Myrrh

MYRRH (לֹ֔ט, מֹר, H5255). As in Genesis 37:25: “bearing...myrrh”; and 43:11: “honey, gum, myrrh”—tr. gum of the cistus or lodanum by some.

There are twelve instances of the Heb. noun מֹר, H5255, generally dealing with perfuming, as in Psalm 45:8: “Your robes are all fragrant with myrrh”; or in Proverbs 7:17: “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh.” Solomn mentions it again and again in his Song, e.g. in 1:13: “A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved” (KJV).

Myrrh is mentioned also in the NT: the wise men brought it (Matt 2) and our Lord was embalmed with it (John 19:39). This myrrh is a fragrant gum which exudes from trees in Arabia, and particularly Balsamodendron myrrha. It is said to have been part of the composition of the “anointing oil” (Exod 30:23-25). There are pictures of these trees on the Egyp. temple of Deir el-Bahari. The inscrs. speak of Punt in Africa as the home of these trees and a source of myrrh.

It is generally agreed that myrrh came from Commiphora myrrha, which grows in Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Arabia. The trunk and branches exude a gum which produces the delicious fragrance. This C. myrrha is related to C. kataf. Both are small trees, often called thorny shrubs, and both bear small plum-like fruits. Though the gum exudes naturally from the branches, any artificial incision will, of course, produce an immediate supply. The sap as it first oozes out is oily, but as it drops onto wooden squares or stones on which it is collected, it solidifies. The gum obtained from the Commiphora kataf is not the true myrrh, though it often is mixed with it.

In the Genesis reference, however, the Heb. word lôṭ should prob. be tr. “lodanum,” because at that time myrrh had not been introduced from Africa.

In Song of Solomon, the words “a bag of myrrh” could not refer to C. myrrha. Botanists doubt that it could have been in one of King Solomon’s gardens.

If Goodspeed’s tr. of Esther 2:12 is correct, myrrh oil was a cosmetic, and the queen was beautifying herself rather than purifying herself. The merchants weep in Revelation 18:11-13 because no one buys their cinnamon and myrrh (μύρον, G3693). The same word is used in John 11:2, referring to the ointment with which Mary anointed our Lord. (See also Matt 26; Mark 14; and Luke 7.)

Bibliography

G. van Beck, JOAS, Vol. 78 (Sept. 1958), 143.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mur:


See Balsam.

Whichever view is correct, it is probable that the smurna, of the New Testament was the same. In Mt 2:11 it is brought by the "Wise men" of the East as an offering to the infant Saviour; in Mr 15:23 it is offered mingled with wine as an anesthetic to the suffering Redeemer, and in Joh 19:39 a "mixture of myrrh and aloes" is brought by Nicodemus to embalm the sacred body.

(2) (loT, stakte; translated "myrrh" in Ge 37:25, margin "ladanum"; 43:11): The fragrant resin obtained from some species of cistus and called in Arabic ladham, in Latin ladanum. The cistus or "rock rose" is exceedingly common all over the mountains of Palestine (see Botany), the usual varieties being the C. villosus with pink petals, and the C. salviaefolius with white petals. No commerce is done now in Palestine in this substance as of old (Ge 37:25; 43:11), but it is still gathered from various species of cistus, especially C. creticus in the Greek Isles, where it is collected by threshing the plants by a kind of flail from which the sticky mass is scraped off with a knife and rolled into small black balls. In Cyprus at the present time the gum is collected from the beards of the goats that browse on these shrubs, as was done in the days of Herodotus iii.112).

See also

  • Plants