Holy anointing oil
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The holy anointing oil (Hebrew: שמן המשחה shemen ha-mishchah, "oil of anointing") formed an integral part of the ordination of the priesthood and the High Priest as well as in the consecration of the articles of the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:26) and subsequent temples in Jerusalem. The primary purpose of anointing with the holy anointing oil was to cause the anointed persons or objects to become qodesh, or "most holy" (Exodus 30:29).
Originally, the oil was used exclusively for the priests and the Tabernacle articles but was later extended to include prophets and kings (I Samuel 10:1). It was forbidden to be used on an outsider (Exodus 30:33) or to be used on the body of any common persons (Ex. 30:32a) and the Israelites were forbidden to duplicate any like it for themselves (Ex. 30:32b).
Christianity has continued the practice of using holy anointing oil as a devotional practice, as well as in various liturgies.
- Pure myrrh (מר דרור mar deror) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
- Sweet cinnamon (קינמון בשם kinnemon besem) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
- Kaneh bosem (קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם kaneh bosm) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
- Cassia (קדה kiddah) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
- Olive oil (שמן זית shemen zayit) one hin (about 5 quarts according to Adam Clarke; about 4 liters according to Shiurei Torah, 7 liters according to the Chazon Ish)
Origin of the term
In the ancient Near East
Customs varied in the cultures of the Middle East. However, anointing with special oil in Israel was either a strictly priestly or kingly right. When a prophet was anointed, it was because he was first a priest. When a non-king was anointed, such as Elijah's anointing of Hazael and Jehu, it was a sign that Hazael was to be king of Syria and that Jehu would king of Israel. Extra-biblical sources show that it was common to anoint kings in many ancient Near Eastern monarchies. Therefore, in Israel, anointing was not only a sacred act but also a socio-political one.
In the Old Testament Israelite way of life and cultural environment, the sense of smell was important for survival and was highly esteemed. It contributed to the ability of man to orient himself and to find his way in a world where life and death were permanently struggling. Where stench arose, he diagnosed the presence of disease, decay, rotting processes and death (Exodus 7:18) and where pleasant aromas existed were places biologically clean and conducive to habitation and/or food production and harvesting. Spices and oils were chosen which assisted man in orienting himself and in creating a sense of safety as well as a sense of elevation above the physical world of decay. The sense of smell was also considered highly esteemed by deity. In Deuteronomy 4:28 and Psalms 115:5-6 the sense of smell is included in connection with the polemics against idols. In the Hebrew Bible God takes pleasure in inhaling the "soothing odor" (reah hannihoah) of offerings (Genesis 8:21 etc.).
To the ancient Israelite there was no oil or fat with more symbolic meaning than olive oil. It was used as an emollient, a fuel for keeping their lamps lit, as a food, and for many other purposes. It was scented olive oil which was chosen to be a holy anointing oil for the Israelites.
Some believe in the continuity factor relative to the holy anointing oil. Customs utilizing the continuity factor is found in many of the world’s religions. For example, early Jewish rabbis stressed the importance of the succession of classical semikhah and the Catholic Church emphasized the importance of apostolic succession, the continuity of laying on of hands for ordination, in an unbroken chain. The continuity factor relative to the holy anointing oil can be found in rabbinical judaism, in the Armenian Church, in the Assyrian Church of the East in the Coptic Church, in the Nazrani and Saint Thomas churches, and others.
In Rabbinic Judaism
As mentioned above, the continuity factor can be found in Rabbinic Judaism, including that of the holy anointing oil.
One Jewish tradition teaches that the ashes of the last red heifer sacrificed were always mixed with the ashes of each new red heifer The Temple Institute states, "Some opinions maintain that the newer ashes were always mixed together with a combination of the previous ashes. One way of understanding this, is to the view this mixture of old and new ashes as being yet another precautionary measure... Additionally, mixing in the newer ashes we have produced now with those from olden times is a way of connecting through time with the original heifer that was slaughtered and prepared by Moses. As such, in a sense, it is a way of connecting with the level of Moses himself." Since the last succession of ashes of the red heifer were either hidden or lost after 70 AD Vendyl Jones searched for the original ashes by following the map on the Copper Scroll that purports to tell the location, so that the old ashes can be added to the new, which serves to continue the "continuity factor."
