Houbraken Translated


Volume 1, page 190-199

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Herodotus, not only recorded this with all circumstance, with the remembrance also kept alive by the impressions of that apparatus on imperial coinage. That is why we wish to turn to the Hebrews (where things were done more quietly and therefore did not catch the eye of the writers). Our pen will now rapidly digress to Egypt, to trace the manner of their treatment of corpses. Inquisitive youths dedicated to the art school of Pictura; do not let this to tax you.

Nothing that is useful should sadden a student.

The bodies of the deceased laid in spices, were wrapped in a (sindon) white sheet and wrapped with swathing or bandages from head to toe except for the head, which was covered with a special cloth. This is confirmed by Heroditus, since he says, speaking about the Egyptians: When they have washed the dead, they wrap his entire body in linen Sindon, with trimmed swathing. Just as it was a custom of the Jews says the Evangelist John in his 19th chapter, which is further confirmed in the 11th chapter, since the text of Lazarus says: And the deceased came out, bound head and foot in grave cloths. As we have also shown in the large Biblical figures that are published by Mister van der Mark.

Prince Radziwiłł [= Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł], who travelled in Egypt and commented on his visits to the grave sites,


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discovered small shaped statues and said about them; These statues are of clay or earthenware, bright blue or reddish in colour the size of a finger, the appearance of a child wrapped in bandages and marked with letters. Just as the statues are, so the bodies are also wrapped in linen swaddling cloths.

Athanasius Kircher names various kinds of dolls wrapped in this way. The Egyptians called the biggest of these, which belong to the portable house gods, Serapes. They (says he) were without visible arms or feet but entirely wrapped and covered in bandages, and people believe that they were the same as what the Hebrews called Teraphim, such as Rachel stole from her father Laban. See Genesis: 31. There was a smaller kind which priests wore around their neck and carried in their girdles, and still another kind which the Egyptians were accustomed to sew into the wrappings of mummies. Some of these had a female face. Others had the appearance of children, but with the head always covered, as we will soon show, following the depiction in print that Willem Goeree shows in his Mosaïze historie der Hebreeuwse kerke, vol. 2 p. 556 [1]. And to indicate this more clearly, Antonius Bynaeus says in his XXth chapter of his Gekruiste Christus, that Egyptians and Hebrew were swaddled from neck to foot with bandages, so that the arms lay alongside the body or under it. But he also provides an example in print from Chissletius (following an old marble piece owned by Peter Paul Rubens, brought from Rome) depicting a swaddled


Jan Goeree published by Willem Goeree
Mosaic history of the Hebrew church, 1700
paper, engraving (printing process) ? x ? mm
bottom, in the middle : d'Egiptise Land-en Bescherm-Goden, tegelyk met de Gedrogtelyke Goden, Huis-Goden, THERAPHIMS, Onder-Goden Middelaars, en Hals-dragende Bescherm-Engelen, uit d'oude geheugnis, in't geselschap van de groote Moeder ISIS te gaar geroepen; vergelykt. Deut. 29:16.17. etc.
Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, inv./cat.nr. 2" Bh 8110-2

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child. Of which we here show an imitation, next to a bandaged corpse or grave statue in a plate

to show at once the two ways of swaddling used by the Egyptians and Jews. Thus the Greek writer Artemidorus proposes a similarity between swaddled children and the bodies of the dead wound in bandages when he says: That for a sick person to dream of children wound in diapers means that he will die, and gives this reason: because the dead are also wound in torn cloths, like the children etc. With respect to which we have clearly enough indicated for acquisitive youthful painter (to avoid all mistakes concerning this) that the old Egyptians and Hebrews laid their dead in linen and swaddled them when they laid them in the grave. The Greeks on the contrary let their dead corpses be burned by fire. But this was not so widely the custom


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that examples to the contrary could not be shown, from which it turns out that many of the corpses were also laid to earth. Homer, when he sings of the corpse of Patroclus used these words: They covered him with fine linen from head to feet etc. But this distinction is to be discerned, that there is no mention of any swaddling. Thus the action needs to be reprimanded of those who depict the worthy body of Christ in such a way that it lies naked on a sheet or, what is still worse, it is dumped in the grave with the help of legs and arms.

