Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Exodus 30:34-38 - A brief summary of the materials required to make a Holy Incense for the Altar Of Incense

The verses of Exodus 30:34-38 are the last verses of the description of the Mishkan given to Moshe, and they describe the precise recipe for the special Holy Incense, that was used inside the Tent of the Mishkan and for the Priestly service. Again, the prohibition is imposed to make such Incense for personal or unauthorized use. Let's take a look:

Exodus 30:34-38
34 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:

35 And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:

36 And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.

37 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.

38 Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

34 ‏וַיֹּאמֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֜ה קַח־לְךָ֣ סַמִּ֗ים נָטָ֤ף׀ וּשְׁחֵ֙לֶת֙ וְחֶלְבְּנָ֔ה סַמִּ֖ים וּלְבֹנָ֣ה זַכָּ֑ה בַּ֥ד בְּבַ֖ד יִהְיֶֽה׃

‎35 ‏וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ אֹתָהּ֙ קְטֹ֔רֶת רֹ֖קַח מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה רוֹקֵ֑חַ מְמֻלָּ֖ח טָה֥וֹר קֹֽדֶשׁ׃

‎36 ‏וְשָֽׁחַקְתָּ֣ מִמֶּנָּה֮ הָדֵק֒ וְנָתַתָּ֨ה מִמֶּ֜נָּה לִפְנֵ֤י הָעֵדֻת֙ בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֛ר אִוָּעֵ֥ד לְךָ֖ שָׁ֑מָּה קֹ֥דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁ֖ים תִּהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם׃

‎37 ‏וְהַקְּטֹ֙רֶת֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה בְּמַ֨תְכֻּנְתָּ֔הּ לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּ לָכֶ֑ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ תִּהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֖ לַיהוָֽה׃

‎38 ‏אִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה כָמ֖וֹהָ לְהָרִ֣יחַ בָּ֑הּ וְנִכְרַ֖ת מֵעַמָּֽיו׃ ס
As you can see from this image(bottom right corner), the Holy (Sacred) Incense was made out of mix of four(4) components:

  1. Stacte ("נָטָ֤ף") - one part by weight.
  2. Onycha/Shell spice ("וּשְׁחֵ֙לֶת֙") - one part by weight.
  3. Galbanum ("וְחֶלְבְּנָ֔ה") - one part by weight.
  4. Pure Frankincense ("וּלְבֹנָ֣ה זַכָּ֑ה") - one part by weight.
As you can see, and unlike the component of the Holy Anointing Oil, the Holy Incense components were mixed in equal proportions - thus no specific weight is provided. And just like the Oil, this special Incense were to be made by a very skilled incense maker(Ex. 30:35), and according to Ex. 30:36, this Incense had to be finely milled.

Please keep in mind, that the English translations of the components of the Oil may not be accurate, as no one really tried to research the subject in depth.

And here is an interesting part, as Exodus 30:36 reads:
 "...and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation..."

This means, that some(or maybe all) of this Incense were to be placed inside the Tent of the Mishkan, upon the Altar of Incense. Here is how it was done:

Numbers 7:86
86 The golden spoons were twelve, full of incense, weighing ten shekels apiece, after the shekel of the sanctuary: all the gold of the spoons was an hundred and twenty shekels.

‎86 ‏כַּפּ֨וֹת זָהָ֤ב שְׁתֵּים־עֶשְׂרֵה֙ מְלֵאֹ֣ת קְטֹ֔רֶת עֲשָׂרָ֧ה עֲשָׂרָ֛ה הַכַּ֖ף בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ כָּל־זְהַ֥ב הַכַּפּ֖וֹת עֶשְׂרִ֥ים וּמֵאָֽה׃

As you can see from this verse, each Chief of each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel presented as a gift(among other things) a special Golden Cup(aka Censer Boat) filled with the Holy Incense. There were total of twelve(12) Golden Cups from all Twelve Chiefs of the Tribes of Israel. Here is the rendering:


As I have just mentioned, these Golden Cups were presented filled with the Holy Incense, like so:

 And as the description states, the total weight of these twelve(12) Golden Cups(w/o the Incense of'course) was one hundred and twenty(120) Shekels by weight of a Silver Shekel(Shekel of the Mishkan). Here you can compare all 12 Cups to one of the Copper Censer. 

As you can see, these Golden Cups were relatively small. The description even states, that each Golden Cup was made out of just ten(10) Shekels of Gold(by the weight of the Shekel of the Mishkan). This means, that each one of these Golden Cups was no larger than 1\6-1/5 of a cubit, and weighted around ~56 grams(based on a 17kg Silver Talent). Here is a close-up rendering of all twelve(12) Cups filled with Incense, compared to the Copper Censer.

Back to the Exodus 30:36: "...and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation...".
Here is the rendering of all 12 Golden Cups filled with the Holy Incense, sitting upon the Altar of Incense, along with the Copper Censer.


Of'course, Ex. 30:36 does not necessarily mean that all of the Golden Cups were standing upon the Altar Of Incense. But nevertheless - it was possible. Here is a close-up view upon the Altar Of Incense inside the Tent of the Mishkan.

The description of the Holy Incense concludes with the imposition of a prohibition against a personal and unauthorized use of the Incense. The punishment for the violator is a divine curse(literally and figuratively) to "cut off(him) from his people".

The Exodus 30:38 is also the last verse of the description of the entire Mishkan, that was commanded specifically to Moses.

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