There is a traditional Jewish mitzvah that when making challah one should separate and set aside part of the dough. Some Jewish people remove a small piece of the challah dough (the word "challah" means to remove) and give it away to someone else as a challah starter, although according to traditional Jewish law, this piece may not be eaten under any modern day conditions, and must thus be destroyed in a dignified manner. In one Jewish custom a portion of the challah is set aside (refrigerated) until the making of new challah when the old is added to the new. It is recorded in Exodus 30:31 "And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations." (Exodus 30:31). Commenting on this verse Rashi quotes a teaching of the Sages [Horiyos 11b] that the original Shemen HaMishcha that Moses made, to anoint the priesthood and the tabernacle furnishings, would remain intact in its entirety into the distant future (l'asid lavoh). When the Temple was to be rebuilt they would then need that very same holy anointing oil to anoint the priests prior to their service in the Third Temple as well as to anoint the furnishings of the mishkan. Vendyl Jones claimed that such a small quantity of oil (around a gallon) would not last that long. It is claimed that one juglet of oil lasted over 800 years. To explain this discrepancy it is claimed that one of two things occurred: Either the container of holy anointing oil miraculously multiplied when supply became low (as did the cruse of oil mentioned in the story of Elijah and the widow woman or the oil that lasted for eight days without being consumed during the Jewish Chanukka) or, following ancient customs, new oil was added to the old thus continuing the original oil for all time.
Anointing oil is used in Christianity. A passage in the New Testament says, "Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven." James 5:13,14 (NIV)
In the Armenian Church
The holy anointing oil of the Armenian Church is called the holy muron ('muron' means myrrh). The church holds a special reverence for the continuity factor of the oil. According to tradition, a portion of the holy anointing oil of Exodus 30, which Moses and Aaron had blessed, still remained in Jesus' time. Jesus Christ blessed this oil and then gave some of it to Thaddeus, who took the holy oil to Armenia and healed King Abkar of a terrible skin disease by anointing him with the holy oil. Saint Thaddeus is said to have buried a bottle of the holy anointing oil in Daron under an evergreen tree. Saint Gregory the Illuminator discovered the hidden treasure and mixed it with muron that he had blessed. It is said that "To this day, whenever a new batch of muron is prepared and blessed, a few drops of the old one go into it, so that the Armenian muron always contains a small amount of the original oil blessed by Moses, Jesus Christ, and Gregory the Illuminator."
The holy muron is composed of olive oil and forty-eight aromas and flowers. The remaining portion of the previous blessed holy oil is poured into the newly prepared oil during the blessing ceremony and passes the blessing from generation to generation. It is said that this very procedure has been followed for nearly 1700 years. The Catholicos of all Armenians in Etchmiadzin combines a new mixture of holy muron in the cauldron every seven years using a portion of the holy muron from the previous blend. This is distributed to all of the Armenian churches throughout the world. Before Christianity, muron was reserved solely for the enthroning of royalty and for very special events. In later years, it was used with extreme unction and to heal the sick, and to anoint ordained clergy.
In the Assyrian Church of the East
It is said by the Assyrian Church that the holy anointing oil "was given and handed down to us by our holy fathers Mar Addai and Mar Mari and Mar Tuma." The holy anointing oil of the Assyrian Church is variously referred to as the Oil of the Holy Horn, the Oil of the Qarna, or the Oil of Unction. This holy oil is an apostolic tradition, believed to have originated from the oil consecrated by the apostles themselves, and which by succession has been handed down in the Church to this day. The original oil which the disciples blessed began to run low and more oil was added to it. The Assyrian Church believes that this has continued to this very day with new oil being added as the oil level lowers. This succession of holy oil is believed to be a continuity of the blessings placed upon the oil from the beginning.
Both the Oil of Unction and the Holy Leaven are referred to as "leaven" although there is no actual leavening agent, so the nomenclature Holy Leaven seems to be a bit misleading. Yohanan bar Abgareh referred to it in 905 as did Shlemon d-Basra in the 13th century. Yohanan bar Zo’bee in the 14th century integrated the Holy Oil of unction with baptism and other rites. Isaaq Eshbadhnaya in the 15th century wrote the Scholion which is a commentary on specific theological topics. It tells us that John the Baptist gave John the Evangelist a baptismal vessel of water from Christ’s baptism, which was collected by John the Baptist from water dripping from Christ after his baptism in Jordan River. Jesus gave each disciple a "loaf," at the Last Supper, but the Scholion informs us that to John he gave two with the instructions to eat only one and to save the other. At the crucifixion John collected the water from the Lord's side in the vessel and the blood he collected on the loaf from the Last Supper. After the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the disciples took the vessel and mixed it with oil and each took a horn of it. The loaf they ground up and added flour and salt to it. Each took a portion of the holy oil and the holy bread which were distributed in every land by the hand of those who missionized there.
