Gilead, Balm of

Gilead, Balm Of.

Our English word balm, and its French equivalent baume, are the contracted forms of balsam, a word (βάλσαμου) which the Greeks have adopted from the Hebrew words בִּעִל and שֶׁמֶן, lord or chief of oils. In ordinary language the word is used very loosely, but here we are only concerned with the substance to which the English translation of the Bible has given this name. As early as the days of Jacob the district of Gilead yielded aromatic substances which were in great request. After casting Joseph into a pit, we are told that his brothers espied a caravan on its way from Gilead to Egypt, "with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh" (Ge 37:25). Afterwards, when Jacob dispatched his embassy into Egypt, his present to the unknown ruler included "a little balm" (Ge 43:11); and at an interval of more than 1000 years late! we find that the same region was celebrated for the same production, for we find Jeremiah asking, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" and from an expression in the prophet Ezekiel we find still later that balm was one of the commodities which Hebrew merchants carried to the market of Tyre (Eze 27:17). In all these passages the original word is צַרַי, tsori'. During the interval, however, between Jacob and Jeremiah, we are told by Josephus that the queen of Sheba brought " the root of the balsam" as a present to Solomon (Ant. 8:6, 6); and there can be no doubt that, in the later days of Jewish history, the neighborhood of Jericho was believed to be the only spot where the true balsam grew, and even there its culture was confined to two gardens, the one twenty acres in extent, the other much smaller (Theophrastus).

Many attempts have been made by different writers to identify the tsori, not one of which, however, can be considered altogether conclusive. The Syriac version in Jer 8:22, and the Samaritan in Ge 37:25, suppose cera, "wax," to be meant; others, as the Arabic version in the passages cited in Genesis, conjecture theriaca, a medical compound of great supposed virtue in serpent bites. Of the same opinion is Castell (Lex. Hept. s.v. צרי). Luther and the Swedish version have "salve," "ointment," in the passages in Jeremiah; but in Eze 27:17 they read "mastic." The Jewish Rabbis, Junius and Tremellius, Deodatius, etc., have "balm" or "balsam," as the A.V.; Celsius (Hierob. 2:180) identifies the tsori with the mastic-tree (Pistacia lentiscus). Rosenmuller (Bibl. Bot. page 169) believes that the pressed juice of the fruit of the zukum-tree (Elceagnus angustifolius, Lin. [?]), or narrow-leaved oleaster, is the substance denoted; but the same author, in another place (Schol. in Genesis 37:25), mentions the balsam of Mecca (Amyris opobalsamum, Lin.), referred to by Strabo (16, page 778) and Diodorus Siculus (2:132) as being probably the tsori (see Kitto, Phys. Hist. of Pal. page 273; Hasselquist, Travels, page 293).

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Hasselquist has given a description of the true balsam-tree of Mecca. He says that the exudation from the plant "is of a yellow color, and pellucid. It has a most fragrant smell, which is resinous, balsamic, and very agreeable. It is very tenacious or glutinous, sticking to the fingers, and may be drawn into long threads. I have seen it at a Turkish surgeon's, who had it immediately from Mecca, described it, and was informed of its virtues; which are, first, that it is the best stomachic they know, if taken to three grains, to strengthen a weak stomach; secondly, that it is a most excellent and capital remedy for curing wounds, for if a few drops are applied to the fresh wound it cures it in a very short time" (Travels, page 293).

The trees which certainly appear to have the best claim for representing the scriptural tsori — supposing, that is, that any one particular tree is denoted by the term — are the Pistacia lentiscus (mastic) and the Amyris opobalsamum, Linnaeus, the Balsamodendron opobalsamum, or Gileadense of modern botanists (Balm of Gilead). One argument in favor of the first-named tree rests upon the fact that its name in Arabic (dseri, dseru) is identical with the Hebrew; and the Arabian naturalists have attributed great medicinal virtues to the resin afforded by this tree (Dioscorides, 1:90, 91; Pliny, 24:7; Avicenna, edit. Arab. pages 204 and 277, in Celsius). The Pistacia lentiscus has been recorded to occur at Joppa both by Rauwolf and Pococke (Strand. Flor. Palaest. No. 561). The derivation of the word from a root, "to flow forth," is opposed to the theory which identifies the pressed oil of the zukum with the tsori, although this oil is in very high esteem among the Armbss, who even prefer it to the balm of Mecca, as being more efficacious in wounds and bruises (see Mariti. 2:353, ed. London). Maundrell (Journeb from Alep. to Jerus. page 86), when near the Dead Sea, saw the zukum-tree. He says it is a thorny bush with small leaves, and that "the fruit, both in shape and color, resembles a small unripe walnut. The kernels of this fruit the Arabs bray in a mortar, and then, putting the pulp into scalding water, they skim off the oyl which rises to the top: this oyl they take inwardly for bruises, and apply it outwardly to green wounds ... I procured a bottle of it, and have found it upon some small tryals a very healing medicine." "This," says Dr. Robinson (Bib. Res. 2:291), "is the moderns balsam or oil of Jericho." From Maundrell's description of the zukuns Dr. Hooker unhesitatingly identifies it with Balanites Jgyptiaca, which he saw abundantly at Jericho (Kew Garden Misc. 1:257).

