Healing Oils of the Bible-A Critique by Shelley McDonald Harris

Shelley McDonald Harris; Bachelor of Theology (1972 – 1979)

with 2 years of Hebrew translation and 4 years of Greek translation

Original article courtesy of Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy

(shared with permission)

Other references and keys used for this critique are:

SEC- Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

BDB – Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon

TGL – Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (The most respected sources in the field)

 www.biblehub.com for references in Greek and Hebrew, with English, as I studied these languages a long time ago! 🙂

“Chapter One – God the First Aromatherapist” I shake my head at this title. Though I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour and my God, this title does not sit well with me. Call it personal preference.

Now, on to the chapter. Pg. 4, 4th paragraph. “Thus, balm, spices, and myrrh, the aromatic oils and herbs carried by the Midianite traders (Genesis 37:25) when they took Joseph to Egypt as a prisoner and a slave are the very same ones sent to him many years later by his father and delivered by his brothers when he was king. (Genesis 43:11).” Side note: Joseph was never a king, so why say that? “Aromatic oils”: scripture does not say oils here, so let’s look at the three words it does say in the scripture to see what they really were.

SPICE: nekoth: (a spice) perhaps tragacanth gum

Original Word: נְכֹאת

Part of Speech: Noun Feminine

Transliteration: nekoth

Phonetic Spelling: (nek-ohth’) Short Definition: gum

BDB- usually understood [to be] of tragacanth gum, exuding from astralagus bush [then it uses the word “absolute” which is NOT a reference to EO, but is a Hebrew and Greek point of grammar importantly and only, mentioned here on the chance it was seen in BDB by an uneducated person and thought to mean an EO process, which it definitely is NOT].

SEC- from nake, properly, “a smiting”, ie an aromatic gum, perhaps as powdered.

BALM: tsori or tseri or tsori: (a kind of) balsam

Original Word: צֹ֫רִי

Part of Speech: Noun Masculine

Transliteration: tsori or tseri or tsori

Phonetic Spelling: (tser-ee’)

Short Definition: balm

BDB- a kind of balsam, a resin, gum of mastic tree. SEC- tsor-ee, unused root meaning to crack as by pressure, hence to leak, distillation, ie balsam, balm.

Note: nowhere is there a reference to or description of distillation process as we know it today. Perhaps it is a process of maceration, or simply the leaking of resin as we see maple trees leaking their sap, then boiled down. This could be explored further by reading reputable chemists re: this aspect of the simple definition. BDB, however, does say clearly the word is resin, and not at all an oil.

MYRRH: lot: myrrh

Original Word: לֹט

Part of Speech: Noun Masculine

Transliteration: lot

Phonetic Spelling: (lote)

Short Definition: myrrh

BDB- Greek laudanum, aromatic gum exuded by leaves of cistus-rose, cistus villosus.

SEC- probably from Lunt, a gum, from its sticky nature, probably lad anon.

Two (2) occasions in scripture, Gen.37:25, 43:11.

From this we see no reference to oils. These are resins, or gums, either in powdered form or even whole pieces. These were used in poultices or infusions with olive oil. Balm, the gum of the Mastic tree, was used for incense or used medicinally for wound care, probably macerated for a poultice. Therefore I must disagree with Stewart’s reference to these as essential oils. They clearly were not.

Page 5, last full paragraph: “The emotionally uplifting effects of inhaling the fragrance of OILS are alluded to in Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Hebrews, but not discussed. The spiritual attributes of oils are suggested in many places in the bible…..but are not explained.” First, again let me say, “oils” is not correct. The word “oil” will be taken up further on. To say “not explained” sums it up, because it is not there! This paragraph is dramatic imagery and conjecture, not fact.

Page 6, top paragraph: “….mustard seed….a common source of medicinal oil as well as flavoring….not mentioned anywhere else in the bible, common as its usage was. Why explain the obvious?”

