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Discovery Magazine 8/1/2002

The Cries of Ancient Times

Because the Bible was written in a long­ ago time and in a far-away land, we sometimes misunderstand Bible passages that deal with how ancient people lived. Their expressions, habits, ceremonies, and clothing were very different than what we see today in America. They wore sandals instead of "sneakers." They rode donkeys instead of bikes. And they spoke Hebrew or Greek instead of English.

Funeral and burial customs in biblical times were also different than the traditional funerals we have in America today. When someone died in biblical times, the family would announce the death to the entire neighborhood by crying out very loudly. If you were living long ago and heard these cries, you would know that some­ one had just passed away (or that something tragic had happened). The prophet Micah once wrote of these cries, and compared them to the sounds of jackals and ostriches (Micah 1:8). This loud weeping and wailing is what Jesus heard when He went to the house of Jairus to raise his daughter who had just died (Mark 5:38). During the time of Jesus, it was much more common to see people weep openly than it is today.

There was also a group of people in ancient times known as "professional mourners" (a mourner is one who expresses grief). Professional mourners were women hired at a time of heartache to express sorrow for the dead. They would ''lead" the family in their weeping by making sharp, ear-piercing cries of grief. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of them saying, "Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for skillful wailing women, that they may come. Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run with tears, and our eyelids gush with water" (9:17-18). Amos also mentioned this custom when he described those who were "skillful in lamentation" (weeping) [5:16]. Even though this kind of activity seems out of place to us, these professional mourner were probably as helpful to the Jews as professional singers are at a funeral service in America.

The Bible is the most valuable book in the world, and in order to understand it properly we need to keep in mind these cultural differences. Also, instead of making fun of the ancient people for being different than us, we should respect their culture by trying to understand it.

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