Scented ointments and unguents were not widely used throughout the Middle East from the earliest known times. These ointments were extremely expensive and were therefore kept in containers of comparable worth. Small jars carved from alabaster, expensive works of art themselves, also enhanced the fragrance of the ointments that were aged in them over several years. Alabaster perfume jars, similar to the ones mentioned in Matthew (Matt. 26.7)., have been found in archaeological digs throughout Palestine
The Egyptians developed the practice strapping a small cone of perfumed unguent on the forehead of an honored guest at a banquet. Body heat melted the unguent, which slowly ran down the guest's face and onto his clothes, providing both cooling refreshment and perfume. This custom was adopted by the Israelites. Jesus refers to it in Luke 7:46, where he noted that his host had not provided ointment for his head. Ointment softened skin that had been made coarse by sun and dryness, and soothed the chafing and irritation caused by heat rash. In an area where water was often scarce, they helped to enhance social relationships.
In the house of Simon the leper, Jesus was anointed with genuine spikenard from an alabaster jar (Matt. 26.7) Spikenard, a fragrant essence native to northern India, is still used there as a perfume for the hair. In biblical times, spikenard was imported into Palestine in sealed alabaster jars. It was so rare that its value was equal to the wages of a year for an ordinary person. It was widely used by- Jews and Romans alike for anointing the dead. Myrrh, which was less expensive than spikenard, was also used to anoint the dead. Luke 23.56).