No lesser mistakes have been made with the depiction of the cross. The ancient painters have on the whole strayed in this, and many seduced by their example have taken no trouble to investigate the truth. Seeing that painters still have frequent occasion to depict the crosses, and we, spurred on by inquisitiveness, having discovered the truth of the matter, wish to share this with our colleagues.

The crosses had a perpendicular beam and a cross beam, above which the perpendicular beam projected with its top, as well as a centre wood, or projection, on which the sufferer sat, with the legs hanging down on either side, when he was nailed down on the cross by hands and feet. This is confirmed by Irenaeus, as he says: The cross has five sections, two in the length, two in the width and one in the middle, on which he who is held down by nails rests. And Tertullian explicitly calls the pole, which was in the middle of the vertical cross beam the Sedelis


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excessum, meaning the projection of the bench. And that middle projection was necessary; first so that bodies would not fall off the cross, which (as Antonius Bynaeus has observed) would happen in little time, when the members begin to rot and the wounds in the hands tear open further. The weight of the bodies steadily sagging down would cause it to fall down: against the intention and practice of the Romans, who left the bodies hanging on the crosses until they had been eaten by birds or consumed by air.

Secondly this projection served so that those who were to be crucified could be hung on the cross when it stood upright, and not first nailed to it while lying on the ground, as painters have depicted it as of old, being seduced by a wrong conception that they had of crucifixion.

People have discovered through research that the crosses were not as high as one often sees them depicted. It is certain that this mistake had its origins in a first depiction that others (without checking) have merely followed. Just as one sees that the painters invented high ladders when they wished to depict the descent of Christ from the cross. It also due to this same error that Rubens and others depicted the soldier who pierces the side of Christ as sitting on horseback; seeing that they could not explain how a soldier of the Roman infantry could have


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accomplished this without a lance or short javelin. Finally, as proof that the crosses did not stand high above the ground, one need only consider that which Petronius and others recorded about this, that the crucified were guarded by soldiers so that they could not be removed from the crosses, not only while they still lived, but also after their death. The soldier guards the crosses (it is said) so that no one could pull the bodies down to bury them. And in Plutarch, in the life of Cleomenes, a few days afterwards they who guarded the crucified body of Cleomenes have etc.

It’s true that the Roman governors conformed to Jewish customs in this respect, and permitted (having been requested) the bodies of the crucified to be taken down and buried before the setting of the sun, in which respect Ulpian said: that the bodies of those who were condemned to death not be refused to their friends; as a consequence of the polite answer of Diocletian and Maximian: Obnoxios criminum digno supplicio etc. That is: we do not forbid that the guilty, having been properly punished, are buried.

But this does not mean that the crosses were always the same as of old. When one considers, moreover, that the condemned had to carry or drag their cross to the place of judgement, as is recorded by the Evangelists with respect to the Lord Jesus, it is clear enough to conclude that the crosses were not of such a height and weight as many painters have depicted, but were so that


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a human being could drag or carry them.

Finally one generally observes a gross mistake in the way of carrying the cross, if one sees that the cross is carried on the shoulder, with its crosspiece standing vertically, as it appears that the criminals carried the long beam supported by their backs or shoulders, with the arms stretched along the crosspiece and the hands bound at its ends: even as the Patibulum or Furca was carried, of which Plautus said: Dispessis manibus patibulum cum habebis. Which means: If thou shall have a patibulum* in thy extended hands: of which we have shown you the appearance, as well as the manner in which crosses were carried, in the repeatedly mentioned book of the crucified Christ

It is also a mistake to depict Christ, and Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross together; all the more if one sees that Christ carries the upper, and Simon the rear, or bottom end of the cross, as such could not serve to decrease the load but further to weigh down the forward carrier; as it was the intention of the soldiers to relieve or discharge the Lord Christ, who had carried the cross alone that far through Jerusalem and who appeared to succumb through weakness and the weight. Of this opinion have been Origin, Athanasius, Augustine; and later Claudius Salmasius, Gerardus Joannes Vossius, and many

* This was a straight beam with two diagonally rising opposing beams, like the letter Y. But the vertical beam was longer.


