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Bible Encyclopedias

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is the representative in the Bible of the following words in the original: 1.

שֶׁמֶן , she'men (so rendered in 2 Kings 20:13; Psalms 133:2; Proverbs 27:16; Ecclesiastes 7:1; Ecclesiastes 9:8; Ecclesiastes 10:1; Song of Solomon 1:3; Song of Solomon 4:10; Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 39:2; Isaiah 57:9; Amos 6:6; "anointing," Isaiah 10:27), probably oil (as elsewhere rendered, except "olive" in 1 Kings 6:23; 1 Kings 6:31-33; "pine" in Nehemiah 8:15; "fatness" in Psalms 109:24; "fat things" in Isaiah 25:6; "fat" in Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:4; "fruitful" in Isaiah 5:1). 2. מַשְׂחָה, mishchah (in Exodus 30:25), properly anointing (as elsewhere rendered). 3. Usually and distinctively some form of the root רָקִח, denoting perfume; either the simpler noun רֹקֵח, 2rokach (Exodus 30:25), an odorous compound'(" confection," Exodus 30:35); or the concrete מַרַקִחִת, mirkach'ath (1 Chronicles 9:30; "compound," Exodus 30:25; "prepared by the apothecaries' art," 2 Chronicles 16:14); מֶרְקָחָה, merkachah ("pot of ointment," Job 41:31; "well" spiced, Ezekiel 24:10; plur. "sweet" flowers, Song of Solomon 5:13), which probably signify the vessel in which perfumery was prepared. Cognate is מָרוּק, mark. something rubbed in. ("things for purifying," Esther 2:12). 3. In the Apocrypha and N.T. ,ivpov, myrrh (invariably rendered "ointment"). In the following sketch we follow the ancient information with modern additions. (See OIL).

The ointments and oils used by the Israelites were rarely simple, but were composed of various ingredients (Job 41:22; comp. Pliny, Hist. Nat. 29:8). Oliveoil, the valued product of Palestine (Deuteronomy 28:40; Micah 6:15), was combined with sundry aromatics, chiefly foreign (1 Kings 10:10; Ezekiel 27:22), particularly spices, myrrh, and nard [see these words]. Such ointments were for the most part costly (Amos 6:6), 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, in which the delicious aroma was best preserved. A description of the more costly unguents is given by Pliny (Hist. Nat. 13:2). The preparation of these required .peculiar skill, and therefore formed a particular profession. The רֹקְחַים, rokechim, of Exodus 30:25; Exodus 30:35; Nehemiah 3:8; Ecclesiastes 10:1, called "apothecary" in the A. V., denotes no other than a maker of perfumes. The work was sometimes carried on by women "confectionaries" (1 Samuel 8:13). 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 (Wilkinson, Anc. Egyptians, 2:314). (See ALABASTER).

The practice of producing an agreeable odor by fumigation, or burning incense, as well as that of anointing the person with odoriferous oils and ointments, and of sprinkling the dress with fragrant waters, originated in, and is confined to, warm climates. In such climates perspiration is profuse, and much care is needful to prevent the effects of it from being offensive. It is in this necessity we may find the reason for the use of perfumes, particularly at weddings and feasts, and on visits to persons of rank; and in fact. on most of the occasions which bring people together with the intention of being agreeable to one another. (See PERFUME).

The following are the uses of ointments referred to in the Scriptures.

