The present use of the word "ointment" is to designate a thick unguent of buttery or tallow-like consistency. the King James Version in frequent instances translates shemen or meshach (see Exodus 30:25) "ointment" where a perfumed oil seemed to be indicated. the American Standard Revised Version has consequently substituted the word "oil" in most of the passages. Merqachah is rendered "ointment" once in the Old Testament (Job 41:31 (Hebrew 41:23)). The well-known power of oils and fats to absorb odors was made use of by the ancient perfumers. The composition of the holy anointing oil used in the tabernacle worship is mentioned in Exodus 30:23-25. Olive oil formed the base. This was scented with "flowing myrrh .... sweet cinnamon .... sweet calamus .... and .... cassia." The oil was probably mixed with the above ingredients added in a powdered form and heated until the oil had absorbed their odors and then allowed to stand until the insoluble matter settled, when the oil could be decanted. Olive oil, being a non-drying oil which does not thicken readily, yielded an ointment of oily consistency. This is indicated by Psalms 133:2, where it says that the precious oil ran down on Aaron's beard and on the collar of his outer garment. Anyone attempting to make the holy anointing oil would be cut off from his people (Exodus 30:33). The scented oils or ointments were kept in jars or vials (not boxes) made of alabaster. These jars are frequently found as part of the equipment of ancient tombs.
The word translated "ointment" in the New Testament is muron, "myrrh." This would indicate that myrrh, an aromatic gum resin, was the substance commonly added to the oil to give it odor. In Luke 7:46 both kinds of oil are mentioned, and the verse might be paraphrased thus:
My head with common oil thou didst not anoint; but she hath anointed my feet with costly scented oil.
For the uses of scented oils or ointments see ANOINTING; OIL.
James A. Patch