Any cuttings in your flesh for the dead - That the ancients were very violent in their grief, tearing the hair and face, beating the breast, etc., is well known. Virgil represents the sister of Dido "tearing her face with her nails, and beating her breast with her fists."
"Unguibus ora soror foedans, et pectora pugnis."
Aen., l. iv., ver. 672.
Nor print any marks upon you - It was a very ancient and a very general custom to carry marks on the body in honor of the object of their worship. All the castes of the Hindoos bear on their foreheads or elsewhere what are called the sectarian marks, which distinguish them, not only in a civil but also in a religious point of view, from each other. Most of the barbarous nations lately discovered have their faces, arms, breasts, etc., curiously carved or tattooed, probably for superstitious purposes. Ancient writers abound with accounts of marks made on the face, arms, etc., in honor of different idols; and to this the inspired penman alludes, Revelation 13:16, Revelation 13:17; Revelation 14:9, Revelation 14:11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4, where false worshippers are represented as receiving in their hands and in their forehead the marks of the beast. These were called στιγματα stigmata among the Greeks, and to these St. Paul refers when he says, I bear about in my body the Marks (stigmata ) of the Lord Jesus; Galatians 6:17. I have seen several cases where persons have got the figure of the cross, the Virgin Mary, etc., made on their arms, breasts, etc., the skin being first punctured, and then a blue colouring matter rubbed in, which is never afterward effaced. All these were done for superstitious purposes, and to such things probably the prohibition in this verse refers. Calmet, on this verse, gives several examples. See also Mariner's Tonga Islands, vol. i. p. 311-313.
Certain pagan customs, several of them connected with magic, are here grouped together. The prohibition to eat anything with the blood may indeed refer to the eating of meat which had not been properly bled in slaughtering (Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10, etc.): but it is not improbable that there may be a special reference to some sort of magical or idolatrous rites. Compare Ezekiel 33:25.
Observe times - It is not clear whether the original word refers to the fancied distinction between lucky and unlucky days, to some mode of drawing omens from the clouds, or to the exercise of “the evil eye.”
Round the corners of your heads - This may allude to such a custom as that of the Arabs described by Herodotus. They used to show honor to their deity Orotal by cutting the hair away from the temples in a circular form. Compare the margin reference.
Mar the corners of thy beard - It has been conjectured that this also relates to a custom which existed among the Arabs, but we are not informed that it had any idolatrous or magical association. As the same, or very similar customs, are mentioned in Leviticus 21:5, and in Deuteronomy 14:1, as well as here, it would appear that they may have been signs of mourning.
Cuttings in your flesh for the dead - Compare the margin reference. Among the excitable races of the East this custom appears to have been very common.
Print any marks - Tattooing was probably practiced in ancient Egypt, as it is now by the lower classes of the modern Egyptians, and was connected with superstitious notions. Any voluntary disfigurement of the person was in itself an outrage upon God‘s workmanship, and might well form the subject of a law.