SMOKED ARMPITS is one way people in ancient times used incense to make the world smell a little better.
They did pretty much what I did to some rainbow trout I caught recently. I got a cedar board, soaked it in water, then cooked fillets of trout laying on top of the boards. The scent of the cedar penetrated the meat of the fish, adding a wonderful flavor.
In ancient times, people would burn some of their favorite incense in a fire, then they would lean over the fire or the incense burner and let the smoke absorb into the fabric of their clothing.
I didn’t know they did that.
But I read about it in the current edition of Biblical Archaeology Review, in an article written by a retired prof named Alan Millard.
People created incense from wood shavings, twigs, or from the sap of trees or bushes. They made incense from Cedar, Cyprus, Juniper, and Myrtle.
Frankincense, an expensive incense that Wise Men brought to honor young Jesus, came from the dried sap of Boswellia trees. They grow in North African countries such as Egypt and in Saudi Arabia.
Myrrh, another expensive incense the Wise Men brought to young Jesus, came from thorny Commiphora trees, which grow in Yemen and Somalia.
Ancient documents from Egypt and from Babylonia in what is now Iraq report on some of the other ways people used incense.
- Fumigate a room that smells like a dead skunk under the kitchen table
- Add a pleasant scent to an otherwise unscented room
- Burn as a sacrifice to a god
When people came across an incense fragrance they enjoyed, they figured their god would enjoy smelling it too.
So they would burn it as a way of honoring their god, much like the Bible says the Wise Men intended to honor Jesus.
Ancient documents say there were elaborate recipes for incense, much like the recipes for perfumes today.
The Bible says God gave Moses a sacred recipe for the incense he wanted the Jews to burn when they worshiped him.
“Mix equal amounts of the costly spices stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense, then add salt to make the mixture pure and holy” (Exodus 30:34-38).
God told Moses to pound some of that mixture into powder and then sprinkle it near the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred chest that held the original Ten Commandments.
God also insisted that the Jews never use this recipe to make fragrant incense for themselves. This was a recipe they could use only when they worshiped him.
For more Bible background info