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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

Perfumes

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In the article Anointing we have noticed the use of perfumes in Eastern countries; and in the botanical articles all the aromatic substances mentioned in Scripture are carefully examined. Here, therefore, we have only to add a few remarks, which the scope of those articles does not embrace.

The ointments and oils used by the Israelites were rarely simple, but were compound of various ingredients (). Olive oil, the valued product of Palestine (; ), was combined with sundry aromatics, chiefly foreign (; ), particularly bosem, myrrh, and nard [see MYRRH]. Such ointments were for the most part costly (), and formed a much-coveted luxury. The ingredients, and often the prepared oils and resins in a state fit for use, were obtained chiefly in traffic from the Phoenicians, who imported them in small alabaster boxes [ALABASTER], in which the delicious aroma was best preserved. The preparation of the more costly unguents required peculiar skill and therefore formed a particular profession. The rokechim of;;; , called 'Apothecary' in the Authorized Version, was no other than a maker of perfumes. So strong were the better kinds of ointments, and so perfectly were the different component substances amalgamated, that they have been known to retain their scent several hundred years. One of the alabaster vases in the museum at Alnwick Castle contains some of the ancient Egyptian ointment, between two and three thousand years old, and yet its odor remains.

The 'holy anointing oil,' employed in the sacerdotal unction, was composed of two parts 'myrrh,' two parts 'cassia,' one part 'cinnamon,' one part 'sweet calamus,' compounded 'according to the art of the perfumer,' with a sufficient quantity of the purest olive oil to give it the proper consistence (; ). It was strictly forbidden that any perfume like this, that is, composed of the same ingredients, should be used for common purposes, or indeed made at all ().

The prodigious quantity of this holy ointment made on the occasion which the text describes, being no less than 750 ounces of solids compounded with five quarts of oil, may give some idea of the profuse use of perfumes among the Hebrews. We are, indeed, told by the Psalmist (), that when the holy anointing oil was poured upon the head of Aaron, it flowed down over his beard and dress, even to the skirts of his garments.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Perfumes'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/p/perfumes.html.

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