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" in Word Study
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NET Glossary: any one of several distinct plant species mentioned in the Bible; in the Old Testament hyssop was used as part of the Passover and the levitical purification rituals for sprinkling (generally considered to be Syrian marjoram, Origanum syriacum); in the New Testament the "hyssop" used at the crucifixion was probably a reed or stick (the reed-like cereal durra, Sorghum vulgare, has been considered the most likely plant)
(Heb. 'ezob; LXX. hyssopos), first mentioned in Ex. 12:22 in connection with the institution of the Passover. We find it afterwards mentioned in Lev. 14:4, 6, 52; Num. 19:6, 18; Heb. 9:19. It is spoken of as a plant "springing out of the wall" (1 Kings 4:33). Many conjectures have been formed as to what this plant really was. Some contend that it was a species of marjoram (origanum), six species of which are found in Palestine. Others with more probability think that it was the caper plant, the Capparis spinosa of Linnaeus. This plant grew in Egypt, in the desert of Sinai, and in Palestine. It was capable of producing a stem three or four feet in length (Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36. Comp. John 19:29).
An indigenous plant to western Asia and northern Africa, 1 Kin. 4:33
The Israelites used, in sprinkling the blood of the paschal lamb upon the lintels of their doors, Ex. 12:22
; in sprinkling blood in purifications, Lev. 14:4
; Heb. 9:19
Used in the sacrifices of separation, Num. 19:6
Used in giving Jesus vinegar on the cross, John 19:29
Of spiritual cleansing, Psa. 51:7
) The ezob
was used for sprinkling in some of the sacrifices and purifications of the Jews. In consequence of its detergent qualities, or from its being associated with the purificatory Services, the psalmist makes use of the expression, "Purge me with ezob
." (Psalms 51:7
) It is described in (1Ã‚Â Kings 4:33
) as growing on or near walls. (Besides being thus fit for sprinkling, having cleansing properties and growing on walls, the true hyssop should be a plant common to Egypt, Sinai and Palestine, and capable of producing a stick three or four feet long since on a stalk of hyssop the sponge of vinegar was held up to Christ on the cross. (John 19:29
) it is impossible to precisely identify the plant because the name was given not to a particular plant but to a family of plants associated together by Hyssop, qualities easily noticed rather than by close botanical affinities. Different species of the family may have been used at different times. The hyssop of the Bible is probably one (or all) of three plants:--
- The common hyssop is "a shrub with low, bushy stalks 1 1/2 feet high, small pear shaped, close-setting opposite leaves all the stalks and branches terminated by erect whorled spikes of flowers of different colors in the varieties. It is a hardy plant, with an aromatic smell and a warm, pungent taste; a native of the south of Europe and the East."--ED.)
- Bochart decides in favor of marjoram, or some plant like it, and to this conclusion, it must be admitted, all ancient tradition points. (This is the Origanum maru , the z?atar of the Arabs. The French consul at Sidon exhibited to Dr. Thomson ("The Land and the Book," i. 161) a specimen of this "having the fragrance of thyme, with a hot, pungent taste, and long slender stems." Dr. Post of Beirut, in the American edition of Smith?s large Dictionary, favors this view.--ED.)
- But Dr.Royle, after a careful investigation of the subject, arrives at the conclusion that the hyssop is no other than the caperplant, or Capparis spinosa of Linnaeus. The Arabic name of this plant, asuf , by which it is sometimes though not commonly, described, bears considerable resemblance to the Hebrew. "It is a bright-green creeper, which climbs from the fissures of the rocks, is supposed to possess cleansing properties, and is capable of yielding a stick to which a sponge might be attached." --Stanky, "Sinai and Palestine," 23. --It produces a fruit the size of a walnut, called the mountain pepper.
- his'-up ('ezobh; hussspos, Ex 12:22
; Lev 14:4,6,4:9
ff; Nu 19:6,18
; 1 Ki 4:33
; Ps 51:7
; Jn 19:29
; Heb 9:19
): A plant used for ritual cleansing purposes; a humble plant springing out of the wall (1 Ki 4:33
), the extreme contrast to the cedar.
The common hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) of the Natural Order Labiatae, an aromatic plant with stomatic properties, cannot be the hyssop of the Bible as it is unknown in Palestine, but allied aromatic plants of the same Natural Order have by Maimonides (Neg. xiv.6) and other Jewish writers been identified with it. Probably hyssop is identical with the Arabic zat`ar, a name applied to a group of aromatic plants of the genus marjoram and thyme. They would any of them furnish a bunch suitable for sprinkling, and they have the important recommendation that they grow everywhere, being found even in the desert. Post thinks of all varieties the Origanum maru, a special variety of marjoram which favors terrace walls and rocks, is the most probable.
The proposal (Royle, Jour. Royal Asiatic Soc., VII, 193-213) to identify the caper (Capparis spinosa) with hyssop, which has been popularized by the works of Tristram, has not much to recommend it. It is true that the caper is very commonly seen growing out of walls all over Palestine (1 Ki 4:33), but in no other respect is it suitable to the requirements of the Biblical references. The supposed similarity between the Arabic 'acaf ("caper") and the Hebrew 'ezobh is fanciful; the caper with its stiff, prickly stems and smooth, flat leaves would not furnish a bunch for sprinkling as serviceable as many species of zat`ar. It has been specially urged that the hyssop suits the conditions of Jn 19:29, it being maintained that a stem of caper would make a good object on which to raise the "sponge full of vinegar" to the Saviour's face, the equivalent of the "reed" of Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36. For such a purpose the flexible, prickly stems of the hyssop would be most unsuitable; indeed, it would be no easy matter to find one of sufficient length. It is necessary to suppose either that a bunch of hyssop accompanied the sponge with the vinegar upon the reed, or, as has been proposed by several writers (for references see article "Hyssop," EB), that hussopo is a corruption of husso, "javelin," and that the passage should read "They put a sponge full of vinegar upon a javelin."
E. W. G. Masterman
Also see definition of "Hyssop
" in Word Study