Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Gums and Spices of Abraham

We know from the personal effects at least of monarchy and officials that gums and spices formed a part of everyday life in ancient egypt. There was a belief in the preservation of the body after death. Ancient egyptians saw this as putting more years (several thousand!) on their lives. They went to enourmous effort and not a little expense to ensure the body would be preserved.

In the dry desert climate there was the chance of this which does not exist in temperate climates. Such bacteria as might get to work were quelled with essential oils. The egyptians efficiently made the oils using sheeps fleeces suspended over the heated volatile plant matter as a condensor. We have a record of this use of gums and spices not only in what is written in the bible but the evidence of our eyes in the museums.

Body and soul were linked and an enjoyment of the afterlife (always assuming one had behaved properly in this this life and so qualified) depended on the embalmers skill. Today we still have our concerns and beliefs if differant ones. There is for example less concern with living a blameless life in some societies! In fact a certain kind of celebrity can be obtained in this way whether as terrorists or media persons. it has always been the case. The word hero comes down to us from the arsonist who destroyed one of the most beautiful wonders of the world. He wanted to be remembered. In a way he is!

Today the common concern is with the amount of cardiac disease. Also with cancer which has risen not only with the increase in longevity but with the use of antibiotics. It is only necessary to give high doses of antibiotics to trigger cancers in laboratory animals. In preserving our lives we know that it is not the last stroke of the axe which fells the tree! The need to preserve our bodies effectiveness and form starts from birth, becomes our own responsibility when we become adolescents and becomes more pressing as we approach middle age.

Can Abrahams gums and spices help not only put more years on our lives but also put more life into our years? (in the phrase of Marguerite Maury)

Biblical and modern history: The Bible has a great many references to different oils, perfumes, spices and resins and their uses.  Here are just a few quotations to whet your appetite:
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it according to their kinds (Genesis 1:11).

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much again of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia –all according to the sanctuary shekel – and a hin of olive oil.  Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer.  It will be used as a sacred anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-25).

In Leviticus, chapter 14, it talks about using hyssop and cedarwood as a cleansing ceremony for the treatment of leprosy.  Hyssop, particularly seemed to be used for ceremonial and physical cleansing:
Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).

Oils, spices and resins were considered prized treasures:
Hezekiah (the king) received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses, - the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures (2 Kings 20:13).

The oils were also used to beautify the body:
Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with oil and perfumes (Esther 2:12).

The story of Esther is a love story, she married the King.  Perfumes and spices are also mentioned in connection with love and romance throughout the “Song of Songs’.

Whether religious or not many are attracted to the personality of Jesus and the sayings attributed to him by his disciples.

In the new testament as a baby Jesus was given gold, frankincense and myrrh - the latter two were always given to a king at birth for his anointing in death.

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume (John 12:3).

Matthew 23:3 talks about the priests giving their tithes (a tenth of their income including their crops, livestock and other possessions)  to God.  This act also included the herb crops, such as their peppermint and anise.

While Jesus was on the cross:
Jesus said “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:29-30).

Aromatic perfumes and resins were of tremendous value in biblical days and because of their strong links with religion and royalty and healing, retained a mystical quality.


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