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BALM (Heb. tsŏrî). An odoriferous resin perhaps obtained in Gilead (Gen.37.25; Jer.8.22; Jer.46.11) and exported from Palestine. It was used as an ointment for healing wounds (Jer.51.8). It came from a small tree not now found in Gilead, and perhaps it never grew there. See also Plants.

The tree is evergreen—a straggly grower with few trifoliate leaves. The white flowers are borne three to a cluster. When a cut is made in the trunk or branches of the tree, the sap exudes. The small, sticky globules harden, and then may easily be removed from the bark. One can get this gum from the root as well as from the trunk.

In 2 Kings 20:13, the Heb. word bōšem is tr. “spices,” and the word in 1 Kings 10:10 is also “spices.” Some believe that this word, which can be derived from bāšēm, is the same as the Arab. word basham, and if so, then the plant may be Balm of Gilead.

The bdellium mentioned in Genesis 2:12, and originally thought to be a precious stone, is prob. the gum resin obtained from the Tree of Arabia, Commiphora africana, and called locally “Indian bdellium” or sometimes “African bdellium.” (See also Num 11:7.)

Some have said that the balm Melissa officinalis referred to, is a lovely sweet-smelling herb found today in many gardens. This is about two and a half ft. high and has small, white flowers. This plant, however, is not the balm mentioned in the Bible.

Because Jeremiah says in 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” it is questioned whether he considered that the balm had a medicinal value. For this reason, some think this plant to be the turpentine tree, Silphium terebinthinaceum.

Silphium was the name given to a plant which produces slightly fragrant gum resin. This grows in Canada and in the United States, where it is given the name of Prairie Dock, a tree not indigenous in Pal. This tree, however, grows near Gilead today, and the Arabs claim that the resin from this tree is invaluable. Josephus mentioned the balm ointment obtained from this tree.

צֳרִי, H7661, could be Balanites aegyptiaca, the Jericho balsam, q.v.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Alex. Macalister

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