In Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony, I explore several key biblical terms and items associated with the Ark that have either been mistranslated or not clearly understood over time. One such item found in several verses of the Old Testament is "incense" (Hebrew, k'toret). My study uncovered a startling use for incense.
Throughout history consumers of incense have used the sweet, smoky fragrance for mystical rites -- but not the ancient Israelites. For them incense had a very practical, protective function relative to the Ark of the Testimony. The Israelite priests were trained to manufacture and use the Lord's specified mixture, not to propitiate the gods, not to make a nice smell, not to drive away demons or please kings and pharaohs.
Incense was used to protect the priests and people from radiation burn. The resinous material had to be burned to become activated. It was the protective smoke, not the fragrance, that made incense effective.
Where did the danger of radiation burn come from?
Many Old Testament laws were designed to protect the Israelite priests and people from radioactivity emanating from a cloud through which the Lord spoke when it descended onto the Ark. People died or became ill if they came too near or touched the Ark. Thus, the incense, uniforms of the priests, sacrifices, and strict safety regulations were all designed to protect priests, people, animals, buildings, clothing, and the environment from the radioactive danger emanating from the cloud.
This unique use of incense was in no way mystical or magical. The ingredients in the incense had a demonstrable, chemical, protective effect. In fact, researchers today are studying how the ingredients found in incense might counteract the effects of radioactivity. In an article appearing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Indian researchers assert that certain spices (a generic term for the chemicals contained in incense) "...can protect bacteria from radiation [and] might lead to a way of reducing the side effects of radiotherapy for cancer patients" (emphasis added, London Guardian, May 25, 2000).
Incense was widely used among ancient peoples, but as far as I know, only the biblical Israelites used it to protect themselves from the radiation in the cloud. In later times, however, the Israelites no longer used it to protect themselves. The incense altars that have been found all over biblical lands were probably simply used for ritual purposes.
The correct formula -- a matter of life or death
The instructions for making incense were quite precise, and the Bible describes the recipe in detail. If the priests included a wrong ingredient or made a mistake in their measuring, the incense was rendered ineffective -- to the detriment of everyone in the area. For example, when Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu brought incense that contained the wrong ingredients "before the Lord," they were "consumed ... and they died before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1-2). If their incense had contained the correct ingredients and portions, they would have been protected.
Numbers 16 reports that a mob, attempting to overthrow Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, assembled at the door of the tent of meeting (at Moses' clever invitation) with the wrong incense material burning. When the "radiance of the Lord" appeared, all 250 men and their leaders were consumed.
The 'filling of hands'
In another biblical scenario, the Hebrew oomeelaytaw et yawdawm is traditionally translated "consecration," a ceremony for installation of the priests. However, oomeelaytaw et yawdawm literally means "filling the hands."
Leviticus 12-13 explains that Aaron, Moses' brother, was to take a handful of incense and put it "on the fire before the Lord so that the ... incense may cover" the Ark's covering so that he would not die. In other words, with this order the Lord was protecting Aaron from the radioactive effects of the cloud.
The radical shift from incense as a protective material to one used in mystical rites raises several important questions, especially in our modern age where radioactive dangers abound. What was the chemical composition of the biblical incense? How did it protect against radioactivity? Why did the purpose of incense shift from protective to mystical?
There are clear answers to these questions, and the pieces to this puzzle have been put together in Talking with God: The Radioactive Ark Of The Testimony. Available at Amazon.com. Join the ongoing investigation of the Old Testament's puzzling questions at TalkingWithGod.net.