Frankincense

FRANKINCENSE (לְבֹנָה, H4247; κίβανος). Frankincense occurs fourteen times in the OT and twice in the NT. Most of the references in the OT are instructions as to how and how not to use this scent (Lev 2:1; 5:11). In Song of Solomon the references are to frankincense as perfume. The references in the NT are Matthew 2:11, where frankincense is one of the gifts the wise men brought, and Revelation 18:13, which deals with the fall of Babylon.

Frankincense is derived from the resin of the tree Boswellia. There are three species from which gum may be obtained, i.e. B. carterii, B. papyrifera, and B. thurifera. The gum is collected during the summer; it is customary to peel the bark back first, and then to make a deep cut with a sharp knife.

The Heb. name lebônâ and the Gr. word libanos both mean “white.” This is presumably because when the gum first exudes from the bark it is of an amber color; later when removed from the tree, the resin produces a white dust on its surface. The gum, when warmed and burned, produces a sweet, pleasant odor.

The children of Israel imported frankincense from Arabia—this was produced near Saba or Sheba.

In the Apoc. there is a reference (Ecclus 50:8) to a locally-grown tree, whose outline and growth would be known to the Hebrews. In this particular case, there is reason to believe that the tree may have been Commiphora opobalsamum, whose resin can produce perfume.

Boswellia trees are related to Turpentine trees; the star-shaped flowers are pure white or green, tipped with rose. The tree has leaves similar to the Mountain Ash.

If Moffatt’s tr. of Song of Solomon 4:6 and 4:14 is correct, the following results: “I will hie me to your scented slopes, your fragrant charms...with...all sorts of frankincense.” This use of the word “sorts” could mean that the gum had come from the three species of Boswellia trees. On the other hand, the Douay VS renders the phrase “All the trees of Libanus,” and some have thought that this meant that the gum came from the forests of Lebanon, thus giving rise to the Heb. word “lebonah.” One could get fragrant wood from pines and junipers which grew in Lebanon. The dried, powdered wood may, of course, have been used to adulterate the pure powdered frankincense and thus make it less expensive.

Bibliography

G. Van Beek, “Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient Arabia,” JAOS, Vol. 78 (Sept. 1958) 141-151.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


is collected in yellowish, semitransparent tears, readily pulverized; it has a nauseous taste. It is used for making incense for burning in churches and in Indian temples, as it was among the Jews (Ex 30:34). See Incense. It is often associated with myrrh (So 3:6; 4:6) and with it was made an offering to the infant Saviour (Mt 2:11). A specially "pure" kind, lebhonah zakkah, was presented with the shewbread (Le 24:7).

See also

  • Plants