(אֵזוֹב, &zb', of uncertain etymology; Gr. ὕσσωπος), a plant difficult to define, especially as the similarity 'of the above terms has early led to their confusion. As the ϋσσωπος of Greek authors is generally acknowledged to be the common hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis of botanists), it has been inferred that it must also be the plant of' the Old Testament, as well as that referred to in the New Testament. This inference has not, however, been universally acquiesced in; for Celsius enumerates no less than eighteen different plants which have been adduced by various authors as the hyssop of Scripture. The chief difficulty arises from the fact that in the Sept. the Greek ὕσσωπος is the uniform rendering of the Hebrew ezob, and that this rendering is indorsed by the apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:19, 21), when speaking of the ceremonial observances of the Levitical law. Whether, therefore, the Sept. made use of the Greek ὕσσωπος as the word most nearly resembling the Hebrew in sound, as Stanley suggests (S. and Pal. p. 21, note), or as the true representative of the plant indicated by the latter, is a point which, in all probability, will never be decided. Botanists differ widely even with regard to the identification of the ὕσσωπος of Dioscorides. The name has been given to the Satureia Graeca and the S. Juliana, to neither of which it is appropriate, and the hyssop of Italy and South France is not met with in Greece, Syria, or Egypt. Daubeny (Lect. on Romans Husbandry, p. 313), following Sibthorpe, identifies the mountain hyssop with the Thymnbra spicata, but this conjecture is disapproved of by Kihn (Comm. in Diosc. 3 27), who in the same passage gives it as his opinion that the Hebrews used the Origanum AEgypticum in Egypt, the O. Syriacum in Palestine, and that the hyssop of Dioscorides was the O. Smyrnaeum. The Greek botanist describes two kinds of hyssop, ὀρεινή and κηπευτή, and gives πεσαλέμ as the Egyptian equivalent. The Talmudists make the same distinction between the wild hyssop and the garden plant used for food. The hyssop is of three species, but only one of these is cultivated for use. The common hyssop is a shrub, with low. bushy stalks, growing a foot and a half high; small, pear-shaped, close-setting, opposite leaves, with several smaller ones rising from the same joint; and all the stalks and branches terminated by erect, whorled spikes of flowers, of different colors in the varieties. They are very hardy plants, and may be propagated either by slips or cuttings, or by seeds. The leaves have an aromatic smell, and a warm, pungent taste. It is a native of the South of Europe and the East.
The first notice of the scriptural plant occurs in Ex 12:22, where a bunch of hyssop is directed to be dipped in blood and struck on the lintels and the two side-posts of the doors of the houses in which the Israelites resided. It is next mentioned in Le 14:4,6,52, in the ceremony for declaring lepers to be cleansed; and again. in Nu 19:6,18, in preparing the water of separation. To these passages the apostle alludes in Heb 9:19: "For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people, according to the law, he took the blood of calves, and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people." From this text we find that the Greek name ὕσσωπος: was considered synonymous with the Hebrew ezob; and from the preceding that the plant must have been leafy, and large enough to serve for the purposes of sprinkling, and that it must have been found in Lower Egypt, as well as in the country towards Mount Sinai, and onwards to Palestine. From the following passage we get some information respecting the habits and the supposed properties of the plant. Thus, in 1Ki 4:33, it is said, "Solomon spoke of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall;" and in the penitential psalm of David (Ps 2:7), "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." In this last passage, it is true, the word is thought by some commentators to be used in a figurative sense; but still it is possible that the plant may have possessed some general cleansing properties, and thus come to be employed in preference to other plants in the ceremonies of purification. It ought, at all events, to be found growing upon walls, and in Palestine. In the account of the crucifixion of our Savior, the evangelist John says (Joh 19:29), "Now there was set a vessel, full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth." In the parallel passages of Matthew (Mt 27:18) and Mark (Mr 15:36) it is stated that the sponge filled with vinegar was put upon a reed or stick. To reconcile these statements, some commentators have supposed that both the sponge and the hyssop were tied to a stick, and that one evangelist mentions only the hyssop, because lie considered it as the most important; while, for the same reason, the other two mention only the stick; but the simplest mode of explaining the apparent discrepancy is to consider the hyssop and the stick to be the same thing-in other words, that the sponge was affixed to a stick of hyssop.
