A Pleasing Odour for Yahweh

The smell of Sacrifices on Mount Gerizim and in the Hebrew Bible

Authors

  • Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/bar.36482

Keywords:

smell, sacrifice, incense, Hebrew Bible, Mount Gerzim

Abstract

This article investigates the importance of smell in the sacrificial cults of the ancient Mediterranean, using the Yahweh temple on Mount Gerizim and the Hebrew Bible as a case-study. The material shows that smell was an important factor in delineating sacred space in the ancient world and that the sense of smell was a crucial part of the conceptualization of the meeting between the human and the divine.  In the Hebrew Bible, the temple cult is pervaded by smell. There is the sacred oil laced with spices and aromatics with which the sanctuary and the priests are anointed. There is the fragrant and luxurious incense, which is burnt every day in front of Yahweh and finally there are the sacrifices and offerings that are burnt on the altar as ‘gifts of fire’ and as ‘pleasing odors’ to Yahweh. The gifts that are given to Yahweh are explicitly described as pleasing to the deity’s sense of smell. On Mount Gerizim, which is close to present-day Nablus on the west bank, there once stood a temple dedicated to the god Yahweh, whom we also know from the Hebrew Bible. The temple was in use from the Persian to the Hellenistic period (ca. 450 – 110 BCE) and during this time thousands of animals (mostly goats, sheep, pigeons and cows) were slaughtered and burnt on the altar as gifts to Yahweh. The worshippers who came to the sanctuary – and we know some of them by name because they left inscriptions commemorating their visit to the temple – would have experienced an overwhelming combination of smells: the smell of spicy herbs baked by the sun that is carried by the wind, the smell of humans standing close together and the smell of animals, of dung and blood, and behind it all as a backdrop of scent the constant smell of the sacrificial smoke that rises to the sky.

Author Biography

Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme

Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme is professor with special responsibilities for Hebrew Bible Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her research focuses on cult and ritual in the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Mediterranean contexts and she has published extensively on sacrifices and other gifts to the gods.

References

Avrahami, Y. (2012) The Senses of Scripture: Sensory Perception in the Hebrew Bible. London and New York: T&T Clark.

Barton, J. and Stavrakopoulou, F. (eds) (2010) Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah. London: T&T Clark.

Bartosiewicz, L. (2003) ‘There’s something rotten in the state …’: bad smells in antiquity. European Journal of Archaeology 6.2: 175–95. https://doi.org/10.1179/eja.2003.6.2.175

De Vaux, R. (1997 [1961]) Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Detienne, M. (1977) The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology. Hassocks, UK: The Harvester Press.

Eberhart, C. (2002) Studien zur Bedeutung der Opfer im Alten Testament: Die Signifikanz von Blut- und Verbrennungsriten im kultischen Rahmen. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.

Eberhart, C. (2004) A neglected feature of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible: remarks on the burning rite on the altar. Harvard Theological Review 97.4: 485–93. https://doi.org/10.1017/S001781600400080X

Eberhart, C. (2011) Sacrifice? Holy smokes! Reflections on cult terminology for understanding sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. In C. Eberhart (ed.) Ritual and Metaphor: Sacrifice in the Bible 17–32. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature. https://doi.org/10.1017/S001781600400080X

Frankfort, H. (1948) Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Grabbe, L. L. (2003) The priests in Leviticus – is the medium the message? In R. Rendtorff and R.A. Kugler (eds) The Book of Leviticus: Composition and Reception 207–24. Leiden: Brill.

Green, D. (2011) The Aroma of Righteousness: Scent and Seduction in Rabbinic Life and Literature. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Gudme, A. K. (2013) Before the God in this Place for Good Remembrance: A Comparative Analysis of the Aramaic Votive Inscriptions from Mount Gerizim. Berlin: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110301878

Gudme, A. K. (2014) ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you’ (Ps 50,12): perspectives on the care and feeding of the gods in the Hebrew Bible. Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 28.2: 172–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/09018328.2014.932559

Gudme, A. K. (2015) Blev templet på Garizim bygget med templet i Jerusalem som forbillede? Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift 78.3: 261–81.

Haran, M. (1960) The uses of incense in the ancient Israelite ritual. Vetus Testamentum 10.2: 113–29. https://doi.org/10.2307/1516131

Houtman, C. (1992) ‘On the function of the Holy Incense (Exodus XXX 34–8) and the Sacred Anointing Oil (Exodus XXX 22–33). Vetus Testamentum 42.4: 458–65. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685330-042-04-03

Jensen, H. J. L. (2000) Den fortoerende ild: Strukturelle analyser af narrative og rituelle tekster i Det Gamle Testamente. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

Kenna, M. E. (2005) Why does incense smell religious?: Greek Orthodoxy and the anthropology of smell. Journal of Mediterranean Studies 15.1: 1–20.

Kratz, R. G. (2015) Historical and Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198728771.001.0001

Lazaroff, T. (2016) In pictures: Samaritans perform sacrificial Passover ritual. The Jerusalem Post, 22 April. Retrieved 11 October 2016 from http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Samaritans-perform-sacrificial-Passover-ritual-452001.

MacDonald, N. (2008) What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat? Diet in Biblical Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Magen, Y. (2008a) The Samaritans and the Good Samaritan. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Magen, Y. (2008b) Mount Gerizim Excavations Volume II: A Temple City. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Milgrom, J. (1991) Leviticus 1–16. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday.

Nielsen, K. (1986) Incense in Ancient Israel. Leiden: Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004275614

Pummer, R. (2016a) The Samaritans: A Profile. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Pummer, R. (2016b) Was there an altar or a temple in the sacred precinct on Mt. Gerizim? Journal for the Study of Judaism 47: 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1163/15700631-12340451

Reinarz, J. (2014) Past Scents: Historical Perspectives on Smell. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Smith, M. S. (2002) The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (2nd edn). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Stavrakopoulou, F. (2016) The historical framework: biblical and scholarly portrayals of the past. In J. Barton (ed.) The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Companion 24–53. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400880584-004

Vernant, J. P. (1989) At man’s table: Hesiod’s foundation myth of sacrifice. In M. Detienne and J. P. Vernant (eds) The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks 21–86. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Weddle, C. (2013) The sensory experience of blood sacrifice in the Roman imperial cult. In J. Day (ed.) Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology 137–59. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Zeveloff, N. (2015) Samaritans Sacrifice Sheep in ‘Hardcore’ Passover Celebration. Forward.com, 3 May 2. Retrieved on 31 October 2016 from http://forward.com/news/israel/307409/samaritans-sacrifice-sheep-in-hardcore-passover-celebration.

Published

2018-06-14

How to Cite

de Hemmer Gudme, A. K. (2018). A Pleasing Odour for Yahweh: The smell of Sacrifices on Mount Gerizim and in the Hebrew Bible. Body and Religion, 2(1), 7–24. https://doi.org/10.1558/bar.36482

Issue

Section

Articles