The Assyrian Church has two types of holy oils; the one is ordinary olive oil, blessed or not blessed, the other is the oil of the Holy Horn which is believed to have been handed down from the apostles. The Holy Horn is constantly renewed by the addition of oil blessed by a bishop on Maundy Thursday. While most anyone can by tradition be anointed with the regular oil, the oil of the Holy Horn is restricted for ordination and sanctification purposes.
In the Coptic Church
The holy anointing oil of the Coptic Church is referred to as the holy myron ('myron' means myrrh). The laying on of hands for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit is believed to have been a specific rite of the apostles and their successors the bishops, and as the regions of mission increased, consequently numbers of Christian believers and converts increased. It was not possible for the apostles to wander through all the countries and cities to lay hands on all of those baptized, so they established anointment by the holy myron as an alternative, it is believed, for the laying on of the hands for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
The first who made the myron were the apostles who had kept the fragrant oils which were on the body of Jesus Christ during his burial, and they added the spices which were brought by those women who prepared them to anoint Christ, but had discovered he had been resurrected. They melted all these spices in pure olive oil, prayed on it in the upper room in Zion, and made it a holy anointing oil. They decided that their successors, the bishops, must renew the making of the myron whenever it is nearly used up, by incorporating the original oil with the new. Today the Coptic Church uses it for ordination, in the sanctification of baptismal water, and in the consecration of churches and church altars and vessels.
It is said that when St. Mark went to Alexandria, he took with him some of the holy myron oil made by the apostles and that he used it in the sacrament of Chrism, as did the patriarchs who succeeded him. This continued until the era of Athanasius the Apostolic, the 20th patriarch, who then decided to remake the myron in Alexandria. Hence, it is reported, he prepared all of the needed perfumes and spices, with pure olive oil, from which God ordered Moses to make the holy anointing oil as specified in the recipe in the thirtieth chapter of the book of Exodus. Then the sanctification of the holy myron was fulfilled in Alexandria, and Athanasius was entrusted with the holy oil, which contained spices which touched Jesus’s body while it was in the tomb, as well as the original oil which had been prepared by the apostles and brought to Egypt by St. Mark. He distributed the oil to the churches abroad: to the See of Rome, Antioch and Constantinople, together with a document of its authenticity, and all of the patriarchs are said to have rejoiced in receiving it.
The Coptic Church informs that the fathers of the Church and scholars like St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, Origen, St. Ambrose, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem, spoke about the holy myron and how they received its use in anointing by tradition. For example, St. Hippolytus in his Apostolic Tradition, speaks of the holy oil "according to ancient custom" Origen writes about the holy oil “according to the tradition of the church" St. Cyril of Jerusalem goes into further detail in speaking about the grace of the Holy Spirit in the holy myron: "this oil is not just any oil: after the epiclesis of the Spirit, it becomes charism of Christ and power of the Holy Spirit through the presence of the deity"
The early fathers and scholars mention the use of the holy myron, as well as a documentation by Abu'l-Barakat Ibn Kabar, a 14th-century Coptic priest and scholar, in his book Misbah az-Zulmah fi idah al-khidmah (The Lamp of Darkness in Clarifying the Service). According to his account, the holy apostles took from the spices that were used to anoint the body of Jesus Christ when he was buried, added pure olive oil to it, and prayed over it in Upper Zion, the first church where the Holy Spirit fell in the upper room.
This holy oil was then distributed among all of the apostles so that wherever they preached, new converts would be anointed with it as a seal. They also commanded that whenever a new batch of Holy Myron was made, they add to it the old holy myron to keep the first holy myron continually with all that would ever be made afterwards.
Among the Saint Thomas Christians and Nasranis
According to tradition, St. Thomas laid the original foundation for Christianity in India. It is reported that Jewish communities already present in India enticed Thomas to make his missionary journey there. It is said that he brought holy anointing oil with him and that the St. Thomas Christians still have this oil to this day.
Patriarch Ya`qub, of the Syrian Malabar Nasrani Church, is remembered for his celebration of the liturgy and his humble encouragement to accept the simple way of life. After he consecrated sacred myron in the Mor Gabriel monastery in 1964, holy myron flowed from the glass container the following day and many people were said to have been healed by it.
