Genesis 50:2
And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.
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(2) The physicians embalmed Israel.—The command given first by Jacob to Joseph (Genesis 47:29-30), and then urged earnestly upon all his sons, and with the reminder that the cave of Machpelah had been purchased and belonged to him by right (Genesis 49:29-32), made it specially necessary that the patriarch’s body should be prepared for so long a journey. It was also usual at that period to embalm the dead; and during the many centuries while the custom lasted, from B.C. 2000 to A.D. 700, it is calculated that no less than 420,000,000 bodies were thus preserved. For the process, which was very expensive if done in the best manner, see Rawlinson, Egypt, i. 511 ff. The embalmers are not generally called physicians, but probably what is meant is that the embalming of Jacob’s body was superintended by the physicians attached to Joseph’s household. Egypt was famous for its physicians, who were in advance of those of other countries, and were subdivided into classes, which had each the charge of some special disease. (See Rawlinson as above, i. 305 ff.) Mas-pero thinks that their real knowledge was inconsiderable, and that there were specialists only for the eyes, and one or two similar diseases (Hist. Anc. 82). Ophthalmia continues to be one of the most common diseases of Egypt.

Genesis 50:2. He ordered the body to be embalmed, not only because he died in Egypt, and that was the manner of the Egyptians, but because he was to be carried to Canaan, which would be a work of time. “Embalming is the opening of a dead body, taking out the intestines, and filling the place with odoriferous and desiccative drugs and spices, to prevent its putrifying. The Egyptians excelled all other nations in the art of preserving bodies from corruption; for some, that they embalmed upward of two thousand years ago, remain whole to this day, and they are often brought into other countries as great curiosities. Their manner of embalming was this; they scooped the brains with an iron scoop out at the nostrils, and threw in medicaments to fill up the vacuum. They also took out the entrails, and having filled the body with myrrh, cassia, and other spices (except frankincense) proper to dry up the humours, they pickled it in nitre, where it lay soaking for seventy days. The body was then wrapped up in bandages of fine linen and gums, to make it stick like glue; and so was delivered to the kindred of the deceased, entire in all its features, the very hairs of the eyelids being preserved. They used to keep the bodies of their ancestors, thus embalmed, in little houses magnificently adorned, and took great pleasure in beholding them alive, as it were, without any change in their size, features, or complexion. The Egyptians also embalmed birds,” &c.

