SOAP (Heb. bōrîth). Soap in a modern sense was unknown in OT times. Even until recent time it was not used in some parts of Syria. Clothes, cooking utensils, and even the body were cleansed with the ashes of certain plants containing alkali (e.g., soapwort, glasswort, and saltwort). This cleansing material is referred to in
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Borith is a derivative of bor, "purity," hence, something which cleanses or makes pure. Soap in the modern sense, as referring to a salt of a fatty acid, for example, that produced by treating olive oil with caustic soda, was probably unknown in
For washing clothes the women sprinkle the powdered qali over the wet garments and then place them on a flat stone and pound them with a wooden paddle. For washing the body, oil is first smeared over the skin and then qali rubbed on and the whole slimy mixture rinsed off with water. Qali was also used in ancient times as a flux in refining precious metals (compare
In Susanna (verse 17) is a curious reference to "washing balls" (smegmata).
James A. Patch