Jack Lightstone has written an interesting chapter on “The Dead and Their Tombs” in his book, The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among Jews ni the Greco-Roman World (Columbia University Press 2006). In the chapter he deals with the Hebrew Bible and other Judaic literature of antiquity. What would be very interesting indeed would be if someone would bring Lightstone’s chapter/thesis in conversation with the New Testament, especially with the New Testament’s account of the burial and tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
“By the end of the Second Commonwealth, then, and possibly several centuries before, the tombs became a gate to heaven, as were the altars of Ancient Israel, rather than a passage to the netherworld.”¹ Lightstone also notes a striking correlation between two of Herod’s magnanimous building projects, namely, the mausoleum in Hebron and the Temple in Jerusalem: “The one is a scaled-down version of the other—with of course one major difference; in place of the Sanctuary, which occupied the center of the Temple compound, one has in Hebron the six raised tombs of the Mausoleum…Here, as at the altar, heaven and earth met.”²
One cannot help but wonder whether the early accounts of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection are drawing on precisely this aspect of the first century Jewish cultural encyclopedia. One wonders, also, what the empty tomb might have to contribute to the conversation?
¹ Lightstone, The Commerce of the Sacred, 50.
² Lightstone, ibid., 51.