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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Bdellium

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(בְּדֹלִח, bedo'lach) occurs but twice in the Scriptures in Genesis 2:12, as a product of the land of Havilah, and Numbers 11:7, where the manna is likened to it and to hoar frost on the ground. In the Sept. it is considered as a precious stone, and translated (Gen.) by ἄνθραξ, and (Num.) by κρύσταλλος; while Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and the Vulgate render it bdellium, a transparent aromatic gum from a tree. Of this opinion also is Josephus (Ant. in 1, 6), where he describes the manna ὅμοιον τῇ τῶν ἀρωμάτων βδέλλῃ, i.e. similar to the aromatic bdellium (Numbers 11:7). (See MANNA). Reland supposes it to be a crystal, while Wahl and Hartmann render it beryl (reading בְּרֹלִח ). The Jewish rabbins, however, followed by a host of their Arabian translators, and to whom Bochart (Hieroz. 3, 593 sq.) and Gesenius (Thesaur. 1, 181) accede, translate bedolach by pearl, and consider Havilah (q.v.) as the part of Arabia, near Catipha and Bahrein, on the Persian Gulf, where the pearls are found.

Those who regard bedolach as some kind of precious stone rest their argument on the fact that it is placed (Genesis 2:12) by the side of "the onyx-stone" (שֹׁה ם, shoham), which is a gem occurring several times in the Scriptures, and that they are both mentioned as belonging to the productions of the land Havilah. But if this meaning were intended, the reading ought to be, "there is the stone of the onyx and of the bdellium," and not "there is the bdellium and the stone of the onyx," expressly excluding bedolach from the mineral kingdom. Those who translate bedolach by "pearl" refer to the later Jewish and Arabian expounders of the Bible, whose authority, if not strengthened by valid arguments, is. but of little weight. It is, moreover, more than probable that the pearl was as yet unknown in the time of Moses, or he would certainly not have excluded it from the costly contributions to the tabernacle, the priestly dresses, or even the Urim and Thummim, while its fellow shoham, though of less value, was variously used among the sacred ornaments (Exodus 25:7; Exodus 35:9; Exodus 35:27; Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:1,). Nor do we find any mention of pearl in the times of David and Solomon. It is true that Luther translates פְּנִינַים, peninim' (Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 10:25; Proverbs 31:10), by pearls, but this is not borne out by Lamentations 4:7, where it is indicated as having a red color. The only passage in the Old Test. where the pearl really occurs under its true Arabic name is in Esther 1:6 (דִּר, dar); and in the N.T. it is very frequently mentioned under the Greek name μαργαρίτης. (See PEARL). It is therefore most probable that the Hebrew bedolach is the aromatic gum bdellium, which issues from a tree growing in Arabia, Media, and the Indies. Dioscorides (1, 80) informs us that it was called μάδελκον or βολχόν, and Pliny (12, 19), that it bore the names of brochon, malacham, and maldacon. The frequent interchange of letters brings the form very near to that of the Hebrew word; nor is the similarity of name in the Hebrew and Greek, in the case of natural productions, less conclusive of the nature of the article, since the Greeks probably retained the ancient Oriental names of productions coming from the East. Pliny's description of the tree from which the bdellium is taken makes Kaempfer's assertion (Amaen. Exot. p. 668) highly probable, that it is the sort of palm-tree (Borassus flabelliformis, Linn. 101, 6, 3, Trigynia) so frequently met with en the Persian coast and in Arabia Felix.

The term bdellium, however, is applied to two gummy-resinous substances. One of them is the Indian bdellium, or false myrrh (perhaps the bdellium of the Scriptures), which is obtained from Amyris (balsamodendron?) Commiphora. Dr. Roxburgh (Flor. Ind. 2, 245) says that the trunk of the tree is covered with a light-colored pellicle, as in the common birch, which peels off from time to time, exposing to view a smooth green coat, which, in succession, supplies other similar exfoliations. This tree diffuses a grateful fragrance, like that of the finest myrrh, to a considerable distance around. Dr. Royle (Illust. p. 176) was informed that this species yielded bdellium; and, in confirmation of this statement, we may add that many of the specimens of this bdellium in the British Museum have a yellow pellicle adhering to them, precisely like that of the common birch, and that some of the pieces are perforated by spiny branches, another character serving to recognize the origin of the bdellium. Indian bdellium has considerable resemblance to myrrh. Many of the pieces have hairs adhering to them. The other kind of bdellium is called African bdellium, and is obtained from Heudolotia Africana (Richard and Gaillemin, Fl. de Senegambie). It is a natural production of Senegal, and is called by the natives, who make tooth-picks of its spines, niottout. It consists of rounded or oval tears, from one to two inches in diameter, of a dull and waxy fracture, which, in the course of time, become opaque, and are covered externally by a white or yellowish dust. It has a feeble but peculiar odor, and a bitter taste. Pelletier (Ann. de Chim. 80, 39) found it to consist of resin, 59.0; soluble gum, 9.2; bassorin, 30.6; volatile oil and loss, 1.2. Resin of bdellium (African bdellium?) consists, according to Johnstone, of carbon, 40; hydrogen, 31; oxygen, 5. See Penny Cyclopoedia, s.v.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bdellium'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/bdellium.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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