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others, just as they have claimed from the circumstances and through reason that Christ first, and then Simon alone, carried the cross. This is also clear from the text, for not one of the evangelists says that Simon helped support or carry that load. But we find explicitly with Luke: They laid the cross on him (to wit Simon) so that he would carry it after Jesus. Which is why we have depicted it thus in the Biblical scenes that are about to come to light, by Mister Hendrik van der Mark, Lord of the Leur.

Someone will probably say: the evangelists do not mention that Christ carries the cross in such a fashion (as I have demonstrated from Plautus). That is true, but seeing that Christ was crucified in the customary manner, it is reasonable that he also carried the cross in the conventional way. The evangelists also do not mention that their accusation stood written above the murderers who were crucified with Christ, and yet that is the truth, which is incontrovertible because that was the custom, as stated by many. A clear instance, translated from the Greek writer Lucius Cassius Dio, confirms this saying, in which it is told that the son of Caepio had a slave crucified, adding: indicating with an inscription the reason why he was being executed.

If, then, a painter wishes to depict in his scene someone led to his punishment, he should have a soldier carrying an inscription with the charges up front, so that it may be read and seen


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by everyone, seeing that it was the custom at that time (even with respect to other death sentences). Thus one reads in Eusebius that the martyr Attalus was first led around the theatre amongst all the people, and a panel was carried before him on which stood written in Latin: This is Attalus the Christian. In addition the accusation was sometimes cried out to the people by the title carrier.

Before we must end our digression, we have to mention something (more appropriate here then elsewhere) as instruction concerning the grave inscriptions of the peoples of old.

The scholars of antiquity claim (says Kornelis van Alkemade in his communication concerning the corpse burials of ancient peoples) that the first tomb or grave memorial was that of Rachel, since we read in the 35th chapter of the book of Genesis: Jacob erected a memorial over her grave.

According to the testimony of Samuel Bochart, this commemorative monument was an elevated pyramid or grave needle resting on a base of twelve stones, after the number of Israel’s sons. In volume I of his Mosaize historie der Hebreeuwze Kerken Willem Goeree

shows us two unusual drawings of it, but I dare not recommend them as authentic depictions, no more than the numismatic images of Gideon, Jephtha, Deborah, Hagar, Ishmael, Judas the traitor etc. in the Waerelt en kerkhistorien.

Until the time of Christ and long thereafter the Hebrews placed their grave memorials outside the cities on mountains and stone


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cliffs, for which Kornelis van Alkemade gives this reason: Then, given that human intellect had not invented funeral urns or coffins, corpses were subjected to being violated and consumed by creatures living in the earth and above all by worms. To prevent this, instead of hiding the corpses under the ground they discovered certain hollowed out places in mountains and rock cliffs, where the corpses are less exposed to worms. And to protect the bodies even more from decay, they also discovered and used strongly reeking herbs, spices and oils etc. See p. 33 of his Inleidinge tot het ceremonieel, en de plegtigheden der begraavenissen. This has me conclude that the Jewish grave memorials had little exterior decoration. Except it is witnessed that in later times the Jews, as also the first Christians, had the entryways to the vaults and grave memorials painted with portraits and allegories of mortality and, to be clearly understood, with flowers, foliage and such because the Jews were not allowed to paint portraits of living creatures.

The graves of the less wealthy were cleaned out annually, and the entryway and vault whitened with plaster, like the walls of our houses, which is why they called them Sepulchra dealbata, painted graves. These burial places were generally vaulted, and six ells deep and four ells wide with inside eight or more carved out cavities or cells in which to place the dead, which distinct cavities were closed off with a stone. The Hebrews called the grave cellar or vaulted cave Magnara, the separate


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