Frankincense

Frankincense

(לבוֹנָה, lebonah'; whence λίβανος), an odorous resin, so called from its whitenesss (Plin. 12:14, 32); mostly imported from Arabia (Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20; see also Strabo, 16; Virgil, Georg.), yet growing also in Palestine (Song 4:14; unless perhaps some odoriferous kind of plant is here referred to); and used for perfume (Song 3:6), but more especially in sacrifices for fumigation (Le 2:2,16; Le 5:11; Isa 43:23; Isa 66:3; Lu 1:9); and it also was one of the ingredients in the perfume which was to be prepared for the sanctuary (Ex 30:34). Its use as an accompaniment of the meat-offering (Le 2:1,16; Le 6:15; Le 24:7; Nu 5:15) arose from its fragrant odor when burnt, in which respect the incense was a symbol of the divine name, and its diffusion an emblem of the publishing abroad of that name (Mal 1:11; comp. Song 1:3); and from this, as prayer is a calling on God's name, the incense came to be an emblem of prayer (Ps 141:2; Lu 1:10; Re 5:8; Re 8:3). In this symbolical representation the frankincense especially set forth holiness as characteristic of the divine attributes, so that the burning of it was a celebration of the holiness of Jehovah (Bahr, Symbolik d. Mos. Cultus, 1:466; 2:329, etc.). In this respect its name (=whiteness) likewise became significant. Frankincense was also used in the religious services of the heathen (Herod. 1:183; Ovid, Trist. 5:5, 11; Metam. 6:164; Arnob. adv. Gentes, 6:3; 7:26, etc.). On the altars of Mylitta and the Paphian Venus only incense was burnt (Minter, Relig. der Babylonier, page 55; Der tempel d. himmel. Gottin zu Paphos, page 20; Homer, Od. 8:363; see Damme, s.v. θυήεις; Tacitus, Hist. 2:3). The substance itself seems to have been similar to that now known as such, a vegetable resin, brittle, glittering, and of a bitter taste, obtained by successive incisions in the bark of a tree called the arbor thuris, the first of which yields the purest and whitest kind (ל8 8 זִבָּה, λίβανος διαφανής, or καθαρός); while the produce of the afterincisions is spotted with yellow, and, as it becomes old, loses its whiteness altogether. The Indian olibanum, or frankincense, is imported in chests and casks from Bombay as a regular article of sale. It is chiefly used in the rites of the Greek and Roman churches; and its only medical application at present is as a perfume in sick rooms. The olibanum, or frankincense used by the Jews in the Temple services; is not to be confounded with the frankincense of commerce, which is a spontaneous exudation of the Pinuus abies, or Norway spruce fir, and resembles in its nature and uses the Burgundy pitch which is obtained from the same tree. SEE INCENSE.

