(דּבִשׁ, debash', sometimes rendered "honeycomb," in composition with , יר, ya'ar or צוּŠ, tsuph; while נֹפֶת, no'pheth, singly, is sometimes translated "honey-comb;" Greek μέλι) is represented by several terms, more or less accurately, in the original languages of Scripture.
1. יר, ya'ar, which only occurs (in this sense) in 1Sa 14:25,27,29; Song 5:1; and denotes the honey of bees, and that only. The word properly signifies a copse or forest, and refers to the honey found in the woods.
2. נֹפֶת, no'pheth, honey that drops (from נוּŠ, to sprinkle or distil), usually associated with the comb, and therefore bee-honey. This occurs in Ps 19:10; Pr 5:3; Pr 24:13; Pr 27:7; Song 4:11.
3. דּבִשׁ, debash' (from its glutinous nature). This is the most frequent word. It sometimes denotes beehoney, as in Jg 14:8, but may also refer to a vegetable honey distilled from trees, and called manna by chemists; also the sirup of dates, and even dates themselves. It appears also sometimes to stand as a general term for all kinds of honey, especially the sirup of grapes, i.e. the newly-expressed juice or must boiled down. At the present day this sirup is still common in Palestine, under the same Arabic name dibs (Robinson's Researches, 2:442, 453), and forms an article of commerce in the East; it was this, and not ordinary bee-honey, which Jacob sent to Joseph (Ge 43:11), and which the Tyrians purchased from Palestine (Eze 27:17). The mode of preparing it is described by Pliny (14:11): the must was either boiled down to a half (in which case it was called defurutum), or to a third (when it was called siracum, or sapa, the σίραιος οϊvνος, and ἕψημα of the Greeks): it was mixed either with wine or milk (Virg. Georg. 1, 296; Ovid, Fast. 4:780): it is still a favorite article of nutriment among the Syrians and has the appearance of coarse honey (Russell, Aleppo, 1, 82). It was used for sweetening food, like sugar with us (Ex 16:31).
4. צוּŠ, tsuph (literally a flowing), denotes rather the cells of the honey- comb full of honey (Pr 16:24; Ps 19:11).
5. The "wild honey" (μέλι ἄγριον) which, with locusts, formed the diet of John the Baptist, was, according to some, the manna or vegetable honey noticed under debash (No. 3, above), but may very naturally refer to the honey stored by bees in the rocks of Judaea Deserta, in the absence of the trees to which they usually resort. Such wild honey is clearly referred to in De 22:13; Ps 81:16. Josephus (War, 4, 8, 3) specifies bee-honey among the natural productions of the plain of Jericho: the same Greek expression is certainly applied by Diodorus Siculus (19:94) to honey exuding: from trees; but it may also be applied, like the Latin mel silvestre (Pliny, 11:16), to a particular kind of bee honey. A third kind has been described by some writers as "vegetable" honey, by which is meant the exudations of certain trees and shrubs, such as the Tamnarix mannifera, found in the peninsula of Sinai, or the stunted oaks of Luristan and Mesopotamia. A kind of honey is described by Josephus (1. c.) as being manufactured from the juice of the date.
Honey was not permitted to be offered on the altar (Le 2:11). As it is coupled with leaven in this prohibition, it would seem to amount to an interdiction of things sour and sweet. Aben Ezra and others allege that it was because honey partook of the fermenting nature of leaven, and when burnt yielded an unpleasant smell-qualities incompatible with offerings made by fire of a sweet savor unto the Lord. The prohibition appears to have been grounded on the fermentation produced by it, honey soon turning sour, and even forming vinegar (Pliny, 21:48). This fact is embodied in the Talmudical word hidbish "to ferment" derived from debash. Other explanations have been offered, as that: bees were unclean (Phil. 2, 255), or that the honey was the artificial dibs (Bahr, Symbol. 2, 323). But Maimonides and others think it was for the purpose of making a difference between the religious customs of the Jews and the heathen, in whose offerings honey was much employed. The first fruits of honey were, however, to be presented, as these were destined for the support of the priests, and not to be offered upon the altar (2Ch 31:5). It is related in 1Sa 14:24-32, that Jonathan and his party, coming to the wood, found honey dropping from the trees to the ground, and the prince extended his rod to the honey-comb to taste the honey. From all this it is clear that the honey was bee-honey, and that honey-combs were above in the trees, from which honey dropped upon the ground; but it is not, clear whether Jonathan put his rod into a honey-comb that was in the trees or shrubs, or into one that had fallen to the ground, or that had been formed there (Kitto's Pict. Bible, ad loc.). Moreover, the vegetable honey is found only in small globules, which must be carefully collected and strained before being used (Wellsted, 2, 50). In India, "the forests," says Mr. Roberts, "literally flow with honey; large combs maybe seen hanging on the trees as you pass along, full of honey" (Oriental Illustrations). We have good reason to conclude, from many allusions in Scripture, that this was also, to a considerable extent, the case formerly in Palestine. It is very evident that the land of Canaan abounded in honey. It is indeed described as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8, etc.); which we apprehend to refer to all the sweet substances which the different Hebrew words indicate, as the phrase seems too large to be confined to the honey of bees alone. Yet the great number of bees in Palestine has been noticed by many travelers; and they were doubtless still more common in ancient times, when the soil was under more general cultivation. Where bees are very numerous, they sometimes resort to places for the deposit of their honey, which we would little think of. The skeleton of a lion, picked clean by birds, dogs, and insects, would afford no bad substitute for a hive, as in Jg 14:8-9 (Kitto's Daily Bible Illus. ad loc.). A recent traveler, in a sketch of the natural history of Palestine, names bees, beetles, and mosquitoes as the insects, which are most common in the country (Schubert, Reise im Morgenlande, 2, 120). In some parts of Northern Arabia the hills are so well stocked with bees that no sooner are hives placed than they are occupied (Wellsted's Travels, 2:123). Dr. Thomson speaks of immense swarms of bees in the cliffs of wady Kum, and compares De 22:13 (Land and Book, 1, 460). Prof. Hackett saw hives in several places in Palestine (Illustrations of Script. p. 96). Milk and honey were among the chief dainties in the earlier ages, as they are now among the Bedawin; and butter and honey are also mentioned among articles of food (Isa 7:15). The ancients used honey instead of sugar (Ps 119:103; Pr 24:13); but when taken in great quantities it causes nausea, a fact employed in Pr 25:16-17, to inculcate moderation in pleasures. Honey and milk are put also for sweet discourse (Song 4:11). The preservative properties of honey were known in ancient times. Josephus records that the Jewish king Aristobulus, whom Pompey's partisans destroyed by poison, lay buried in honey till Antony sent him to the royal cemetery in Judsea (Ant. 14, 7, 4). SEE BEE.