1. Cosmetic. The Greek and Roman practice of anointing the head and clothes on festive occasions prevailed also among the Egyptians, and appears to have had place among the Jews (Ruth 3:3; Ecclesiastes 7:1; Ecclesiastes 9:8; Proverbs 27:9; Proverbs 27:16; Song of Solomon 1:3; Song of Solomon 4:10; Amos 6:6; Psalms 45:7; Isaiah 57:9; Matthew 26:7; Luke 7:46; Revelation 18:13; Yoma, 8:1; Shabb. 9:4; Plato, Symp. 1:6, p. 123; see authorities in Hofmann, Lex. s.v. Unguendi ritus). Oil of myrrh, for like purposes, is mentioned in Esther 2:12. Strabo says that the inhabitants of Mesopotamia use oil of sesame, and the Egyptians castor-oil (kiki), both for burning, and the lower classes for anointing the body. Chardin and other travelers confirm this statement as regards the Persians, and show that they made little use of olive-oil, but used other oils, and among them oil of sesame and castor-oil. Chardin also describes the Indian and Persian custom of presenting perfumes to guests at banquets (Strabo, 16:746; 17:824; Chardin, Voy. 4:43, 84, 86; Marco Polo, Trav. [Early Trav.] p. 85; Olearius, Trav. p. 305). Egyptian paintings represent servants anointing guests on their arrival at their entertainer's house, and alabaster vases exist which retain the traces of the ointment which they formerly contained. Atheneus speaks of the extravagance of Antiochus Epiphanes in the use of ointments for guests, as well as of ointments of various kinds (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 1:78, pl. 89; 1:157; Atheneus, 10:53; 15:41). (See ANOINT).

2. Funeral. Ointments as well as oil were used to anoint dead bodies and the clothes in which they were wrapped. Our Lord thus spoke of his own body being anointed by anticipation (Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:38; Luke 23:56; John 12:3; John 12:7; John 19:40; see also Plutarch, Consol. p. 611; 8:413, ed. Reiske). (See BURIAL).

3. Medicinal. Ointment formed an important feature in ancient medical treatment (Celsus, De Med. 3:19; v. 27; Pliny, 24:10; 29:3, 8, 9). The prophet Isaiah alludes to this in a figure of speech; and our Lord, in his cure of a blind man, adopted as the outward sign one which represented the usual method of cure. The mention of balm of Gilead and of eye-salve (collyrium) point to the same method (Isaiah 1:6; John 9:6; Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8; Revelation 3:18; Tobit 6:8; Tobit 11:8; Tobit 11:13; Tertull. De Idololatr. 11). (See MEDICINE).

4. Ritual. Besides the oil used in many ceremonial observances, a special ointment was appointed to be used in consecration (Exodus 30:23; Exodus 30:33; Exodus 29:7; Exodus 37:29; Exodus 10:9; Exodus 10:15). It was first compounded by, Bezaleel, and its ingredients and proportions are precisely specified: viz. of pure myrrh and cassia 500 shekels (250 ounces) each; sweet cinnamon and sweet calamus 250 shekels (125 ounces) each; and of olive-oil 1 hin (about 5 quarts, 330.96 cubic inches). These were to be compounded according to the art of the apothecary into an oil of holy ointment (Exodus 30:25). It was to be used for anointing

1, the Tabernacle itself;

2, the table and its vessels;

3, the candlestick and its furniture;

4, the altar of incense;

5, the altar of burnt-offering and its vessels;

6, the laver and its foot;

7, Aaron and his sons.

Strict-prohibition was issued against using this unguent for any secular purpose, or on the person of a foreigner, and against imitating it in any way whatsoever (Exodus 30:32-33). The composition was not preserved as a secret, but was publicly declared and described, with a plain prohibition to make any like it. Maimonides says that doubtless the cause of this prohibition was that there might be no such perfume found elsewhere, and consequently that a greater attachment might be induced to the sanctuary; and also to prevent the great evils which might arise from men esteeming themselves more excellent than others, if allowed to anoint themselves with a similar oil (More Nebochim, ch. 20). The reasons for attaching such distinction to objects consecrated by their holy appropriations are too obvious to need much elucidation. These ingredients, exclusive of the oil, must have amounted in weight to about 47 lbs. 8 oz.

