Memorial Incense
April 18, 2019

Leviticus 2 prescribes the rite for the tribute offering (minchah). Three general forms are described, differing mainly by the ways they are prepared before they are brought to the sanctuary. There are flour offerings (vv. 1-3), baked minchah (vv. 4-10), and grains roasted in fire (vv. 14-16). Baked minchot are distinguished by the cooking tool used - oven, pan, or griddle.

Each includes oil, but the oil is applied differently. Oil is poured over the flour; oil is an ingredient in baked minchot, and additional oil "anoints" wafers (v. 4) or is poured over broken pieces of pan minchah (v. 6); oil is put (natan) on roasted grains (v. 15).

Flour and roasted-grain minchot are offered with frankincense (vv. 1, 15). Cooked minchot do not have frankincense.

The rites for offering these different kinds of minchah are very similar. In each case, a memorial portion is turned to smoke on the altar (vv. 2, 9, 16); the remainder of flour and baked minchot goes to the priests (vv. 3, 10), and presumably the same is true of the remainder of the roasted grain, though it is not stated.

Yet there are subtle differences in the rites. With flour and roasted-grain offerings, the incense is completely burned, while there's no incense in the baked offerings. Leviticus 2:8-9 suggests that the baked offerings are touched (nagash) on the altar and then raised up (rum) as a heave offering.

English translations obscure this. The NASB translates verse 8 as "When you bring in the grain offering which is made of these things to Yahweh, it shall be presented to the priest and he shall bring it to the altar." The first "bring" is the hiphil of bo'; "present" translates the hiphil of qarab; and the second "bring" translates the hiphil of nagash. By smudging the differences among these verbs, the NASB misses the point, which is that the offering is being brought into contact with the altar through the mediation of the priest. The NIV is better: "Bring the grain offering made of these things to the Lord; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar."

With "the priest shall take up from the grain offering," the NASB also misses the point of verse 9, which uses the hiphil of rum, which means "to lift up" or "to raise" and is the root of terumah, "heave offering."

Why is this important? It seems that the difference in the rites for baked minchot is connected to the absence of frankincense. Verses 2 and 16 indicate that a portion of flour/grain and oil is placed "on" ('al) the frankincense, which serves as the foundation of the offering. The frankincense included with the showbread is explicitly described as the "memorial" (Leviticus 24:7); the frankincense is the only part of the showbread that's burned, the rest being treated as the remainder of the tribute offering, most holy food for priests. Though some of the flour and some of the roasted grain is turned to smoke on the altar, the frankincense is key to making it a memorial. Strictly speaking, the frankincense is the memorial, which makes its soothing aroma.

What is done when there's no frankincense, as in the case of the baked minchah? Then the bread itself replaces the incense. Making and baking dough is somehow parallel with the offering of incense; more specifically, the baked goods become incense-like when they're consecrated by contact with the altar and then raised before Yahweh as a heave offering. Or: Flour and roasted-grain are consecrated through the offering of frankincense, while baked goods are consecrated by contact with altar. Two different methods of raising minchot to the status of "most holy."

The distribution of the minchah is thus: Frankincense or consecrated bread becomes a restful aroma to Yahweh; flour, bread, or roasted grain go to the priest. And we might find a parallel here with the animal offerings: Fat and internal organs go to Yahweh, while the meat is distributed among priests and people. Fat is the memorial portion of the animal; fat is the incense of the animal world.

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