Of the different plants adduced by Celsius as having more or less claims to be regarded as the hyssop of Scripture, some belong to t he class of ferns, as Copcillus Veneris, maiden-hair, and Ruta mursaria, or wall-rue, because they will grow upon walls; so also the Polytrichum, or hair-moss, the Kloster hyssops, or pearlwort, and Saginal procumbens are suggested by others, because, from their growing on rocks or walls, they will answer to the passage in 1Ki 4:33, and from their smallness contrast well with the cedar of Lebanon, and are a proof of the minute knowledge of Solomon. Some again contend for species of wormwood, as being, from their bitterness, most likely to have been added to the vinegar in the sponge, that it might be more distasteful to our Savior. The majority, however, have selected different kinds of fragrant plants belonging to the natural family of Labiatae, several of which are found in dry and barren situations in Palestine, and also in some parts of the desert. (See Raumolf, Trae. p. 59, 456; Hasselquist, Trav. p. 554, 517; Burckhardt, Trav. 2, 913; Robinson, Researches, 1, 162, 157.) Of these may be mentioned the rosemary, various species of lavender, of mint, of marjoram, of thyme, of savory, of thymbra, and others of the same tribe, resembling each other much in character as well as in properties; but it does not appear that any of them grow on walls, or are possessed of cleansing properties; and, with the exception of the rosemary, they are not capable of yielding a stick, nor are they found in all the required situations. If we look to the most recent authors, we find some other plants adduced, though the generality adhere to the common hyssop. Sprengel (Hist. Rei-Herb. 1, 14). seems to entertain no doubt that the Thymbra spicata found by Hasselquist on the ruins about Jerusalem is the hyssop of Solomon, though Hasselquist himself thought that the moss called Gymnostoamum Truncatum was the plant. Lady Calcott asks "whether the hyssop upon which St. John says the sponge steeped in vinegar was put, to be held to the lips of Christ upon the cross, might not be the hyssop attached to its staff of cedar-wood, for the purposes of sprinkling the people, lest they should contract defilement on the eve of the Sabbath, which was a high-day, by being in the field of execution" (Scripture Herbal, p. 208). Rosenmüller, again, thinks that the Hebrew word ezob does not denote our hyssop, but an aromatic plant resembling it, the wild marjoram, which the Germans call Dosten, or Wohlgemuth, the Arabs Zatar, and the Greeks Origanun. In the Pictorial Bible (1, 161), Mr. Kitto observes "that the hyssop of the sacred Scriptures has opened a wide field for conjecture, but in no instance has any plant been suggested that, at the same time, has a sufficient length of stem to answer the purpose of a wand or pole, and such detergent or cleansing properties as to render it a fit emblem for purification;" and he suggests it as probable that "the hyssop was a species of Phytolacca, as combining length of stem with cleansing properties, from the quantity of potash which is yielded by the ashes of the American species, P. decandra, of this genus." P. Abyssinica grows to the size of a shrub in Abyssinia. Wier (Bibl. Realwörterbuch, s.v. Ysop) observes that the Talmudists distinguish the hyssop of the Greeks and Romans from that mentioned in the law. He then adduces the Origanum, mentioned in the quotation from Rosenmüller, as the ezob of the Hebrews; but concludes by observing that a more accurate examination is required of the hyssops and Origana of that part of Asia before the meaning of the Hebrew term can be considered as satisfactorily determined. Five kinds of hyssop are mentioned in the Talmud. One is called אזוב simply, without any epithet: the others are distinguished as Greek, Roman, wild hyssop, and hyssop of Cochali (Mishna, Negaim, 14, 6). Of these, the four last mentioned were profane, that is, not to be employed in purifications (Mishna, Parah, 11, 7). Maimonides (de Vacca Rufa, 3, 2) says that the hyssop mentioned in the law is that which was used as a condiment. According to Porphyry (De Abstin. 4, 7), the Egyptian priests on certain occasions ate their bread mixed with hyssop; and the zaatar, or wild marjoram, with which it has been identified, is often an ingredient in a mixture called-Adukkah, which is to this day used as food by the poorer classes in Egypt (Lane, Mod. Eng. 1, 200). It is not improbable, therefore, that this may have been the hyssop of Maimonides, who wrote in Egypt; more especially as R. D. Kimchi (Lex. s.v.), who reckons seven different kinds, gives as the equivalent the Arabic zaatar, origanum, or marjoram, and the German Dosten or Wohlgemuth (Rosenmüller Handb.). With this agrees the Tanchum Hieros. MS, quoted by Gesenius. So in the Judaeo-Spanish version, Ex 12:22 is translated "y tomaredes manojo de origano" This is doubtless the species of "hyssop" (zaatar) shown to Dr. Thomson, who describes it as "having the fragrance of thyme, with a hot, pungent taste, and long slender stems" (Land and Book, 1,161). But Dioscorides makes a distinction between origanum and hyssop when he describes the leaf of a species of the former as resembling the latter (comp. Plin. 20:67), though it is evident that he, as well as the Talmudists, regarded them as belonging to the same family. In the Syriac of 1Ki 4:33, hyssop is rendered by lufo, "houseleck," although in other passages it is represented by zûfé, which the Arabic translation follows in Ps 41:9, and Heb 9:19, while in the Pentateuch it has zaatar for the same. Patrick (on 1Ki 4:33) was of opinion that ezob is the same with the Ethiopic azub, which represents the hyssop of Ps 51:9, as well as ἡδύοσμον, or mint, in Mt 23:23. The monks on Jebel Musa give the name of hyssop to a fragrant plant called ja'deh, which grows in great quantities on that mountain (Robinson. Bibl. Res. 1, 157). It has been reserved for the ingenuity of a: German to trace a connection between AEsop, the Greek fabulist, and the ezob of 1Ki 4:33 (Hitzig, Die Sprüche Salmo's, Einl. § 2). (See Celsius,l ierobot. 1, 407 sq.; comp. Bochart, Hieroz. 1, 589; Plenk, Plant. Med. tab. 465; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 284 sq.; Faber, in Keil's Analect. 1, 3 sq.; Geiger, Pharmaceut. Bot. 1, 491 Gesenius, Thesaur. 1. 57 sq.; Sprengel, ad Dioscor. 2, 506 sq.; Prosp. Alpin. Planst. Aegypt. c. 20; Spencer, Leg. Rit. 2, 15, 4; and the Talmudical, classical, and other authorities there cited.)
