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It is not easy to arrive at the fundamental conception of the liturgical use of ashes. No doubt our Christian ritual has been borrowed from the practice of the Jews, a practice retained in certain details of synagogue ceremonial to this day, but the Jewish custom itself needs explanation. A number of passages in the Old Testament connect ashes ( efer ) with mourning, and we are told that the mourner sat or rolled himself in, sprinkled his head or mingled his food with, "ashes", but it is not clear whether in these passages we ought not rather to translate efer as dust. The same phrases are used with the word afar which certainly means dust. It may be that the dust was originally taken from the grave, in token that the living felt himself one with the dead, or it may be that humiliation and the neglect of personal cleanliness constituted the dominant idea ; for a similar manifestation of grief was undoubtedly familiar among Aryan peoples, e.g. in Homer (Iliad, XVIII, 23). It seems less probable that the cleansing properties of ashes (though this also has been proposed) are taken as significant of moral purification. The chief foundation for this last suggestion is the Rite of the Red Heifer ( Numbers 19:17 ) in which the ashes of the victim when mixed with water had the ceremonial efficacy of purifying the unclean (cf. Hebrews 9:13 ). Be this as it may,
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