Encyclop. Britan. This practice of embalming, it appears, was common both to the rich and poor, but it was more or less costly, according to the rank and circumstances of the person. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians — To perform this office. For, according to Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, the same persons who prescribed as physicians for the living, were employed in embalming the dead. As it appears that many of these physicians were wont to be kept in pay, as servants, in the courts of princes, and the families of the great, we may conclude that Joseph, in his office of prime minister, had not a few of them belonging to his household. Indeed, if we may credit Herodotus, all places in Egypt were crowded with them. And no wonder; for “every distinct distemper” says he, “hath its own physician, who confines himself to the study and care of that alone, and meddles with no other. Thus, one class hath the care of the eyes, another of the head, another of the region of the belly,” &c.; (lib. 2. c. 84;) so that their number must have been very great.50:1-6 Though pious relatives and friends have lived to a good old age, and we are confident they are gone to glory, yet we may regret our own loss, and pay respect to their memory by lamenting them. Grace does not destroy, but it purifies, moderates, and regulates natural affection. The departed soul is out of the reach of any tokens of our affection; but it is proper to show respect to the body, of which we look for a glorious and joyful resurrection, whatever may become of its remains in this world. Thus Joseph showed his faith in God, and love to his father. He ordered the body to be embalmed, or wrapped up with spices, to preserve it. See how vile our bodies are, when the soul has forsaken them; they will in a very little time become noisome, and offensive.After the natural outburst of sorrow for his deceased parent, Joseph gave orders to embalm the body, according to the custom of Egypt. "His servants, the physicians." As the grand vizier of Egypt, he has physicians in his retinue. The classes and functions of the physicians in Egypt may be learned from Herodotus (ii.-81-86). There were special physicians for each disease; and the embalmers formed a class by themselves. "Forty days" were employed in the process of embalming; "seventy days," including the forty, were devoted to mourning for the dead. Herodotus mentions this number as the period of embalming. Diodorus (i. 91) assigns upwards of thirty days to the process. It is probable that the actual process was continued for forty days, and that the body lay in natron for the remaining thirty days of mourning. See Hengstenberg's B. B. Mos. u. Aeg., and Rawlinson's Herodotus.2. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father, &c.—In ancient Egypt the embalmers were a class by themselves. The process of embalmment consisted in infusing a great quantity of resinous substances into the cavities of the body, after the intestines had been removed, and then a regulated degree of heat was applied to dry up the humors, as well as decompose the tarry materials which had been previously introduced. Thirty days were alloted for the completion of this process; forty more were spent in anointing it with spices; the body, tanned from this operation, being then washed, was wrapped in numerous folds of linen cloth—the joinings of which were fastened with gum, and then it was deposited in a wooden chest made in the form of a human figure. The dead corpse of his father with spices, and ointments, and other things necessary for the preservation of the body from putrefaction as long as might be. This Joseph did, partly, because he would comply as far as he could with the Egyptians, whose custom this was, from whom also the Jews took it, 2 Chronicles 16:14 John 19:39,40; partly, to do honour and show his affections to his worthy father; and partly, because this was necessary for the keeping of the body so long as the times of mourning and the journey to Canaan required. And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father,.... Which he did, not merely because it was the custom of the Egyptians, but because it was necessary, his father's corpse being to be carried into Canaan to be interred there, which would require time; and therefore it was proper to make use of some means for the preservation of it, and these men were expert in this business, which was a branch of the medicinal art, as Pliny (x) and Mela (y) suggest; and of these Joseph had more than one, as great personages have their physicians ready to attend them on any occasion, as kings and princes, and such was Joseph, being viceroy of Egypt. Herodotus (z) says the Egyptians had physicians peculiar to every disease, one for one disease, and another for another; and Homer (a) speaks of them as the most skilful of all men; though the Septuagint render the word by the "buriers", such who took care of the burial of persons, to provide for it, and among the rest to embalm, dry, and roll up the bodies in linen:

and the physicians embalmed him; the manner of embalming, as Herodotus (b) relates, was this,"first with a crooked iron instrument they extracted the brain through the nostrils, which they got out partly by this means, and partly by the infusion of medicines; then with a sharp Ethiopian stone they cut about the flank, and from thence took out all the bowels, which, when they had cleansed, they washed with palm wine (or wine of dates), and after that again with odours, bruised; then they filled the bowels (or hollow place out of which they were taken) with pure myrrh beaten, and with cassia and other odours, frankincense excepted, and sewed them up; after which they seasoned (the corpse) with nitre, hiding (or covering it therewith) seventy days, and more than that they might not season it; the seventy days being ended, they washed the corpse, and wrapped the whole body in bands of fine linen, besmearing it with gum, which gum the Egyptians use generally instead of glue.''And Diodorus Siculus (c), who gives much the same account, says, that every part was retained so perfectly, that the very hairs of the eyebrows, and the whole form of the body, were invariable, and the features might be known; and the same writer tells us, that the expense of embalming was different; the highest price was a talent of silver, about one hundred and eighty seven pounds and ten shillings of our money, the middlemost twenty pounds, and the last and lowest were very small. The embalmers he calls and says they were in great esteem, and reckoned worthy of much honour, and were very familiar with the priests, and might go into holy places when they pleased, as the priests themselves.

(x) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 37. (y) De Orbis Situ, l. 1. c. 9. (z) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 84. (a) Odyss. 4. (b) lbid. c. 86. (c) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 81, 82.

And Joseph commanded his servants the {a} physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.

