Aloes

ALOES ăl’ ōz (֝אֲהָלִ֗ים, ἀλόν, Aloë succotrina). Aloes are mentioned both in the OT and NT in connection with incense, scent or perfume (Num 24:6; Ps 45:8; Prov 7:17; Song of Solomon; and John 19:39). The perfume of the true aloe comes from the island of Socotra at the lower end of the Red Sea, hence the Lat. name, aloë succotrina. It is thought, however, that the aloe mentioned in the OT is either the Aquilaria agallocha (Roxb.) or the sandalwood, Santalum album. The former is the eaglewood which grows in N India, Malaya and parts of China, where it is sometimes called the “aloes wood.” It is when the wood partially decays that the fragrance appears, and this is highly valued in the E. The sandalwood is close-grained and fragrant. The strong scent repels all insects. It was, therefore, used often for chests and cabinets. Balaam mentioned “like aloes” (Num 24:6). These could not have been eaglewood, because they do not grow in the Holy Land.

Is Moffatt right, therefore, when he calls the lign aloes “oaks”? These were natives of the region. Moffatt assumes an error in the text for the word אֵלָה, H461, “oak.” The Heb. word “ahalim” is also used in Proverbs 7:17, and the oak does not fit here at all.

There is little doubt that the aloe mentioned in John 19:39 (the Gr. word Aloe) is the true Aloë succotrina, which was used often by the Egyptians, both for embalming and for perfume. It was mixed with the myrrh and sprinkled evenly among the wrappings during the embalming process. Nicodemus used a large quantity because he bought 100 Rom. pounds weight (approximately 75-lbs. avoirdupois) for embalming the body of the Lord Jesus. The drug was imported—thus, Nicodemus found it extremely expensive. In all hot countries, large quantities of scented spices have to be used because dead bodies putrefy quickly.

The Aloë succotrina produces tubular, red flowers from thick, fleshy, pointed leaves, which grow as a large rosette. The fragrant drug comes from the pulp in the leaves. Aloë comes from the Arab. ‘Alloeh’.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


These aloes must be clearly distinguished from the well-known medicinal aloes, of ancient fame. This is a resin from Aloes socatrina, and allied species, of the Natural Order Liliaceae, originally from the island of Socotra, but now from Barbados, the Cape of Good Hope and other places. The "American aloe" (Agave americana) which today is cultivated in many parts of Palestine, is also quite distinct from the Biblical plant.