Shemen Afarsimon

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Shemen afarsimon (Hebrew: שמן אפרסמון) was a prized oil used in antiquity. The ancient Jewish community of Ein Gedi was known for its cultivation of the afarsimon.[1]

Afarsimon in the Talmud[edit]

Balm of Gilead IMG 97811.JPG
Commiphora gileadensis, identified by some as the ancient Afarsimon, in the Botanical gardens of Kibutz Ein-Gedi.
Branches and fruit of a Commiphora gileadensis shrub.

In modern Hebrew, the word afarsimon is translated as persimmon. However, some doubt that, although traditional among as food for Jewish New Year in the Diaspora, persimmons would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible.[2] According to Adin Steinsaltz the Talmud afarsimon was considered very valuable, and worth its weight in gold.[3] It is not known exactly what plant was used to produce the biblical oil. According to one theory, it is the plant Commiphora opobalsamum - a small shrub, 10 to 12 feet high, with wandlike, spreading branches. The oil extracted from the seeds or branches of this plant has been used as a medicine, but more commonly as incense or perfumed oil.

Balsam in the Hebrew Bible[edit]

The Hebrew Bible does not mention persimmons, but in the Talmud and Midrash Hebrew term afarsimon may also stand for balsam which occurs once in the Hebrew Bible as Hebrew besami (בְּשָׂמִי) "my spice" (pronounced [bə.ɬaːˈmiː]) in Song of Songs 5:1, which is indirect evidence of the form basam (בָּשָׂם) (pronounced [baːˈɬaːm]).[4]

Qumran jug[edit]

In April 1988, archeologists working with the former Baptist minister Vendyl Jones discovered a small jug of oil in the Qumran region that Jones announced was the oil used in the Temple. The find was announced by the New York Times on February 15, 1989,[5] and a feature article was published in National Geographic Magazine in October of that year.[6] After testing by the Pharmaceutical Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the substance inside the juglet was claimed by Jones to be the shemen afarsimon hinted at in Psalm 133. According to Jones, it was the first artifact discovered from the First Temple Period, and one of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll. However, this identification remains controversial.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The rural landscape of ancient Israel Aren M. Maeir, Shimʻon Dar, Zeev Safrai - 2003 "A government estate, which included the Balsam (afarsimon) areas, undoubtedly continued to be active in the Jericho region. "
  2. ^ Cooking with the Bible: biblical food, feasts, and lore - Page 271 Anthony F. Chiffolo, Rayner W. Hesse - 2006 "one of their traditional New Year foods. Persimmons would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible ... The persimmon is the latest ripener of all tree fruits, reaching ripeness well into autumn, after cool, even cold,"
  3. ^ The Aleph Society, promoting the educational efforts of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. | Daf Yomi
  4. ^ The streets of Jerusalem: who, what, why - Page 13 Ronald L. Eisenberg - 2006 "The color of the fruit varies from light yellow-orange to dark orange-red, and the size can be as little as a few ounces to more than a pound. Afarsimon is also the talmudic and midrashic term for the spice balsam, which in the Bible is balsam"
  5. ^ Times, Joel Brinkley, Special To The New York (1989-02-16). "Balsam Oil of Israelite Kings Found in Cave Near Dead Sea". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-09.
  6. ^ Jones Research Institutes
  7. ^ Jones, Vendyl (2005-03-01). A Door of Hope: My Search for the Treasures of the Copper Scroll. Lightcatcher Books. ISBN 9780971938854.