Ossuaries


Beginning shortly before Jesus’ time, Jewish people began to practice reburials. After the flesh had decayed from the bones of a person who was buried, the bones were collected and placed in a small box, an ossuary, like the one shown here. Ossuaries were generally made of soft stone or limestone. Sometimes they were decorated with geometric designs. After they were filled, sometimes with bones of several individuals, they were stored in small chambers (called kokhim in Hebrew) within the tomb. Sometimes the name of the family or one of the individuals within was carved on the outside. Among the ossuaries archaeologists have found is that of Joseph Bar Caiapha (Caiaphas in Greek) possibly the high priest who plotted against Jesus, and that of James, brother of Jesus.

No one knows exactly why the practice of using ossuaries began. Some believe it was due to the Pharisees’ teaching that “flesh” is the location of the sinful nature and that it must decay so the bones can be raised in the resurrection of the righteous.


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