Dr Margaret Barker: The Holy Oil in the Temple Tradition

The following are my notes from Dr Margaret Barker’s presentation, which served as an introduction to the use of the holy anointing oil from the time of the First Temple period. Please excuse the incompleteness of the notes, and my apologies to Dr Barker if I misrepresent any of what she communicated in her paper. The following are my own notes, supplemented by the very helpful outline (indicated in bold) she provided as a handout.

The Messiah, the Christ, was the Anointed One, and so the holy anointing oil is central to Christian identity. It gives the Christians their name.

Those anointed in the Holy of Holies became sons of God and were blessed with the company of the Holy Ones (angels). (See my recent post relating to this topic)

Christians are: sons of God, Rom. 8:14; the saints, e.g. Rom. 1:7; raised with Christ, Col. 3:1; passed from death to life 1 Jn 3:14; anointed by the Holy One and know all things, 1 Jn. 2:20, 27; Name on foreheads Rev. 22:4.


Moses was instructed by God to reproduce what he saw in his heavenly vision on Sinai. The holy oil must have been an imitation of a heavenly reality that he had seen.

The oil was meant to be very sacred — it was not to be used on foreigners or the unworthy.

Christian teaching concerning anointing is a conscious continuation of the ancient temple teaching.

The oil was understood to impart holiness — whatever touches the Holy of Holies becomes holy. The oil was kept (in a flask or jar) in the Holy of Holies. It was part of the secret teaching of the high priesthood.  (See: Anointing oil, Exod. 3:22-25. Imparted holiness, Exod. 3:29; Myrrh, Dionysius Eccclesiastical Hierarchy 473B, 476C, 477C; Secret teaching, Num. 18:7, LXX Num. 3:10; Ignatius of Antioch, Philadelphians 9; Clement Miscellanies 7:17, 5:10. Also Clem. Homilies 19:20. Origen, On John 19:22; Basil of Caesarea, Holy Spirit 66).

The anointing with oil was a part of the “secret teaching” passed on to Christianity from Christ through the apostles.  Clement of Alexandria claimed that Christians had unwritten traditions, mysteries into which they “enter in, through the tradition of the Lord, by drawing aside the curtain” (Miscellanies, Book VII, Ch. XVII). This is how the Christians gained sacred knowledge.  Basil of Caesarea said that the anointing was one of the doctrines “we have received delivered to us ‘in a mystery’ by the tradition of the apostles” (On the Holy Spirit, Ch. XXVII, Sec. 66).

The true oil of the Holy of Holies was lost in the time of the reforms of King Josiah. 2 Kgs. 23 — The oil was connected to the Asherah (translated as “the grove”), which Josiah removed and burned. Traditions state that the oil was hidden away when the Ark was removed from the Holy of Holies. (Oil and temple furnishings lost in seventh century BCE, to be restored in time of Messiah: Babylonian Talmud Horayoth 21a; Numbers Rabbah XV:10; Rev. 11:19; 22:2).


In Rev. 22, we read of the Tree of Life restored to the temple.  This is the True Menorah, likely the Asherah that was removed. The Christians knew the ancient Holy of Holies and what it had contained. John, in his vision, saw the true Holy of Holies. He saw the great woman, clothed with the sun, giving birth to a son. John saw what the anointing represented: the son of God born in the holy of holies when he was anointed with the myrrh oil. In John’s vision the woman clothed with the sun takes the place of the oil. Presumably the oil represented this woman. Rev. 12:1-6. This birth in the Holy of Holies represented incarnation/theosis — the human becoming divine.

Ps. 110 also describes the birth of the Divine Son in the Holy of Holies.  The Hebrew of this psalm is difficult to translate. Vs. 3 probably read something like “On the day of thy birth in the glory of the Holy Ones, I have begotten you with the dew (oil) from the womb of the Morning Star.”  Compare this with Ps. 2:7, “the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” See also Isa. 9:6, Pope Leo Sermon VI Epiphany.

