Anointing the body for burials was part of the Egyptian mummification process, but embalming was not customary in Judea. Throughout the Middle East scented oils were used at funerals and carried along with aloes and myrtle in the funeral procession (Exodus 30:23-25). Myrrh was also used in purification rituals, such as that of preparing royalty to assume their power (Esther 2:12).
Christianity adopted this Jewish custom and Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches use chrism, olive oil scented with balsam or myrrh, to confirm those who have been baptized, to ordain priests and to anoint the sick and dying. Usually only the forehead is anointed in the form of a cross, but in some traditions seven parts of the body (forehead, shoulders, hands and feet) are anointed.
The scriptural basis for the ritual of anointing of the sick comes from James 5:14–15: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the Church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And if they have committed sins, these will be forgiven.”
The practice of anointing the sick and combining spiritual healing with physical healing predates Christianity. In ancient Greece the sick were brought to the temple of Aesculapius whose symbol of a staff with entwined by two snakes is still used by physicians worldwide.