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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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ALOES.—We have in the NT only one reference to aloes, John 19:39, where Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes with him, when he joins Joseph of Arimathea in taking away the body of Jesus for burial. In English, ‘aloe’ is used to designate (1) Aloe vulgaris, A. spicata, etc., of the natural order Liliaceae, from which the medicine known as ‘bitter aloes’ is obtained; (2) Agave Americana, or American aloe, of the order Amaryllidaceae, a plant which is noted for its long delay in flowering, and for the rapidity with which it at length puts forth its flowering stalk; and (3) Aquilœria Agallocha, Aq. [Note: Aquila.] Seeundaria, etc., of the order Aquilariaceae, from which is obtained the aloes-wood or eagle-wood of commerce. The substance so named is the result of disease occurring in the wood of the tree. To obtain it, the tree has to be split, as it is found in the centre. With this eagle-wood are probably to be identified the aloes of the Bible.

The grounds on which this identification rests are chiefly these:—(1) Under the name ἀγάλλοχον Dioscorides (i. 21) describes an aromatic wood which was imported from India and Arabia, and was not only used for medicinal purposes, but also burned instead of frankincense. Similarly Celsius (Hierobot. i. 135 ff.) discusses references of Arab writers to many varieties of aghâlûji found in India and Ceylon which gave off, when burned, a sweet fragrance, and which were used as a perfume for the very same purposes as those which ‘aloes’ served among the Jews (Psalms 45:8, Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 4:14). Quite analogous is the employment of aloes for perfuming the coverings of the dead (John 19:39; cf. 2 Chronicles 16:14).

(2) It is practically certain that ἀγάλλοχον and aghâlûji, and also the Hebrew אֲחָלִים (ăhâlim) and אֲהָלוח (ăhâlôth), are derivatives of the Sanskrit word , of which the term ‘eagle-wood’ is itself a corruption. If this etymology is correct, it indicates that both the name and the commodity were brought from the Far East (cf. נדִדְּ, Sanskrit ). The Greek ἁλόη and our own ‘aloe’ may be from the same root.

(3) There was an active trade in spices carried on in ancient times, not only through Phœnicia but also through the Syrian and Arabian deserts, so that there is no great difficulty in supposing that ‘aloes’ were brought from India. These considerations seem to afford sufficient justification for the belief that eagle-wood was the aloes of the Biblical writers.

Hugh Duncan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Aloes'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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