The ancients possessed no authentic information respeqting the plant from which this resin is procured (Strabo, 16:778, 782; Diod. Sic. 2:49; Pliny, 6:26, 32; Arrian, Peripl. page 158; Ptolemy, 6:7, 24; Herod. 3:97, 107; Arrian, Alex. 7:20; Virg. AEN. 416; Georg. 1:57, etc.), and modern writers are nearly as much confused in their accounts of it. Even Pliny and Theophrastus, who had never seen it, give merely contradictory statements concerning it. It is described by the latter as attaining the height of about five ells, having many branches, leaves like the pear-tree, and bark like the laurel; but at the same time he mentions another description, according to which it resembies the mastic-tree, its leaves being of a reddish color (Hist. Plant. 9:4). According to Diodorus (5:41), it is a small tree, resembling the Egyptian hawthorn, with gold-yellow leaves like those of the woad. The difficulty was rather increased than otherwise in the time of Pliny by the importation of some shoots of the tree itself, which seemed to belong to the terebinthus (12:31). Garcia de Horto represents it as low, with a leaf like that of the mastic: he distinguishes two kinds: the finer, growing on the mountains; the other, dark and of an inferior quality, growing on the plains. Chardin says that the frankincense-tree on the mountains of Caramania resembles a large pear-tree. The Arabian botanist Abulfadli says it is a vigorous shrub, growing only in Yemen and on the hills, and in respect to its leaves and fruit resembling myrtle; a description which has been thought (Sprengel, Hist. rei bot. 1:12, 257) to apply very well to the Amyris katab (Forskal, Flor. page 80), or (Gesch. d. Botan. 1:16) to the Anyris kafal (Forskal, page 19), or even to the Juniperus thurifera (Martins, Pharmakogn. page 384). Niebuhr, in his Descript. of Arabia, 2, 356, says, "We could learn nothing of the tree from which the incense distils, and Forskal does not mention it. I know that it is to be found in a part of Hadramaut [comp. Wellsted, 1:196; 2:333], where it is called oliban. But the Arabians hold their own incense in no estimation, and make use of that only which comes from India. Probably Arabian incense was so called by the ancients because the Arabs traded in it, and conveyed it from India to the ports of Egypt. and Syria." The Hebrews imported their frankincense from Saba (Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20); but it is remarkable that at present the Arabian libanum, or olibanum, is of a very inferior kind, and that the finest frankincense imported into Turkey comes through Arabia fiom the islands of the Indian Archipelago. The Arabian plant may possibly have degenerated, or it may be that the finest kind was always procured from India, as it certainly was in the time of Dioscorides. Burckhardt, in his Travels in Nubia, page 262, observes: "The liban is a species of gum, collected by the Bedouin Arabs, who inhabit the deserts between Kordofan and Shilluk, on the road to Sennaar. It is said to exude from the stem of a tree, in the same manner as gum arabic. It is sold in small thin cakes, is of a dull gray color, very brittle, and has a strong smell. The country people use it as a perfume, but it is dear. It is much in demand for the inhabitants of Taka, and all the tribes between the Nile and the Red Sea. It is exported to Souakin; the Cairo merchants receive it from Jidda. At Cairo it is considered as the frankincense, and is called incense. There are two sorts, one of which is much coarser than the other. It is also imported into Jidda from Souahel, on the eastern coast of Africa, beyond Cape Gardafui." Colonel James Bird likewise observes: "There are two kinds of frankincense, or loban, one of which is the produce of Hadramaut, and is collected by the Bedouin Arabs, the other is brought by the Sumalis from Africa. The former, which is met with in small globular lumps, has a tinge of green in its color; but the other, which is more like common resin in appearance, is of a bright yellow appearance. What the Sumalis import and name loban mati is less fragrant than the Arabian kind; it is therefore preferred for chewing, but the last is more used for fumigation. Both kinds are exported by the Hindu merchants to India, along with gum, myrrh, and small portions of honey collected in the country near Aden." The Arabs, says Rosenmuller (Alterthumsk. 4:153), call the most excellent species of frankincense cundhur; and that this is an Indian production appears from Colebrooke's observation (Asiatic Researches, 9:377), that in Hindu writings on medicaments an odorous gum is called kundura, which, according to the Indian grammarians, is a Sanscrit word. They unanimously state it to be the produce of a tree called sallaki, and in the vulgar language salai. When the bark is pierced there exudes a gum of a whitish or yellowish color, externally powdery from friction, but internally pellucid, very brittle, with a balsamic or resinous smell, and a somewhat acrid taste; it burns with a clear blaze and an agreeable odor. The tree grows in the Indian mounr tains, and is one of considerable size, somewhat resembling the sumach, and belonging to the same natural family, terebinthaceae, or turpentine-bearing trees (see Ainslie, Matthew 1nd. 1:265). It is known to botanists by the name of Boswellia serrata or thurifera (Roxburgh, Flora Indica, 3:388); it has pinnated leaves, the folioles of which are pubescent, ovate acuminate and serrate, and very small flowers disposed in simple axillary racemes. By incisions in the bark a very odorous gum is obtained, which the spice-merchants of London recognised as olibanum or frankin- cense, although it had been sent to England as an entirely different species of perfume (see Oken, Lehrb. d. Botan. II, 2:687 sq.; Geiger, Pharsmac. Botan. 2:1204 sq.). The Boswellia serrata grows to a height of forty feet, and is found in Amboyna and the mountainous districts of India. Another species, the B. papyrifere, occurs on the east coast of Africa, in Abyssinia, about 1000 feet above the sea-level, on bare limestone rocks, to which the base of the stem is attached by a thick mass of vegetable substance, sending roots to a prodigious depth in the rocky crevices (Hogg's Veg. Kingdom, page 249). Its resin, the olibanum of Africa and Arabia, usually occurs in commerce in brownish masses, and in yellow-tinted drops or "tears," not so large as the Indian variety. The last is still burnt in Hindum temples under the names of "rhunda" and "luban" — the latter evidently identical with the Hebrew lebonah; and it is exported from Bombay in considerable quantities for the use of Greek and Roman Catholic churches.

Bible concordance for FRANKINCENSE.

From Song 4:14 it has been inferred that the frankincense- tree grew in Palestine (compare Athen. 3:101), and especially on Mount Lebanon. The connection between the names, hoemever, goes for nothing (Lebonah, Lebanon); the word may be used for aromatic plants generally (Gesen. Lex. s.v.); and the rhetorical flourishes of Florus. (Epit. 3:6, "thuris silvas") and Ausonius (Monosyl. page 110) are of little avail against the fact that the tree is not at present found in Palestine. (See Celsii Hierob. 1:231; Bod. a Stapel, comment. in Theophr. page 976 sq.; Gesenius, Heb. Thesaur. page 741; Penny Cyclop. s.v. Olibanum and Boswellia Thurifera). SEE AROMATICS.

Definition of frankincense

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