(Heb. 'ezob; LXX. hyssopos), first mentioned in Exodus 12:22 in connection with the institution of the Passover. We find it afterwards mentioned in Leviticus 14:4 Leviticus 14:6 Leviticus 14:52 ; Numbers 19:6 Numbers 19:18 ; Hebrews 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 ( Matthew 27:48 ; Mark 15:36 . Compare John 19:29 ).
A bitter herb.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon HYSSOP, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. ( John 19:28-30 )
(Heb. ezob. ) 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 ( 1 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:--
A plant used for ritual cleansing purposes; a humble plant springing out of the wall (1 Kings 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 Kings 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 John 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 Matthew 27:48; Mark 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
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