One of the best representations of this process is 2 Enoch 22 (Enoch anointed, perfumed dew. Also, see: Isa. godtookenoch11:3, perfumed anointing; 1 Jn. 2:20, 27; 2 Cor. 2:14) Enoch was anointed with “dew”, clothed, and transformed into an angel. He was taught the heavenly secrets and given a new name.  In 3 Enoch, we learn that the great angel Metatron was Enoch on earth. He had been raised up to a throne and had become “wise.”

The anointing was said to bring wisdom.  Wisdom is personified as the Great Lady of the temple. In later Christian understanding, this female figure became associated with Mary (Eusebius on Psalm 110 “born from Mary”). The “womb” of Ps. 110 is similar, semantically, to the name Mary (Miriam) — it was understood that this verse referred to Christ being born of Mary in the Holy of Holies.

Anointing was key to being “lifted up” — ascent/resurrection. Messiah was, by definition, resurrected. In the tradition of Melchizedek in Hebrews, he is “raised up” to the priesthood.  In the Isaiah scroll from Qumran, the “suffering servant” is not “marred” but anointed, raised up and given knowledge — “transfigured”.  In Ps. 45, the king (who is a Melchizedek high priest) is addressed as divine (v. 6). Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh and was worshipped (1 Chron. 29:20, 23). Was the king an incarnation of Yahweh — his divine son? (Raising up as resurrection/ new birth: Ps. 89:19-20, 26-27; 2 Sam. 23:1; Heb. 7:11-17; Ps. 45: 2, 6-7; 1 Chron. 29:20, 23)

Eusebius informs us that Moses’ vision included a view of the heavenly sanctuary, which he was supposed to imitate in building the Tabernacle (Proof of Gospel IV: 10, 15). The high priests were “christs” — they represented Yahweh by being anointed and wearing name “YHWH” on forehead.  The anointing oil came from the Tree of Life (true menorah, Asherah; see Clem. Recognitions, 1:45-46; Prov. 3; ben Sira 24:10-34). In the Second Temple, there was no anointing of high priests, only vesting (Zech. 3:3-5, 4:14).

Prov. 3: 13, 18 — Wisdom equated with Tree of Life and true happiness. There is a play on words in the Hebrew. Hebrew ashar means “happiness.” Ashar is similar to Asheratah/Asherah, who was the Queen of Heaven, personified by the Tree of Lifetreegoddess3 (see my post on “Tree of Life as Nurturing Mother“).  Wisdom = Happiness = Tree of Life = Heavenly Mother, represented by high priestess of the temple.  She was represented by asherah tree in the temple. This was the true menorah in the Holy of Holies — the menorah of the Second Temple was not the true menorah — contained no “wisdom.” The oil from the true menorah was said to come from abovewhen the tree was lost, so was the oil. Second Temple high priests were not anointed. (Anointed ones as lights: Exod. 27:20-21; Zohar Exodus 148a and Zohar Leviticus 34b)

Enoch saw the Tree of Life, a fiery tree (represented by menorah) — he saw the tree removed and then transplanted back to temple — this is what John saw in his vision.  When the tree/Wisdom was abandoned, the priests could no longer “see” — there had been an anointing of the eyelids to be able to “see”. Ps. 19: 7-8 (Perfumed tree of fire: 2 Enoch 8:30; Mishnah Aboth 3:10, also Jn. 8:12; Matt. 5:14; Menorah forbidden: Babylonian Talmud Menahot 28b; BT ‘Aboda Zara 43a; BT Ros Hashanah 24ab; Lost oil as lost vision: 1 Enoch 93:8; BT Horayoth 12a)

Philo wrote that when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies, he was not a man, but a divine “Logos”. His Father was God and his Mother Wisdom.  Christians thought of themselves as children of God and Wisdom.  (Child of Wisdom: Philo Flight 109-110; Rev. 12:17)

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