OILS (Heb. יִצְהָר ;שֶׁמֶן, "new oil"; תַּמְרוּק, מֶרְקָחָה, "ointment"), unctuous, inflammable substances, usually liquid, obtained from animal, vegetable, or mineral matter. In Job 29:6 and Deuteronomy 32:13, the references to oil flowing from rocks are hyperboles for fertility or prosperity.
Regarded as one of the characteristic products of the Land of Israel (II Kings 18:32; Jer. 40:10), oil served as an element in food (I Kings 17:12), as a cosmetic (Eccles. 9:7–8), as a fuel for lamps (Ex. 25:6), as a medicine (Isa. 1:6), and as a principal export in foreign trade (I Kings 5:25). As oil was apparently applied to leather shields to keep them supple, the expression "to oil a shield" (mashaḥ magen) came to be an idiom for "to make war" (Isa. 21:5). As an extension of its use in the preparation of food, oil occupied a place in sacrifices. As an extension of its cosmetic function, it played a role in various investiture proceedings.
The olives were beaten down from the tree with poles (Isa. 17:6) and were pounded into pulp in mortars or by the feet (Micah 6:15). The pulp was placed in wicker baskets from which the lightest and finest oil could easily run off. This grade of oil, known as beaten oil (Heb. shemen katit), is mentioned five times in the Bible. It served as fuel for the lamp in the Tabernacle (Ex. 27:20; Lev. 24:2) and as an element in the obligatory daily meal offerings (Ex. 29:40; Num. 28:5). King Solomon traded this type of oil with Hiram of Tyre in exchange for cedar and cypress wood (I Kings 5:25). After the removal of the beaten oil, a second grade was produced by heating and further pressing the pulp (for the method of extraction in the talmudic period see Mishnah Men. 8:4–5 and
). Ointments were made by boiling aromatic substances in oil (Job. 41:23).
Oil was one of the three staples of life. Thus while Jacob prayed for bread to eat and clothing to wear (Gen. 28:20), Hosea described Israel's basic needs as bread and water, wool and flax, oil and drink (Hos. 2:7). As a typical product of Palestine and as a necessity, oil is listed, particularly in Deuteronomy, among the three blessings of the land in time of God's favor – grain, wine, and oil (Deut. 11:14, etc.) The same three shall be consumed by the nation that will rise against Israel from afar if Israel should lose God's favor through disobedience to His laws (Deut. 28:38–40, 51). S.M. Paul calls attention to the triad of basic needs – food, clothing, and oil – mentioned throughout the Mesopotamian legal tradition, and supports that the three necessities with which a master must provide a slave-girl, referred to in Exodus 21:7–11 are meat, clothing, and oil.
In addition, anointing with oil provided protection from the sun. As an element in baking (Num. 11:8; I Kings 7:12), oil played a role also in sacrifices, which are called God's bread (Heb. leḥem 'Elohim, Lev. 21:6). The obligatory daily morning and evening burnt offerings included a tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with a quarter hin of beaten oil (Ex. 29:40; Num. 28:5). An individual's voluntary meal offering could be of five types, all of which included oil. These were (1) raw flour on which oil and frankincense were poured; (2) unleavened cakes mixed with oil; (3) unleavened wafers spread with oil; (4) broken griddle cakes on which oil was poured; and (5) choice flour fried in oil (Lev. 21:1–7).
The amount of oil and flour for the personal offering was determined in proportion to the size of the accompanying animal sacrifice according to the following scale: sheep, a tenth of a measure of fine flour and a quarter hin of oil; ram, two-tenths of a measure of flour and one-third of a hin of oil: ox, three-tenths of a measure of flour and a half hin of oil.
Oil was regarded as a symbol of honor (Judg. 9:9), joy (Ps. 45:8), and favor (Deut. 33:24; Ps. 23:5). Therefore, oil was to be withheld from offerings associated with disgrace, sorrow, and disfavor, just as it was withheld from the body in time of mourning (II Sam. 12:20; Dan. 10:3; see
). Thus it is stated with reference to the special sacrifice offered when a man suspects his wife of adultery: "No oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense should be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrong doing" (Num. 5:15). Likewise the choice flour of a sin offering is to be free of both oil and frankincense (Lev. 5:11).
