From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

Spices were very expensive and highly prized in antiquity. They were brought into Palestine from India, Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Solomon had an extensive commercial venture with Hiram, king of Tyre, dealing in spices and other commodities. His fleet of ships brought much needed revenue into the Israelite economy ( 1 Kings 10:15 ). Solomon also taxed the caravan groups that passed through his lands. The land of Sheba, present day Yemen, had an extensive commerce in spices. The queen of Sheba made a long journey of 1,200 miles because she was afraid that her caravan spice business would be hurt by Solomon's merchant fleet. In her visit she gave to Solomon “a very great quantity of spices” ( 2 Chronicles 9:9 ).

Spices were widely used in the worship service of the Temple and in the lives of the people. See  Exodus 30:34-35 ). Balsam, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and calamus were used in the preparation of the holy anointing oil ( Exodus 30:23-25 ). Cassia, aloes, and spikenard were some of the spices used in the preparation of cosmetics (Song of  Song of Solomon 4:14;  Mark 14:3;  John 12:3 ). Myrrh and aloes were used in ointments for burial ( Luke 23:56;  John 19:39 ).

Some of the most important spices were:

1. Aloe ( Aloexyllon agallochum and Aquilaria agallocha ) A spice used to perfume garments and beds ( Proverbs 7:17;  Psalm 45:8;). The aloe mentioned in  John 19:39 was a different plant. The extract from its leaves was mixed with water and other spices to make ointment for the anointing of the dead.

2. Balsam ( Pistacia lentiscus ) This product of Gilead was exported to Egypt and to Tyre. The resin from this desert plant was used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes ( Jeremiah 46:11 ).

3. Cummin ( Cuminum cyminum ) This seed was used as a spice in bread. Its dry seed was beaten with a stick, for it was too soft to be threshed with a sledge ( Isaiah 28:23-28 ).

4. Cassia ( Flores cassiae ) Two Hebrew words are used to translate cassia ( Exodus 30:24;  Psalm 45:8 ). The dried bark or blooms were used in the preparation of the anointing oil; the pods and leaves were used as medicine.

5. Cinnamon A highly prized plant, cinnamon was used as a condiment, in the preparation of perfumes ( Proverbs 7:17 ), and in the holy oil for anointing ( Exodus 30:23 ). The New Testament lists cinnamon as one of the commodities found in Babylon ( Revelation 18:13 ).

6. Coriander ( Coriandrum sativum ) An aromatic seed used as a spice in food; its oil was used in the manufacture of perfume. The Israelites compared the manna to the coriander seed ( Exodus 16:31;  Numbers 11:7 ).

7. Dill The seed and the leaves were used to flavor foods and as medicine to wash skin wounds ( Matthew 23:23; KJV, “anise”).

8. Frankincense ( Boswellia carteri and Frereana ) A resin of a tree which, when burned, produced a strong aromatic scent. Frankincense was used in the preparation of the sacred oil for anointing of kings and priests and for the sacrifices in the Temple. The men from the East brought frankincense to Jesus ( Matthew 2:11 ).

9. Galbanum A fragrant resin which gave a pleasant scent when burned; it was one of the ingredients of the holy incense ( Exodus 30:34 ).

10. Henna A plant used as a cosmetic; its leaves produced a dye women used (Song of  Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of  Song of Solomon 4:13 ). KJV translates the word as “camphire,” but camphire was not native to Palestine and may not have been known in biblical times.

11. Mint Mint leaves were used as a condiment ( Matthew 23:23;  Luke 11:42 ).

12. Myrrh ( Commiphora abessinica ) The resinous gum of a plant which was included in the preparation of the holy anointing oil ( Exodus 30:23 ). It was also used for its aromatic properties ( Psalm 45:8 ) and used for female purification ( Esther 2:12 ). Myrrh was given to Jesus at His birth as a gift ( Matthew 2:11 ) and as a drink when He was on the cross ( Mark 15:23 ).

