Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead,
&c.] Either with their nails, tearing their cheeks and other parts, or with any instrument, knife, razor Jarchi says, it was the custom of the Amorites, when anyone died, to cut their flesh, as it was of the Scythians, as Herodotus F4 relates, even those of the royal family; for a king they cut off a part of the ear, shaved the hair round about, cut the arms about, wounded the forehead and nose, and transfixed the left hand with arrows; and so the Carthaginians, who might receive it from the Phoenicians, being a colony of theirs, used to tear their hair and mouths in mourning, and beat their breasts F5; and with the Romans the women used to tear their cheeks in such a manner that it was forbid by the law of the twelve tables, which some have thought was taken from hence: and all this was done to appease the infernal deities, and to give them satisfaction for the deceased, and to make them propitious to them, as Varro F6 affirms; and here it is said to be made "for the soul", for the soul of the departed, to the honour of it, and for its good, though the word is often used for a dead body: now, according to the Jewish canons F7, whosoever made but one cutting for a dead person was guilty, and to be scourged; and he that made one for five dead men, or five cuttings for one dead man, was obliged to scourging for everyone of them: nor print any marks upon you;
Aben Ezra observes, there are some that say this is in connection with the preceding clause, for there were who marked their bodies with a known figure, by burning, for the dead; and he adds, and there are to this day such, who are marked in their youth in their faces, that they may be known; these prints or marks were made with ink or black lead, or, however, the incisions in the flesh were filled up therewith; but this was usually done as an idolatrous practice; so says Ben Gersom, this was the custom of the Gentiles in ancient times, to imprint upon themselves the mark of an idol, to show that they were his servants; and the law cautions from doing this, as he adds, to the exalted name (the name of God): in the Misnah it is said F8, a man is not guilty unless he writes the name, as it is said, ( Leviticus 19:28 ) ; which the Talmudists F9 and the commentators F11 interpret of the name of an idol, and not of God: I [am] the Lord;
who only is to be acknowledged as such, obeyed and served, and not any strange god, whose mark should be imprinted on them.
F4 Melpomene, sive, l. 4. c. 71.
F5 Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 7.
F6 Apud Servium in Virgil. Aeneid. 3.
F7 Misn. Maccot, c. 3. sect. 5.
F8 Ibid. sect. 6.
F9 T. Bab. Maccot, fol. 21. 1.
F11 Jarchi, Maimon. Bartenora, & Ez Chayim in Misn. ut supra. (F7)