FRANKINCENSE (, incorrectly rendered "incense" in Isa. xliii. 23, lx. 6; Jer. vi. 20, A. V.).
By: Emil G. Hirsch
Frankincense was not indigenous to Palestine—the assumption that the tree from which it is derived was at home in the Lebanon Mountains rests merely on the similarity of the name ("lebanon" = λίβανος)— though gardens for the cultivation of the exotic plant may have existed there (comp. Cant. iv. 6, 14; the gardens of Jericho, En-gedi, Zoar: Josephus, "Ant." viii. 6, § 6; ix. 1, § 2; Pliny, "Historia Naturalis," xii. 31). Frankincense was imported mainly from Arabia (especially from Saba; Isa. lx. 6; Jer. vi. 20), and as it was needed for sacrificial purposes (according to the critical school, only after the priestly codification: see Incense), stores of it were kept in the Temple (I Chron x. [A. V. ix.] 29; Neh. xiii. 5, 9). Voluntary offerings of it are mentioned (Jer. xvii. 26, xli. 5, R. V.). It is also referred to as among the luxuries of the wealthy (Cant. iii. 6), and may have been used as an ingredient in the perfumes burned in honor of dead kings (see Cremation; Jer. xxxiv. 5; II Chron. xvi. 14, xxi. 19).
In southern Arabia (Sprenger, "Die Alte Geographie Arabiens," 1875, pp. 296-297; Glaser, "Skizze der Gesch. und Geographie Arabiens," 1880, ii. 167-168), in a mountainous district, is found a tree of shrub-like appearance, with compound leaves, five-toothed calyx, five petals, ten stamens, and a triangular, three-celled fruit, with winged seeds (the Boswellia sacra). This tree, which was known even to the classical writers, furnishes frankincense. It is, however, also very likely that in remote antiquity (according to Egyptologists, in the seventeenth pre-Christian century) Somaliland was one of the countries whence this coveted luxury and sacerdotal necessity was imported. India, too, produced it. In the latter country it is the Boswellia thurifera or Boswellia serrata which furnishes the resin (olibanum). The bark is slit and the gum oozes out; hence the Greek name σταγονιας. Sometimes palm mats are spread on the ground to catch the exuding gum; otherwise no further care is required (see Pliny, l.c. xii. 32; Theophrastus, "Plants," ix. 4). The Indian product is perhaps the finer and purer—i.e., the "white"—frankincense (hence the name , from "white"), called "lebonah zakkah" (Ex. xxx. 34; LXX. διαφανής Vulg. "lucidissimum."); it was one of the ingredients of the holiest incense (comp. Matt. ii. 11), and was identical, it seems, with that which was used by the Arabs in their sacrificial ritual (Doughty, "Arabia Deserta," i. 452, ii. 144, Cambridge, 1888). It is white, brittle, and bitter to the taste, while the ordinary species is a gum of yellowish color.
In the Talmud this frankincense is enumerated as one of the eleven components of the incense (Ker. 6a, b). It was not to be sold to an idolater ('Ab Zarah i. 5). It is also mentioned as an ingredient in the preparation intended to stupefy an individual about to undergo capital punishment (see Crucifixion; Sanh. 43a).
- Hastings, Dict. Bible;
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
- Tristram, Natural Hist. of the Bible, p. 356, London, 1889;
- F. A. Flückiger, Pharmakognosie des Pflanzenreiches, 2d ed., 1883;
- Levy, Die Semitischen Fremdwôrter, 1895, pp. 44-45;
- Guthe, Kruzes Bibelwörterb., 1903, s.v. Weihrauch;
- Löw, Aramäische Pflanzennamen, 1881, p. 235.