The Bible teaches us that fragrance was much used in everyday life. Hygiene, synonymous of bodily purification, was essential. In fact, the Bible is the most ardent testimony of the importance of fragrance for the Hebrews.
Moses defined the various bathing regimes and ablutions for women and men. Before eating, fragrance is sprinkled, wine is aromatised and aromas are burned in the ceremony rooms. The priests are both physicians and perfumers, which illustrates the strong link between medicine, magic, cuisine and fragrances.
The sacred role of fragrance is defined in the Book of the Exodus. God, ordered a fragrance altar to be built and for a fragrance to be offered to him, stating exactly the ingredients to be used to make the fragrance.
In fact the Lord said unto Moses: "Take unto thee sweet spices, resins, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, in equal doses; and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the perfumer, tempered together pure and holy; and thou shalt reduce a part of it into fine powder, and put it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee; it shall be unto you most holy" (E. 30, 34-36);
Frankincense is the best fragrance. It is reserved for worship. Fragrance is a sign of honour and reverence to living God.
Adoration of the Magi
"Since Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, under the rule of King Herod, the Three Kings, arriving from the East arrived at Jerusalem. As they entered the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they knelt before him and adored him; they opened their chest and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh" (Mt 2,11).
The Magi were without doubt astrologers from Babylon and their gifts are symbols. For many centuries it was thought that gold represented the future King of the Jews, incense a homage to God, and myrrh, a funeral aroma, a reference to his human qualities.
Fragrance plays an important role in funeral rites. The Hebrews did not use embalming, rather the body was sprinkled with perfumed water and anointed with aromatic oils.
Aloe was one of the Hebrew’s most popular fragrances. Also spikenard was much appreciated. This is a grass with a spicy smell and is called the Indian Verbena. A very expensive fragrance, it became, in ancient times, a generic term indicating a fragrance of great value. The Song of Songs, a slow melody to be sung at weddings, cites spikenard, the flower of life, the fragrant reed, the cinnamon, lily and pomegranate.
Cosmetic science was also well developed amongst the Hebrews as with Egyptians.
In all biblical lands fragrance was used in the form of ointments (called Puk), annointing oils, henna-based powders, and also sachets of aromatic herbs either worn or placed between clothes.
During the service of worship at the Temple of Jerusalem, fragrance had an important role. During Yom Kippùr, the Head Priest entered the Saint of Saints with an incense thurible, or rather a burning fragrance (called timiati), a mixture of incenses.