EMBALM, EMBALMING (חָנַט, H2846, to spice, make spicy, embalm). The treatment of a corpse with various substances to preserve it from decay. The Egyptians invented embalming. They believed that the state of the soul in the after life was directly dependent upon the preservation of the body. The Hebrews, however, did not practice the art of embalming. Laws concerning the touching of dead bodies prevented the Hebrews from being innovators in medicine and human anatomy (cf.
The only clear examples of embalming in the Bible are those of Jacob (
In Song of Solomon, ḥānaṭ also occurs. The expression has reference to the ripening of figs, “The fig tree puts forth (lit. ‘spices’) its figs.” Though spices are used elsewhere in the Bible, prob. for ceremonial reasons and to counteract the stench of decaying flesh (cf.
For the method of embalmment, one is particularly dependent upon two Gr. historians, Diodorus Siculus (I, 91) and Herodotus (II, 86-89). Genesis indicates forty days were required for the physicians to embalm Jacob (
According to Herodotus, the embalmers offered three methods which differed in elaboration and cost. In the cheapest method, the intestines were cleared out with a purgative and then the body was placed in natron for seventy days. In the second type, the body was soaked in natron after cedar oil was injected at the anus, thus dissolving the stomach and intestines. The first-class method of mummification called for the removal of the brain and all internal organs except the heart. The abdominal cavity was then washed out and filled with spices. Next, the body was soaked in natron for seventy days. It was then washed and wrapped from head to foot with bandages of linen cloth smeared with gum. Finally, relatives took the corpse, placed it in a wooden coffin of human shape, and left it upright against the wall of the burial chamber.
R. Hutchins (ed.), Great Books of the Western World, VI, “The History of Herodotus” (1952), 65, 66; P. Montet, Everyday Life in Egypt (1958), 300-330; J. Vergote, Joseph en Egypte (1959); L. Cottrell, Life Under the Pharaohs (1960), 221-236; B. Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs (1964), 64-113.