The Beginning of Wisdom p.658

The last chapter of Genesis begins with the burial of Jacob at Machpelah and ends with the mummification of Joseph in Egypt. The contrast between burial and embalming/mummification reveals a crucial difference between Israel and Egypt: the difference between the acceptance and the denial or defiance of death. Embalming the body is an attempt at human control after death. The putative beneficiary of the treatment is the deceased: embalming resists time and change, prevents decay, beautifies the body, and prepares for reanimation and continued life – not to say immortality. Burial accepts that we are “dust to dust.” It manifests a different attitude toward the body and its fragile beauty, toward time and finitude and memory, and toward the source of life and the (im)possibility of apotheosis. Burial, the Israelite way, lies between the extremes of revering the body and worshipping the dead, on the one hand, and condemning the body and ignoring the mortal remains, on the other. The way of Israel is the way of memory, keeping alive not the bodies of the dead but their ever-living legacy in relation to the ever-living God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth and made man alone in His own image, and who later summoned Father Abraham and his descendants to “walk before me and be wholehearted.”

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.658

The Beginning of Wisdom p.154

How exactly men took this discovery of their own impending deaths we shall consider in a moment. But we note first the special place of Noah. Noah, born in 1056, is the first man born into the world after Adam dies. Noah is therefore the first man who could have no direct contact with the first man and, therefore, with a living memory of the Garden of Eden and its prospect of immortal life. More important, Noah is the first man who enters a world in which death is already present, the first man who grows up knowing about death, know that he must die. For Noah unlike for his predecessors, mortality is a received part of the human condition: thus, Noah (not Adam or Cain) is the prototype of self-consciously mortal man. Fittingly, the name that Noah carries, received from his father, Lamech, means both “comfort” and “lament,” a perfect name for new life seen in the light of inevitable death. These facts may explain, in part, why Noah would, uniquely, later find grace in the eyes of the Lord.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.154