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Israelite Apothecaries

Apothecary, from the Latin word apothecarius, meaning a shopkeeper (the Latin word was itself derived from a Greek word, pronounced apotheke, meaning a repository) is today generally defined as "a health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs." The word is sometimes used to translate the ancient Hebrew word of the Scriptures (pronounced) raw-kawk which meant to perfume (hence the reason why some translations of the Bible use the word perfumer rather than apothecary) as in to prepare spices, or a compound of spices. From the perspective of Bible History, an apothecary was someone who prepared the holy anointing oils and incense.

"The art of the apothecary"

Moses, along with all of his other responsibilities, was an apothecary, or a supervisor of apothecaries. It was to Moses that The Lord gave the instructions for the ingredients of the holy anointing oil:

Mortar and Pestle

"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, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony, And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense, And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot." (Exodus 30:22-28 KJV)

Moses was also given the instructions for the production of the exclusive Tabernacle incense:

"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." (Exodus 30:34-38 KJV)

The Israelite apothecaries existed right through the exile to Babylon. Upon their return to Jerusalem in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, the apothecaries were still a prominent element of Israelite society (or actually, by then, Judah - see When Israel Became "Israel" and "Judah"); they took part 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 apothocaries, and they fortified Jerusalem unto the broad wall." (Nehemiah 3:8 KJV)

How "one sinner destroyeth much good" was likened to flies contaminating a prepared ointment:

"Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour." (Ecclesiastes 9:18-10:1 KJV)

Fact Finder: (a) Was the body of the crucified Jesus Christ wrapped in spices in accordance with Jewish burial customs? (b) Were the first people to discover that the Christ had been resurrected there because they were intending to anoint Jesus' body with more spices and perfumes?
(a) John 19:39-40 - see also Nicodemus and Joseph Of Arimathea
(b) Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56, 24:1-2 - see also Mary of Magdala


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