pur'-ium, per-fum' (qeToreth qaTar literally, "incense"): The ancients were fond of sweet perfumes of all kinds (Pr 27:9), and that characteristic is still especially true of the people of Bible lands. Perfumed oils were rubbed on the body and feet. At a feast in ancient Egypt a guest was anointed with scented oils, and a sweet-smelling water lily was placed in his hand or suspended on his forehead. In their religious worship the Egyptians were lavish with their incense. Small pellets of dried mixed spices and resins or resinous woods were burned in special censers. In the preparation of bodies for burial, perfumed oils and spices were used. Many Biblical references indicate the widespread use of perfumes. Song 7:8 suggests that the breath was purposely scented; clothing as well as the body was perfumed (Ps 45:8; Song 3:6; 4:11); couches and beds were sprinkled with savory scents (Pr 7:17); ointments were used in the last rites in honor of the dead (2Ch 16:14; Lu 24:1; Joh 19:39). The writer has in his collection a lump of prepared spices and resins taken from a tomb dating from the lst or 2nd century AD, which was apparently fused and run into the thoracic cavity, since an impression of the ribs has been made on the perfume. Its odor is similar to that of the incense used today, and it perfumes the whole case where it is kept. The above collection also contains a small glass vial in which is a bronze spoon firmly held in some solidified ointment, probably formerly perfumed oil. Perfumes were commonly kept in sealed alabaster jars or cruses (Lu 7:38). Thousands of these cruses have been unearthed in Palestine and Syria.
Perfumes were mixed by persons skilled in the article In the King James Version these are called "apothecaries" (raqqach). The Revised Version (British and American) "perfumer" is probably a more correct rendering, as the one who did the compounding was not an apothecary in the same sense as is the person now so designated (Ex 30:25,35; 37:29; Ec 10:1).
Today incense is used in connection with all religious services of the oriental Christian churches. Although there is no direct mention of the uses of incense in the New Testament, such allusions as Paul's "a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell" (Eph 5:2; Php 4:18) would seem to indicate that it was used by the early Christians.
The delight of the people of Syria in pleasant odors is recorded in their literature. The attar of roses (from Arabic `iTr, "a sweet odor") was a wellknown product of Damascus. The guest in a modern Syrian home is not literally anointed with oil, but he is often given, soon after he enters, a bunch of aromatic herbs or a sweet-smelling flower to hold and smell. During a considerable portion of the year the country air is laden with the odor of aromatic herbs, such as mint and sage. The Arabic phrase for taking a walk is shemm el-hawa', literally, "smell the air."
James A. Patch