Word used as the translation (R. V., margin) of the Hebrew (Cant. v. 1) and of (ib. v. 13, vi. 2), for which the A. V. has "spice." An aromatic gum or spice, probably the product of a Balsam tree or plant. The Balsam tree of Jericho is noted among ancient writers—Theophrastus, Strabo, Pliny—for its medicinal and highly agreeable aromatic qualities. The so-called Mecca Balsam is generally conceded to be the product of the Balsamodendron opobalsamum. It is reported that the Balsam has disappeared from Jericho. The product of the Balsam is known in Arabic as balasân from a balasân tree, from which balsamon (Greek), balsamum, balsam, and balm are probably derived. The so-called "balm of Gilead"—made by the monks of Jericho and sold to travelers to-day—is a product of the Balanites Ægyptiaca. See Balm.
Balm or Balsam (Aramean, , , and for opobalsamum and ), called by Pliny ("Naturalis Historia," xii. 53) "a plant which nature has bestowed only upon the land of Judea," was cultivated especially in what Pliny (l.c.) and Strabo (p. 763) call the royal gardens near Jericho (, Tosef., 'Ar. ii. 8), the juice obtained by incision being used for medicinal purposes, and the wood for its fragrant odor. According to Diodorus Siculus (ii. 48, xix. 98), a certain hollow in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea was the chief home of the Balsam, which was "found nowhere else in the world." Both statements are confirmed by Josephus, who relates that, according to popular belief, Queen Sheba brought the root from Arabia to King Solomon as a gift, and that the Balsam trees of Jericho yielded the most precious products of the land, the "only balsam in the world," thus making that part most valuable as a royal revenue; wherefore Antony took it away from the Jews and gave it to Cleopatra ("Ant." viii. 6, § 6; xv. 4, § 2; "B. J." i. 6, § 6; 18, § 5; iv. 8, § 3). In "Ant." ix. 1, § 2, he speaks of the opobalsamum that grows at Engedi.
The words in Jer. lii. 16, "Nebuzar-adan, the captain of the guard, left the poor of the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen," are referred, in Shab. 26a, to the gatherers of the opobalsamum in the neighborhood of Engedi and Ramata. Jerome also, in his commentary to Cant. i. 14, refers the "vineyards" there mentioned to the Balsam plantations of Engedi (compare Eusebius, "Onomasticon," s.v. "Engedi"). With what feeling the Romans looked upon the Balsam of Judea may be learned from the fact that Vespasian and Titus exhibited the Balsam shrub of Judea as one of the trophies at their triumphal procession (Pliny, l.c.); but no less characteristic are the rabbinical ordinances: "Blessed be the Lord who has created fragrant trees," recited only over either the opobalsam belonging to the house of Rabbi Judah of Tiberius or the one belonging to the imperial house of Rome; and the benediction recited over the oil of the opobalsam: "Blessed be the Lord who created the (fragrant) oil of our land," or, according to one authority, simply "fragrant oil" (Ber. 43a; see Rashi, l.c., and Musafia to 'Aruk, s.v. , where the name "Jericho," as the home of the Balsam, is combined with the noun "reaḥ"=fragrant odor). Many passages in the Talmud and Midrash mention opobalsam () as used for the anointment of kings (Yer. Soṭah viii. 22c), or as an alluring ointment employed by the frivolous women of Jerusalem (Lam. R. to iv. 15), or as a merchandise (Yoma 39a), or by thieves as a means of scenting the strong boxes of rich people (Sanh. 109a), or as carried about in a flask (Gen. R. xxx., xxxix., and elsewhere); and there is also special mention of streams of opobalsam oil which flow for the enjoyment of the righteous in the world to come (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah iii. 42c; Ta'anit 25a; compare Apoc. Paul xxiii., xxviii.).
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s. v. Balm;
- Winer, B. R. s. v.