MYRRH


MYRRH (Heb. מוֹר, mor), one of the most important perfumes of ancient times. It is referred to 11 times in the Bible, more than any other perfume. The Hebrew, mor, refers to its bitter taste (mar, "bitter"); the root is common to the various Semitic languages, from where it was transferred to Greek Μύῥῥα and Latin myrrha. It is first mentioned along with the ingredients from which the holy anointing oil in the Tabernacle was prepared (Ex. 30:23–25), where it is called mor deror, i.e., myrrh congealed to form granules (deror from dar, "pearl") and then dissolved in olive oil. The king's garments were perfumed with myrrh (Ps. 45:9), and the faithless wife perfumed her couch with it when she wanted to seduce men (Prov. 7:17). The maidens were treated with it for six months before being presented to Ahasuerus (Esth. 2:12). In the Song of Songs myrrh is mentioned no less than seven times. It grew in the imaginary spice garden to which the charms of the beloved one are compared (Song 4:14; 5:1). It is upon "the mountain of myrrh" that the beloved dreams he will meet his heart's desire (4:6). The queen arrives for a meeting with the king "from the wilderness… perfumed with myrrh and frankincense" (3:6). The beloved one watched for her lover with her fingers dripping "flowing myrrh" (5:5), i.e., oil of myrrh, and his lips too were "dripping with flowing myrrh" (5:13). The man lying in the arms of his beloved is likened to the crystallized myrrh which the women used to wear as "a bag of myrrh" (1:13).

Myrrh is extracted from certain trees or shrubs growing in Africa or in the Arabian peninsula: Commiphora abyssinica and Commiphora schimperi. These plants contain a fragrant sap under the bark like the sap of the *acacia, from which gum arabic is prepared (Gr. κόμι; mishnaic Heb. קומוס, kumos). The sages warned against those who adulterated myrrh with this kumos (Sifra 1:12). Myrrh is variously interpreted homiletically by the rabbis as referring to Moses and Aaron or to Abraham: myrrh, the prince of spices, is Abraham who offered his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah (connecting "mor" with "Moriah"; Song R. 3:6, no. 2). They also connected it with Mordecai whose name was explained to mean mor-dakhya: "pure myrrh" (Ḥul. 139b). The mor over, "flowering myrrh," of the Song of Songs alludes to Israel's troubles which will pass: "Read not mor over but mar over: "passing bitterness" (cf. Shab. 30b). Saadiah Gaon, followed by Maimonides, identified "a bag of mor" with musk, the perfume extracted from the aromatic gland of the musk deer (see *Incense and Perfumes) but there is no basis for this.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 249, 305–11; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), 316 (index), S.V.; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 252–4.

[Jehuda Feliks]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.