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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:4, Winter 2021

Strata: Caring for the Dead in Ancient Israel

By Kerry M. Sonia

The cult of dead kin in ancient Israel was a complex of practices in which the living offered care to the dead. As reflected in the Hebrew Bible, this could take the form of food and drink offerings, commemorative monuments, invocation of the name of the dead, and the protection and repatriation of human remains.

Such ritual care negotiated the ongoing relationships between the living and the dead. Examining the practices and participants of this cult illuminates the dynamics of family and household religion in ancient Israel and its relationship with the Jerusalem Temple.

Reconstructions of an Israelite cult of dead kin have circulated within biblical studies for several decades. But despite a wealth of scholarship on death and the dead in the Hebrew Bible, treatments of the cult of dead kin often rely on problematic assumptions and methodologies, which require significant revision. Here, we will focus on the role of women in the cult of dead kin and the cult’s supposedly reduced status in the post-Exilic period.

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