In the ritual purification of a person who has recovered from leprosy oil plays a major role. The sacrifice offered on the eighth day of the procedure includes an offering of choice flour mixed with oil and the presentation of a log of oil – the largest measure of oil called for in any biblical rite. Some of the oil is sprinkled "before the Lord" seven times, as was blood. Some is placed on the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe of the recovered leper, where blood has already been placed; that which is left over is poured on his head. These rites symbolize the restoration of God's favor and the return of honor and joy to a man who had previously been disgraced and who had observed rites characteristic of mourning (Lev. 13:45). From the association of oil with vigor and fertility (Ps. 36:9), as, for example, in the term "son of oil" (Heb. ben shemen) for "fertile" (Isa. 5:1), it may be surmised that the sprinkling of the leper with oil is also symbolic of his restoration to life since the Talmud regards the leper as "a dead person" (Ned. 64b).
Virtue is frequently likened to fragrant oil (Ps. 133:2; Song 1:3; Eccles. 7:1) because both are so costly to obtain. Thus wisdom writers warn against extravagant use of oil (Prov. 21:17, 20), while the historical books of the Bible testify to its having been guarded as were silver and gold (I Chron. 9:29; 27:28). Perfumed oil was among the treasures which Hezekiah revealed to Merodach-Baladan (II Kings 20:13; Isa. 39:2). As a symbol of affluence, Isaiah (28:1, 4) associates oil with arrogance.
As an element in the normal grooming of all classes of people in the Ancient Near East, anointing with oil, like the washing that preceded and the dressing that followed it (Ezek. 16:9–10; Ruth 3:3), was symbolic of a change in status throughout the Ancient Near East. The practice of anointing in legal and cultic proceedings is to be understood in the light of the role of ablutions and the changing of garments. The Bible speaks frequently of donning victory (e.g., Isa. 59:7), honor (Ps. 104:1), disgrace (Job 8:22), etc. Likewise, it prescribes washing as the key to ritual purity (Ex. 30:20; Lev. 22:6, etc.).
It is not surprising, therefore, that the consecration of Aaron to the priesthood included washing (Lev. 8:6), donning special garments (Lev. 8:7–9), and anointing his head with oil (Lev. 8:12). The consecration of Aaron's sons as priests also included these three elements (Lev. 8:6, 13, 30).
Akkadian documents from Ugarit mention the anointing of manumitted slave girls, while the Middle Assyrian laws (sections 42–43; Pritchard, Texts, 183–4) prescribe the anointing of the bride prior to marriage. In the Bible, God instructs Elijah to appoint Elisha a prophet by anointing him with oil (I Kings 19:16). Similarly, the spirit of the Lord is said to have come upon King David from the time he was anointed (I Sam. 16:13). Both in Ugarit (V AB, B 31ff.; Pritchard, Texts, 136) and in the Bible (Lev. 8:10–11), anointing with oil is associated with the dedication of temples as well as of people. Thus Jacob dedicates an altar at Beth-El by anointing it with oil (Gen. 28:18).
