Sunday, November 13, 2011

KTORETH - The incense of the Hebrews

After our journey to Japanese Incense, we will explore the origin of the Holy Incense - a recipe that you will find in the Bible.

The Hebrew word for incense is KTORETH - K (or kuf in Hebrew) alludes to Kdusha, or Holiness; T (or tet) is Tehara, or purity; R (or reich) alludes to rachamim, or mercy; and TH (or chet) alludes to Tkvah or hope. The incense to the Jewish people is a way to remind them to unite body and soul, in the service of God, to imbue their lives with holiness, purity, compassion and hope.

Exodus, verses 30:34-38
"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Take to thee fragrant spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, things fragrant, and pure frankincense, so much in so much shall it be. And thou shalt make it incense, an ointment the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, holy. And thou shalt bruise of it small, and shalt put it before the Testimony in the Tent of meeting, whither I will come to meet thee; a holy of holies shall it be to you. And the incense which thou makest in its quality, ye shall not make for yourselves: holy to Jehovah shall it be to thee. The man who shall make like unto it, to make an odor with it, shall be cut off from his peoples".

There are a lot of controversy in the matter of incense and religious practices by the ancient Israelites. There is no proof that incense was burned as a practice of banning demons, as the Egyptians believed. It is know that the Israelites have been acquainted to fragrant gums since the early ages. That spices were carried by caravans from Syria to Egypt through Israel, and that spices from southern Arabia were brought to Jerusalem by King Solomon. Nevertheless there is no trace in the Hebrew literature that incense was used  during the period of the early kingdom. Some say that incense or Ktoreh were meant as any burning sacrifice or sacrifice odor. Others believe that the altar of sacrifice was made of wood, covered with copper or gold, where the candlestick was placed (Menorah), together with a plate for incense burning. On the altar drink and meat offerings were placed, usually wine and the meat of animals preserved in salt.

Composition of the Holy Incense according to the book of Exodus

Nataf or storax gum; Shehelet or onycha, a fragrant operculum of a shell found in the Red Sea; Helbenah or galbanum; and Lebonah or frankincense.
Later several spices were added to the mixture such as Mor or myrrh;  Kezi'ah or cassia; Shibollet nerd or nard; Kurkum or saffron; Kosht or kkostus; Kinammon or cinnamon; Kinasha or cinnamon bark; Kippat haYarden or Jordan amber; Melach Sedomite or salt of Sodom.

Exodus 37.29
The LORD said to Moses:
"When you ordain Aaron and his sons as my priests, sprinkle them with some of this oil, and say to the people of Israel: " This oil must always be used in the ordination service of a priest. It is holy because it is dedicated to the LORD. So treat it as holy! Don't ever use it for everyday purposes or mix any for yourselves. If you do, you will no longer belong to the LORD's people.Mix a gallon of olive oil with the following costly spices: twelve pounds of myrrh, six pounds of cinnamon, six pounds of cane, and twelve pounds of cassia. Measure these according to the official standards. Then use this sacred mixture for dedicating the tent and chest, the table with its equipment, the lampstand with its equipment, the incense altar with all its utensils, the altar for sacrifices, and the large bowl with its stand. By dedicating them in this way, you will make them so holy that anyone who even touches them will become holy".
The Sweet-Smelling Incense

"Mix equal amounts of the costly spices stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, then add salt to make the mixture pure and holy. Pound some of it into powder and sprinkle it in front of the sacred chest, where I meet with you. Be sure to treat this incense as something very holy. It is truly holy because it is dedicated to me, so don't ever make any for yourselves. If you ever make any of it to use as perfume, you will no longer belong to my people".

Some ingredients had to be prepared in advance such as onycha, that was soak in Cyprus wine to loose its tartness.
The incense was pounded in the mortar twice a year. On damp days it was pilled up, and on hot dry days it was spread out for drying.


The significance of the Incense

According to some scholar Rabbis, the incense was made from ingredients coming form the sea, the desert, and the fertile lands meant to signify all things that He gave to us, and that we should dignify. Others mention that the four original ingredients represent water, earth, air and  fire, which all combined, represent the universe. There is a third school believing that the incense brings transcendence and meaning to the banalities of everyday life, reminding us to lighten your souls.

To read more about Incense Altar, click HERE



blogdaheddy said...


+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Thank you darling, coming from you it is really a compliment!

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Dimitri - your comment vanishes out of the sudden, but thank you dear, I know you like those things!

Tara C said...

I just love incense - thank you for all the wonderful commentaries on asian and hebrew incense traditions!

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Thank you for being here since the beginning my dear!XX

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