As soon as Jacob had *stopped breathing*, Joseph threw himself on him, weeping and kissing his face. This sort of behaviour is what prime ministers exhibited then – 4000 years ago. Today they behave more circumspectly. At least outwardly they do. What a difference 4000 years makes.
After having composed himself, Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm Jacob’s body. This was done in forty days. Compared with today this was a long time. Today, embalming takes no more than an hour, although applying the cosmetics, and dressing and casketing the body may take several hours. Still, it’s a lot less than the forty days this used to take.
The Egyptian nation officially mourned Jacob’s death for seventy days. This says much for Egyptians then, given that Jacob was a Canaanite Hebrew.
Then there was Joseph’s promise to Jacob that when he died, he would accompany his body from Goshen (in Egypt) to his native Canaan where he would be buried next to his (Jacob’s) grandfather Abraham, and father Isaac. In those days – 4,000 years ago – this journey took at least 11 days. So it would take 11 days to get there, and 11 days to return. And not to speak of the few days it would take in Canaan arrange the burial and burial service.
Joseph could therefore count on being away at least a month from his official duties as prime minister of Egypt. How would Egypt cope in his absence? This was on Joseph’s mind when he asked the Pharaoh for official leave.
“That’s quite alright old chap” said the Pharaoh. “Honouring his father’s dying request to be buried in these circumstances, no matter how inconvenient and onerous they are, is what any decent prime minister would do. Egypt, now on a firm economic and political footing thanks to your stewardship, will do just fine while you’re away. To show my appreciation for what you’ve done for Egypt, I’m going to let you take the dignitaries of my court and the dignitaries of all Egypt with you – all these in addition to your own household and your father’s household. I’m therefore putting much trust in you, that I just know you, as prime minister of Egypt, will honour.”
Hence the retinue that Joseph took with him on this journey to Canaan was large.
On arrival at the threshing floor of the area of Atad, which was beside the Jordan river, in the vicinity of which the burial would take place, Joseph and his retinue set up camp. He decreed seven days of mourning for his father. Whereupon everyone began wailing loudly, so loudly that the local inhabitants, wanting to keep on the good side of the prime minister of mighty Egypt, renamed the area Abel-mizraim, which in today’s English means “mourning of Egypt”.
Now, all that remained was to go ahead with the actual burial.
Source: Genesis 50, 1-11