate for the body of Jesus as soon as Jesus died. Because Jesus died at about 3:00 p.m. and because the Sabbath begun about 6:00 p.m., Joseph had a three-hour window of opportunity to prepare and intern Jesus’s body. Joseph and his helper, Nicodemus, both devout Jews, knew that they would be unclean for seven days because they touched Jesus’s dead body.

Nicodemus supplied 75 pounds of aloes and myrrh to infuse Jesus’s grave cloths. While Jesus lived, his clothes were made from cotton or wool. Linen would have been a luxury item for an itinerate rabbi (Luke 16.19).  After his death, I don’t believe Jesus cared if he was wrapped in linen cloths or simply cotton rags, as his mother used for swaddling cloths at his birth.

One Bible scholar11 wrote that first century Jews wrapped the corpse’s body with a wide long cloth beginning at the feet and ending with the head.  This perspective contrasts with John’s description of Lazarus, when he came out of the grave. John wrote that when Lazarus came out of the grave, his hands and feet were bound with perfumed linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth (John 11.44). Logic suggests that Jesus was wrapped for burial in the same manner as Lazarus.

The gospel writer, John, identified that Jesus was wrapped in linen cloths, not in a linen cloth. As I pondered the proposal that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus in a single piece of linen, I remembered 30 years ago when I practiced nursing. Part of the care of a deceased body in the hospital was wrapping it in a single sheet of cloth and tying this “shroud” around the body. Only then, was the body transported through the hospital halls to the morgue. Perhaps, Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen cloths, then wrapped in a shroud.

In New Testament Greek, words for linen (bussos, sindōn) generally, translated as “fine linen.”1 Fine linen cloth was associated with coverings in the tabernacle and with Israelite priests’ robes. The ancient Hebrew word for fine linen, was shêsh. Shêsh denotes a type of linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness.

 In the ancient Near East, the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times, flax was the most important fiber crop. Although flax may have originated in Mesopotamia, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River, particularly the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and harvested in the spring. Egypt exported linen cloth and linen threads to Palestine in the first century.

The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to 4 feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Fibers were spun, then woven into linen cloth. Ancient people dyed some linen threads.

Have you ever wondered why each of the gospel writers recorded something about Jesus’s body being wrapped in grave cloth/cloths? Wouldn’t it have been easier to stop with Jesus’s death?  We are given all the detail about Jesus’s body being wrapped in linen grave cloths and then possibly in a shroud so that we believe absolutely that Jesus died on the cross. His corpse was treated the way all dead Jews were treated.

Reflection: Will it matter what you are wrapped in at your death?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Elisha & Deadly Gourd Stew

Citrullus colocynthis, bitter gourdThe story of Elisha making the deadly stew safe to eat is in 2 Kings 4:38-41.

Elisha was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom between 848-797 B.C.; his name means “God is Spirit.”  Elisha was a disciple of Elijah.  Because Elisha saw Elijah taken up into heaven, he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to support his ministry (2 Kings 2:10).  Elisha long ministry was during the reigns of Kings Joram (Jehoram), Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (Joash) over the Northern tribes.

At the time of this story, Elisha was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the tribal lands of Manasseh.  Gilgal was in the midst of a famine.  While a company of prophets were meeting with Elisha, he directed his servant to cook a large pot of stew for the men.  A servant went out into the field to gather herbs.  Finding a wild vine, the man filled a fold of his cloak with gourds from the vine.  Although no one recognized the gourd, they were cutup and put in the stew.

After the stew cooked, it was poured out for the prophets.  As the prophets ate the stew, they became very sick and cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40).  Immediately, Elisha directed them to get flour.  He put the flour into the pot.  The flour was probably stirred into the stew.  Then, Elisha directed that the stew be given to the company to eat.  Believing Elisha mitigated the poisonous substance in the stew, the prophets ate it.  None became sick.

Many botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the wild vine and gourds were Citrullus colocynthis, a cucumber-like plant with purgative qualities. Likely the flour was from barley, the flour of the poor in Israel.  Possibly the barley flour coated the gourd and/or the stomach and intestinal tract; thus reducing or eliminating the gourd’s severe purgative effect.  Alternatively, the prophets’ faith in Elisha and his flour remedy could have opened a door for God’s power to detoxify the stew.  The chronicle of Elisha’s life showed that time-after-time God assisted Elisha as he walked in God’s path (2 Kings Chapters 4-6).

The Bitter Gourd

Citrullus colocynthis is called the bitter gourd.  In the past the gourd may have been eaten, however, it is not now considered an edible plant.  Its origins are North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean area. It grows in sandy soil and gravel in Israel. As an herbaceous vine, the bitter gourd trails over the ground or climbs shrubs and fences using tendrils. Its leaves resemble those of a watermelon or the familiar garden gourd in the United States. After the vine has withered, gourds can be seen lying in the soil or sand.  Over time, the rind breaks down. Seeds enter the soil or are eaten by animals.  Bitter gourd is propagated by seeds or by root segments; seeds germinate after spring rains. The bitter taste and possibly purgative effect associated with bitter gourd is in the pulp. When seeds are washed and consumed separate from pulp, they are generally described as tasteless.

Symbolism: Death

In the Elisha episode, the bitter gourd is associated with death.  The prophets thought they were dying because they ate the gourd-filled stew.  Originally, God’s plan was that men and women did not die, but lived forever.  Because Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God’s laws, the human race became subject to death.  Through the Old Testament millennia only Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) did not die physically; yet God does not take pleasure in death, even the death of the wicked.  God wants the wicked to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).

Some individuals fear death.  Job personified death as the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14); however, Job declared that death is naked before God (Job 26:5).  Ever gracious, God made a simple way for men and women to not die, but live forever.  Christ said that anyone who hears his word and believes God … will cross over from death to life (John 5:24).  By his own death, Christ destroyed death and bought immortality to the human race (2 Timothy 1:10).  Christ’s death overcame the devil that holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).

A way of looking at physical death is that it is a gift, not a punishment, from God.  God allows our bodies – often with pains and diseases — to die so we can be raised to a new life.  Younger individuals may die so they do not have to face the agonies that result from living in a fallen world.   Possibly you and I will physically die before Christ comes to take the saved from the earth.  As Christians we do not have to believe that death is the “king of terrors.”

When Christ comes, Christians who have died will rise; this is called the first resurrection.  Our bodies – decomposed, blown up, or cremated – will be raised.  Perishable, mortal bodies will become imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:52-55).  Our physical death will be swallowed up in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Then, we will live with Christ eternally.  John wrote that blessed and holy are those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelations 20:6).  They will not participate in or be hurt by the second death (Revelations 2:11 and Study Note).  The second death is the lake of fire reserved for those who did not believe in Christ.  According to Revelations, the following individuals/groups are destined for the lake of fire:  the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderous, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars (Revelations 21:8).  Along with Death and Hades, these individuals/groups will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelations 20:14).

Reflection.  Elisha’s belief and actions saved the prophets from dying from the poisonous gourd.  Christ’s actions saved us from eternal death.  After reading about the lake of fire, I know it’s not someplace I want to go. What about you – do you want to take part in the first resurrection or the second death?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright May 7, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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