You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
Read Chapter 19
George Leo Haydock
Dead. Adonis or Osiris; as if you were mourning for them, in which sense the former verse may be explained. At funerals it was customary to cut off the hair. Achilles and his soldiers did so at the death of Patroclus. (Homer)
The Persians also cut the manes of their horses, to show their grief for the loss of Masistius, (Herodotus ix. 24,) as Alexander did when Hephæstion died. (Plutarch)
The Egyptians, Assyrians, cut their hair on the like occasions, and the Hebrews did so too; whether they neglected this law, or it was rather designed only to hinder them from joining in a superstitious lamentation for some idol. They also cut their bodies, Genesis l, and Jeremias xli. 5. The pagans did so, intending thereby to appease the anger of the infernal deities: ut sanguine.inferis satisfaciant, (Varro, Servius): or to please the deceased. (Plutarch, de consol.) Thus Virgil represents Anna, Æneid iv.: Unguibus ora soror fædanspectora pugnis. The Roman and Athenian laws restrained this cruelty of women towards themselves. But in Persia, the children and servants of great men still make an incision upon their arms, when their father or master dies. The women in Greece also observe a solemn mourning, with loud lamentations, tearing their cheeks and hair, and reciting the memorable actions of the deceased. The Christians and Jews of Syria inflict still more dangerous wounds upon themselves. The latter have always esteemed it lawful to adopt the customs of the nations with whom they lived, provided they were not attended with superstition; which makes us conclude, that what Moses here forbids, was done in honour of some idol.
Marks, made with a hot iron, representing false gods, as if to declare that they would serve them for ever. (Philo)
The Assyrians had generally such characters upon their bodies. Philopator ordered the converts from the Jewish religion to be marked with ivy, in honour of Bacchus. (3 Macchabees) Theodoret (q. 18,) mentions, that the pagans were accustomed to cut their cheeks, and to prick themselves with needles, infusing some black matter, out of respect for the dead, and for demons. Allusion is made to these customs, Apocalypse xiii. 16, and Isaias xlix. 15. Christians have sometimes marked their arms with the cross, or name of Jesus. (Procopius in Isai. xliv. 5.) (Calmet)
As St. Jane Frances de Chantal did her breast. (Breviary, August 21.) Nomen pectori insculpsit. St. Paul says, I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body, Galatians vi. 17. The Church historians relate, that St. Francis and St. Catharine received miraculously the prints of his wounds. (Haydock)