Matthew Suriano is an associate professor in the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland. His Ph.D. is from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. His graduate studies began in Israel, first at Jerusalem University College and later at the Hebrew University. He was also a fellow at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. Matthew has participated on several archaeological excavations and is currently a member of the Tel Burna Archaeological Project in southern Israel. At the University of Maryland, he teaches courses on Biblical literature, archaeology and ancient Near East, as well as Biblical Hebrew.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXI, November 16 – 18, 2018
A History of Death in the Hebrew Bible
The concept of life-after-death in the Hebrew Bible is not one of heaven and hell. Instead, the afterlife is conceptualized through ideologies of burial. That is, postmortem existence was conceived and idealized in funereal terms, whether it was burial in the family tomb or joining one’s ancestors in death as evident in Biblical idioms for death such as “he was gathered to his peoples.” But this was not some hopeless ideology where the dead were banished to a dreary existence in the grave. The careful treatment of the dead is evident in the archaeological remains of ancient Israel as well as in Biblical literature. Accounts of burial in ancestral tombs (the Cave of Machpelah), and the significance of bones (such as Joseph’s), figure prominently in the Hebrew Bible’s narrative. These stories suggest that the physical presence of the dead inside the tomb held important meaning for the Biblical writers. Thus, it is important to look at Biblical descriptions of corpses and bones, as well as archaeologically attested burial practices, in order to understand what death meant in ancient Israel.