Incense (ק2ַ2טוֹרָה, ketorah', De 33:10; usually קטֹרֶת, keto'reth, which is once applied likewise to the fat of rams, being the part always burned in sacrifice; once קַטֵּי, kitter'. Jer 44:21; all forms of the verb קָטִּי, prop. to smoke, hence to cause an odor by burning, often itself applied to the act of burning incense; Greek, θυμίαμα and cognate terms; sometimes לבוֹנָה:, lebonah', Isa 43:23; Isa 60:6; Isa 66:3; Jer 6:20; Jer 17:26; Jer 41:5, frankincense, as elsewhere rendered), a perfume which gives forth its fragrance by burning, and in particular, that perfume which was burned upon the Jewish altar of incense. (See Weimar, De sufftu aromatum, Jen. 1678.) SEE ALTAR. Indeed, the burning of incense seems to have been considered among the Hebrews so much of an act of worship or sacred offering that we read not of any other use of incense than this among them. Nor among the Egyptians do we discover any trace of burned perfume except in sacerdotal use; but in Persian sculptures we see incense burned before the king. The offering of 'incense has formed a part of the religious ceremonies of most ancient nations. The Egyptians burned resin in honor of the sun at its rising, myrrh when at its meridian, and a mixture called kuphi at its setting (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 5, 315). Plutarch (De Is. et Os. c. 52, 80) describes kuphi as a mixture of sixteen ingredients. "In the temple of Siva incense is offered to the Lingam six times in twenty-four hours" (Roberts, Oriental Illust. p. 368). It was also an element in the idolatrous worship of the Israelites (Jer 11:12,17; Jer 48:35; 2Ch 34:25).
1. The incense employed in the service of the tabernacle was distinguished as קטֹרֶת הִסִּמַּים (ketdoeth has-sammim; Ex 25:6, incense of the aromnas; Sept. ἡ σύνθεσις τοῦ θυμιάματος; Vulg. thymiamata boni odores; A.V. "sweet incense"). The ingredients of the sacred incense are enumerated with great precision in Ex 30:34-35: "Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte (נָטָŠ, nataph), and onycha (שׁחֵלֶת, shecheleth), and galbanum (חֶלבּנָה. chelbenah); these sweet spices with pure frankincense (לבֹנָה, lebonah): of each shall there be a like weight. And thou shalt make of it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy." See each of these ingredients in its alphabetical place. All incense which was not made of these ingredients was called קטוֹרָה זָרָה (ketorah zarah), "strange incense," Ex 30:9, and was forbidden to be offered. According to Rashi on Ex 30:34, the above-mentioned perfumes were mixed in equal proportions, seventy manehs being taken of each. They were compounded by the skill of the apothecary, to whose use, according to Rabbinical tradition, was devoted a portion of the Temple, called, from the name of the family whose especial duty it was to prepare the incense, "the house of Abtines." So in the large temples of India "is retained a man whose chief business it is to distil sweet waters from flowers, and to extract oil from wood, flowers, and other substances" (Roberts, Oriental Illust. p. 82). The priest or Levite to whose care the incense was intrusted was one of the fifteen ממונים (memunnim), or prefects of the Temple. Constant watch was kept in the house of Abtines that the incense might always be in readiness (Buxtorf, Lexicon Talmud. s.v. אבטינם). In addition to the four ingredients already mentioned, Jarchi enumerates seven others, thus making eleven, which the Jewish doctors affirm were communicated to Moses on Mount Sinai. Josephus (War, 5, 5, 5) mentions thirteen. The proportions of the additional spices are given by Maimonides (Cele hammnikddsh, 2, 2, § 3) as follows: of myrrh, cassia, spikenard, and saffron, sixteen manehs each; of costus, twelve manehs; cinnamon, nine manehs; sweet bark, three manehs. The weight of the whole confection was 368 manehs. To these was added the fourth part of a cab of salt of Sodom, with amber of Jordan, and an herb called 'the smoke-raiser" (מעלה עשׁן, maaleh aishan), known only to the cunning in such matters, to whom the secret descended by tradition. In the ordinary daily service one maneh was used, half in the morning and half in the evening. Allowing, then, one maneh of incense for each day of the solar year, the three manehs which remained were again pounded, and used by the high priest on the day of atonement (Le 16:12). A store of it was constantly kept in the Temple (Joseph. War, 