The use of aromatic extracts is a long-standing practice dating as early as 3000 BC with ancient Egyptians usually being given credit as the first culture to use them. In addition to the kingdom of Egypt, aromatic plant extracts were employed in ancient India, Persia, China as well as in classical Greece, Rome and the pre-Columbian America. Indeed, essential oils and aromatherapy have more than stood the test of time. They have become an instrumental symbol in the narratives contained in holy scriptures including the Bible and have helped to shape how we perceive the world around us.
Over a thousand references in the holy book
Essential oils are mentioned over a thousand times in the Bible. The Old Testament, the first part of the Christian biblical canon, alone references essential oils in 36 out of its 39 books. Famously, Genesis, one of the Five books of Moses, places Adam and Eve in a magnificent garden filled with the scents of flowers, trees and other plants while in Exodus 30:22-33, God instructs the Israelites to make anointing oil with myrrh, fragrant cane, cinnamon, and cassia (similar to cinnamon) in a medium of olive oil.
Further in Exodus, Moses speaks of the art of a perfumer in Egypt and gives the composition of two perfumes: “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a bit of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the Ark of the Covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy” (30:23-29).
According to the Gospel of Matthew, frankincense and myrrh were brought to the young Jesus, and Mary washed Jesus’ feet in nard (most probably spikenard or Nardostachys jatamansi), an extremely costly ointment, “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume“.
The following botanicals appear in the Bible most frequently:
- Cedarwood (Leviticus 14:4; Psalm 92:12)
- Cinnamon (Exodus 30:22-18; Psalm 45:8)
- Frankincense (Exodus 30:34-36; Matthew 2:11)
- Hyssop (Exodus 12:22; Psalm 51:7)
- Balsam fir (Isaiah 60:13; Samuel 6:5)
- Myrrh (Esther 2:12; Genesis 37:25; Matthew 2:11)
- Myrtle (Zechariah 1:8; Nehemiah 8:15)
Essential oils as a significant symbol of Christianity
The use of scented oils to introduce a divine influence or presence is recorded from the earliest times. Christianity developed from the association of Jesus of Nazareth with the Jewish prophecies of an “Anointed One”. His epithet “Christ” comes from the Greek word christos, meaning “anointed one”. Interestingly, he was not anointed by the High Priest in accordance with the ceremony described in Exodus, but he was considered to have been anointed by the Holy Spirit during his baptism. A literal anointing of Jesus also occurs when he was lavishly oiled by Mary of Bethany.
Surprisingly, anointing – the ritual act of pouring aromatic oil over a person’s head or entire body – is not a thing of the past. In present usage, “anointing” is typically used for ceremonial blessings such as the coronation of European monarchs. When Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1953, she was anointed, rather than appointed, by the archbishop of Canterbury. Anointing – particularly the anointing of the sick – may also be known as unction; the anointing of the dying as part of last rites in the Catholic church is sometimes specified as “extreme unction“.
Oils of Ancient Scripture Kit
Produced by Young Living in accordance with its Seed to Seal® standards, the Oils of Ancient Scripture™ is a set containing 10 oils from the most significant plants, botanicals, materials, and resins in the Bible – aloes, cassia, cedarwood, cypress, frankincense, hyssop, myrrh, myrtle, onycha and rose of Sharon. The kit is designed to help you to savour and enjoy the beautiful aromas and intriguing histories of these precious essential oils.
If you are wondering what history smelled like, this kit brings you as close as you can get to that.