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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Frankincense

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The original word is lebonah, which first occurs here, and is afterwards constantly mentioned among the ingredients of the perfume to be consumed upon the incense altar (; ; ; ; ; ; ; ). In some other passages it is used in a figurative sense (; ; ; ). In other passages, as an article of distant commerce, it is described as being brought by caravans from Sheba, etc. (; ). From all which texts we learn that it was an article of foreign and distant commerce, that it was known very early, and that it was probably of a resinous nature, and very fragrant. In the New Testament the same word is employed in the Greek form of libanos, also rendered by 'frankincense.' The original is supposed to be found in the Hebrew laban, 'white;' but it is equally similar to the Arabic laban, signifying 'milk;' and, in a secondary sense, a gummy or resinous exudation from a tree, especially frankincense. There are other words in the Arabic which have a similar meaning, and which it is most probable were all originally derived from the same root as the Hebrew lebonah, and the Arabic laban, applied in both languages to the same substance. This was called by the Greeks libanos, and by the Romans thus, and now commonly as olibanum, from the addition of the letter o to the original name. Several kinds of resinous substances have at different times been confounded together under the names of 'incense' and 'frankincense,' as well as under the Latin thus, which is derived from thuo, 'to sacrifice.'

The ancient writers seem to state that there were two sorts of frankincense, one from the coasts of Arabia, and the other from India, but they more generally speak of it as derived from the former quarter, specially indicating the region of Saba or Sheba, from whence the Scripture also describes it as being brought. The Periplus, however, refers it to Africa. There is, however, no direct evidence for the existence of the tree or shrub producing frankincense in the southern coasts of Arabia. Wellsted could not see it when traveling in the quarter where it should besought; and although Niebuhr affirms that it is cultivated, he adds that it was introduced from Abyssinia, a fact which would not have passed out of memory had it been anciently produced in the country. That it might be described as coming from or produced in Arabia, even though grown in another country, is common to other products which the regions west and north of Arabia received through Arabian merchants. A number of circumstances render it probable that it was obtained by the Arabians from the coast of Africa, to which it was brought from the interior. Mr. Johnson, in his Travels in Southern Abyssinia, states that frankincense, called attar, is exported in large quantities from Berbera, on the Somali coast of Africa; that it is brought thither from the interior, and that a camel load of two hundred and fifty pounds is sold for three dollars. In conformity with this is the statement of Cosmo Indicopleuestes, who describes the land of frankincense as lying 'at the furthest end of Ethiopia, fifty days' journey from Axum, at no great distance from the ocean. The inhabitants of the neighboring Barbaria, or the country of Sozee, fetch from thence frankincense and other costly spices, which they transport by water to Arabia Felix and India.' The substance thus indicated, called on the Continent African or Arabian olib, is rarely met with in this country. Dr. Pereira states it consists of smaller tears than that of the Indian variety, and is intermixed with crystals of carbonate of lime. Even the country which produces the olibanum being itself uncertain, the cautious naturalist will hesitate to indicate with decisiveness the species of tree by which it is afforded. More distinct information on the subject is still needed.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Frankincense'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/f/frankincense.html.

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