Monday, February 17, 2014

Preparation of the Incense and View of the Avtinas Chamber

The next chamber I would like to explore is the Avtinas Chamber. This was an elevated chamber located directly above the Water Gate on the southern side of the Courtyard where the Avtinas family would compound the Incense offered daily in the Temple. In order to design this workspace it is instructive to review how the ingredients of the Incense were prepared.

Composition of the Incense
The Incense was compounded from eleven primary ingredients. The following translations and weights are not the result of any research on my part and are not meant as definitive translations (if there even is such a thing for the spices of the Incense). Rather, they are working translations which will help approximate what is involved in preparing the Incense. For the most part, I used the translations and quantities found in Artscroll's Tractate Kereisos 6a. For simplicity, one maneh is taken to represent one pound. [Even though in my post on saffron I wrote that a maneh is equal to 20 ounces.]

1. Stacte [צרי] - this is sap which drips from balsam trees. Quantity: 70 pounds.
2. Onycha [ציפורן] - residue exuded by the branches of the rock rose bush. It would first be scrubbed with 5 gallons of Karshina lye [בורית כרשינה], a cleansing agent, in order to whiten it, and then it was soaked in 10 gallons of Kafrisin wine [יין קפריסין] in order to intensify its fragrance. Quantity: 70 pounds.
3. Galbanum [חלבנה] - a foul-smelling substance extracted from a certain type of wood. Quantity: 70 pounds.
4. Frankincense [לבונה] - a resinous substance derived from the sap of certain trees. Quantity: 70 pounds.
5. Myrrh [מור] - gum resin extracted from a certain type of tree. Quantity: 16 pounds.
6. Cassia [קציעה] - a cinnamon-like bark. Quantity: 16 pounds.
7. Spike-Lavender [שבולת נרד] - an herb. Quantity: 16 pounds.
8. Saffron [כרכום] - a spice. Quantity: 16 pounds.
9. Costus [קושט] - an herb. Quantity: 12 pounds.
10. Aromatic bark [קילופה] - the bark of the cinnamon tree. Quantity: 3 pounds.
11. Cinnamon [קנמון] - a spice. Quantity: 9 pounds.

In addition to these eleven ingredients, the following were also part of the Incense:
12. Salt of Sodom [מלח סדומית] - a fine grained salt, presumably from the Dead Sea. Quantity: 1/8 of a gallon.
13. Jordan amber [כיפת הירדן] - a plant which grows on the banks of the Jordan River. Quantity: a minute amount.
14. Maaleh Ashan [מעלה עשן] - a substance (whose identity was a trade secret of the Avtinas family) which caused the smoke of the Incense to rise straight up. Quantity: a minute amount.

Preparing the Ingredients
All of the Incense ingredients were collected from trees, bushes, and herbs grown in a garden located on the Temple Mount. Both the resins (ingredients 1 through 5) and the spices (6 through 11) needed to be left out to dry before they could be processed. The dried resins and spices were then ground in a mortar and pestle, measured, and mixed together. Here is a list of the main equipment needed:

Workspace for cutting up the spice plants to isolate the specific parts used in the Incense.
Mortar and pestle. Although it is possible that the Avtinas family owned a single mortar and ground the ingredients one at a time, this would require the mortar to be cleaned thoroughly between uses. I would suggest that the Temple provided individual mortars, eleven in all, under the general rule of "there are no displays of poverty in a place of affluence."
Balance for weighing the ground material.
— Large container to hold the 368 pounds of finished Incense.
— Large bowls for scrubbing and soaking the onycha.
Storage containers for the Karshina lye and Kafrisin wine.

View of the Avtinas Chamber
In the image below we see the Avtinas Chamber from the southwest. This room had no roof, yet it was called a 'chamber' (and not a balcony or second story), so I have built up the outer walls with windows to make it feel more enclosed. The northern half of this chamber possessed Courtyard sanctity while the southern half did not, and each side therefore needed its own entrance. The two doors at left open into the thickness of the Courtyard wall, with one leading down to the Courtyard and the other to the Temple Mount. On the right is another door leading to the mikveh used by the Kohen Gadol for his first immersion on the morning of Yom Kippur. All of the equipment and materials for preparing the Incense were kept on the northern, sanctified side because the Incense was required to be compounded within the confines of the Courtyard. In addition, should a Kohen step into the unsanctified side to retrieve something, he would have to immerse in a mikveh before reentering the sanctified side, causing an unnecessary delay. Beneath the workbench holding the scales and bowls are the eleven stone mortars which could be pulled out as needed.

The Avtinas Chamber viewed from the southwest.

Avtinas Chamber seen from within the Courtyard,
just above the Water Gate.

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