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Biblical Archaeology Review 2:1, March 1976

Albright the Beautician Reveals Secrets of Queen Esther's Cosmetic Aids

After Esther, ward of Mordecai, entered the harem of the Persian king Ahasuerus, she, along with the other virgins from whom the King would choose his queen, underwent a year’s preparation before being taken to the King.

The Bible tells us that:

“The full period of preparation prescribed for the women was twelve months, six months with oil and myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics”.

Esther 2:12

A posthumously published paper by the great American archaeologist William Foxwell Albright (who died in 1971) sheds new light on what this preparation consisted of.

During the last years of his life, Albright re-studied an inscription on what had been identified as a ritual incense burner (see drawing). The object had been found in the Lachish excavations directed by J. L. Starkey during the 1930’s (the expedition was abruptly halted when Starkey was murdered by marauders while on his way to the opening of the Palestine Archaeological Museum). According to Professor A. Dupont-Sommer who originally translated the inscription on the object, it referred to “Incense … to Yah”. Yah is another name for Yahweh, the ineffable designation of the Hebrew God. It seemed clear that the inscription must have been inscribed on a ritual object involving the burning of incense.

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