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Balm of Gilead

Balm is used for a number of natural aromatic substances that are utilized for healing and soothing. They are obtained from certain resinous plants. During Bible History, the area of Gilead was rich in spices and aromatic gums that provided balm, which was exported to Egypt and Tyre - and the land of Israel. The word balm is derived from balsam, which originated from the Greek word (pronounced) balsamon, which was adopted to represent the Hebrew words baal shemen, meaning "lord of oils." (the term Baal is used in various ways in the Old Testament, with the usual meaning of master, or owner. It came to sometimes mean the local pagan god of a particular people, and at the same time all of the idols of the land - see Baal. It is also found in several places in the plural Baalim, or Baals. There were many variations, such as the sun god, the god of fertility, and Beelzebub, or the "lord of flies" - see Baal-zebub and Beelzebub).

Balm of Gilead

Balsam Gilead was a well-known exporter of balm from the earliest of times. The Israelite patriarch Joseph was sold by his brothers to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who were transporting a cargo that included balm:

"So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore [see Coat Of Many Colors]; and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites [see Ishmael] coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers [see Children of Jacob], "What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers heeded him. Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt." (Genesis 37:23-28 RSV)

Embalming took its name from the use of balm as a supposed preservative in earlier times. Both Jacob/Israel (who died in Egypt but was buried in the land of Israel at Machpelah) and Joseph were embalmed by the Egyptian method:

"And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming." (Genesis 50:2-3 RSV)

"And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die; but God will visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Then Joseph took an oath of the sons of Israel, saying, "God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." (Genesis 50:24-26 RSV)

Fact Finder: When the Israelites left Egypt in the Exodus, did they take Joseph's embalmed body (which had been dead for about 3 centuries, only the bones remained) with them?
Exodus 13:19

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