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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Soap

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sōp ( בּרית , bōrı̄th ; the King James Version sope ): Bōrı̄th is a derivative of בּר , bōr , "purity," hence, something which cleanses or makes pure. Soap in the modern sense, as referring to a salt of a fatty acid, for example, that produced by treating olive oil with caustic soda, was probably unknown in Old Testament times. Even today there are districts in the interior of Syria where soap is never used. Cooking utensils, clothes, even the body are cleansed with ashes. The ashes of the household fires are carefully saved for this purpose. The cleansing material referred to in Jeremiah 2:22 (compare Septuagint at the place, where bōrı̄th is rendered by ποία , poia = "grass") and Malachi 3:2 was probably the vegetable lye called in Arabic el ḳali (the origin of English alkali ). This material, which is a mixture of crude sodium and potassium carbonates, is sold in the market in the form of grayish lumps. It is produced by burning the desert plants and adding enough water to the ashes to agglomerate them. Before the discovery of Leblanc's process large quantities of ḳali were exported from Syria to Europe.

For washing clothes the women sprinkle the powdered ḳali over the wet garments and then place them on a flat stone and pound them with a wooden paddle. For washing the body, oil is first smeared over the skin and then ḳali rubbed on and the whole slimy mixture rinsed off with water. Ḳali was also used in ancient times as a flux in refining precious metals (compare Malachi 3:2 ). At the present time many Syrian soap-makers prefer the ḳali to the imported caustic soda for soap-making.

In Susanna (verse 17) is a curious reference to "washing balls" ( smḗgmata ).

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Soap'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/soap.html. 1915.

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