The cremation process. Its history.
Cremation and burial in the Bible.
The cremation process:
The word cremation comes from the Latin word cremo which means "to
burn" -- particularly the burning of the dead.
Cremation generally involves the application of high temperature, typically between
1,400 and 2,100 Degrees Fahrenheit (760 to 1,150º C), to a wooden box or casket which
contains a dead body. The body and container are almost completely consumed; the cremated
remains consist of bone fragments and particles. The remains usually weigh from 4 to 8
pounds (1.8 to 3.6 kg). They are then finely ground into granule form. The entire process
takes 3 to 5 hours. Although the attendants attempt to remove all of the remains, a very small
portion will be left inside the cremation chamber, and subsequently mingled with the next
body/bodies to be cremated.
During 1999-JUL, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted 10
test cremations to determine the optimum temperature for cremation, in order to
minimize smoke, dust and gas emissions.
Most bodies that are not cremated are buried in a casket where they gradually
time due to the activity of bacteria and worms.
History of cremation:
Most archaeologists believe that cremation was invented during the stone age, about 3000
BCE. 1 It was most likely first used in Europe or the Near East. It became the most
common method of disposing of bodies by 800 BCE in Greece, and by 600 BCE in Rome. However,
other societies had other methods:
In ancient Israel, sepulchers (tombs or vaults) were used for burial; cremation was
shunned. The body was exposed to the air of the tomb and simply decomposed over time, leaving only bones which were later transferred to a bone box.
The early Christian church also rejected cremation, partly because of its association
with Pagan societies like Greece and Rome. Christians usually buried their dead in graves dug in the ground, or in
catacombs (underground vaults).
in ancient Egypt, bodies were embalmed so that they would be preserved for the afterlife.
in ancient China, they were buried.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the followers and leaders
of other religions were either exiled or exterminated, burial became the only permitted method of disposing
of bodies throughout much of Europe.
An Italian, Professor Brunetti, developed the first modern cremation chamber in the
1870's. This triggered a movement towards cremation in Europe and North America, which has
continued to expand to the present day.
In 1886, the Roman Catholic Church officially banned
cremations. Church members as recently as World War II were excommunicated for arranging
them. However, the church has allowed cremation since 1963. 5
During 2016, Delia Gallagher et al. at CNN, wrote:
The Catholic Church allows its members to be cremated, but said that their ashes must not be scattered at sea or placed in an urn at home.
"... cremated remains should be kept in a 'sacred place' such as a church cemetery. Ashes should not be divided up between family members, 'nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects'. ..."
"... in recent years, 'new ideas' contrary to the Catholic faith have become widespread, the Vatican said. The new statement names pantheism (the worship of nature), naturalism (the idea that all truths are derived from nature, not religion) and nihilism (a deep skepticism about all received truths) as particularly problematic. If cremation is chosen for any of those reasons, the deceased should not receive a Catholic burial, the new guidelines say." 3
Webmaster's comment (bias alert):
To deny a Catholic burial seems to me to be unjust in many cases, because the decision to cremate a body may well be made by the next of kin, and not by the recently deceased. The latter may have no control over how her or his body is to be disposed of.
The Eastern Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople stated in 1961 that:
is no formal Orthodox rule against cremation, but there is a heavy weight of custom and
sentiment in favor of Christian burial." 2
Conflicting with this statement are the Pastoral Guidelines by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America which stated in 2002:
"Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. The Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated. Additionally, memorial services with kolyva (boiled wheat) are not allowed in such instances, inasmuch as the similarity between the "kernel of wheat" and the "body" has been intentionally destroyed." 4
There are currently about 1,100 crematories and about a million cremations per year in North
America. The percentage of persons who are cremated at death is increasing.
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) has a few references to the disposal by burning
in fire. Some verses describe executions by Philistines or Babylonians. Burning of bodies
and objects in ancient Israel were mostly reserved for idols, criminals or enemies:
Genesis 38:24: Judah initially ordered his pregnant daughter-in-law to be burned
to death because she was guilty of prostitution. This action would have caused the death
of the woman and the twin fetuses that she was carrying.
Exodus 32:20: Moses destroyed the golden calf by burning it.
