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TEMPLE INCENSE PREPARED IN ANCIENT ISRAEL COULD BE SMELLED UP TO 12 MILES AWAY

SHARE TEMPLE INCENSE PREPARED IN ANCIENT ISRAEL COULD BE SMELLED UP TO 12 MILES AWAY

Israel was commanded in Exodus 30:34-36 to compound incense that was offered twice daily in the temple. Preparing incense of the same ingredients for non-ritual use was forbidden under penalty of death:

"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. Whosovever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people." (Exodus 30:37-38)The biblical formula for the incense given to Moses named four ingredients: stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense. The Mishnah adds balsam, myrrh, cassia-cinnamon, spikenard, crocus, costus, cinnamon and bark cinnamon. James Strong, known for "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance," also included saffron and salt in what is thought to be the composition of temple incense.

The Mishnah tells how the priestly family of Avtinas possessed the secret of the preparation of the incense and that it was manufactured in quantities of 368 manehs (which authorities say was either 580 or 825 pounds) in a room situated in the upper story at the southern side of the Court of the Priests in the temple.

The fragrance was so sweet that, the Mishnah records, "from Jerico (12 miles away) they could smell the scent at the compounding of the incense." R. Eliezer ben Diglai said in another Mishnah passage, "My father's household had goats on the Mountain of Michvar (east of the Jordan River), and they used to sneeze from the odor of the compounding of the incense."

Approximately 200 grams of ground incense were put into a chalice and carried into the Holy Place. As the priest entered, he jangled the ring on the top of the chalice to ensure that "his sound was heard as he entered the holy area," according to the Mishnah.

The Temple Institute in Jerusalem has crafted a golden incense chalice and is gathering the spices needed to compound the incense according to the biblical formula.

Vendyl Jones' discoveries of the perfumed anointing oil and incense from the Second Temple seems particularly significant to Rabbi Menachem Burstin, a representative of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Burstin visited the Qumran excavation and noted the two discoveries relate to the "sweet-smelling aroma" of the temple sacrifice. In a May 23 Jerusalem Post story, Burstin said, "In the Talmud it says that pilgrims coming from Jerico to Jerusalem could smell this mixture of the shemen afarsimon (anointing oil) and pitum haketoret (incense) and realized that their eyes would soon behold the temple itself."

- Karen Boren