In the region of Gilead, the only production now which has any affinity to balm or balsam is a species of Elveagnus, from the kernels of which a balsamic oil is extracted (Journal of Deputation of Malta Protestant College, page 406); and even the balsam gardens of Jericho have perished and left no trace. There is little reason, however, to doubt that the plants with which they were stocked were the Amyrsis Gileadensis, or A. opobcasamusm, which was found lay Bruce in Abynnisia, the fragrant resin of which is known in commerce as the "balsam of Mecca." Like most plants yielding gum or gum-resin, the amyris requires a high temperature to elaborate its peculiar principle in perfection; and in the deeply depressed and sultry valley of the Jordan it would find a climate almost as congenial as that of Yemen, where we find it sow. Nor is it impossible that there may have existed in Gilead at an early period a plantation of the self-same amyris; but, yielding to the superior qualities of the queen of Sheba's newly-imported specimens, the growth of Gilead may have become obsolete, and bequeathed its name and honors to its more favored rival. The Amyris Gileadensis is an evergreen shrub or tree, belonging to the natural order Amyridaceea. Its height is about fourteen feet, with a trunk eight or ten inches in diameter. The wood is light and open, and the small and scanty leaves resemble rice. After the dog-days, cease the circulation of the sap is most vigorous, incisions are made into the bark, and the balsam is received in small earthen bottles. The supply is very scanty. Three or four drops exude in a day through a single orifice, and the entire amount yielded by the gardens of Jericho did not exceed six or seven gallons a year. When first exuded the balsam is of a whitish tinge, inclining to yellow, and somewhat turbid, and its odor is almost as pungent as volatile salts; but, after standing some time, it becomes pellucid, and deepens to an almost golden color. With its gem-like appearance, its aromatic odor, and its great rarity — being worth twice its weight in silver — it has always been highly valued in the East as a remedy. It is considered very efficacious in the cure of wounds, and the Egyptians esteem it as a preventive of the plague. As a vulnerary it appears to have been valued in the days of Jeremiah (chapter 8:22); and, could it be procured as easily as the balsams of Perau and Tolu, it is likely that it would find a place in European pharmacy. In de scribing Palestine, Tacitus says that in all its productions it equals Italy, besides possessing the palm and the balsam (Hist. 5:6); and the far-famed tree excited the cupidity of successive invaders. By Pompey it was exhibited in the streets of Rome as one of the spoils of the newly- conquered province, B.C. 65; and one of the wonderful trees graced the triumph of Vaspasiasn, A.D. 79. During the invasion of Titus two battles took place at the balsam groves of Jericho, the last being to prevent the Jews ill their despairing frenzy from destroying the trees. They then became public property, end were placed under the protection of an imperial guard; but history does not record how long the two plantations survived. SEE BALM.

2. Possibly the name of a mountain west of the Jordan, near Jezreel (Jg 7:3). Michaelis and others are inclined to agree with the suggestion of Clericus (ad loc.), that the true reading in this place should be גַּלבֹּעִ Calboa, instead of גַּלעִד. Gideon was encamped at the "spring of Harod," which is at the base of Mount Gilboa. Gesenius, however, thinks (Thesaur. Heb. page 804) that the passage merely implies that all those who should not feel inclined to prosecute the war against the Midianites farther than the mountain from which the latter had emerged, were at liberty to return home (מִהִר, "per montem"). A better solution, however, is that suggested by Schwarz (Palest. page 164, note), that the northernmost spur of Matthew Gilboa was also called Gilead; and this is confirmed by the actual existence of the name Jalud to this day in this spot. SEE HAROD.

3. A city of this name is apparently mentioned Ho 6:8 (comp. Sept. Jg 12:7); so, at least, it is given in most of the ancient and modern versions, though the meaning may only be that Gilead is (hike) a city full of iniquity, i.e., a union of iniquitous people. This city (if one be meant) is perhaps the same with RAMOTH-GILEAD.

4. The son of Machir (apparently by Maachah), and grandson of Manasseh; his descendants bore his name as a patronymic (Nu 26:29-30). B.C. prob. between 1874 and 1658.

5. The father of Jephthah the judge, a descendant of the above (Jg 11:1-2). B.C. ante 1256. It is not clear, however (comp. verses 7, 8), whether this Gilead was an individual, or a personification of the community.

6. The son of Jaroah, and father of Michael, of the tribe of Gad (1Ch 5:14). B.C. considerably ante 781.

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