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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Galbanum

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(חֶלְבְּנָה, chelbenlah', according to Furst, Hebr. Handwb. s.v., from חֵלֶב, fat, i.e. resin, gum; Sept. and Vulg. merely Graecize and Latinize, χαλβάνη, galbanum) is mentioned in Exodus 30:34 as one of the substances from which the incense for the sanctuary was to be prepared: "Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum." The Hebrew word is so very similar to the Greek χαλβάνη, which occurs as early as the time of Hippocrates, that they may be presumed to have a common origin. The substance is more particularly described by Dioscorides (3:8; comp. 1:71), who gives μετώπιον as an additional name, and states that it is an exudation produced by a ferula in Syria. So Pliny (12:25): "Moreover, we have from Syria out of the same mountain, Amanus, another kind of gum, called galbanum, issuing out of an herb-like fennelgeant, which some call by the name of the said resin, others stagonotis. The best galbanum, and which is most set by; is grisly and clear, withal resembling hammoniacum." On the other hand, he describes the metopion as the product of a tree near the oracle of Ammon (12:49). Theophrastus had long previously (Hist. Pl. 9:7) said that galbanum flows from a Panax of Syria. In both cases it is satisfactory to find a plant of the same natural family of Umbelliferae pointed out as yielding this drug, because the plant has not yet been clearly ascertained. The Arabs, however, seem to have been acquainted with it, as they give its names. Thus "galbanum" in Persian works has barzu assigned to it as the Arabic, bireeja as the Hindostani, with khulyan and metonion as the Greek names (evident corruptions of χαλβάνῆ and μετώπιον, arising from errors in the reading of the diacritical points): Kinneh and nafil are stated to be the names of the plant, which is described as being jointed, thorny, and fragrant (Royle, Illust. Himal. Bot. page 23). Lobel made an attempt to ascertain the plant by sowing some seeds which lhe found attached to the gum of commerce (Obs. p. 431). The plant which was thus obtained is the Ferula ferulago (see Kihn, On Dioscor. 2:532) of Linnaeus (System, 6:130 sq.), a native of North Africa, Crete, and Asia Minor (see Jacquin, Hort. Vindob. 3, pl. 36). It has been objected, however, that it does not yield galbanum in any of these situations; but the same objection might be made, though erroneously, to the mastich-tree, as not yielding mastich, because it does not do so except in a soil and climate suitable to it. Other plants, as the Bubon galbanum and gummiferum, have in consequence been selected, but with less claim, as they are natives of the Cape of Good Hope. The late professor Don, having found some seeds of an umbelliferous plant sticking to the galbanum of commerce, has named the plant, though yet unknown, Galbanum officinale. These seeds, however, may or may not have belonged to the galbanum plant (see Froriep, Notizen, 29:12). Dr. Lindley has suggested another plant, which he has named Opoidia galbanifera, and which grows in Khorassan, in Durrud, whence specimens were sent to England by Sir John M'Niell, as yielding an inferior sort of ammoniacum. This plant has been adopted by the Dublin College in their Pharmacopoeia as that which yields the galbanum (Pereira, Matthew Med. 2, part 2, page 188). M. Bushe, in his Persian travels (quoted in Royle, Mat. Medica, pages 471, 472), identified the plant producing galbanum with one which he found on the Demawend mountains. It was called by the natives Khassuch, and bore a very close resemblance to the Ferula erubescens, but belonged neither to the genus Galbanum nor to Opoidea. It is believed that the Persian galbanum and that brought from the Levant are the produce of different plants. (See AROMATICS).

Galbanum is in the present day imported into Europe both from the Levant and from India. That from the latter country is exported from Bombay, having first been imported thither, probably from the Persian Gulf. It is therefore probable that it may be produced in the countries at the head of that gulf, that is, in the northern parts of Arabia, or in Persia (portions of which, as is well known, were included in the Syria of the ancients); perhaps in Kurdistan, which nearly corresponds with ancient Assyria. Galbanum, then, is either a natural exudation, or obtained by incisions from some umbelliferous plant. It occurs in commerce in the form either of tears or masses, commonly called lump galbanum. The latter is of the consistence of wax, tenacious, of a brownish or brownish-yellow color, with white spots in the interior, which are the agglutinated tears. Its odor is strong and balsamic, but disagreeable, and its taste warm and bitter. It is composed of 66 percent of resin and 6 of volatile oil, with gum, etc., and impurities. It was formerly held in high esteem as a stimulant and antispasmodic medicine, and is still employed as such, and for external application to discuss indolent tumors.,The ancients believed that when burnt the smoke of it was efficacious in driving away serpents and gnats (Pliny, 12:56; 19:58; 24:13; Virgil, Georg. 3:415; Calpurn. 5:90; Lucan, 9:916). Galbanum was also employed in adulterating the opobalsamum, or gum of the balsam plant (Pliny, 12:54). It is still more to our purpose that we learn from Dioscorides that, in pre paring a fragrant ointment, galbanum was mixed with other aromatic substances (compare Pliny, 13:2). The effect of such mixture must depend upon the proportion in which it or any other strong-smelling substance is intermixed, more than upon what is its peculiar odor when in a concentrated state. We need not; therefore, inquire into the reasons which have been assigned to account for galbanum being intermixed with stacte and onycha as sweet spices (see Kalisch, ad loc.). We see that the same practice existed among the Greeks and Egyptians (Virgil, Georgics, 4:264; Colum. 9:15, etc.). See Penny Cyclopcedia, s.v.; Celsius, Hierob. 1:267 sq.; Michaelis, Suppl. 3:753 sq.; Hiller, Hierophyt. 1:450. (See ANOINTING OIL).


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

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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