Archaeological Attempts to Find The Ancient Medicinal Plant “The Balm of Gilead” – Holy Shaya


In another work of the Vendyl Jones Research Institute (Jones VJRI 1995), a hidden silo in the bedrock in a cave at Qumran was found during the 1992 excavation, which contained a reddish material that appeared to be organic in nature. Tests allegedly indicated that the reddish material was a mixture of 11 ingredients of the holy incense (pitum haqetoret in Hebrew) used in the Temple in Jerusalem, which also contains the oil of the balm of Gilead. Over 400 kg of the reddish material were removed that year from the cave. These two items are listed in the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Vendyl Jones studied. In his work, he further claimed that this incense was prepared in the precise order as had been written in the Torah. However, Vendyl Jones’s reports were greatly criticised by many researchers. The late Yehuda Feliks (see Amar 1998) said that the reliability of this article is dubious and the finding of the holy incense is just a fantasy. Amar (1998) also analyzed this report in detail and concluded that the silo was possibly a factory to produce soap from the local Dead Sea Basin herbs.

Four powder boxes made of gold and silver were given to the senior author for chemical evaluation by a famous antiques collector, one box bearing the inscription ‘‘Balsam.’’ Analysis of the top layer of the material of all four boxes did not reveal any of the chemical markers of the Commiphora or Boswellia species. However, a chemical that is a known component of the aromatic gum ladanum from Cistus creticus was found in one box. The ladanum spice (lot or lotem in Hebrew) was one of the important ancient spices of Canaan and of the Israelites. Furthermore, it was one of the spices that the Ishmaelites who had purchased Joseph from his brothers had on their camels’ backs: astrag-alus, balm, and ladanum (‘‘nechot, tzori velot’’ Hebrew), Genesis 37:25. This is the first time that both the balm of Gilead and ladanum are mentioned in the Bible. It was suggested that these chemical markers could be used to identify the ladanum spice (S. Ben-Yehoshua and L. Hanusˇ, unpublished data).

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