The Significance of Anointing
in Ancient Israel

The anointing of persons and objects with oil was widespread in ancient Israel and its environment for both practical and symbolic reasons.  Anointing was used to inaugurate kings, consecrate priests, and for the rehabilitation of lepers.  The Hebrew root word for anointing is MShCh, and throughout the Bible it implies that the anointment came from God.  The attribute MAShIACh ("anointed") came to designate the king and high priest and, by extension, other divinely appointed functionaries who were not anointed at all (e.g., prophets, the patriarchs, and even foreign kings). 

In Israel, anointment conferred upon the king the "RU'ACH of YHVH" ("the spirit of Yahweh"), i.e., his support, strength, and wisdom.  The king absorbed divine attributes through unction, a phenomenon attested nowhere else.  On the other hand, the anointment of the high priest served an entirely different function.  It conferred neither RU'ACH nor any other divine attribute.

This figurative use of MShCh is not a later development since it is already attested in Ugaritic.  Eventually it was applied to the messiah (the very word being taken from the Hebrew MShCh "anointed").  The Greek translation of MShCh is CHRISTOS, as it applies to the "anointed one."  The New Testament English translators always transliterate the Greek word as "CHRIST."  In view of the word's Hebrew or Greek meaning, every king, priest, and prophet of Israel was a "christ." 

As Christian theology developed and a multitude of questions arose concerning the identity and role of Jesus as his original designation, "Jesus the Anointed One," changed to Jesus Christ.  "Christ" became the word exclusively linked to Jesus in the New Testament.  Interestingly, none of Jesus' original followers would have known who Jesus Christ was.  In his world he would have been called Yeshua HaMaShiach -- Yeshua the Anointed One, i.e., Yeshua the Messiah

To continue to the next part of this study click on Messiah.

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 Editors: Jim Myers & Ike Tennison

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