13. Onycha Traditionally taken as the aromatic crushed shell of a mollusc but in light of Ugaritic plant lists probably a type of cress (Lepidium sativum). It was used in holy incense ( Exodus 30:34 ).

14. Rue ( Ruta graveolens ) An herb used as a condiment. It was valued for its medicinal properties. Its leaves were used in the healing of insect bites ( Luke 11:42 ).

15. Saffron ( Curcuma longa, Crocus sativus ) A substance of a plant which produced a yellow dye and was used to color foods. When mixed with oil, it was used as medicine and perfume (Song of  Song of Solomon 4:14 ).

16. Spices The Hebrew word should be translated “balsam” ( Balsamodendrium opolbalsamum ). A shrub with a resin that gave a pleasant odor. Balsam was used as perfume and as medicine. The balsam was one of the ingredients of the anointing oil ( Exodus 30:23 ).

17. Spikenard ( Nardos tacs jatamansi ) A very expensive fragrant oil used in the manufacture of perfumes and ointments (Song of  Song of Solomon 1:12; Song of  Song of Solomon 4:13;  Mark 14:3;  John 12:3 ).

18. Stacte ( Pistacia lentiscus ) A small tree which produced a resin used in the sacred incense ( Exodus 30:34 ).

Claude F. Mariottini

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

From very early times spices were in great demand among the peoples of Palestine and surrounding countries. Some spices were grown locally, but many were imported from the East, bringing wealth to traders and to the governments who taxed them ( Genesis 37:25;  1 Kings 10:2; Song of  Song of Solomon 3:6;  Isaiah 60:6;  Jeremiah 6:20;  Ezekiel 27:17;  Revelation 18:11-13). Among these spices were frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, stacte, onycha, cassia, aloes, cummin, dill, cinnamon, mint, rue, mustard, balm, sweet cane, henna, nard, saffron and calumus ( Genesis 37:25;  Exodus 30:23-24;  Exodus 30:34; Song of  Song of Solomon 3:6;  Song of Solomon 4:13-14;  Jeremiah 6:20;  Matthew 23:23;  Luke 11:42;  Luke 13:19).

Spices came from the gum of certain trees and from plants and herbs (Song of  Song of Solomon 4:14). People used spices in preparing food and drinks (Song of  Song of Solomon 8:2;  Ezekiel 24:10;  Matthew 23:23), and in making a variety of oils, medicines, cosmetics, deodorants and disinfectants ( Esther 2:12;  Psalms 45:8;  Proverbs 7:17; Song of  Song of Solomon 4:10;  Song of Solomon 4:14;  Song of Solomon 5:13;  Jeremiah 8:22;  Jeremiah 51:8;  Luke 7:46;  John 12:3;  John 19:39).

The preparation of these substances involved heating, drying, boiling, soaking and crushing. It was a specialized art in which some people became highly skilled ( Exodus 30:35;  1 Samuel 8:13;  2 Chronicles 16:14). People placed great value on some of these substances, and preserved them in expensive boxes that they opened on special occasions ( Isaiah 3:20;  Mark 14:3;  Luke 7:37-38).

Among Israelites the most sacred use of spices was in preparing oil and incense for use in religious rituals. Oil was used to anoint priests, and incense was burnt in the tabernacle ( Exodus 30:22-38; see Oil ; Incense ).

In relation to Jesus, people used spices, or substances made from them, to present in homage to him ( Matthew 2:11), to anoint and refresh him ( Luke 7:46;  John 12:3), and to offer him on the cross to deaden his pain (but he refused their offer) ( Mark 15:23). Some used spices to prepare his body for burial ( John 19:39) and others brought spices to anoint the body as it lay in the tomb ( Mark 16:1).

