Bible Review 13:5, October 1997

A Biblical Spice Rack

By Devorah Emmet Wigoder

The Bible reflects an intimate knowledge of herbs and spices, which perfumed the Jerusalem Temple (2 Chronicles 2:4), sweetened the home (Song of Songs 7:13) and seasoned meals during the Exodus (Numbers 11:5–6). Repeated references to herbs and spices indicate that the people of the Bible knew how these plants tasted, smelled and looked, where they grew and what medicinal value they provided.

The Bible never gives a specific word for spices, the aromatic vegetable products derived from the bark, root or fruit of perennial plants. In the Bible spices are used primarily for religious purposes—especially as incense. “Spiced wine,” literally wine of a mixture (of spices), in Song of Songs 8:2 is the only biblical mention of spices used as a flavoring.

In ancient times, herbs—the edible leaves, blossoms and soft stems of annuals and perennials—were used primarily as medicine. According to the apocryphal Book of Jubilees,a angels revealed to Noah all the illnesses of the world and their remedies so that he could “heal by means of the herbs of the earth” (Jubilees 10:12). Noah diligently recorded the cures in a book. On the following pages, I, like Noah, record the herbs and spices of the Near East throughout history.

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