(a) He means those who embalmed the dead and buried them.

2. the physicians] LXX οἱ ἐνταφιασταί; Lat. medici. By this expression we should probably understand “the guild of embalmers” (ταριχευταί, Herod. ii. 86), a large and influential class in Egypt, who, with an expert knowledge of the body and of drugs, practised embalming almost as a fine art.

to embalm] Embalming was carried out to great perfection in Egypt. It was supposed that the soul, or ka, would return to inhabit the body. The mummy was the body ready for occupation. See Budge, The Mummy (1893).Verse 2. - And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians - literally, the healers, הָרֹפְאִים from רָפָא, to sew together, to mend, hence to heal, a class of persons which abounded in Ancient Egypt, each physician being only qualified to treat a single disorder (Herod., 2:84). The medical men of Egypt were held in high repute abroad, and their assistance was at various times required by persons from other countries, as, e.g., Cyrus and Darius (Herod., 3:1, 132). Their knowledge of medicines was extensive, and is referred to both in sacred (Jeremiah 66:11) and profane (Homer, 'Odyssey" 4 . 229) writings. The Egyptian doctors belonged to the sacerdotal order, and were expected to know all things relating to the body, and diseases and remedies contained in the six last of the sacred books of Hermes. According to Pliny (7:56), the study of medicine originated in Egypt (vide Wilkinson in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' vol 2. pp. 116, 117). The physicians employed by Joseph were those attached to his own household, or the court practitioners - to embalm his father: - literally, to spice or season (the body of) his father, i.e. to prepare it for burial by means of aromatics; ut aromatibus condirent (Vulgate); ἐνταφιάσαι τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ (LXX.), which is putting part of a proceeding for the whole (Tayler Lewis). According to Herodotus (2:86), the embalmers belonged to a distinct hereditary class or guild from the ordinary physicians; but either their formation into such a separate order of practitioners was of later origin (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Kalisch), or Jacob was embalmed by the physicians instead of the embalmers proper because, not being an Egyptian, he could not be subjected to the ordinary treatment of the embalming art ('Speaker's Commentary') - and the physicians embalmed Israel. The method of preparing mummies in Ancient Egypt has been elaborately described, both by Herodotus (2:86) and Diodorus Sieulus (1:91), and, in the main, the accuracy of their descriptions has been confirmed by the evidence derived from the mummies themselves. According to the most expensive process, which cost one talent of silver, or about £250 sterling, the brain was first extracted through the nostrils by means of a crooked piece of iron, the skull being thoroughly cleansed of any remaining portions by rinsing with drugs; then, through an opening in the left side made with a sharp Ethiopian knife of agate or of flint, the viscera were removed, the abdomen being afterwards purified with palm wine and an infusion of aromatics; next, the disemboweled corpse was filled with every sort of spicery except frankincense, and the opening sewed up; after that the stuffed form was steeped for seventy days in natrum or subcarbonate of soda obtained from the Libyan desert, and sometimes in wax and tanning, bitumen also being employed in later times; and finally, on the expiration of that period, which was scrupulously observed, the body was washed, wrapped about with linen bandages, smeared over with gum, decorated with amulets, sometimes with a network of porcelain bugles, covered with a linen shroud, and, in due course, transferred to a mummy case (vide Wilkinson's 'Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 3. p. 471, ed. 1878; Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' vol. 2. pp. 118-123). Death of Jacob. - After the blessing, Jacob again expressed to his twelve sons his desire to be buried in the sepulchre of his fathers (Genesis 24), where Isaac and Rebekah and his own wife Leah lay by the side of Abraham and Sarah, which Joseph had already promised on oath to perform (Genesis 47:29-31). He then drew his feet into the bed to lie down, for he had been sitting upright while blessing his sons, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered to his people (vid., Genesis 25:8). ויּגוע instead of ויּמת indicates that the patriarch departed from this earthly life without a struggle. His age is not given here, because that has already been done at Genesis 47:28.
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