Identification of kaneh bosem
While sources agree about the identity of four of the five ingredients of anointing oil, the identity of the fifth, "kaneh bosem", has been a matter of debate. The Bible indicates that it was an aromatic cane or grass, which was imported from a distant land by way of the spice routes, and that a related plant grows naturally in Israel. Several different plants have been named as possibly being the "kaneh bosem".
Most lexicographers, botanists, and biblical commentators translate keneh bosem as "cane balsam". The Aramaic Targum Onkelos renders the Hebrew kaneh bosem in Aramaic as q'nei busma. Ancient translations and sources identify this with the plant variously referred to as sweet cane, or sweet flag (nl. the Septuagint, the Rambam on Kerithoth 1:1, Saadia Gaon and Jonah ibn Janah). This plant is known to botanists as acorus calamus. According to Aryeh Kaplan in The Living Torah, "It appears that a similar species grew in the Holy Land, in the Hula region in ancient times (Theophrastus, History of Plants 9:7)."
Maimonides (Yad, Kley HaMikdash 1:3), in contrast, indicates that it was the Indian plant, rosha grass (Cymbopogon martinii), which resembles red straw. Many standard reference works on Bible plants by Michael Zohary (University of Jerusalem, Cambridge, 1985), James A. Duke (2010), and Hans Arne Jensen (Danish 2004, English translation 2012) support this conclusion, arguing that the plant was a variety of Cymbopogon. James A. Duke, quoting Zohary, notes that it is "hopeless to speculate" about the exact species, but that Cymbopogon citratus (Indian lemon-grass) and Cymbopogon schoenanthus are also possibilities. Kaplan follows Maimonides in identifying it as the Cymbopogon martinii or palmarosa plant.
Cannabis, and others
Other possible identifications have also been made. Sula Benet in Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967), identified it as cannabis. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan notes that "On the basis of cognate pronunciation and Septuagint readings, some identify Keneh bosem with the English and Greek cannabis, the hemp plant. There are, however, some authorities who identify the 'sweet cane' with cinnamon bark (Radak, Sherashim). Some say that kinman is the wood, and keneh bosem is the bark (Abarbanel)." Benet in contrast argued that equating Keneh Bosem with sweet cane could be traced to a mistranslation in the Septuagint, which mistook Keneh Bosem, later referred to as "cannabos" in the Talmud, as "kalabos", a common Egyptian marsh cane plant.
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- Roland De Vaux Les institutions de I 'ancien testament (Paris: Cerf, 1958); English 1965 - rep. Ancient Israel: its life and institutions - Page 104 1997 "Was anointing, in Israel, a strictly royal rite? In IK 19: 15-16 God commands Elias to go and anoint Hazael, Jehu . . . and Eliseus. Hazael was to be king of Syria, Jehu would be anointed king of Israel by a disciple of Eliseus, ."
- King, cult, and calendar in ancient Israel: collected studies Page 36 ed. Shemaryahu Talmon - 1986 "Extra-biblical sources show that the practise of anointing kings was common to many ancient Near-Eastern monarchies ... that in Israel anointing was not a purely sacred act but also a socio-political one"
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- Plants of the Bible - Page 40 Harold Norman Moldenke, Alma Lance Moldenke - 1952 "The Hebrew word involved is "keneh" (Ezekiel 27 : 19 ; Song 4 : 14) or, more fully, "keneh bosem", meaning "spiced or sweet cane" (Exodus 30: 23) or "keneh hattob" or "v'kaneh hatov", meaning "and the good cane" (Jeremiah 6: 20)."
- Vernunft und alle Sinne: ine theologisch-ästhetische Betrachtung ... - Page 122 Klaus Röhring - 2007 "Die creme- und rosafarbenen Blüten mischen sich auch farblich in dieses duftende Bouquet, sodass die Augen mitriechen können und sollen. Kalmus wird als fünfte der Pflanzen und Düfte genannt, hebräisch »keneh bosem«, Balsamschilf, ..."
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- ספר העבודה - Volume 8,Numéro 1 - Page 136 Moses Maimonides - 2007 "One who willfully prepares anointing oil in this manner and with these measurements without adding or reducing [the quantity of the herbs] ... In his Living Torah, Rav Aryeh Kaplan identifies this as the Cymbopogon martinii or palmarosa plant."
- Sula Benet, Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967)
- Kaplan, Aryeh. The Living Torah New York 1981.p. 442..
- Sula Benet, Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967)