Death in the Hebrew Bible belongs to the essence of humans as the created beings, and because of death humans can realize that they are only human beings. Humans can not live forever, they belong to God’s created order, and someday they as a part of nature will have to return to dust. Therefore, death is natural and unavoidable, and it belongs to a unique human feature.
In the Hebrew Bible, death is described by the expressions such as “he was gathered to his people” or “he rested with his fathers.” The expressions reveal their understanding of death as a cultural memory of the ancient Israel community. That is, they are gathered to their ancestors through their death. Their gathering place is the graves in the land that God promised to their ancestors. Therefore, such a unique literary expression is not a description of death for a person only, but it is a vehicle of their identity to form one community which also includes descendants who continue to live, die, and be buried in the land where their forefathers lived. It is also a vehicle for them to continue to transmit their cultural memory to the community.
The funeral ceremony in the Hebrew Bible reveals that the ancient Israel community did a series of mourning rites such as fasting, acting to incur self-inflicted injuries, and lamenting with cry and sigh. The funeral ceremony can be explained as the last moment for the living to meet the dead. The living could realize their destiny of mortality as human beings, when they meet the dead face to face. By saying their unique literary expression to the dead, they become to predict their own future when they, although they are alive now, will also be gathered to their people after their death. It is an expression of their faith that death cannot break the relationship of the living with the dead even after death, although the dead seem to be cut off from the living through death. The funeral rites in the Hebrew Bible, therefore, can function as a vehicle to remind the living community of their lasting relationship with the dead.
Burial can also be interpreted as such a cultural memory. The burial culture in the Hebrew Bible was a vehicle to remind the living of the nature of human beings who will be buried and return to dust. Furthermore, it is a vehicle to remind them of faith toward God the Creator who bestowed life to humans which he made with dust. Through burial the relationship between the dead and the living, between the past generation and the present generation, could be remembered and reserved. Thus burial could be understood as a vehicle for their remembering the past and the present, and the promise of the land and its fulfillment. The understanding of death and the funeral ceremony in the Hebrew Bible are related to the social, corporate, and selective remembrance of the ancient Israel community. This symbolic meaning connects the community as one and puts it in a cultural world of faith. The ancient Israel community is said to have made their unique corporate identity in such a common space.