HYSSOP (Hebr. ; so rendered after the Septuagint and the Vulgate; comp. also Josephus, "B. J." vi. 3, § 4):
There is great uncertainty as to what specific plant is intended either by the Hebrew "ezob" or by the Greek ύσσωπος, nor is it clear that the words are identical. The Greek ὕσσωπος was credited with purifying qualities (comp. Dioscorides, i. 105, iii. 30; Pliny, "Hist. Naturalis," xxvi. 15 et seq.; Porphyry, "De Abstin." iv. 6), and is commonly identified with the Origanum Smyrnœum or O. Syriacum, belonging to the order Labiatœ. The Hebrew "ezob" is described as a small plant found on or near walls (I Kings iv. 33), apparently of aromatic odor, so that it was burned with the Red Heifer (Num. xix. 6). It was also used in the purification of lepers and leprous houses (Lev. xiv. 4, 6, 49, 51; comp. Num. xix. 18; Ps. li. 9), and in the sprinkling of the blood of the paschal lamb on the door-posts (Ex. xii. 22).
The "ezob" is evidently not common hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), which is not a native of Palestine. The Talmud (see below) also distinguishes the ezob of the Pentateuch from the Greek and Roman hyssop. Maimonides (on Neg. xiv. 6) interprets "ezob" by the Arabic "ṣa'tar," denoting some species of Satureia, which is cognate to the Origanum and of which the S. Thymbra is found in Palestine; so also the other old Jewish exegetes, as Saadia in his Arabic translation of the Pentateuch; Ḳimḥi in his "Oẓar ha-Shorashim," s.v.; Abu al-Walid, etc. Some modern authorities would identify the ezob with the caper-plant (Capparis spinosa), which abounds in Egypt, in the Sinaitic peninsula, and in Palestine, and the cleansing properties of which seem to have been traditional in the Orient. This view finds support in the similarity of "ezob" to "aṣaf," the Arabic name for the caper.
In Neg. xiv. 6 and parallels are enumerated, besides the ezob of the Pentateuch, five other kinds, namely, the Greek, the colored, the wild, the Roman, and that "with some [other] epithet." For the regulations of the ritual use of the ezob, see Parah xi., xii.; in Parah xi. 8 the ezob is considered as a wood; while in Suk. 13a it is counted among the reeds and branches with which the booth may be covered. With allusion to I Kings iv. 33 the ezob is metaphorically applied to the humble and lowly (M. Ḳ. 25b).
- J. Forbes Royle, On the Hyssop of Scripture, in Jour. Royal Asiatic Soc. viii. 193-212;
- Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 455.