Dig Members

Temple Incense

by Professor Vendyl Jones

VJRI discovers incense from the Temple period

SVendyl Jones examines samples
of temple incense found in 1992 dig.

Vendyl Jones examines samples of temple incense found in the 1992 dig.

An estimated 600 lbs. of what looked like "reddish earth" was initially uncovered at the North entrance of the Cave of the Column by excavation volunteers in the late Spring of 1992. Team members reported detecting the smell of cinnamon present in the substance. Preliminary analysis by Dr. Marvin Antelman of the Wiezmann Institute revealed that the find was indeed, organic. "Density indicates that the material which is lighter than water is excluded from the category of red soil or red minerals......also the high percentage of ash is typical of plant source." Dr. Antelman later told the Jerusalem Post in a story dated May 1, 1992, "I'm very excited about this find. He added that he had positively identified borit karshina (karsina lye) which is one of the ingredients spelled out in the Talmud."

Recently, Dr. Terry Hutter performed a more exhaustive analysis and stated that, "the red-brown spice sample is composed of nine different and unique plants. The plants are recognizable both by pollen and organic maceral types." Dr. Hutter listed these as :

  • Three kinds of Cinnamon

  • Saffron

  • Balsam

  • Myrrh

  • Galbanum

  • Cassia

  • Frankincense

The quantity of the Incense is also significant. It corresponds to the amount prepared for one year of daily Temple service. The Torah only lists four ingredients for the Qetoret. The Mishna lists eleven, in addition to Sodom salt and Karcina lye. The latter text also tells of the Avtinas family and how they were charged with the secret of compounding these precious spices. The fragrance of the Qetoret was said to be so powerful that that when it was being prepared, one could smell it as far away as Jericho, 12 miles to the north of Qumran.

Curiously, when young Muhammed edh-Dhib, discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, only two of the ten clay jars contained anything. One of the pots held the Scrolls and the other was filled with "reddish earth."