Ancient Uses for Perfumes

In ancient times, essential oils and other aromatics were used for religious rituals, as well as for the treatment of illness, perfumes and other physical and spiritual needs.

According to the Essential Oils Desk Reference compiled by Essence Science Publishing, Records dating back to 4500 B.C. describes the use of balsamic substances with aromatic properties for religious rituals and medical applications. The translation of ancientEgyptian-Princess papyrus found in the Temple of Edfu, located on the west bank of the Nile reveals medicinal formulas and perfume recipes used by the alchemist and high priest in blending aromatic substances for rituals performed in the temples and pyramids. As well, Hieroglyphics on the walls of Egyptian temples depict the blending of oils and describe hundreds of oil recipes. Within these writings tell of scented barks, resins of spices, and aromatic vinegar wines and beers that were used in rituals, temples, for embalming and medicine. Thus, the Egyptians were credited as the first to discover the potential of fragrance and were considered masters in using essential oils and other aromatics in the embalming process. They created various aromatic blends for personal use, placing them in alabaster jars, a vessel specially carved and shaped for holding fragrant oils. In fact, when King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1922, 350 liters of oils were discovered in alabaster jars. Amazingly, because of the solidification of plant waxes sealing the opening of the jars, the liquefied oil was in perfect condition.

In the upper region of Egypt, a sect of Jews, called Essenes, were known for their healing arts and use of essential oils. Both Philo and Josephus writings indicated that at the period in which John the Baptist and Jesus were born, the Essenes were scattered over Palestine, numbering about four thousand souls. The Essenes or Therapeuts (used interchangeably) refer primarily to the art of healing which these devotees professed, as it was believed in those days that sanctity was closely allied to the exercise of this power, and that no cure of any sort could be imputed simply to natural causes. (Source: http://sacred-texts.com, http://bopsecrets.org)

AARON-WITH-LAMPSTANDThe Holy Scriptures record over 1,035 references to aromatics, ointments, savors, fragrances, plants and incense-most implying essential oils. Twelve of the most highly-praised fragrances in the world mentioned in the Bible include: Frankincense, Myrrh, Spikenard, Hyssop, Cypress, Myrtle, Aloes, Sandalwood, Galbanum, Cinnamon, Cassia, and Onycha. Many were in the prescribed preparation of the Holy Anointing Oil and Holy Incense for Temple services, as well as for anointing and healing the sick. The people of the ancient world understood the importance of maintaining wellness and physical health, as well as the oils ability to enhance their spiritual state of worship, prayer, and for the purification from sin. King David alluded to this in Psalm 51:7 when he wrote, Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. While David’s Psalm may have been speaking of a spiritual purification from his own sin of adultery with Bathsheba, today we know that the chemical constituents of essential oils including hyssop are able to penetrate the cell wall and transport needed oxygen and nutrients to the cell nucleus. Most essential oils can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled into the lungs where they then make their way into the bloodstream. The sense of smell affects the limbic region of the brain, which controls emotions, memory and the hypothalamus, which regulates the pituitary, which in turn balances the entire hormonal system of the body.

Art of the Apothecary

The term “Apothecary” is defined in today’s terms as a health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs. Derived from the Greek word apotheke, it means a repository or store room and from the Hebrew word raqach, which means to perfume. Some bible translations use the word perfumer instead of apothecary, such as to prepare spices. In biblical times, the Levitical priesthood served as apothecaries as well. One of the responsibilities for the priests included preparing the holy anointing oil and incense. In Exodus 30:22 -28, we read about the instructions the LORD gave to Moses concerning the ingredients of the holy anointing oil:

Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment com-pound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.

This highly perfumed formula prescribed in the scriptures comprised of the finest spices: flowing myrrh, sweet-smelling cinnamon, fragrant calamus cane, cassia and olive oil. Specific instructions for its use consecrated or set apart articles for Temple worship as “holy.” This included the ark of the testimony, the holy tabernacle, and all of its furnishings. Because of its specialness, Yahweh gave an admonition to NOT reproduce the EXACT formula, nor use it on ordinary people. This is something believers should respect as they explore study and create biblical scents.

God not only gave Moses specific instructions for combining these essences for the Holy Anointing Oil, but for also combining them into a pure and Holy confection to be burned as an incense as a testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation before Yahweh. In Exodus 30:34-38, it says:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

In the upper region of Egypt, a sect of Jews, called Essenes, were known for their healing arts and use of essential oils. Both Philo and Josephus writings indicated that at the period in which John the Baptist and Jesus were born, the Essenes were scattered over Palestine, numbering about four thousand souls. The Essenes or Therapeuts (used interchangeably) refer primarily to the art of healing which these devotees professed, as it was believed in those days that sanctity was closely allied to the exercise of this power, and that no cure of any sort could be imputed simply to natural causes. (Source: http://sacred-texts.com, http://bopsecrets.org)

Apothecaries remained a prominent part of Israel’s culture after being taken into Babylonian captivity and upon returning to Jerusalem during the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. In Nehemiah 3:8 it tells how they participated in the rebuilding of the city:

Next unto him repaired Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, of the goldsmiths. Next unto him also repaired Hananiah the son of one of the apothecaries, and they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall.

Though the term apothecary is not found in the New Testament, the practice of compounding and burning Holy Incense still continued. In fact, this duty was considered such a great honor for those of the Levitical priesthood they had to cast lots for it. Luke 1:9 tells how lot fell on Zacharias:

According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Some may consider the duties of the apothecary and priest to be a lost art since the destruction of the 2nd Temple. However, Yeshua spoke of another temple (His body) in which believers are members of and are to be a priest unto. 1 Peter 2:5 says,

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Today, the ancient art of perfumery and apothecary is being restored, while taking on new meaning.

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