in 2 Chron. ii. 8, and ix. 10, 11), generally identified with sandalwood (Santalum album), a native of Malabar and Malaya; aloes, or lign aloes (Heb. ahālim, ahālōth), produced by the Aloexylon Agallochum (Loureiro), a native of Cochin-China, and Aquilaria Agallocha (Roxburgh), a native of India beyond the Ganges; balm (Heb. tsorī), the oleo-resin of Balsamodendron opobalsamum and B. gileadense; bdellium (Heb. bdōlah), the resin produced by Balsamodendron roxburghii, B. Mukul and B. pubescens, all natives of Upper India (Lassen, however, identifies bdōlah with musk); calamus (Heb. kaneh; sweet calamus, keneh bosem, Ex. xxx. 23; Ezek. xxvii. 19; sweet cane, kaneh hattob, Jer. vi. 20; Isa. xliii. 24), identified by Royle with the Andropogon Calamus aromaticus or roosa grass of India; cassia (Heb. kiddah) the Cinnamomum Cassia of China; cinnamon (Heb. kinnamon), the Cinnamomum zeylanicum of the Somali country, but cultivated largely in Ceylon, where also it runs wild, and in Java; costus (Heb. ketzioth), the root of the Aucklandia Costus (Falconer), native of Kashmir; frankincense (Heb. lebōnah), the gum-resin of Bosiwellia Frereana and B. Bhau-Dajiana of the Somali country, and of B. Carterii of the Somali country and the opposite coast of Arabia (see “The Genus Boswellia” by Sir George Birdwood, Transactions of the Linnean Society, xxi. 1871); galbanum (Heb. helbenah), yielded by Opoidia galbanifera (Royle) of Khorassan, and Galbanum officinale (Don) of Syria and other Ferulas; ladanum (Heb. lō;t, translated “myrrh” in Gen. xxxvii. 25, xliii. 11), the resinous exudation of Cistus creticus, C. ladaniferus and other species of “rock rose” or “rose of Sharon”; myrrh (Heb. mōr), the gum-resin of the Balsamodendron Myrrha of the Somali country and opposite shore of Arabia; onycha (Heb. sheḥeleth), the celebrated odoriferous shell of the ancients, the operculum or “nail” of a species of Strombus or “wing shell,” formerly well known in Europe under the name of Blatta byzantina; it is still imported into Bombay to burn with frankincense and other incense to bring out their odours more strongly; saffron (Heb. karkōm), the stigmata of Crocus sativus, a native originally of Kashmir; spikenard (Heb. nerd), the root of the Nardostachys Jatamansi of Nepal and Bhutan; stacte (Heb. nataf), generally referred to the Styrax officinalis of the Levant, but Hanbury has shown that no stacte or storax is now derived from S. officinalis, and that all that is found in modern commerce is the product of the Liquidambar orientalis of Cyprus and Anatolia.
Besides these aromatic substances named in the Bible, the following must also be enumerated on account of their common use as incense in the East; benzoin or gum benjamin, first mentioned among Western writers by Ibn Batuta (1325–1349) under the name of lubân d’ Javi (i.e. olibanum of Java), corrupted in the parlance of Europe into benjamin and benzoin; camphor, produced by Cinnamomum Camphora, the “camphor laurel” of China and Japan, and by Dryobalanops aromatica, a native of the Indian Archipelago, and widely used as incense throughout the East, particularly in China; elemi, the resin of an unknown tree of the Philippine Islands, the elemi of old writers being the resin of Boswellia Frereana; gum-dragon or dragon’s blood, obtained from Calamus Draco, one of the ratan palms of the Indian Archipelago, Dracaena Draco, a liliaceous plant of the Canary Island, and Pterocarpus Draco, a leguminous tree of the island of Socotra; rose-malloes, a corruption of the Javanese rasamala, or liquid storax, the resinous exudation of Liquidambar Altingia, a native of the Indian Archipelago (an American Liquidambar also produces a rose-malloes-like exudation); star anise, the starlike fruit of the Illicum anisatum of Yunan and south-western China, burnt as incense in the temples of Japan; sweet flag, the root of Acorus Calamus, the bach of the Hindus, much used for incense in India. An aromatic earth, found on the coast of Cutch, is used as incense in the temples of western India. The animal excreta, musk and civet, also enter into the composition of modern European pastils and clous fumants. Balsam of Tolu, produced by Myroxylon toluiferum, a native of Venezuela and New Granada; balsam of Peru, derived from Myroxylon Pereirae, a native of San Salvador in Central America; Mexican and Brazilian elemi, produced by various species of Icica or “incense trees,” and the liquid exudation of an American species of Liquidambar, are all used as incense in America. Hanbury quotes a faculty granted by Pope Pius V. (August 2, 1571) to the bishops of the West Indies permitting the substitution of balsam of Peru for the balsam of the East in the preparation of the chrism to be used by the Catholic Church in America. The Sangre del drago of the Mexicans is a resin resembling dragon’s blood obtained from a euphorbiaceous tree, Croton Draco.
