Anointing has been a common practice since prehistoric times in many cultures, particularly in the Middle East, Egypt and Rome with different philosophical religious views and interpretations attached to it. The ritual, often performed using scented oils, served 3 main purposes: health, honour and consecration. Depending on the specific oils used (like eucalyptus or tea tree) and the type of malady, there were probably very few health benefits from the practice other than the pleasant (hopefully) fragrance as an early form of deodorant, though the psychosomatic effects cannot be dismissed. The cleansing aspects and the aromatics associated with the practice were seen as a way of bestowing honour on a valued guest, as was still practised in the Middle East into the 20th century. The use of oils to consecrate (or to set apart) was used widely in the appointment of kings, priests and other important officials, even until this present time.
When we have a look at anointing within Judaism and Christianity, there are two aspects that become relevant. Firstly, there is the aspect where anointing means the setting apart of inanimate objects like the pillar of stones by Jacob (Gen 28:18) and the setting apart of the tabernacle and its furniture (Ex 30:32-33), and there is the reference of the shields (2 Sam 1:21 and Is 21:50). Secondly, there are anointings of kings (Jud 9:8, 2 Sam 1:21, 1 Ki 1:34, etc) and the anointing of priests in Ex 28:41, as a public sign to the people that these people had been set apart for those roles. After the ‘exodus’, nearly all of these anointings mentioned were with oil according to a special recipe as prescribed in Ex 30:23-31 and only used for special occasions, though there is one recorded anointing of a Prophet by throwing the mantle on him (1 Ki 19:16-19). So, if an anointing can be performed using a mantle, does it imply a special fabric or design was needed, or does it deliberately exclude the mystical properties often attributed to the process of anointing. We read that when anointed, there was at times the imparting of God’s spirit upon the anointed (1 Sam 10:10 and 1 Sam 16:13 and others), but was it the anointing which imparted the Spirit, or was the imparting of the Spirit that which necessitated the anointing. When used for a consecration, whether king, priest or other, it is as an outward sign of being ‘set apart’, as is being ‘holy’.
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