Spices in the Bible

The use of spices varied widely from food preparation,
to perfumes and ointments, to burial of the dead.

The Hebrew words:
  • נכאת, nekhoth, spicery, refers the word to the Arabic neca’at i.e. the gum obtained from the tragacanth, the Astragalus gummifer. Some Greek versions and the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 CE.) have "storax": Storax is the dried gum of the beautiful Styrax officinalis, which was used as incense.
  • בשם, bosem, spice, plural בשמים, besamim, spices, all from root "to attract by desire," especially by smell.
  • סמים, samim, perfume.
  • הרקח, harehkach, "spiced" wine; רקח,‘rokeach’ meant to perfume.

  • There is considerable doubt as to the exact identity of the plants involved
    1. Genesis 37:25; נכאת, Necoth, spicery
      And they lifted up their eyes and looked, and behold, a travelling company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels, bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down into Egypt.
    2. Genesis 43:11; נכאת, Necoth, spicery
      Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.
    3. Exodus 25:6 בשמים, besamim, spices; סמים, samim, incense
      olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;
    4. Exodus 30:23 בשמים, besamim, spices; בשם, basam, scent
      "Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane,
    5. Exodus 30:34
      [ Incense ] Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts,
    6. Exodus 35:8
      olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;
    7. Exodus 35:28
      They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.
    8. 1 Kings 10:2
      Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.
    9. 1 Kings 10:10
      And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
    10. 1 Kings 10:25
      Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.
    11. 2 Kings 20:13; בשמים, besamim, spices
      Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine olive oil.
    12. 1 Chronicles 9:29
      Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the flour and wine, and the oil, incense and spices.
    13. 1 Chronicles 9:30
      But some of the priests took care of mixing the spices.
    14. 2 Chronicles 9:1
      [ The Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon ] When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon's fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Arriving with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind.
    15. 2 Chronicles 9:9
      Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. There had never been such spices as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
    16. 2 Chronicles 9:24
      Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, and robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.
    17. 2 Chronicles 16:14
      They buried him in the tomb that he had cut out for himself in the City of David. They laid him on a bier covered with spices and various blended perfumes, and they made a huge fire in his honor.
    18. 2 Chronicles 32:27
      Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables.
    19. Psalm 75:8
      In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.
    20. Song of Solomon 3:6
      Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?
    21. Song of Solomon 4:10; בשמים, besamim, spices
      How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice!
    22. Song of Solomon 4:14; בשמים, besamim, spices
      nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.
    23. Song of Salomon 5:1; בשם, basam, spice
      I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.
    24. Song of Salomon 5:13; בשם, basam, spice
      His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh.
    25. Song of Salomon 6:2; בשם, basam, spice
      My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies.
    26. Song of Salomon 8:2; הרקח, harehkach, spiced
      I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house— she who has taught me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.
    27. Song of Salomon 8:14; בשמים, besamim, spices
      Come away, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.
    28. Isaiah 39:2; בשמים, besamim, spices
      Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil.
    29. Ezekiel 24:10
      So heap on the wood and kindle the fire. Cook the meat well, mixing in the spices; and let the bones be charred.
    30. Ezekiel 27:22
      " 'The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold.
    31. Matthew 23:23
      “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
    32. Mark 16:1
      [ Jesus Has Risen ] When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
    33. Luke 23:56
      Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
    34. Luke 24:1
      [ Jesus Has Risen ] On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
    35. John 19:40
      Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

    Burial Spices

    As the burning practiced by the Greeks found no place in Jewish law and custom, so embalming, as practiced by the Egyptians, was unknown in Israel, the cases of Jacob (third Old Testament patriarch, son of Isaac, father of the 12 tribes) and Joseph (Jacob's eleventh son) being clearly special, and in conformity to Egyptian custom were embalmed or mummified under justifying circumstances.
    1. Genesis 50:1-3
      Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
    2. Genesis 50:25-26
      And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

    The word "mummification" is derived from the Persian word "mumia" which means a black bitumen found ouzing from the earth in certain places.

    The procedure for mummification, at least in the late periods (circa 500 BCE), were documented by the Greek historian Herodotus. He actually wrote about three methods, classified basically by the expense required to perform them.
    The most perfect form of these belongs to One, Osiris. It was thought that in order to reach the kingdom of Osiris in the other world the dead man must be a copied Osiris. The second class they show is somewhat inferior to this and cheaper and the third cheapest of all.
  • The most elaborate method, at first reserved for the royal dead, involved surgical procedures. "They first draw out part of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and inject certain drugs into the rest". They take out all the intestine, and the lungs through an opening in the diaphragmatic muscle. "Clean the belly, rinsing it with palm wine and bruised spices, and presently filling the belly with pure ground myrrh and cassa and any other spices, save only fraankincense. Then they sew up the anus". The internal organs were removed (except the kidney and heart) and deposited in canopic jars dedicated to the four children of Horus whose representation was shown on the stoppers. The body was placed in saltpeter for 70 days, after which it was washed. Then came the cosmetic care of the body. The palms and fingers were dyed with henna. Cavaties were stuffed with sand, sawdust or stones to restore the normal contours of the body, and the internal organs were wrapped in linen.Artificial eyes were inserted in their groves and the mummy was painted with molten raisin, and finally coffined and entombed.
  • In the middle form of burial, oil of cedar was injected into the body, which was then placed in saltpeter for 70 days. When the body was removed, the oil was withdrawn along with fleshy parts of the body, so that only skin and bones remained.
  • The third method of embalmment, employed on the bodies of the poor, consisted of purging the intestines and covering the body with saltpeter for the prescribed period.

  • In Jacob’s case, the entire process for mummification and mourning took 70 days, a number cited in at least five Egyptian texts and by Herodotus. Joseph died at the age of 110; an ideal lifespan for this same age is mentioned in at least 27 Egyptians texts.

    Flora of Israel online