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

Basam . Not pungent, as pepper, ginger, etc., but aromatic woods, seeds, or gums ( Song of Solomon 6:2;  Song of Solomon 5:1). Balsam or balm of Gilead, Αmyris Opobalsamum ; a tropical plant that grew in the plains of Jericho and the hot valleys of southern Palestine. KJV translated not Basam , but Tseri or Tsori , "balm". (See Balm .) The balm of Gilead tree is not more than 15 ft. high, with straggling branches and scanty foil age. The balsam is procured from the bark by incision, and from the green and ripe berries.

The Nekoth , "spicery"  Genesis 37:25, is the Storax or gum of the Styrax tree (Speaker's Commentary). Arabic Nekaat , the gum exuding from the Tragacanth ( Astragalus ); when exposed to the air it hardens into lumps or worm-like spires (Smith's Bible Dictionary). In  2 Kings 20:13 margin, "house of spicery" expresses the original design of the house; but it was used ultimutely for storing Hezekiah's other "precious things." Sammim , a general term for aromatics used in preparing the holy anointing oil. Certain Levites especially "oversaw the frankincense and spices" ( 1 Chronicles 9:29-30). Myrrh and aloes were among the spices wrapped with Jesus' body ( John 19:39-40; compare also  2 Chronicles 16:4;  Mark 16:1;  Luke 23:56;  Luke 24:1).

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]


(Hebrew, basam, besem or bosem. ) In  Song of Solomon 5:1, "I have gathered my myrrh with my spice," the word points, apparently, to some definite substance. In the other places, with the exception, perhaps, of  Song of Solomon 1:13;  Song of Solomon 6:2, the words refer more generally to sweet aromatic odors, the principal of which was that of the balsam or balm of Gilead; the tree which yields this substance is now generally admitted to be the Balsam-odendron opobalsamum .

The balm of Gilead tree grows in some parts of Arabia and Africa, and is seldom more than fifteen feet high, with straggling branches and scanty foliage. The balsam is chiefly obtained from incisions in the bark, but is procured also from the green and ripe berries.

(Hebrew, Necoth. )  Genesis 37:25;  Genesis 43:11. The most probable explanation is that which refers the word to the Arabic, naku'at , that is, "the gum obtained from the tragacanth" ( Astragalus ).

(Hebrew, Sammim. ) A general term to denote those aromatic substances which were used in the preparation of the anointing oil, the incense offerings, etc. The spices mentioned as being used by Nicodemus for the preparation of our Lord's body,  John 19:39-40, are "myrrh and aloes," by which latter word must be understood not the aloes of medicine, but the highly-scented wood of the Aquilaria agallochum .

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [5]

SPICES ( Lat. species ).—The word denotes primarily the kind of a thing, a sample or specimen of anything. Then it means a certain touch or taste of something. More definitely, it denotes any aromatic or pungent substance. In general, spices are aromatic condiments used for seasoning food, or fragrant ointments used as perfumes. In the NT the term is used in both of these senses; and, in a few cases, it has a somewhat wider meaning.

In the Gospels there are several words used to describe various kinds of spices. It is scarcely possible to classify them. See artt. Myrrh, Frankincense, Nard, Spikenard, Mint, Anise, Cummin, Rue.

Spices (Gr. ἀρώματα, Lat. aromata ) are mentioned in  Mark 16:1,  Luke 23:56;  Luke 24:1,  John 19:40. We have here probably a general term to denote the mixed spices used in embalming the bodies of the dead.

Francis R. Beattie.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

 Exodus 30 Exodus 25:6 35:8 1 Chronicles 9:29 2 Chronicles 16:14 Luke 23:56 24:1 John 19:39,40 2 Kings 20:13 Isaiah 39:2

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

These were much used in the East, and were of different kinds. See the various names by which they are designated, as myrrh, aloes, cassia, galbanum, stacte, etc.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [8]

This word, which occurs very frequently in our translation of the Scriptures, has usually been considered to indicate several of the aromatic substances to which the same general name is applied in the present-day. And we have as much assurance as is possible in such cases that the majority of the substances referred to have been identified, and that among the spices of early times were included many of those which now form articles of commerce from India to Europe.