INCENSE. The KJV translation of two Hebrew words that were distinct in meaning at first, although later the second came to have virtually the same meaning as the first: levônâh, “frankincense,” and qetōrâh, “incense.” Incense was an aromatic substance made of gums and spices to be burned, especially in religious worship. It was compounded according to a definite prescription of gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense in equal proportions, and was tempered with salt (
The use of incense in the temple may have been partly a sanitary measure, since the smell of blood from the many animal sacrifices must have polluted the atmosphere, and the air would have to be fumigated; but it is largely explained by the love of the Oriental for sweet odors. Incense was often offered to those one wished to honor. For example, whenmarched against Babylon, incense was offered on altars erected to him. The offering of incense was common in the religious ceremonies of nearly all ancient nations (Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, etc.) and was extensively used in the ritual of Israel.
Incense was symbolic of the ascending prayer of the officiating high priest. The psalmist prayed, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (
Usually regarded as a symbol of prayer ascending to God, incense has been, and is, widely used in many religious ceremonies, both Christian and pagan. The word describes both the substance used for burning and the aroma. In the Jewish temple it accompanied all sacrifices (except the sin- offering of the poor and the meat-offering of the leper). On the it was solemnly burned by the high priest in the . For the ingredients of incense and its use see Exodus 30:34-38; Leviticus 16:12ff.; and the Talmud (cf. Keritot 6a). Unless there is a reference in Revelation 8:3-5, there is no sure evidence of its use in Christian worship until the sixth century. This use may have risen in imitation of the custom of carrying incense in a thuribulum (thurible) before Roman magistrates. By the ninth century its use was widespread in both West and East. Today it is only used in solemn sung services in the West, but in the East it is used rather more frequently. Within the its use is technically illegal, but it is nevertheless used by Anglo-Catholic clergy in the service of .
INCENSE. Material which is burned to make a fragrant smoke or the fragrant smoke thus produced.
Words translated “incense.”
Incense in the ancient Near East.
From the earliest times for which there are records about worship, incense was used by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Arabians, and Canaanites. The Canaanites, who were the nearest neighbors of the Hebrews, have left various incense stands, altars, censers, and spoons in city levels dated in the second millennium b.c. Egyptian representations of sieges of Canaanite cities sometimes show a man on the wall holding a stand in which incense is smoking, doubtless to reinforce the prayers offered by men standing behind him with upraised arms.
Sources of incense.
Incense came from S Arabia (frankincense, myrrh), Somaliland (frankincense), Palestine (saffron, stacte), Red Sea (onycha), Persia (galbanum), India (nard), and Ceylon (cinnamon). Arabs controlled much of the incense trade (
Kinds and preparation of incense
In the Bible.
In extra-Biblical sources.
The writer of Jubilees, reflecting the Jewish practice of the 2nd cent. b.c., attributed incense offerings to the patriarchs, to Adam: frankincense and galbanum (
Incense in common life.
Religious use of incense.
The worship of Baal, the queen of heaven, and other foreign gods by means of incense often is condemned in the OT (e.g.
The burning of incense at the shrines on “high places” also is often criticized (e.g.
The prophetic criticism of incense offering in the worship of the Lord (
The bronze serpent (
Incense evidently was thought to help in the exorcism of demons (
According to the law only the priests descended from Aaron could offer incense (
In the special case of a plague Aaron offered the incense with a censer, not in the sanctuary as usually, but in the camp (
Frankincense was added to various meal offerings on the altar of burnt offering (
The priest offered the compounded holy incense morning and evening on the goldcovered altar in front of the veil. According to
Figurative references to incense.
The beauty of wisdom (
The function of the incense offering.
A. Schmidt, Drogen und Drogenhandel im Altertum (1924); M. Löhr, Das Räucheropfer im Alten Testament (1927); F. Blome, Die Opfermaterie in Babylonien und Israel (1934); G. W. Van Beek, “Frankincense and Myrrh,” BA, XXLII (1960), 70-95; M. Haran, “The Use of Incense,” VT, X (1960), 113-129.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Figuratively, incense was symbolical of ascending prayer. The multitude were praying while Zacharias offered incense (