Why indeed! It was a mustard seed, not an essential oil! If he’s trying to bring proof out of the bible, as his book title suggests, never once is the mustard seed called “medicinal” or “oil”. It’s only called small. His point is only “obvious” to himself and to those who choose to follow him. It cannot be taken as biblical or as any kind of fact. Further, anyone can make a statement, claim it is true though it is not, then proceed on this bubble of air for an entire book. He goes on to say: “The lack of detail in the use of EOs in the bible is not only because the authors were focused on other purposes, but also because oils, in the forms of incense, perfumes, spices, ointments, and medicines, were so much a part of the lives of everyone that no explanations were necessary. Why bother to explain something in print to people who already knew about common things such as oils and how to use them?”

I am shaking my head at this. Yes, there were spices, perfumes, medicines, ointments, anointing oils, etc, but not with the definition of essential oils we have today. Oh, this subject needs a book! Just not this one!  If oils had been in use then, I have no doubt they would have been spoken of, as is incense, not hidden and kept secret, as Stewart suggests in another part of his book. I can’t go there, trust me, it’s not worth it. As for the “oil” that IS used, Esther’s Myrrh oil will be looked at a little further on.

Page 7, “A Little Balm, Spices, and Myrrh.”

Some of the following will be review, some will be a new and interesting revelation.

II Chron.16:14

Spice is a different Hebrew word than the one in Genesis.

bosem: spice, balsam, the balsam tree

Original Word: בְּשָׂמִים

Phonetic spelling: beh-seem, beh-sem-meme

Also Exodus 25:6, appointed for an INGREDIENT of the anointing oil. [caps mine] From study in SEC and BDB, we see this:

Spicery: species of resinous gum, called storax, wax; tragacanth, or “goat’s thorn gum.”

Balm: juice of the balsam tree, “rosin”, Arabia; balsam, aromatic substance.

Myrrh: 1. in Genesis 37 and 43, Arabic gum of strong fragrant smell, lot [lote], possible “laudanum” or ladunu; a gum which exudes from balsamodondran myrrh a; resinous juice of the cistus, or rock rose plant.

Myrrh: 2. In Exodus 30:23; Song 5:1,5; Psalm 45:9; Song 4:6 mor: myrrh

Original Word: מֹר

Phonetic spelling: mor

BDB- a flowing, carefully prepared by PRESSING AND MIXING [caps mine]; perfume, ps.45:9; incense, Song 3:6; unguents, Esther 2:12.

Now, notice on page 8, middle paragraph, Stewart says, “The bible word from which the King James Version translated the word myrrh was not the Hebrew word “mor.” Read the rest of the paragraph down to, “…in the original Hebrew the word was lot [lote]….producing a medicinal resin and oil.” This is incorrect, and I feel proves his lack of knowledge of the Hebrew, or even a research of the words used, likewise his knowledge of Greek. There are only two (2) occurances of the word “lot” [lote], myrrh, in Gen. 37 and 43. It is of uncertain derivation; possibly used for laudanum; a sticky gum. The other 12 occurances of myrrh is the word mor [more], an ingredient of sacred oil. Did you get that? An ingredient!

Now we turn to the book of Esther and her oil of myrrh. Esther 2:12

HEB: חֳדָשִׁים֙ בְּשֶׁ֣מֶן הַמֹּ֔ר וְשִׁשָּׁ֤ה חֳדָשִׁים֙

NAS: with oil of myrrh and six

KJV: with oil of myrrh, and six

INT: months oil of myrrh and six months

Be-shemen ham-mor “Oil of myrrh” Ham-mor “of myrrh”, mor, 12 occurrences

shemen: fat, oil

Original Word: שָׁ֫מֶן

Fat, oil, specifically olive, usually explained as wild olive, oleaster; holy anointing oil.

193 occurrences  Used for fat, fatness; olive oil; a staple, condiment, medicaments, unguents; for anointing kings; in various figurative; used in worship; ritual use; temple use. From shaman, grease, especially liquid from the olive, often perfumed.

Clearly, Esther was using an olive oil that had been infused, or perfumed, with myrrh resin.

New Testament, Greek, Matt. 2:11; John 19:39

smyrna: myrrh (used as an ointment and for embalming)

Original Word: σμύρνα, ης, ἡ

Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: smyrna

Phonetic Spelling: (smyr’-nah)

Short Definition: myrrh

Definition: myrrh

SEC- of foreign origin, myrrh, used as an ointment and for embalming.