Leviticus 20:14: If a man marries both a woman and her mother, then all three "must
be burned in the fire" (NIV). The passage is ambiguous: it is not known whether
they would be burned alive, or would be stoned to death first, and their bodies burned later.
Leviticus 21:9: If the daughter of a priest becomes a prostitute, then she "must
be burned in the fire." (NIV)
Numbers 16:35: God exterminated Korah and 250 Israelite men with fire because
they opposed Moses.
Deuteronomy 7:25: God commanded that the idols of Pagan Gods be destroyed with
Joshua 7:15-25: After Joshua and his army exterminated the men, women and
innocent children of Jericho, a few soldiers disobeyed God's command and looted the city.
As punishment for the theft, and to pay for Israel's disgrace, God ordered the thieves to
be burned. They were stoned to death; their bodies were burned and buried in what was
called the Valley of Achor.
Judges 15:6: The Philistines executed Samson's wife and father-in-law by fire.
1 Samuel 31:11-13: Earlier in the chapter, Saul had been wounded and asked for
assisted suicide from his armor-bearer. The latter refused, so Saul committed suicide
himself. The Philistines impaled Saul's body and those of his sons and left them on public
display. The people of Jabesh Gilead retrieved the bodies, burned them and later buried
the remaining bones in Gilead. There have been a number theories raised to account for
this unusual treatment to a hero:
Burning might have a local custom in Gilead.
The people of Gilead may have been worried that the Philistines might dig up the bodies
and further desecrate them.
Burning might have been necessary because their bodies may have
The Hebrew word translated as "burnt" might actually mean "anointed";
thus, the bodies might not have been burned after all.
2 Kings 10:26: Jehu demolished a temple consecrated to the God Baal and burned
its sacred stone.
Jeremiah 29:22: This verse contains a curse which refers to the time that the
Babylonians burned Zedekiah and Ahab by fire.
Amos 2:1: God proclaimed a death curse on Moab because he had reduced the bones
of the king of Edom to lime through burning.
The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) contain few references to burning of bodies or
Acts 19:19: Sorcerers who were converted to Christianity brought their scrolls
out to be burned.
Revelation 20:15: The fate of those whose names were not written in the Book
of Life is to be thrown into the lake of fire.
The burial of many important Biblical figures is described in the Bible: 2
Genesis 25:8-10: Abraham
Genesis 23:1-4: Sarah
Genesis 35:19-20: Rachel
Genesis 35:29: Isaac,
Genesis 49:33 and 50:1-13: Jacob
Genesis 50:26: Joseph (The Israelites went to great effort to bury his body in
the Promised Land. They retained it for over 300 years in Egypt and after the Exodus
during 40 years of wanderings before burying it.)
Deuteronomy 34:6: Moses (God selected a burial site at a secret location in Moab for Moses.)
Joshua 24:29-30: Joshua
Joshua 24:33: Eleazar
1 Samuel 25:1: Samuel
1 Kings 2:10: David
Matthew 14:10-12: John the Baptist
Acts 5:5-10: Ananias and Sapphira
Acts 8:2: Stephen
To be not given a proper burial was considered to be a great tragedy and dishonor.
1 Kings 13:22: A prophet disobeyed God by eating a meal in a forbidden location.
God laid a curse on him: that his body would not be buried in the tomb of his fathers.
Shortly after, the prophet was attacked by a lion and his remains left on a road.
Jeremiah 16:6: God laid a horrible curse on the Israelites: that many would die
of diseases, will not be mourned and would be "like refuse lying on the
ground" (NIV). Their bodies were to be consumed by animals and birds.
Jeremiah 22:19: God laid a similar curse on Jehoiakim because of his pride and
disobedience. Jeremiah said that he would be given the burial of a donkey: to be dragged
away and thrown outside the city gates,
Crucifixion: Of the countless number of tombs in Palestine from the era of Roman
occupation which have been excavated, only one skeleton has been found which bears the
marks of a crucifixion. That is because after a Roman execution, the lifeless body would
be generally discarded in an open pit or shallow grave where it would be devoured by wild animals. To be
forbidden a traditional burial added greatly to the horror of this method of execution.