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THE custom and ceremony of anointing with oil by way of imparting some fancied spiritual power and religious qualification seems to have been extensively practiced by the Jews and primitive Christians, and still more anciently by various oriental nations. Mark (xiv. 4), reports Jesus Christ as speaking commendingly of the practice, by which it was evident he was in favor of the superstitious custom. The apostle James not only sanctions it, but recommends it in the most specific language. “Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James v. 14.)
The practice of greasing or smearing with oil, it may be noted here, was in vogue from other motives besides the one here indicated. We find the statement in the New American Cyclopedia (vol. i.p. 620), that anointing with perfumed oil was in common use among the Greeks and Romans as a mark of hospitality to guests. And modern travelers in the East still find it a custom for visitors to be sprinkled with rose-water, or their head, face and beard anointed with olive oil.” “Anointing,” we are also told, “is an ancient and still prevalent custom throughout the East, by pouring aromatic oils on persons as a token of honor. … It was also employed in consecrating priests, prophets and kings, and the places and instruments appointed for worship.” (Ibid.) Joshua anointed the ten stones he set up in Jordan, and Jacob the stone on which he slept at the time of his great vision.
The early Christians were in the habit of anointing the altars, and even the walls, of the churches, in the same manner as the images, obelisks, statues, etc., had long been consecrated by the devotees of the oriental systems. Aaron, Saul, David, Solomon, and even Jesus Christ were anointed with oil in the same way. David Malcom, in his “Essay on the Antiquity of the Britons,” p. 144, says, “The Mexican king was anointed with Holy Unction by the high priest while dancing before the Lord.” (Vide the case of David “dancing before the Lord with all his might.” Dr. Lightfoot, in his “Harmony of the New Testament,” speaks of the custom among the Jews of anointing the sick on the Sabbath day (see Works, Vol. i,p. 333; also Toland, Sect. Naz. p. 54), as afterwards recommended by the apostle James, as shown above. This accords exactly with the method of treating the sick in ancient India and other heathen countries several thousand years ago. For proof consult Hyde, Bryant, Tertullian and other writers. The custom of anointing the sick, accompanied with prayer and other ceremonies, was quite fashionable in the East long before the birth of either Jesus or James. One writer testifies that “the practice of anointing with oil, so much in vogue among the Jews, and sanctioned by Christ and his followers, was held in high esteem in nearly all the Eastern religions.”
The foregoing historical facts furnish still further proof that Christianity is the offspring of heathenism.