And the Lord said unto Moses
In a continued discourse, or some time after the former, though more probably at the same time; since it concerns the incense to be offered on the altar of incense, about which directions are given in the former part of the chapter:
take unto thee sweet spices:
which are as follow, "stacte", "onycha", and "galbanum"; the former of these has its name from dropping; and of the same signification is the Hebrew word "Nataph", here used. Pancirollus says F1, myrrh is a drop or tear distilling from a tree in Arabia Felix; and stacte is a drop of myrrh, which is extracted from it, and yields a most precious liquor: and so Pliny F2 relates, that myrrh trees sweat out of their own accord, before they are cut, what is called stacte, to which nothing is preferable: though some naturalists, as Theophrastus and Dioscorides F3 speak of this as flowing from it when it is cut; however, all agree it is a liquor that drops from myrrh; though the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem interpret it "balsam" or "rosin"; as does Jarchi on the place, and Maimonides F4: the second of these, "onycha", has its name from being of the colour of a man's nail, as the onyx stone is, and is the same with the "unguis odorata" or "blatta byzantia". Jarchi says it is the root of a spice, smooth and shining like a man's nail. It is by some
``understood of "laudanum" or "balellium"; but the greatest part of commentators explain it by the "onyx", or the odoriferous shell, which is a shell like to that of the shell fish called "purpura": the onyx is fished for in watery places of the Indies, where grows the "spica nardi", which is the food of this fish, and what makes its shell so aromatic: they go to gather these shells when the heat has dried up the marshes. The best onyx is found in the Red sea, and is white and large, the Babylonian is black and smaller; this is what Dioscorides says of it F5.''And the best being found in the Red sea, it may be reasonably supposed it was what Moses was bid to take. In all India, it is the principal thing in all perfumes, as the aloe is in pills F6; the Targum of Jonathan interprets it by "costus"; and the Jerusalem Targum by spike of myrrh, meaning perhaps spikenard. The last of these, "galbanum", what now goes by that name, is of a very ill smell, and therefore cannot be thought to be one of these sweet spices; but another is meant, and which, by its name "Chelbanah", was of a fat and unctuous nature; though Jarchi says, galbanum, whose smell is ill, is put among the spices; and Maimonides F7 and Kimchi F8 describe it like black honey, and of an offensive smell; but it must be something odoriferous, and therefore most likely to be the galbanum Pliny F9 speaks of as growing on Mount Areanus in Syria, which he mentions along with several sorts of balsams, and as a sort of frankincense; and the Vulgate Latin version, to distinguish it, calls it "galbanum" of a "good smell":
[these] sweet spices with pure frankincense;
for which Sabaea in Arabia Felix was very famous, and was called the thuriferous country, as Pliny F11 says; who observes that there were in it two times of gathering the frankincense, the one in autumn, that which was white, and the purest, the other in the spring, which was reddish, and not to be compared with the former:
of each shall there be a like weight;
just as much of one as of the other: in the Hebrew text it is, "alone by alone"; and the sense may be, that each spice was beaten alone, and after that mixed, as Aben Ezra, or weighed alone, and then put together.
F1 Rer. Memorab. & Deperd. par. 1. tit. 12. p. 32.
F2 Nat. Hist. l. 12. c. 15.
F3 Apud Dalechamp. in Plin. ib.
F4 Cele Hamikdash, c. 2. sect. 4.
F5 Calmet's Dictionary on the word "Onycha".
F6 Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 2. p. 243.
F7 Cele Hamikdash, c. 2. sect. 4.
F8 Sepher Shorash. Rad. (blx) .
F9 Nat. Hist. l. 12. c. 15.
F11 Ib. c. 14.