TGL- used for mor, bitter gum, costly perfume which exudes from a certain tree or shrub in Arabia and Ethiopia; obtained by incisions made in the bark; an antiseptic used in embalming. (note: think, tapping a maple tree for sap)

Mark 15:23

Strong’s Greek 4669 1 Occurrence

ἐσμυρνισμένον — 1 Occurrence

Mark 15:23


GRK: ἐδίδουν αὐτῷ ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον ὃς

NAS: Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take

KJV: wine mingled with myrrh: but INT: they gave him mixed with gall wine he

1 Occurrence

smyrnízo: to be like myrrh, to mingle with myrrh

Original Word: σμυρνίζω

Part of Speech: Verb

Transliteration: smyrnízo

Phonetic Spelling: (smyr-ni’-zo)

Short Definition: I mingle with myrrh

Definition: I mingle with myrrh.

SEC- Mingled with Myrrh; wine mixed with “gall”

TGL- to mix and so flavor with myrrh; the ancients used to infuse myrrh into wine.

John 19:39- aloe wood mixed with myrrh, the powdered fragrant aloe wood mixed with myrrh for embalming.

Frankincense libanos: the frankincense tree, frankincense

Original Word: λίβανος, ου, ὁ Incense.

TGL- from the Frankincense tree

SEC- the incense tree, or the tree itself

Almost last, chapter 9, pages 132-133 The Cedars of Lebanon (which is, of course, frankincense, libanos) Pg 133, 2nd paragraph, says, “Most of this oil was probably of a type used for food or burning in lamps, probably olive, although some of it could have been almond, walnut, linseed, pistachio, or sesame. Some of it was probably essential and aromatic.” Hold it! Stewart goes on, “the Hebrew word that appears in the original text is “shemen”, which can be translated with equal validity as “oil” or “ointment”. For example, the Hebrew word shemen was translated as ointment in 14 bible passages.”

Stop right there!

The Hebrew word shemen refers specifically to olive oil, from the wild olive tree, oleaster wood, remember? And as for emphasizing that it was “translated” (so? By whom?) as ointment in 14 bible passages, shemen is found in 193 passages total in Hebrew bible, so 14 out of 193 is not so big a deal as he would have you think, especially since he refers to “translations”, of which there are many, not like the original manuscripts.

Yes, olive oil was an ointment.

Yes, olive oil was a staple.

Yes, olive oil was an extremely important oil!

Olive oil was and is not an “essential oil”.

This author is trying to make his point for his own agenda, even using how it was translated in one of many hundreds of translations instead of using its actual definition. Suggesting the word can be “translated with equal validity as oil or as ointment” really says nothing, clearly, Stewart has an agenda, something of his own to prove.

Finally, I will just say a few words about his bio in the back, since he, in the text of the book on page 38, last paragraph, references his time in Medical school to make a point; however, tucked away in his bio, we see he only was in med school for one semester. Huh?

His MS and his PHD are not in the natural health field, they were in Theoretic Seismology, ie earthquakes. Simply a point of interest, or “straw man.” Maybe. Also, notice, pg. 322, that he was “formerly a Registered Aromatherapist” and lists RA, ARC, and NAHA. Looked it up, this was Revoked, because he refused to stop teaching Raindrop Therapy, a practice that is considered very unsafe by trained Aromatherapy experts worldwide.  Last, the book was laced throughout with advertising for a particular oil company and a particular charismatic leader, whom I have researched and researched again, and have found the records and documentation to be very troubling, to put it mildly.

In conclusion, I see so much Hebrew and Greek information to dispute, not even counting the “secret mysteries revealed to only a few” stuff further on in the book. I simply cannot read any more because most every page I’ve read has something disquieting. This doesn’t even touch the EO and Aromatherapy info, of which I am only beginning to learn, and have no solid reference as yet.

Even aside from that part, the book falsely represents the original languages, and the bio is “sketchy.” All in all, there are many more solid materials available. You have to check and double check to separate the sheep from the goats. I’m working in it, for what it’s worth, and praying I won’t be too proud to admit it when I’m wrong. Do your research carefully, and please never just acquiesce to your friends, your oil seller, or even me. Prove them, prove me, as thoroughly as possible, then research some more.

But personally? I cannot decry this book any stronger.