The latest result is that of Dr. J. F. Royle (communicated in a paper read before the Royal Asiatic Society, and published in their journal for November, 1844), who infers, first, that any plant answering to all that was required should be found in Lower Egypt (Ex 12:22); in the desert of Sinai (Le 14:4,6,52; Nu 19:6,18); in the neighborhood of Jerusalem (Joh 19:29); secondly, that it should be a plant growing on walls or rocky situations (1Ki 4:33); and, finally, that it should be possessed of some cleansing properties (Ps 51:7), though it is probable that in this passage it is used in a figurative sense. It should also be large enough to yield a stick, and it ought, moreover, to have a name in the Arabic or cognate languages similar to the Hebrew name. After a careful and minute examination of all the ancient and modern testimony in the case, he finds all these circumstances united in the caper- plant, or Capparis spinsosa of Linnaus. SEE CAPER-PLANT. The Arabic name of this plant, asuf, by which it is sometimes, though not commonly described, bears considerable resemblance to the Hebrew. It is found in Lower Egypt (Forskal, Flor. Eg.-Arob.; Plin. 13:44). Burckhardt (Trav. in Syr. p. 536) mentions the aszefas a tree of frequent occurrence in the valleys of the peninsula of Sinai, "the bright green creeper which climbs out of the fissures of the rocks" (Stanley, S. and P. p. 21, etc.), and produces a fruit of the size of a walnut, called by the Arabs Felfel Jibbel, or mountain- pepper (Shaw, Spec. Phytogr. Afr. p. 39). Dr. Royle thought this to be undoubtedly a species of capparis, and probably the caper plant. The Calpparis spinosa was found by M. Bove (Rel. d'un Voy. Botan. en Eg., etc.) in the desert of Sinai, at Gaza, and at Jerusalem. Lynch saw it in a ravine near the convent of Mar Saba (Exped. p. 388). It is thus met with in all the localities where the ezob is mentioned in the Bible. With regard to its habitat, it grows in dry and rocky places, and on walls: "quippe quum capparis quoque seratur siccis maxime" (Plin. 19:48). De Candolle describes it as found "in muris et rupestribus." The caper-plant was believed to be possessed of detergent qualities. According to Pliny (20, 59), the root was applied to the cure of a disease similar to the leprosy. Lamarck (Eϊvc. Botan. art. Caprier) says, "Les capriers . sont regardes comme antiscorbutiques." Finally, the caper-plant is capable of producing a stick three or four feet in length. Pliny (13, 44) describes it in Egypt as "firmioris ligni frutex," and to this property Dr. Royle attaches great importance, identifying, as he does, the ὑσσώπῳ of Joh 19:29 with the καλάμῳ of Matthew and Mark. To this identification, however, Dr. G. E. Post (in the Am. ed. of Smith's Bibl. Dict.) justly objects that the caper- plant has a thorny stem, and is too straggling and otherwise unsuitable in form for the uses designated; and, moreover that its Arab name really has little affinity with the Heb. ezob. He therefore returns to Celsius's idea of the Labiatce, or marjoram tribe, specially the Origanum maru (Arab. Zupha), which grows on the walls of terraces, has a long slender stem, or cluster of stems, with a bushy top, a fragrant odor, and a bitter but wholesome flavor. With this agrees one of the Arabic and Syriac renderings above noted.