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  1. #1

    Exclamation Help! Biblical perfume reference


    Im trying to assist a friend who is researching ancient botany to find out a little more about a specific extinct persimmon fruit referenced since biblical times that once existed at the En Gedi oasis on the Dead Sea. Its use in ancient perfumery was vast.

    Here is an extract from this page that Ive copy/pasted here:

    A mysterious plant, the persimmon, of which the exact present-day equivalent is not known, grew in Ein Gedi in thick groves. The resin flowing from the plant was collected and produced a most famous perfume. The Israelite kings also extracted perfume for oil from the Ein Gedi groves. King Josiah of Judah installed the practice of anointing new kings with persimmon oil...

    Meanwhile the Romans had heard about the lucrative perfume business in Ein Gedi. Marc Anthony, the lover of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, confiscated the persimmon groves for her, but after her death king Herod leased them back. During the First Jewish War, the Jewish inhabitants of Ein Gedi tried to uproot the groves so they would not fall in Roman hands; the Romans fought to prevent it.

    Does anyone know of any other information about this fruit or plant???

  2. #2

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Hi Dimi, I think this would be a good book to check:
    Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran (Hardcover)
    By Lytton John Musselman
    Timber Press, 2007

    The entries are written by a botanist and are substantial. I may have this in my school's library, I'll check further.

    PS -- here is an older book, also useful
    Zohary, Michael. Plants of the Bible . Cambridge: University Press, 1982

    PPS - (things keep occurring to me..)
    The Encyclopedia Judaica (multi-volume work) is usually a font of info. A good academic library will have this. I can check on all of these for you.
    Last edited by odysseusm; 20th August 2009 at 05:35 PM.

    "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower // drives my green age..." Dylan Thomas

  3. #3

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    In this reference it says "Persimmons would not have been known to the people of the Bible". See:

  4. #4

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Still haven't checked into it, but the problem with many references to historical ingredients is that the English translated name may not be the actual plant of history. What the Romans called "persimmon" may be something completely different from what we call by that name. Translation is difficult, and the modern system of botanical designation is a somewhat modern enterprise.

    "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower // drives my green age..." Dylan Thomas

  5. #5

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Thanks for the responses gents - and Ody, I will def look into those youve suggested.
    Actually the Hebrew name for this particular fruit was Afarsimmon or Afarsimmon. They have noted that no exact present-day equivalent plant is known, so the word "persimmon" I think is used lightly.

    The Encyclopaedia Judaica may be in our city library too - must try and check it out. I think my friend is rather interested in its possible appearance and its perfume... its for a book they're penning.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    OK -- it appears that there is confusion in the source your friend is using. References to afarsimmon etc. don't appear to refer to a plant.
    EJ says, "In the Talmud and Midrash, afarsemon designates the perfume extracted from the sap of the Commophora opobalsamum , which is the balm tree."
    En-Gedi is an oasis in the south of Israel. This area was famous since the 7th century BC for the production of a substance, I'll put it in English letters for the Hebrew -- bsm or blsm -- in other words balm or balsam. This was a spicy resin.
    Rabbinic sources preserve the tradition that after King Josiah hid the holy oil of Moses, balsam oil was used in its place to anoint kings (Babylonian Talmud, Seder Kodashim, tractate Kerithoth 5b). But I don't think there is any evidence that Josiah instituted the change.
    Many Greek and Roman sources speak of the balsam of En Gedi, often calling it the "Balm of Gilead".
    The Roman historian Pliny the Elder writes of the Jewish-Roman struggles over this territory and crop, Historia Naturalis 12:25.

    Here's where you or your friend will need to look. Encyclopedia Judaica, "Balsam", also "En-Gedi" and a brief mention in "Anointing."
    Mussleman discusses this under the plant category "Terebrinth" and Zohary under "Balm".
    "Persimmon" is not an entry at all, nor is it a word in the King James bible.
    I hope this is clear. This is a complex area, and EJ assumes a detailed knowledge of history. Check with me further or PM me if you want more info. If the Mussleman and Zohary books are not easily available, I can photocopy the relevant pages.
    Cheers, ody
    this was fun!

    PS - what is interesting is the idea (perhaps often seen in the world of perfume) that there was some mysterious, esoteric, lost substance. The evidence suggests the opposite. But the appeal of the esoteric is so strong!
    Last edited by odysseusm; 20th August 2009 at 08:04 PM.

    "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower // drives my green age..." Dylan Thomas

  7. #7

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Thank you Oysseusm, that at least clarifies the persimmon/afarsimmon term... and yes it is very interesting! So does Commophora opobalsamum still exist? Few results are turned up when using the latin term on google.
    Whatever the case, it would be wonderful to experience this revered balsam in person, no?

    Thank you for the offer of photocopies and/or additional info.. I will pass it along and let you know should they wish to dig a bit deeper.
    Again, thanks!

  8. #8
    vita odorifera
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    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    These may also be of some use:

    foung by googling "persimmon history bible perfumery fragrance"

    Other links provided in Google
    ointments and perfume delight the heart....


  9. #9

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Glad this was helpful.
    Zohary says "there are about 100 species of Commophora , formerly known as Balsamodenron , some of which are notably resinferous, or gum-exuding."
    Musselman takes a different line. He assumes that the plant actually is Pistacia lentiscus , a large tree native to the region which produces resin. Musselman is a skilled botanist and has a good grasp of history so he may be onto something.
    But Zohary is taking the more conventional assessment, and it is wisest to start there before branching off... I'm not a scientist in any sense so I can't easily arbitrate here.

    "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower // drives my green age..." Dylan Thomas

  10. #10

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    I don't know if contacting this company will help you, but I understand there has been a renewed interest in the ancient art of perfume making in Ein Gedi. This company reportedly makes their perfumes based on ancient world formulations. Maybe they will know something about the use of afarsimmon in ancient Israeli perfumery. (click on the "Biblical Perfumes" icon):

    I have purchased King David and King Solomon from them, and was quite pleased with the fragrances.

    This quote is lifted from their site:


    Ein Gedi Cosmetics produces original perfumes based on natural essences made of plants characteristic of the Land of the Bible and flowers from the Holy Land. The perfume bottles are hand painted and undergo traditional manual antiquing and oven firing to achieve the special tints of ancient glass.
    Our Perfumes Include: Light of Jerusalem, King Solomon, Lion of Judah, Lily of the Valleys, Rose of Sharon, Essence of Ein Gedi, Essence of Masada, Essence of Qumran."
    Last edited by Bossa Nova; 21st August 2009 at 07:02 AM.
    Snarky is as snarky does.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Really interesting Bossanova_boy - its definitely a lead I will pass on, thank you!

  12. #12

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Another thanks, bossanova boy. I'm certainly intrigued by the scents of that company, and I have a couple of friends who also will be interested.

    "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower // drives my green age..." Dylan Thomas

  13. #13

    Default Re: Help! Biblical perfume reference

    Wow! This information and these links will keep me amused for hours. This is the sort of stuff that keeps me coming back to Basenotes. Thanks everyone.

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