Lessons learned from a royal vial of oil
As Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Portal Welby was quoted in early March saying to the media regarding the coronation oil used last Saturday for King Charles III and as it appears at the official site of the United Kingdom’s Royal Family: “Since beginning the planning for the coronation, my desire has been for a new coronation oil to be produced using olive oil from the Mount of Olives.”
Archbishop Welby was further quoted saying: “This demonstrates the deep historic link between the coronation, the Bible and the holy land. From ancient kings through to the present day, monarchs have been anointed with oil from this sacred place.”
According to the news reports, the ingredients used to perfume the Chrism oil brought from Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives to anoint the king included sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin and amber, as well as orange blossom. This was a bit different but close to the instructions of the biblical sources. Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, the Book of Service, The Temple Appurtenances, Chapter One, indicates the verse of Exodus 30:25 as his source. It reads: “And you shall make it as the oil of sacred anointment,” and he lists musk, cinnamon, costus (Saussurea lappa), and fragrant cane.
To confirm the biblical connection, we need only turn to I Kings 1:38-39. There we learn that, upon the directive of King David, Solomon was brought to the Gihon in Jerusalem and “there Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon.” David himself was anointed previously in Bethlehem by Samuel (I Samuel 16:13). Indeed, it was an ancient custom. It applied, as well, to the high priest (Exodus 29:7).
Are there any lessons to be learned from this element of the coronation ceremony?
One would be that, despite Welby being of the opinion that for Christians in Israel, this is a time of “historic tragedy,” their growing of olive trees, harvesting them, and producing and consecrating the oil used for King Charles went off without a hitch.
A second lesson would be that despite Israel existing for 75 years, the primate of all England cannot seem to utter its name. It is an anonymous geographic entity simply referred to as the “holy land.” The name of its capital city, Jerusalem, likewise is studiously ignored.
The third would be that even though Welby is proud of the biblical and historic connection, even the name “Judea” is left out, one that appears in the second chapter of Mark, for example: “Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea.”
It would be fascinating to ask the archbishop about all this and more. One question would be were there any kings of “Palestine” that were anointed and what could be learned from their history? And if not, why? Were there Palestine kings? Was there ever a “Palestine”?
Welby might decline to respond to such inquiries and perhaps even respond that these are not matters of religion. Then again, however, that has not prevented him from being quite critical of Israel as last October, when he expressed concern about the potential for the British embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
There are so many lessons, for all of us, to be learned.