Bdellium // (Hebrew bedolach), also bdellion, is an aromatic gum like myrrh that is exuded from a tree. A medieval Arab writer first made the identification with gum guggul, the species Commiphora wightii, although "bdellium" has also been used to identify the African species Commiphora africana and at least one other Indian species, C. stocksiana. Bdellium was an adulterant of the more costly myrrh (Commiphora myrrha); guggul is still used as a binder in perfumes.
In the Hebrew Bible
The word bedolach occurs only twice in the Hebrew Bible. The first is in Genesis 2:12, where it is described as a product of the land of Havilah; the context has led some readers to link bedolach with pearls or other precious stones. Bdellium is mentioned once again, as something familiar, in Numbers 11:7, where manna is compared to it in color:
- "Now the manna was like zera gad [coriander seed], and its appearance as the appearance of bedolach."
In ancient sources
Bdellium appears in a number of ancient sources. In Akkadian, it was known as budulhu, in Sanskrit gulgulu. Theophrastus is perhaps the first classical author to mention it, if the report that came back from his informant in Alexander's expedition refers to Commiphora wightii: "In the region called Aria there is a thorn tree which produces a tear of resin, resembling myrrh in appearance and odour. It liquifies when the sun shines upon it." Plautus in his play Curculio refers to it. Pliny the Elder describes the best bdellium coming from Bactria as a "tree black in colour, and the size of the olive tree; its leaf resembles that of the oak and its fruit the wild fig", but his descriptions seem to cover a range of strongly perfumed resins. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, of the 2nd century CE, reports that bdella are exported from the port of Barbarice at the mouth of the Indus.
Isidore of Seville reports in his Etymologiae (XVII.viii.6) that bdellium comes from trees in India and Arabia, the Arabian variety being better as it is smooth, whitish and smells good; the Indian variety is a dirty black.
In China, bdellium, known as an hsi hsiang or "Parthian aromatic", was among the varieties of incense that reached China either along the Silk Route from Central Asia, or by sea. Later an hsi hsiang was applied to an East Indian substitute, gum benzoin from Sumatra.
Middle English, from Latin, from Greek βδέλιον bdellion.
Genesis 2:11-12 The name of the first is Pishon; that is it which compasseth the whole land of Hav'ilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone. New Scofield Reference Edition Concerning the Garden of Eden.
Numbers 11:7 (ESV) Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium.
Its tempered sages according to traditional medicine is very hot and dry. In India, the gum resin as an astringent, antiseptic, and thoracic medicine to increase sex drive, enrich the blood, carminative, and the rule is binding. Also in scorpion and snakebite cases are also used for healing.
- Andrew Dalby, Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices, 2000, "Gum guggul" p. 109f.
- J. Innes Miller, The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 69ff. Miller refers to this species by its synonym, C. mukul.
- The Idra Rabba (128b) describes the appearance of the dew descending from the Head of Arich Anpin as being "white like the color of the bedolach stone, in which all colors are seen". the Kabbalistic 138 Openings of Wisdom: Opening 89
- Miller, Spice Trade, p. 69.
- Dalby 2000, ibid..
- Noted by Dalby 2002, ibid.
- "Next to Ariane is Bactriane, which produces the most esteemed kind of bdellium. The tree is of a black colour and of the size of an olive-tree. Its leaf resembles that of the oak, and its fruit that of the wild fig-tree. Bdellium itself is of the nature of a gum. Some call it brochon, others malacha, others again maldacon, but when it is black and rolled into a little ball it is known as hadrabolon. This substance ought to be transparent like wax, odoriferous, unctuous when crumbled, and bitter to the taste but without being at all acid. When used in sacred rites it is steeped in wine to increase its fragrance. It grows in Arabia and India as well as in Media and Babylon. Some persons call the bdellium which is brought to us by way of Media, peratic. It is more brittle than the other kinds, harder in the crust, and more bitter to the taste; the Indian kind is, on the other hand, moister and gummy, and is adulterated by means of the almond nut. The various other kinds are corrupted with the bark of scordastum, the tree of this name producing a gum which resembles bdellium. The adulterations of perfumes, let it be said once for all, are detected by their smell, by their colour, weight, taste, and by the action of fire. The Bactrian bdellium is dry and shining, and has numerous white spots, like finger-nails in shape. Besides, it should be of a certain weight than which it ought to be neither heavier nor lighter. The price of bdellium when quite pure is three denarii per pound." (Natural History 12.19).
- Dalby 2000.
- Barney, Stephen A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; Berghof, O. (translators) (2006). The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (1 ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 348–349. ISBN 978-0-511-21969-6.. Isidore's encyclopedia assembled facts from classical sources.
- Joseph Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5 (Cambridge University Press) 1974, §33.Alchemy and Chemistry, p. 142f and note g.
- Miller, Spice Trade, p. 71.
- Dalby, Andrew (2003), Food in the ancient world from A to Z, London/New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-23259-7, pp. 226–227.
- Alchemy-works: Bdellium