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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Both fragrant ointments and perfumes ("roḳaḥ" or "riḳḳuḥim") in general (comp. Incense) were known to the Israelites. There is nothing to indicate that they understood how to obtain them from animal matter, mention being made only of their preparation from vegetables. The principal substance of which perfumes were made was gum resin or balsam, which either oozed naturally from certain trees or was obtained by slitting them. Sometimes the wood, bark, and leaves were employed; rarely the flowers and seeds. The following plants were especially used: aloes ("ahalim"), balsam ("bosem"), calamus ("ḳanch"), cassia ("ḳeẓi'ah"), cinnamon ("ḳinnamon"), galbanum ("ḥelbenah"), ladanum ("loṭ"), myrrh ("mor"), saffron ("karkom"), and styrax ("naṭaf" or "libneh").

The Israelites were not familiar with distillation or with any of the other methods of obtaining perfumes popular in later times; but by pouring boiling oil or fat on various substances they obtained fragrant oils or ointments for their customary needs. In Job 41:31 this method of preparation is referred to. The raging sea is compared to a pot of boiling ointment ("merḳaḥah"). According to Song of Solomon 3:6 and Proverbs 7:17, the bed was perfumed "with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant"; according to Psalms 45:9, the garments of the queen smelled of myrrh, aloes, and cassia. Hebrew women carried smelling-bottles ("batte nefesh") attached to a long chain around the neck or at the girdle (Isaiah 3:20).

E. G. H.
W. N.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Perfume'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​p/perfume.html. 1901.
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