Art of the Apothecary

Apothecary is defined in today’s terms as a health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs. Derived from the Greek word apotheke, it means a repository or store room and from the Hebrew word raqach, which means to perfume. Some bible translations use the word perfumer instead of apothecary, such as to prepare spices. In biblical times, the Levitical priesthood served as apothecaries as well. One of the responsibilities for the priests included preparing the holy anointing oil and incense. In Exodus 30:22 – 28, we read about the instructions the LORD gave to Moses concerning the ingredients of the holy anointing oil:

Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment com-pound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.

This highly perfumed formula prescribed by God comprised of the finest spices: flowing myrrh, sweet-smelling cinnamon, fragrant calamus cane, cassia and olive oil. Specific instructions for its use consecrated or set apart articles for Temple worship as holy. This included the ark of the testimony, the holy tabernacle, and all of its furnishings. Because of its specialness, Yahweh gave an admonition to NOT reproduce the EXACT formula, nor use it on ordinary people. This is something believers should respect as they explore study and create biblical scents.

God not only gave Moses specific instructions for combining these essences for the Holy Anointing Oil, but for also combining them into a pure and Holy confection to be burned as an incense as a testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation before Yahweh. In Exodus 30:34 – 38, it says:

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: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: 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. 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. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

Apothecaries remained a prominent part of Israel’s culture after being taken into Babylonian captivity and upon returning to Jerusalem during the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. In Nehemiah 3:8 it tells how they participated in the rebuilding of the city:

Next unto him repaired Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, of the goldsmiths. Next unto him also repaired Hananiah the son of one of the apothecaries, and they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall.

Though the term apothecary is not found in the New Testament, the practice of compounding and burning Holy Incense still continued. In fact, this duty was consid-ered such a great honor for those of the Levitical priesthood they had to cast lots for it. Luke 1:9 tells how lot fell on Zacharias:

According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Some may consider the duties of the apothecary and priest to be a lost art since the destruction of the 2nd Temple. However, Yeshua spoke of another temple (His body) in which believers are members of and are to be a priest unto. 1 Peter 2:5 says,

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Today, the ancient art of perfumery and apothecary is being restored.