The anointing of kings, attested among peoples of the Ancient Near East only in Israel and among the Hittites, is mentioned in the Bible in connection with Saul (I Sam. 10:1), David (I Sam. 16:1), Solomon (I Kings 1:39), Absalom (II Sam. 19:11), Jehoash (II Kings 11:12), Jehoahaz (II Kings 23:30), and Hazael of Aram and Jehu son of Nimshi of Israel (I Kings 19:15–16). While Saul, David, Hazael, and Jehu were anointed by prophets, Solomon and Jehoash were anointed by priests. Of Absalom and Jehoahaz it is simply stated that "they anointed him." This last expression may be simply an idiom meaning "they made him king." It is certainly in this sense that Jotham employs the phrase in Judges 9:8: "the trees went to anoint (Heb. limsho'aḥ) over them a king." Likewise the noun "anointed one" (Heb. mashi'aḥ) is employed as a poetic synonym for "king" (Heb. melekh; II Sam. 22:51). Deutero-Isaiah thus calls Cyrus the Lord's "anointed" (Isa. 45:1), while he refers to the rulers whom the Lord will subdue for Cyrus simply as "kings." Psalm 2:2 similarly contrasts the Lord's "anointed," the Davidic king of Zion, with the "kings of the earth." It is understandable, therefore, that "anointed" should eventually be the term for the human instrument of eschatological redemption (see
As a typical product of the land of Israel with so many diverse uses, oil played an important part in Israel's relations with her neighbors. Thus King Solomon traded 1,000 kor of wheat and 20 kor of beaten oil annually in exchange for a steady supply of cedar and cypress wood from Sidon (I Kings 5:24–25; II Chron. 2:14–15). Likewise, the same trade was revived in the sixth century by those who returned in the days of Zerubabbel and Jeshua (Ezra 3:7). Hosea 12:2 mentions sending oil to Egypt. D.J. McCarthy notes that the expression "oil is sent to…" in that context appears to be a synonym for "conclude a treaty." If so, the idiom is typical of treaty terminology like "to dissect a calf " (Jer. 34:18), "covenant of salt" (Num. 8:19) and the Greek σπονδη "treaty," "libations" – all examples of synechdoche.
[Mayer Irwin Gruber]
In the Talmud
Although, as stated above, the only oil employed to any extent in biblical times was
oil, in the period of the Talmud, many other oils (and fats) were in common use. Those oils and fats were animal, mineral, and especially vegetable. The first two Mishnayot of the second chapter of tractate Shabbat give a comprehensive list: pitch, wax, kik-oil, tail fat, tallow, both melted and solid, sesame oil, nut oil, fish oil, colocynth oil, tar, and naphtha. The wax was the residue from honey. There is a controversy as to the identity of kik. The identification accepted today is that it is identical with the kikayon of Jonah 4:6, i.e., castor oil, which is mentioned in the Talmud (Shab. 21a), but two alternative suggestions are made: one that it is produced from a fish of that name (despite the fact that fish oil is specifically mentioned in the next Mishnah) while another opinion is that it is cottonseed oil. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Shab. 2:1, 4c) it is also regarded as of animal origin, but derived from a bird and it is even identified with the ka'at (JPS "pelican") of Leviticus 11:18. Symmachus declares that the only animal oil which may be used for the Sabbath lamp is fish oil and there is no doubt that other oils of animal origin were known and used for secular purposes (Shab. 25b).
An account of the availability of various oils is given in a protest against the opinion of Tarfon that only olive oil may be used for the Sabbath lamp: "What shall the Babylonians then do, who have only sesame oil, or the people of Medea who have only nut oil, or the Alexandrians who have only radish oil, or the people of Cappadocia who have none of these, but only naphtha?" (Shab. 26a). Sesame oil was, as is suggested in this passage, the most common oil in Babylonia, as olive oil was in Ereẓ Israel. As a result, if a man took a vow to abstain from oil without specifying which, in Ereẓ Israel it was taken to refer to olive oil, but in Babylonia to sesame (Ned. 53a). They fulfilled the same needs, for fuel, light, and food. Although extensively cultivated (BB 106a, Git. 73a), they were comparatively expensive and stated to be dearer than wheat, dates, or pomegranates (BM 21a, 104b). Oil presses are mentioned in Nehardea and Pumbedita (BK 27b).
To a different category belong balsam oil and rose oil, which were used as unguents. The former was too volatile and inflammable to be used as fuel, and a case is actually cited of a mother-in-law planning and carrying out the murder of her daughter-in-law by telling her to adorn herself with it and then light the lamp (Shab. 26a). Rose oil was so expensive in Ereẓ Israel that its use was limited to "princes"; in Sura in Babylonia, however, it was in plentiful supply and therefore used by all (Shab. 111b).
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
E. Kutsch, Die Salbung als Rechtsakt im Alten Testament und im alten Orient (ZAWB, 87, 1963); D.J. Mc-Carthy, in: VT, 14 (1964), 215–21; J.S. Licht, in: EM, 5 (1968), 526–31; S.M. Paul, in: JNES, 28 (1969), 48–53; Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 234–7; 2 (1911), 211–27; J. Newman, Agriculture Life of the Jews in Babylonia (1932), 101–4.
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