Friday, March 1, 2013

Smells like the holy spirit

Guest lecturer examines role of incense in ancient religion


by Ashley Gill, Guest Writer

Miniature deep blue vials filled with aromatic liquid populated a table in front of the Scandinavian Cultural Center.

Incenses, spices and perfumes were the focus of Pacific Lutheran University’s religious studies lecture on Tuesday. With standing room only, students and community members took their places to listen to Deborah Green, associate professor of Hebrew language and literature at the University of Oregon.

She spoke about the connection between smells and ancient Judaism. When it comes to the relationship between perfumes and religion, first-year Gailon Wixson said, "it was something I never would have considered before."

Not only used for religious purposes, ancient peoples would lather oils on after bathing, and they used incense in cleaning and burned it after eating, Green said. They even buried perfume bottles with the dead.

The only rule when it came to oils and incense, Green said, was people were not allowed to use the same combination or recipe that the high priest used in the temples.

Concerning the Hebrew Bible, Green said she had a specific interest when it came to animal sacrifices. Above all other forms of communication with God, even prayer, sacrifices were believed to be the best.

"It kind of works on God like perfume works on us," Green said.

Green said the ancient peoples believed God didn’t need sacrifices to sustain him like humans need food. Instead, they thought the pleasant and soothing odors from the sacrifices would rise and calm God. The society’s intent, Green said, was for God to recall these sacrifices later on when the people asked for forgiveness.

Green shared pictures and the audience laughed along with her as she pointed out what appeared to be a smiley face on an incense shovel. Other photos she showed were of brightly colored spices and various oils along with beautiful perfume bottles and temples where sacrifices would be performed.

After the lecture’s end, a few members of the audience asked Green questions. Questions, she said, are her favorite part about talking to schools on this subject. Green said she is still curious about how women wore pins that were filled with perfume and that she is "dying to know what they [the pins] looked like."

If further interested about this subject, students can read Green’s latest book "The Aroma of Righteousness: Scent and Seduction in Rabbinic Life and Literature."