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embalm em·balm (ěm-bäm')
v. em·balmed, em·balm·ing, em·balms
To treat a corpse with preservatives in order to prevent decay.
the process of preserving a body by means of aromatics (Gen. 50:2, 3, 26). This art was practised by the Egyptians from the earliest times, and there brought to great perfection. This custom probably originated in the belief in the future reunion of the soul with the body. The process became more and more complicated, and to such perfection was it carried that bodies embalmed thousands of years ago are preserved to the present day in the numberless mummies that have been discovered in Egypt. The embalming of Jacob and Joseph was according to the Egyptian custom, which was partially followed by the Jews (2 Chr. 16:14), as in the case of king Asa, and of our Lord (John 19:39, 40; Luke 23:56; 24:1). (See PHARAOH.)
the treatment of a dead body so as to sterilize it or to protect it from decay. For practical as well as theological reasons a well-preserved body has long been a chief mortuary concern. The ancient Greeks, who demanded endurance of their heroes in death as in life, expected the bodies of their dead to last without artificial aid during the days of mourning that preceded the final rites. Other societies, less demanding of their greats, developed a wide variety of preservatives and methods to stave off decay or minimize its effects. Corpses have been pickled in vinegar, wine, and stronger spirits: the body of the British admiral Lord Nelson was returned from Trafalgar to England in a cask of brandy. Even the Greeks sometimes made concessions: the body of Alexander the Great, for example, was returned from Babylon to Macedonia in a container of honey. The application of spices and perfumed unguents to minimize putrefaction was so common a practice that the English word embalming had as its original meaning "to put on balm." Generally, however, the word is used to describe a less superficial procedure, the introduction of agents into the body to ensure preservation.