Now oliveoil weighs at the rate of 10 lbs. to the gallon. The weight therefore of the oil in the mixture would be 12 lbs. 8 oz. English. A question arises, in what form were the other ingredients, and what degree of solidity did the whole attain? Myrrh, "pure" (derosr), free-flowing (Gesen. Thes. p. 355), would seem to imply the juice which flows from the tree at the first incision, perhaps the "bordorato sudantia ligno balsama" (Georg. 2:118), which Pliny says is called "stacte," and is the best (12:15 Dioscorides, 1:73, 74; quoted by Celsus, 1 159; and Knobel on Exodus, 1. c.). This juice, which at its first flow is soft and oily, becomes harder on exposure to the air. According to Maimonides, Moses (not Bezaleel). having reduced the solid ingredients to powder, steeped them in water till all the aromatic qualities were drawn forth. He then poured in the oil, and boiled the whole till the water was evaporated. The residuum thus obtained was preserved in a vessel for use (Otho, Lex. Rabb. s.v. Oleum). This account is perhaps favored by the. expression" powders of the merchant," in reference to myrrh (Song of Solomon 3:6; Keil, Arch. d. Hebr. p. 173). Another theory supposes all the ingredients to have been in the form of oil or ointment, and the measurement by weight of all except the oil seems to imply that they were in some solid-form, but whether in an unctuous state or in that of powder cannot be ascertained. A process of making ointment, consisting, in part at least, in boiling, is alluded to in Job 41:31. The charge of preserving the anointing oil, as well as the oil for the light, was given to Eleazar (Numbers 4:16).: The quantity of ointment made in the first instance seems to imply that it was intended to last a long time. The Rabbinical writers say that it lasted 900 years, i.e. till the captivity, because it was said, "Ye shall not make any like it" (Exodus 30:32); but it seems clear from 1 Chronicles 9:30 that the ointment was renewed from time to time (Cheriith, 1:1). 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. The ointment with which Aaron was anointed is said to have flowed down over his garments (Exodus 29:21; Psalms 133:2 : "skirts," in the latter passage, is literally "mouth," i.e.the opening of the robe at the neck; Exodus 28:32). This circumstance may give some interest to the following anecdote, which we translate from Chardin (Voyages, 4:43, ed. Langles). After remarking how prodigal the eastern females are of perfumes, he gives this instance:

"I remember that, at the solemnization of the nuptials of the three princesses royal of Golconda, whom the king, their father, who had no other children, married in one day, in the year 1679, perfumes were lavished on every invited guest as he arrived. They sprinkled them upon those who were clad in white; but gave them into the hands of those who wore colored raiment, because their garments would have been spoiled by throwing it over them, which was done in the following manner. They threw over the body a bottle of rose- water, containing about half a pint, and then a larger bottle of water tinted with saffron, in such a manner that the clothes would have been stained with it. After this, they rubbed the arms and the body with a liquid perfume of ladanumn and ambergris and they put round the throat a thick cord of jasmine. I was thus perfumed with saffron in many great houses of this country, and in other places. This attention and honor is a universal custom among the women who have the means of obtaining this luxury."


Kings, and also in some cases prophets, were, as well as priests, anointed with oil or ointment; but Scripture only mentions the fact as actually taking place in the cases of Saul, David, Solomon, Jehu, and Joash. The Rabbins say that Saul, Jehu, and Joash were only anointed with common oil, while for David and Solomon the holy oil was used (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:1; 2 Kings 9:3; 2 Kings 9:6; 2 Kings 11:12; Godwyn, Moses and Aaron, 1:4; Carpzov, Apparatus, p. 56, 57; Hofmann, Lex. s.v. Unguendi ritus; Jerome, Com. in Osee, 3:134). It is evident that the sacred oil was used in the case of Solomon, and probably in the cases of Saul and David. In the case of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1) the article is used, "the oil," as it is also in the case of Jehu (2 Kings 9:1); and it seems unlikely that the anointing of Joash, performed by the high-priest, should have been defective in this respect. (See CONSECRATION).

In the Christian Church the ancient usage of anointing the bodies of the dead was long retained, as is noticed by Chrysostom and other writers quoted by Suicer, s.v. ἔλαιον . The ceremony of chrism or anointing was also added to baptism. See authorities quoted by Suicer, l. c., and under Βάπτισμα and Χρῖσμα. (See CHRISM); (See UNCTION).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ointment'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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