What is the etymology of the idiom “To stink/smell to high heaven?”

What is the earliest known source that uses the idiom, “Stink/Smell to high heaven”?

From a preliminary search, I came across the Shakespeare Said It Firstwebsite, which states:

It smells to heaven. Spoken by King Claudius. The entire line is “O,
my offense is rank, it smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest
curse upon it. A brother’s murder.” Today, the phrase “stinks to high
heaven” is more generally used. While the line in Hamlet refers to the
metaphorical “stench” of an evil deed, today is used mostly as a
hyperbole in reference to extremely unpleasant scents

Is this indeed the first usage of this idiomatic expression? If not, what is the origin and etymology of the phrase “Stink/Smell to high heaven?” What time period?


Shakespeare did utter smells to heaven … but I am not sure this is the origin of the idiom:

to stink to high heaven. TFD

Etymonline.com says the following:

Old English stincan “emit a smell of any kind; exhale; rise (of dust,
vapor, etc.)” (class III strong verb; past tense stanc, past
participle stuncen), common West Germanic (cognates: Old Saxon
stincan, West Frisian stjonke, Old High German stinkan, Dutch
stinken), from the root of stench. Old English had swote stincan “to
smell sweet,” but offensive sense also was in Old English and
predominated by mid-13c.; smell now tends the same way. Figurative
meaning “be offensive” is from early 13c.; meaning “be inept” is
recorded from 1924. To stink to high heaven first recorded 1963. etymonline

And there are biblical references to ‘smells’ and ‘high heaven’:

God directed use of incense in Old Testament worship and the fragrant
or detestable aroma, as the case may be, that rose into “high heaven”
or before the “nose” of God. Paul Anderson

I am inclined to go with the etymological reference acknowledging there have been smells, good and bad, wafting to the heavens from mankind since … the beginning.

Source : Link , Question Author : Butterfly and Bones , Answer Author : lbf

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