Probably nowhere can the actual historical progress from the primitive use of animal sacrifices to the later refinement of burning incense be more clearly traced than in the pages of the Old Testament, where no mention of the latter rite occurs before the period of the Mosaic legislation; but in the monuments of ancient Egypt the authentic traces of the use of incense that still exist carry us back to a much earlier date. From Meroe to Memphis the commonest subject carved or painted in the interiors of the temples is that of some contemporary Phrah or Pharaoh worshipping the presiding deity with oblations of gold and silver vessels, rich vestments, gems, the firstlings of the flock and herd, cakes, fruits, flowers, wine, anointing oil and incense. Generally he holds in one hand the censer, and with the other casts the pastils or osselets of incense into it: sometimes he offers incense in one hand and makes the libation of wine with the other. One of the best known of these representations is that carved on the memorial stone placed by Tethmosis (Thothmes) IV. (1533 b.c.) on the breast of the Sphinx at Gizeh. The tablet represents Tethmosis before his guardian deity, the sun-god Rê, pouring a libation of wine on one side and offering incense on the other. The ancient Egyptians used various substances as incense. They worshipped Rê at sunrise with resin, at mid-day with myrrh and at sunset with an elaborate confection called kuphi, compounded of no fewer than sixteen ingredients, among which were honey, wine, raisins, resin, myrrh and sweet calamus. While it was being mixed, holy writings were read to those engaged in the operation. According to Plutarch, apart from its mystic virtues arising from the magical combination of 4 × 4, its sweet odour had a benign physiological effect on those who offered it. The censer used was a hemispherical cup or bowl of bronze, supported by a long handle, fashioned at one end like an open hand, in which the bowl was, as it were, held, while the other end within which the pastils of incense were kept was shaped into the hawk’s head crowned with a disk, as the symbol of Rê. In embalming their dead the Egyptians filled the cavity of the belly with every sort of spicery except frankincense (Herod, ii. 86), for it was regarded as specially consecrated to the worship of the gods. In the burnt-offerings of male kine to Isis, the carcase of the steer, after evisceration, was filled with fine bread, honey, raisins, figs, frankincense, myrrh and other aromatics, and thus stuffed was roasted, being basted all the while by pouring over it large quantities of sweet oil, and then eaten with great festivity.
How important the consumption of frankincense in the worship of the gods became in Egypt is shown by two of its monuments, both of the greatest interest and value for the light they throw on the early history of the commerce of the Indian Ocean. One is an inscription in the rocky valley of Hammamat, through which the desert road from the Red Sea to the valley of Egypt opens on the green fields and palm groves of the river Nile near Coptos. It was cut on the rocks by an Egyptian nobleman named Hannu, who states that he was sent by Pharaoh Sankhkere, Menthotp IV., with a force gathered out of the Thebaid, from Coptos to the Red Sea, there to take command of a naval expedition to the Holy Land of Punt (Puoni), “to bring back odoriferous gums.” Punt is identified with the Somali country, now known to be the native country of the trees that yield the bulk of the frankincense of commerce. The other bears the record of a second expedition to the same land of Punt, undertaken by command of Queen Hatshepsut, 1600 b.c. It is preserved in the vividly chiselled and richly coloured decorations portraying the history of the reign of this famous Pharaoh on the walls of the “Stage Temple” at Thebes. The temple is now in ruins, but the entire series of gorgeous pictures recording the expedition to “the balsam land of Punt,” from its leaving to its returning to Thebes, still remains intact and undefaced. These are the only authenticated instances of the export of incense trees from the Somali country until Colonel Playfair, then political agent at Aden, in 1862–1864, collected and sent to Bombay the specimens from which Sir George Birdwood prepared his descriptions of them for the Linnean Society in 1868. King Antigonus is said to have had a branch of the true frankincense tree sent to him.
Homer tells us that the Egyptians of his time were emphatically a nation of druggists (Od. iv. 229, 230). This characteristic,
in which, as in many others, they so remarkably resemble the
- Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, i. 77-81, 414–419.
- Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, c. 52. In Parthey’s edition (Berlin, 1850) other recipes for the manufacture of kuphi, by Galen and Dioscorides, are given; also some results of the editor’s own experiments.
- Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, i. 493; ii. 49, 398–400, 414–416.
- Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, i. 303–312.