Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites
It is much these men could bear to hear themselves so often called by this name; and it shows great courage in our Lord, so freely to reprove them, and expose their wickedness, who were men of so much credit and influence with the people:
for ye are like unto whited sepulchres;
or "covered with lime", as the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions, render it. For the Jews used to mark their graves with white lime, that they might be known: that so priests, Nazarites, and travellers, might avoid them, and not be polluted with them. This appears from various passages in their writings:
``The vineyard of the fourth year, they marked with clods of earth, and an uncircumcised one with dust, (dyob twrbq lvw) , "and graves with chalk", mixed (with water) and poured (on them F24.)''Of this marking of the graves, the reason of it, the time and manner of doing it, Maimonides F25 gives us this account:
``Whoever finds a grave, or a dead carcass, or anything for the dead that defiles, by the tent he is obliged to put a mark upon it, that it may not be a stumbling to others; and on the intermediate days of a feast, they go out from the sanhedrim, to mark the graves.--With what do they mark? (hxmm dyob) , "with chalk infused" in water, and poured upon the unclean place: they do not put the mark upon the top of the unclean place, (or exactly in it,) but so that it may stand out here and there, at the sides of it, that what is pure may not be corrupted; and they do not put the mark far from the place of the uncleanness, that they may not waste the land of Israel; and they do not set marks on those that are manifest, for they are known to all; but upon those that are doubtful, as a field in which a grave is lost, and places that are open, and want a covering.''Now because when the rains fell, these marks were washed away, hence on the first of Adar (February) when they used to repair the highways, they also marked the graves with white lime, that they might be seen and known, and avoided; and so on their intermediate feast days F26: the reason why they made use of chalk, or lime, and with these marked their graves, was because it looked white like bones F1; so that upon first sight, it might be thought and known what it was for, and that a grave was there: hence this phrase, "whited sepulchres":
which indeed appear beautiful outward;
especially at a distance, and when new marked:
but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness;
worms and rottenness, which arise from the putrefied carcasses, and are very nauseous and defiling.
F24 Misn. Maaser Sheni, c. 5. sect. 1.
F25 Hilch. Tumath Meth, c. 8. sect. 9.
F26 Misn. Shekalim, c. 1. sect. 1. & Moed Katon, c. 1. sect. 2. Maimon. & Bartenora in lb.
F1 Jarchi in Misu. Moed Katan, c. 1. sect. 2. & Bartenora in Misn. Maaser Sheni, c. 5. sect. 1.