Seed, Spade and Sword: The Bible In Context

Helping to illuminate biblical context and background

Frankincense (Boswellia sacra)

Frankincense literally means “free-burning”.

1. Also call Olibanum
a. Which may be the Arabic al-luban or “that which results from milking”
b. Or it may refer to the “oil of Lebanon” because the sea coastal cities were the chief western marketplace for (F)

2. The family tree of (F) is Burseraceae
a. or Torchwood
b. or simply the “incense tree family”
c. There are 540 species in this family tree
i. Two family distinctives:
1. Non-allergenic resins
2. Smooth, yet flaking aromatic tree parts, leaves, bark etc.

3. (F) resins are graded by:
a. The time of harvest (2-3 x per year)
i. The best “tap” or wounding is the final tap
b. Soil and climate conditions
i. (F) trees are considered unusual for their ability to grow in the rockiest of soils if not from rock itself.
c. Clearer resins the better
d. The strength of the aroma
e. The age of the resin

4. Best (F) comes from Oman, Yemen and Somalia and is called silver or “hojari”

5. Heavily tapped trees (wounded) have been found to produce seeds that germinate at only 16%, while seeds from unwounded or those allowed to heal recover and geminate at 80%
a. What is the moral of this factoid?
b. Being wounded effects productivity and reproduction

6. Brief History
a. 3000 BC (F) is being traded on the Arabian Peninsula and in N. Africa
b. Found in abundance in King Tut’s tomb (1323 BC)
c. Introduced to Europe by returning Crusaders
d. 1990’s archaeologist discovered the lost city of Ubar (the Atlantis of the sand), in modern Oman.
i. Chief center for processing (F)
ii. NASA has helped archaeologists to trace the “Incense and Spice” road from Ubar to Lebanon’s coast.
e. Herodotus knew about (F) and observed that its high price was in some measure determined by the danger of collecting it, when venomous snakes loved the tree as its habitat.

7. Uses: ancient, folk and modern
a. Its spicy balsamic, slightly lemon with a conifer-like undertone made it desirable in perfumery and aromatherapy
b. In religious rites
i. All three monotheistic religious used (F) mixed with oils and other resins in different “anointing” ceremonies:
1. Birth of children
2. Symbolic of promotion or elevation in station or status
3. As a signal that an individual is moving into a new phase in their spiritual journey
c. Jews viewed the smoke as a symbol of the Presence of the Almighty
d. Egyptians ground the charred resin into a powder called “kohl” the famous black-eyeliner used by both men and women.
e. (F) of the purest sort is chewable or can be sucked on like a lozenge.
f. One of nature’s best mosquito repellants, helped to prevent:
i. Malaria
ii. West Nile Virus
iii. Dengue Fever
g. 2008- John Hopkins and Hebrew University determined the smoke from (F) is psycho-active and relieves depression and anxiety
i. No post-partum blues for Mary

8. Important Biblical references
a. Exodus 30:31-34
b. Leviticus 24:7
c. Matthew 2:10-11
d. Luke 1:9

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)

1. Native to Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia

2. There is a resin producing species that is native to Jordan
a. Commiphora gileadensis
b. Some scholars argue that its resin was one of the components of the Balm of Gilead
i. Balm of Gilead (Cammiphora opobalsamum, known as Populus candicans in the United States) is a substance used in perfumes that is derived from the resinous juices of the balsam poplar tree. The tree is a member of the Bursera family. The variety that is native to the continents of Africa and Asia is a small tree of 10–12 ft in height. The cultivated North American variety can grow to heights of 100 ft.
ii. The herb's name derives from the ancient region of Gilead in Palestine, known for the great healing powers of its balm. Balm of Gilead is mentioned several times in the Bible (e.g., Jeremiah 8:22). The writings of Pliny the Elder indicate that the tree was brought to Rome in the first century A.D. The historian Josephus recorded that the Queen of Sheba made a gift of balm of Gilead to King Solomon.

3. The resin
a. Reddish-brown and hardens into “tears” or dried sap.
b. Quality is measured by:
i. The darkness and clarity of the tears
ii. The strength of its vanillic sweetness
c. Unlike most resins (M) expands and “blooms” when burned instead of melting and charring

4. Brief history
a. Egyptians imported large amounts as far back as 3000BC
i. They used it for:
1. Embalming
a. Even the NT mentions (M) in connection with the burial of Jesus (John 19:39-40)
2. As an antiseptic
3. Burned it for religious ritual and sacrifice
b. Even in late Roman times (M) was worth more than gold and was 5 x as expensive as the more popular Frankincense
i. Roman used (M) to mask the odor emanating from pyre funerals
ii. Nero burned a years worth at his wife’s funeral.
c. Pliny the Elder mentions that all “royal” perfumes contained myrrh.
d. The “best” wines had a pinch of (M) as a quality additive
i. The best wines were royal wines with a hint of (M)
1. The NT mentions best wines or wine containing (M)
a. Wedding in Cana – John 2:1ff
b. Golgotha’s drink - Mark 15:22-23
i. The offer of wine with (M) has been interpreted as an attempt to ease the pain of Christ
ii. Another possibility – the soldiers were continuing the mockery of the “king” of the Jews by offering Christ “royal” wine
e. From earliest times to the modern church era (M) has been used in anointing oils and incenses
i. Used extensively by Eastern Orthodox Communion
ii. Used regularly by the Roman Church
iii. Less by Protestants of the low church order
1. It is still used during Christmas and Easter by many

5. Medicinal use
a. Modern
i. Used in oral antiseptics
1. Mouthwashes
2. Gargles
3. Toothpastes
ii. Used in topical ointments
1. Liniments
2. Healing salves
iii. Third of Saudis still use (M) medicinally
b. Ancient times
i. (M) was used for its “blood-moving” properties
ii. Used to purge stagnant blood out of the uterus
1. After child birth
2. After menstrual cycle
3. During menopause

6. Important biblical passages
a. Esther 2:12
b. Psalm 45:8
c. Song of Solomon 4:6

Tags: frankincense, incense, myrrh, olibanum

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