Laying on of hands
The laying on of hands is a religious practice. In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit primarily during baptisms and confirmations, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.
The laying on of hands was an action referred to on numerous occasions in the Hebrew Bible to accompany the conferring of a blessing or authority. It also referred to the laying on of hands over one's sacrificial animal (sin-offering and whole-burnt offering), before it was slaughtered, based on a teaching in Leviticus 4:24: "And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat." In Pseudo Jonathan's Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, the translator of the verse explains its sense: "And he shall lay his right hand with force on the head of the goat." According to Philo of Alexandria, the custom of laying on of hands was done in order to aid him in developing a clean conscience, so that he can say without guile: "These hands have not taken a bribe to distort justice, neither have they divided the spoil, nor have they coveted, neither have they shed innocent blood, etc."
Aaron and the High Priests who succeeded him symbolically transferred the sins of the Children of Israel to a sacrificial goat by the laying on of hands: Leviticus16:21. Moses ordained Joshua through semikhah—i.e. by the laying on of hands: Num 27:15–23, Deut 34:9. The Bible adds that Joshua was thereby "filled with the spirit of wisdom". Moses also ordained the 70 elders (Num 11:16–25). The elders later ordained their successors in this way. Their successors in turn ordained others. This chain of hands-on semikhah continued through the time of the Second Temple, to an undetermined time. The exact date that the original semikhah succession ended is not certain. Many medieval authorities believed that this occurred during the reign of Hillel II, circa AD 360. However, it seems to have continued at least until AD 425 when Theodosius II executed Gamaliel VI and suppressed the Patriarchate and Sanhedrin.
In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:14–19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers (see Acts 6:5–6). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as during confirmation.
The New Testament also associates the laying on of hands with the conferral of authority or designation of a person to a position of responsibility. (See Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3; and 1 Timothy 4:14. Also possibly Acts 14:23, where "ordained"—Greek: χειροτονήσαντες—may be translated "extended the hand".) The use of the laying on of hands for the ordination of church officers has continued in many branches of Christianity.
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The laying on of hands, known as the royal touch, was performed by kings in England and France, and was believed to cure scrofula (also called "King's Evil" at the time), a name given to a number of skin diseases. The rite of the king's touch began in France with Robert II the Pious, but legend later attributed the practice to Clovis as Merovingian founder of the Holy Roman kingdom, and Edward the Confessor in England. The belief continued to be common throughout the Middle Ages but began to die out with the Enlightenment. Queen Anne was the last British monarch to claim to possess this divine ability, though the Jacobite pretenders also claimed to do so. The French monarchy maintained the practice up until the 19th century. The act was usually performed at large ceremonies, often at Easter or other holy days.
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- Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah 2:2 [10b]
- Philo, De Specialibus Legibus (The Special Laws), book i, chapter 37, vss. 202–204.
- Nachmanides, Sefer Hazekhut, Gittin ch 4; Rabbenu Nissim, ibid; Sefer Haterumot, Gate 45; R Levi ibn Haviv, Kuntras Hasemikhah.
- New Bible Dictionary (ISBN 0-85110-630-7)
- Parry, Ken; Melling, David, eds. (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23203-6.
- Swete, H.B. "Laying on of hands". Archived from the original on 2010-09-03. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "Imposition of Hands". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- "Ordination". Jewish Encyclopedia.
- Scott, Gini Graham (2002). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shamanism. Alpha Books. ISBN 0-02-864364-X.