6, 8, 3). The further directions are that this precious compound should be made or broken up into minute particles, and that it should be deposited, as a very holy thing, in the tabernacle "before the testimony" (or ark). As the ingredients are so minutely specified, there was nothing to prevent wealthy persons from having a similar perfume for private use: this, therefore, was forbidden under pain of excommunication: "Ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people" (ver. 37, 38). So in some part of India, according to Michaelis (Mosaische Recht, art. 249), it was considered high treason for any person to make use of the best sort of calcambak, which was for the service of the king alone. The word which describes the various ingredients as being "tempered together" literally means salted (ממֻלָּה, memulnlach). — The Chaldee and Greek versions, however, have set the example of rendering it by mixed or tempered, as if their idea was that the different ingredients were to be mixed together. just as salt is mixed with any substance over which it is sprinkled. Ainsworth contends for the literal meaning, inasmuch as the law (Le 2:13) expressly says, "With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." In support of this he cites Maimonides, who affirms that there was not anything offered on the altar without salt, except the wine of the drink offering, and the blood, and the wood; and of the incense he says, still more expressly, that "they added to it a cab of salt." In accordance with this, it is supposed, our Savior says. "Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt" (Mr 9:49). Ainsworth further remarks: "If our speech is to be always with grace, seasoned with salt, as the apostle teaches (Col 4:6), how much more should our incense, our prayers unto God, be therewith seasoned!" It is difficult, however, to see how so anomalous a substance as salt could well be combined in the preparation; and if it was used, as we incline to think that it was, it was probably added in the act of offering. SEE SALT. The expression בִּד בּבִד (bad bebad), Ex 30:34, is interpreted by the Chaldee "weight by weight," that is, an equal weight of each (comp. Jarchi, ad loc.); and this rendering is adopted by our version. Others, however, and among them Aben-Ezra and Maimonides, consider it as signifying that each of the spices was separately prepared, and that all were afterwards mixed.
2. Aaron, as high-priest, was originally appointed to offer incense, but in the daily service of the second Temple the office devolved upon the inferior priests, from among whom one was chosen by lot (Mishna, oma, 2, 4; Lu 1:9) each morning and evening (Abarbanel, On Leviticus 10:1). A peculiar blessing was supposed to be attached to this service, and in order that all might share in it, the lot was cast among those who were "new to the incense," if any remained (Mishna, Yoma, 1. c.; Bartenora, On Tamid, 5, 2). Uzziah was punished for his presumption in attempting to infringe the prerogatives of the descendants of Aaron, who were consecrated to burn incense (2Ch 26:16-21; Joseph. Ant. 9, 10, 4). The officiating priest appointed another, whose office it was to take the fire from the brazen altar. According to Maimonides (Tamid Unus, 1', 8; 3:5), this fire was taken from the second pile, which was over against the S.E. corner of the altar of burnt offering, and was of fig-tree wood. A silver shovel (מִחתָּה machtah) was first filled with the live coals, and afterwards emptied into a golden one, smaller than the former, so that some of the coals were spilled (Mishna, Tamid, 5, 5; Yoma; 4, 4; comp. Re 8:5). Another priest cleared the golden altar from the cinders which had been left at the previous offering of incense (Mishna, Tamid, 3, 6, 9; 6:1).
The times of offering incense were specified in the instructions first given to Moses (Ex 30:7-8). The morning incense was offered when the lamps were trimmed in the holy place, and before the sacrifice, when the watchman set for the purpose announced the break of day (Mishna, Yoma, 3:1, 5). When the lamps were lighted "between the evenings," after the evening sacrifice and before the drink-offerings were offered, incense was again burnt on the golden altar which "belonged to the oracle" (1Ki 6:22), and stood before the veil which separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies, the throne of God (Re 8:4; Philo, De Anim. ison. §3).
