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Temple Incense Oil

Frankincense was an ingredient of the Holy Incense used at the sanctuary. "And YHWH went on to say to Moses: 'Take to yourself perfumes: stacte drops and onycha and perfumed galbanum and pure frankincense. There should be the same portion of each. And you must make it into an incense, a spice mixture, the work of an ointment maker, salted, pure, something holy. And you must pound some of it into fine powder and put some of it before the Testimony in the tent of meeting, where I shall present myself to you. It should be most holy to you people. And the incense that you will make with this composition, you must not make for yourselves. For it is to continue as something holy to YHWH. Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its smell must be cut off from his people'" (Exodus 30:34-38).

Stacte, from the Greek verb stazo, 'drip,' was a balsam that dropped from resinous trees, probably myrrh. Since onycha was used for a sacred purpose, it probably was a vegetable product, though what was meant is unknown. Galbanum increases the intensity of the fragrance and makes the fragrance last longer. The incense was salted under the Mosaic Law not because of flavor but because salt represented freedom from corruption or decay (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekial 43:24). Large quantities of salt evidently were stored on the temple grounds for this purpose (Ezra 6:9; 7:21-22).

The Holy Incense was not a substance that would smolder and smoke; it was a special incense for the Ark of the Covenant, the meeting tent, for special offerings and in the temple (Exodus 30:7; 40:27; Leviticus 16:12; 2 Chronicles 2:4). The incense was carefully blended, finely powdered and sifted to obtain a uniform substance. Private use was a capital crime (Exodus 30:38; Leviticus 24:16; Numbers 15:35).

At a later time, rabbinic Jews identified other ingredients of the temple incense. Josephus (37-100 C.E.), a Jewish general and historian said it was made from 13 sweet-smelling spices. According to the Spanish-born Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204 C.E.), some of these extra items included amber, cassia, cinnamon, costus, myrrh, saffron, spikenard, sweet bark and an herb called "the smoke-raiser," known only to a few, a secret passed down by the priesthood. Almost two pounds of incense was burned every day in the temple.