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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:2, Summer 2023

Epistles: Balm of Gilead

By Zohar Amar

Biblical Archaeology Review

Zori is mentioned six times in the Bible as a prestigious and well-known medical product. Often translated “balm,” it was a prized product of the biblical lands, especially the region of Gilead (Genesis 37:25; Jeremiah 8:22). Its importance is reflected by its appearance at the top of a list of medicines and perfumes called “the choice produce of the land” (Genesis 43:11).

But what exactly is zori?

There is no doubt that the biblical text reflects an authentic product, since zori also appears in a 14th-century BCE letter from the well-known Amarna archive: The queen of Ugarit sent a small jug of zori as tribute to the queen of Egypt.1 Much later, in the Roman period, it became a term for the “balsam of Judah,” a perfume shrub. In earlier periods, though, it referred to something else entirely.

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