When the priest entered the holy place with the incense, all the people were removed from the Temple, and from between the porch and the altar (Maimonides, Tamid Ulmus, 3, 3; compare Lu 1:10. The incense was then brought from the house of' Atines in a large vessel of gold called כִּŠ (caph), in which was a phial (ִבזי, bazik, properly "a salver") containing the incense (Mishna, Tamid, 5, 4). The assistant priests who attended to the lamps, "he clearing of the golden altar from the cinders, and the fetching fire from the altar of burnt-offering, performed their offices singly, bowed towards the ark of the covenant, and left the holy place before the priest, whose lot it was to offer incense, entered. Profound silence was observed among the congregation who were praying without (comp. Re 8:1), and at a signal from the prefect the priest cast the incense on the fire (Mishna, Tamid, 6, 3), and, bowing reverently towards the Holy of Holies, retired slowly backwards, not prolonging his prayer that he might not alarm the congregation, or cause them to fear that he had been struck dead for offering unworthily (Le 16:13; Lu 1:21; Mishna, Yoma, 5, 1). When he came out he pronounced the blessing in Nu 6:24-26, the "magrephah" sounded, and the Levites burst forth into song, accompanied by the full swell of the Temple music, the sound of which, say the Rabbins, could be heard as far as Jericho (Mishna, Tamid, 3:8). It is possible that this may be alluded to in Re 8:5. The priest then emptied the censer in a clean place, and hung it on one of the horns of the altar of burnt-offering. SEE CENSER.
On the day of atonement the service was different. The high-priest, after sacrificing the bullock as a sin-offering for himself and his family, took incense in his left hand, and a golden shovel filled with live coals from the west side of the brazen altar (Jarchi, On Leviticus 16:12) in his right, and went into the Holy of Holies. He then placed the shovel upon the ark between the two bars. In the second Temple, where there was no ark, a stone was substituted. Then, sprinkling the incense upon the coals, he stayed till the house was filled with smoke, and, walking slowly backwards, came without the veil, where he prayed for a short time (Maimonides, Yom hakkippur, quoted by Ainsworth, On Leviticus 16; Outram, De Sacrificiis, 1, 8, § 11). SEE ATONEMENT, DAY OF.
3. With regard to the symbolical meaning of incense, opinions have been many and widely different. While Maimonides regarded it merely as a perfume designed to counteract the effluvia arising from the beasts which were slaughtered for the daily sacrifice, other interpreters have allowed their imaginations to run riot, and vied with the wildest speculations of the Midrashim. Phile (Quis rer. div. haer. sit. § 41, p. 501) conceives the stacte and onycha to be symbolical of water and earth; galbanum and frankincense of air and fire. Josephus, following the traditions of his time, believed that the ingredients of the incense were chosen from the products of the. sea, the inhabited and the uninhabited parts of the earth, to indicate that all things are of God and for God (War, 5, 5, 5). As the Temple or tabernacle was the palace of Jehovah, the theocratic king of Israel, and the ark of the, covenant his throne, so the incense, in the opinion of. some, corresponded to the perfumes in which the luxurious monarchs of the East delighted. It may mean all this, but it must mean much more. Grotius, on Ex 30:1, says the mystical signification is "sursum habenda corda." Cornelius a Lapide, on Ex 30:34, considers it as an apt emblem of propitiation, and finds a symbolical meaning in the several ingredients. Fairbairn (Typology of Scripture, 2, 320), with many others, looks upon prayer as the reality of which incense is the symbol, founding his conclusion upon Ps 141:2; Re 5:8; Re 8:3-4. Bahr (Sym. d. Mos. Cult. vol. 1, c. 6:§ 4) opposes this view of the subject of the ground that the chief thing in offering incense is not the producing of the smoke, which presses like prayer towards: heaven, but the spreading of the fragrance. His own exposition may be summed up as fallows. Prayer, among all Oriental nations, signifies calling upon the name of God. The oldest prayers consisted in the mere enumeration of the several titles of God. The Scripture places incense in close relationship to prayer, so that offering incense is synonymous with worship. Hence incense itself is a symbol of the name of God. The ingredients of the incense correspond severally to the perfections of God, though it is impossible to decide to which of the four names of God each belongs. Perhaps stacte corresponds to יהֹוָה (Jehovah), onycha to אֵֹלהַים (Elohimn), galbanum to חִי (chai), and frankincense to קָדוֹשׁ (kadosh). Such is Bahr's exposition of the symbolism of incense, rather ingenious than logical. Looking upon incense in connection with the other ceremonial observances of the Mosaic ritual, it would rather seem to be symbolical, not of prayer itself, but of that which makes prayer acceptable, the intercession of Christ. In Re 8:3-4, the incense is spoken of as something distinct from, though offered with, the prayers of all the saints (comp. Lu 1:10); and in Re 5:3 it is the golden vials, and not the odors or incense, which are said to be the prayers of saints. Ps 141:2, at first sight, appears to militate against this conclusion; but if it be argued from this passage that incense is an emblem of prayer, it must also be allowed that the evening sacrifice has the same symbolical meaning. SEE PERFUME.