We mentioned that the Egyptians imported products from different places to make their ointments and fragrances, and it is curious to note the fact, as told in the Bible, that Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold by his brothers to spice merchants from the lands of Gilead in Palestine, who were on their way to Egypt to sell their products.

In its account of the history of the people of Israel, the Bible mentions fragrant spices and oils on several occasions and provides us with countless facts about the use of fragrances.

The Israelites were nomadic shepherds who led their flocks from one land to another in search of good pastures, and sometimes, fleeing from the droughts, they ranged far from their homeland, known as Canaan. It is possibly for this reason that a good many Israelites settled in Egypt for centuries, where they were enslaved and forced to work the hardest jobs until, as told in Exodus, Moses, the Deliverer, led them to the land that God had promised to Abraham and all his descendants. It is more than possible that some Israelites learned the art of making perfumes and ointments in Egypt, but the first mention of their use in the Bible refers to their religious or liturgical purpose.

When Moses received the Tablets of the Law from God on the top of Mount Sinai, he was also ordered to build the Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Incense. Moses appointed Aaron, the High Priest, to burn incense every morning and evening and to add to it an equal amount of essences of naphtha and onyx and, together with galbanum, make a compound according to “the art of the perfumer”, forbidding that this aromatic creation be used for secular purposes.

The many verses in the Bible about the use of perfumes—and proof that the use of fragrances extended to all levels of society—include the advice that farm worker Noemi gave to her daughter-in-law Ruth to perfume herself in order to please Boaz, the owner of the fields where she worked; as well as the story of the rich widow Judith, who gets dressed up and puts on perfume to seduce Holofernes and free her people. But it is the Song of Solomon that features the maximum exaltation of ointments and perfumes.

The New Testament also mentions perfumes on several occasions. One of these is the scene in which Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and dries them with her hair, as is that of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicomedes, who, according to Jewish tradition, anointed the body of Christ before placing it in the tomb. Last but not least are the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh that the Magi offered the Child Jesus at the gate of Bethlehem. Never have fragrances had a greater destiny.